Django & Stimer Pickups –
The Quest for Volume!
Guitarists Observations on Django’s Volume Dilemma
Regarding the Epiphone, I don’t know the full extent of Django’s use during the American tour and as you know there are photos of him with a Levin. a Gibson ES-300, and a Gretsch. The man was not taken with American Archtops and yearned for his beloved Selmer Maccaferri, which I believe Charles Delauney brought to him in the States later on somewhat damaged in transit. (Django expected to be presented with a guitar on arriving in the USA, which did not happen; the start of a somewhat ‘broken’ American dream.) The whole feel of an Archtop to a player of a Selmer Maccaferri is hugely different tonally and in terms of action, and approach etc. It has been said that, had he remained in the States however, Django would have influenced not only the development of American jazz guitar playing but American Jazz itself! – P V Chester
A relaxed Django with a hybrid or DeArmond like pick-up with a heavy wire running to separate adhered or string mounted Controls and or trailing lead Junction. – Paris St Germain des Pres, circa 1948
Django was devoted to his acoustic Selmer guitar but was having trouble cutting through the sound of the larger horn-led bands that he was now playing in post QHCF, He was given c.1950 a magnetic French-made Stimer pickup to nest in the petite bouche soundhole which gave him a markedly better result than an Electric Archtop. The sound created a new dimension in his playing, which was by then much infused with the Bebop phrasing he had heard in America.
Grappelli – Django first heard an electric guitar in ‘46 or ‘47; I think it was at the Hackney Empire. (It was in fact much earlier than these dates) Somebody brought in the guitar and it made a terrible noise – in those days Electric Guitars didn’t sound as good as they do now. But Django was so impressed because at last, he could play loudly. He played with such volume that I had to ask him to turn it down as it was drowning all of us. He was like a child with a new toy. Of course, to be fair, he didn’t know how to handle it. We’d heard Charlie Christian, and although he would never play like Django, if you know what I mean – the Electric Guitar being easier than acoustic – Charlie Christian was a master of the Electric Guitar, Django was born to play Acoustic Guitar and the richness of Django was in his Chords and he could never achieve the same dynamic effect that he could from his acoustic guitar. He never succeeded in playing amplified Electric Archtop Guitars and in my opinion, he never was a good Electric Guitarist.
Being Heard Above the Horns
By the end of the 1920s, the Guitar was more popular than ever. But, because it could not compete in volume with the drums and horns of the Jazz Age, it was limited on the bandstand. Microphones were in wide use, and amplification was an accepted technology, particularly in entertainment. PA units with amps and speakers were used to add volume to vocal performances, phonographs, and radios. Many Guitar players had stepped up to the Microphone and had their playing Amplified. But this setup had limitations, so guitarists looked at ways to combine microphone and amplification technologies specifically for Guitar. They experimented with telephone mouthpieces, microphones, phonograph tone arms, and reverse-wired speaker coils. Alvino Rey, who became one of the 1st stars of Electric Guitar, recalled that during this period more than one person was busy experimenting with rudimentary electromagnetic units to achieve a breakthrough.
Photos taken in late 1945 with Gerard Leveque – Clarinet, Joseph Reinhardt – Rhythm, Jean Storne – Bass, Andre Jourdan Drums – shows Django with early amplification on his Selmer in a big band set. You can see the electric chord hanging from his guitar (perhaps using some kind of contact ‘mic‘ given to him by a US Serviceman) and the bulky Amplifier on the chair in front of him. This appears to be mounted behind the bridge and could have been a DeArmond Contact Pickup wedged under the strings – alas Django’s pick hand obscures all and the Amplifier may have been custom made and from the States.
Focusing on his Music in 1947 when he returned from the USA having played with Duke Ellington, we also enjoy a valuable recording made at the RDF radio studios possibly for a Film soundtrack and skilfully re-mastered by studio sound engineers. Django’s music in the 1950‘s underwent many changes as witnessed among these tracks. We travel through small group swing to bebop influenced modern harmonic and rhythmically conceptual pieces, urgent, wild and frantic as detected in his amazing guitar playing!
DeArmond Archtop Bug style pick up. This is a rare vintage pick up from the 50‘s. The small attaching bracket on which two screws is missing (but then no one wants to damage a good guitar body anyway). Guitarists found that it great to just slip-in and wedge under the strings between the bridge and tailpiece. It makes an archtop sound more natural than a magnetic pickup. A very handy little bug in its day. It was the DeArmond contact mic that slipped under the trapeze of many a Gibson L3
Django & Pierre Michelot, Pierre Lemarchand at Club Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris 1951?
Sharpened LP Image
Django with an early screw fixed pickup – the jack lead wiring has been removed for cosmetic reasons.
From 1950 until his death, Django Reinhardt often played his Selmer Guitar with a magnetic pickup made by the French Stimer Company. Stimer was an Amplifier maker that developed a DeArmond style pickup for the Selmer Guitar in 1947/48. This original model was permanently attached to the guitar by screwing it into the top (sacrilege). The model (ST-48) had a built-in volume control and eventually was manufactured with a bracket that allowed it to be installed and removed with ease causing no damage to the Guitar Top.
By the late ‘40s, there was a new route to volume – electric pickups and amplifiers, both of which arrived in France later than in the United States. French Radio Engineer Jean Guen, who created the Stimer Brand unveiled his 1st guitar pickups in 1946, baptised the Stimer P46 and R46. The 46 Series Stimers may have been prototypes, but they were followed by the real deal – the 1948 – ST 48 pickup and 6-watt Stimer M.6 amplifier.
Original livery Stimer P8 amp (8 Watts) which was later renamed the M8 with robust case construction with corner protection and wooden carrying handle. Its production was ceased shortly before the launch of the M10 amp. The Stimer amps (including the M6 and M12) looked like the above carry-case format until 1953. After that, they featured the well known livery that you can see on the 1953 promotion images and advertisements with Django.
The 1948 items were followed by the S.51 pickup and 12-watt M.12 amplifier and the 10-watt M.10 amplifier came later. Jean‘s brother, Yves, joined him some 2 years later around 1948/9 at their workshop at 39, rue d’Alençon in Courbevoie and that was the approximately the year Django collaborated for with Stimer the 1st time.
In this Feb 1951 photo taken at Club St-Germain-des-Pres, of a Nouvelle Sextet of Pierre Lamerchand Drums, Hubert Fol Alto, Django Reinhardt Guitar, Pierre Michelot Bass, Maurice Vander (or Raymond Fol) Piano and Bernard Halin Trumpet, a Be-bop Jazz Ensemble. Django is playing with an early M12 Stimer Amplifier (not a M10 contrary to what many people think because the M10 didn’t yet exist in 1951) that has the same look as the P8/M8 Amplifier (colour photo above).
Django’s ‘modern‘ period was between 1951 and his death in 1953. Early in 1951, armed with his Amplified Maccaferri – which he used to the very end – he put together a new band of the best young modern musicians in Paris; including Hubert Fol, an altoist in the Charlie Parker mould. Although Django was 20 years older than the rest of the band, he was completely in command of the modern style. Whilst his solos became less chordal and his lines more Christian-like, he retained his originality. Django should be rated much more highly as a be-bop guitarist. His infallible technique, his daring, ‘on the edge’ improvisations coupled with his vastly advanced harmonic sense, took him to musical heights that Christian and many other Bop musicians never came near.
The live cuts from Club St. Germain-des-Pres in February 1951 are a revelation. Django is in top form; full of new ideas that are executed with amazing fluidity, cutting angular lines that always retain that ferocious Swing. The March 10th session produced 8 absolute classics, including arguably his greatest rendition of Nuages. despite a couple of great swingers in Night and Day, and Brazil the whole atmosphere of this session is somehow permeated with a great melancholy. Evident on all the tracks is a strange mixture of sadness, beauty and depth. Manior de Mes Reves has an air of quiet acceptance. It is very peaceful, but at the same time there is an almost unbearably desolate quality to it – “its almost like he knew the end was coming”.
The 1st session from May 1951, features 3 Reinhardt originals, including his old nugget “Impromptu,” revisited. It’s uptempo and, if it weren’t for Michelot’s constant bass pulse, the tune would spiral on. More new compositions appeared like Double Whisky and the brilliant Impromptu of which a breakneck version was recorded in May 1951. This is a tremendously exciting tune which others seldom attempt to play. It features great solos from the whole band and Django makes it plain in his chord comping that it’s based on the sequence of Dizzy Gillespie’s Things to Come making himself sound uncannily like Gillespie’s big band! Gillespie also used this chord sequence later for Be-Bop.
But on the 2nd session, from January 1952, “Flèche d’Or” is almost like fusion its uptempo front-line melody and fast solos turned around on a small minor figure full of dissonance and tension. The duelling between Reinhardt and trumpet player Roger Guerin is astonishing. The title track from this session is a full sextet rave-up with equal references to Bird and Benny Carter in the front-line melody. In the chorus, Django literally takes flight, laying down flat-picked arpeggios with such ease and grace it’s difficult to go back to hearing him play the Acoustic Guitar again. The fat chord voicing he uses as he races his way up the neck are a signal for the band that a particular section in a tune is in transition. His comping is an art form in itself, with all of his left-hand syncopation
On the final session, the cover of “Crazy Rhythm,” with its strident pacing and off-minor vamping, is remarkable for the ease with which they swing yet engage all of the modern music intervals and dynamics Reinhardt’s string-bending on this one is a delight, full of warmth and edginess. Likewise, the bluesy intro of “Fine and Dandy” lasts all of 7 seconds before Django follows the horns with a varied mixture of single-note runs and tight, distorted chords, which stand in sharp contrast to the easy and yet fast swing of the horns. This, like its sister volume, Nuages, is essential Django: It offers a new view of the artist in full maturity and with an endless range of ideas regarding arrangement, tempo, dissonance, and how to make the best use of the electric guitar’s liberating dynamics.
Unfortunately Django didn’t record much in 1952, but he did cut 4 great tunes in January, Hubert Fol‘s appropriately titled Keep Cool and 3 Django tunes – A modern arrangement of his 1949 composition Troublant Bolero, the memorable Nuit de St. Germain des Pres – a cracking bop tune, popular in Django circles but otherwise sadly unheard of and finally another underrated tune that is rarely played even in Django circles; Fleche D’or. There is a hint of Ornithology in the melody and a strikingly modern solo by Django. The tune finishes on a dramatic solo guitar coda. A great recording but barely anyone has even heard of it! A favourite is Anouman from the January 30th session. After a reflective piano intro by Maurice Vander, the bittersweet melody is played with great poise by Hubert Fol on alto. Reinhardt takes the middle 8, finishing his solo on ghostly sounding augmented triad arpeggio’s. A hauntingly beautiful piece of music.
Django’s final recording session took place on April 8th 1953, and it produced a final 4 gems. It opens with the contemplative Le Soir, but Chez Moi picks up the tempo with a happy go lucky feel and I Cover the Waterfront again demonstrates his mastery of the modern ballad. Django’s final statement committed to wax was Deccaphonie, an up tempo 12 bar improvisation, modern even by today’s standards. A fitting epitaph.
Django died on the night of May 15th, 1953, but in his final half year of life he produced some real quality music. Despite his decline in popularity, went out at the top of his artistic game as an improviser, composer, arranger, bandleader, and instrumentalist.
La Guitare Electrique – Yves (left) and Jean Guen (Right) in their booth discussing the prototype versions of the ST-51 Stimer pick-ups and the Stimer P8/M8/M12 amps at a Musical Instrument Exhibition – c.1949/50
Jean Guen introduces Django to the rear controls of the new livery Stimer Amplifier in Django’s home at Samois sur Seine before the final photo shoot.
The photos showing Django in his Samois home were taken in 1953.
To promote Stimer further, the Guens naturally turned to Django. In a 1953 photo session, Django was shown in his Samois-sur-Seine Cottage, beaming with joy as he played his new electrified Selmer and personally initialled Amplifier. He used a similar set-up performing with the American be-boppers – saxmen James Moody, Don Byas and drummer Kenny Clarke – at Paris’ Club Saint-Germain des Pres. After years pounding out his Acoustic Jazz with his muscular right wrist, Django must have rejoiced at the glorious ease of this now available volume and clarity on his favourite instrument, playing his new be-bop with his sound reverberating off the club’s stone walls.
Between 1946 and 1949 Django’s recordings alternated between electric guitar and acoustic guitar, but his overall musical style continued to evolve. Many of his compositions of this time – such as Diminishing Blackness or Micro – reflect the growing influence of Be-Bop. In fact the middle 8 to Moppin’ the Bride could have been written by Charlie Parker himself! By 1949 the Be-Bop influence on Django’s playing is obvious. Listen to any of the famous ‘Rome Sessions’ or the 1950 recording with Andre Ekyan – Reinhardt makes both Grappelli and saxophonist Andre Ekyan sound dated. By this time Django was going exclusively for an electric sound. Ironically it was during this period that he fitted an electric bar pickup to his Maccaferri, and was able to produce a cleaner more archtop type sound. Indeed he once referred to the electric archtop guitars in America (he toured with a Gibson ES-300) as “casseroles”. But he wanted the electric archtop voicing and obviously went out of his way to find it. The quest is a tone that is warmer and more balanced, much like Django sounded like through his small valve amp on his later recordings,
Stimer also makes a version of this pickup designed to fit the larger “D” soundhole of the “grand bouche” Selmers (and their modern equivalents), as well as the Modele ST-51, which is basically the same as the ST 48, but with a separate Volume Control that can be adhered anywhere you want.
SELMER MACCAFERRI – STIMER M10 or M6 Amplifier
Stimer M6 Amplifier Specification
- Preamp Tube: 1 X 6AV6 & 1 X 12AU7
- Power Tube: 2 X EL84
- Rectifier: 2 X 6X4 or 2 X EZ90
- Height: 44.5 cm
- Width: 38 cm
- Depth: 18 cm
By the late ‘40s, there was a new route to volume – Electric Pickups and Amplifiers, both of which arrived in France later than in the United States.
The Stimer amp looks great but the speaker is wrong, as you can see in the M10 on this site (seems to be a M12 with EL90‘s instead of the EL84‘s. http://www.djazic.com/amplis.html there where no speakers with a ceramic magnet at that time. The speaker is 80% of the sound (of any guitar Amplifier). Take any Amp with a Jensen speaker and replace that with a JBL (D120 or D130 depending on size) and the sound and response will change drastically. The small AlNiCo magnet would indicate a Speaker that will distort quite fast. But I do like the fact that somebody has taken the time to research and build a rare amp like the Stimer. Those double rectifiers are pretty odd in a 12-watt EL84 amplifier. Would love to take a peek at the schematic. Peter Dijkema
Club Saint Germain des Pres 1951
Today, guitarists who play vintage Selmers—or their modern-day equivalents—again only have one choice in magnetic pickups – the Stimer ST-48. Made by France’s Maurice Dupont, the ST 48 is a beautiful unit that features a built-in Volume control and a one-piece metal cover (which is nickel plated and sports “Stimer Paris” engraved into its top). The unit features an R output jack, and it comes with a quality rubber-shrouded cord with R and 1″ plugs.
You simply slide it under the strings and push it into place until it presses against the end of the Fretboard. Rubber pads on the bottom of the pickup prevent scratching the guitar’s top, and the spring-clip retainer keeps the unit snug. Plugged into a small valve amp, the Stimer sounded both round and smooth, and it translated the unique upper-midrange colour of the guitar reasonably well. The B and E strings are significantly louder than the other 4 strings. As there’s no way to compensate for this balance problem – which is exacerbated by say the Argentine’s non-magnetic copper/silver formula you can replace them with a set of flat-wound D’Addario Chromes, which are a popular choice for Jazz. They worked surprisingly well with the ST-48, and though the sound is more akin to that of a standard archtop, the string balance was definitely better.
Gypsy Jazz Guitar Video with Stimer Pick-up – I can’t give you anything but love – Dave Rattray A self-taught musician, Dave has studied the guitar with the Gypsy Masters Fapy Lafertin and Lollo Meier in the Netherlands. Dave was inspired by a ‘lesson’ from the great Martin Taylor when Dave was 13 yrs old trying to learn fingerstyle Jazz guitar. Dave plays in a duo with the acclaimed musician Sandy Wright. Mirror images – he is not a Southpaw! Check out those adjacent demos
PÊCHE À LA MOUCHE
– note how much more fluid the solos are compared with those produced on his Epiphone – could it be that Django was not comfortable with adjusting volume and tone controls which are so readily tickled mid phrase by many of the modern guitarists with their little finger. Les Paul said some of his difficulties were because of Django’s very stiff pick and being a down stroke picker. Yet Les employed Button picks himself.
The later electrified Django achieved a fantastic and unique mastery of the electric instrument. Perhaps he, unlike Christian, was too un-idiomatic, because very few players have tried explicitly to emulate his sound. That sound was produced either on the Electric Epiphone or a using Selmer Maccaferri equipped with a Stimer pick-up, and a small valve amp. It is claimed, and it may be correct, that the Stimer was a copy of the DeArmond pickup that originated in the early 1940s. However, even after considerable experimentation, few guitarists were capable of reproducing Django’s electric sound. The sound may (also) lie in the difference between the Stimer and the DeArmond.
Deccaphonie his last Recording
Django’s final recording session took place on April 8th, 1953, and it produced a final 4 gems. It opens with the contemplative Le Soir, but Chez Moi picks up the tempo with a happy go lucky feel and I Cover the Waterfront again demonstrates his mastery of the modern ballad. Django’s final statement committed to wax was Deccaphonie, an up tempo 12 bar improvisation, modern even by today’s standards. A fitting epitaph perhaps!
“The Archtop guitar? “ – The archtop guitar is very nice. I would like very much to play one more often, but for that, it is necessary to put together 3 elements: an archtop guitar, an amplifier and electricity! (Angelo lives with his family in a caravan). My inclination is to play an Acoustic Guitar. Currently, I play on an Anastasio made in 1990, which sounds very good. At the Hotel du Nord, I use a Stimer pickup. I cannot afford an electro-acoustic system of quality. I would like to find a “sugar daddy” luthier sponsor who would trust me! I know that in France one finds excellent guitars Stimer also makes a version of this pickup designed to fit the larger “D” soundhole of the “grand bouche” Selmers (and their modern equivalents), as well as the Modele ST 51, which is basically the same as the ST 48, but with a separate Volume control that can be adhered anywhere you want.
Be careful with these, the tone is amazing but the bracing in some handmade guitars will not allow you to put the pickup in the correct position and the clip on mine slowly makes the Stimer slip off when playing. I counter this by placing it like Angelo does but that does interfere with my playing slightly – great tone though!
Stimer in the UK this pickup is available in left-hand or right-hand versions.
Django was able to create a method of jazz in 4 different styles. He began playing traditional jazz during Louis Armstrong’s era; became inspired by Benny Goodman and the whole Swing movement, when he created his Quintet with a clarinet and played swing; and then translated the bebop of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie into Guitar; and finally, in his later years, after hearing Miles Davis’ cool, minimalist jazz, in his final recordings you can hear Django moving in that direction, where he played fewer notes but with more eloquence. I don’t think there are many Jazz musicians, or many musicians in general, who transcend so many different genres of this style of music.