Django’s ‘French’ Luthier’s
A luthier is someone who makes or repairs stringed instruments. The word luthier comes from the 19th Century French word luth meaning “lute”
Julian Gómez Ramirez was born in Madrid in 1879. About 1892, he began an apprenticeship with Agustín Andrés. By 1910, however, he was working as a journeyman in the shop of José Ramirez I. Although not related to Ramirez, the Ramirez family claims him as a disciple of Ramirez I. According to Robert Bouchet, Julian told him he had worked for Manuel Ramirez before coming to Paris around 1914. He remained in Paris until his death in 1943. Julian Gómez Ramirez was befriended by Robert Bouchet (1898-1986), and was a frequent visitor in Julian’s tiny, dark and jumbled workshop, and credits Julian with inspiring him to become a guitar maker. Despite the working conditions in his shop, Julian Gomez Ramirez produced guitars of genuine quality. Among the players who owned his guitars was the concert guitarist Ida Presti (1924-1967).
All Sicilian luthiers were born in Catania, at the foot of Etna, the volcano. The poor economy of the region highly contributed to the huge migrant wave in the 20s towards France that gave birth to an extraordinary school of French luthiery.
The luthiers from Catania are to be mentioned:
Pappalardo, Antonio Di Mauro, Amico, Anastasio, Bernabe ‘Pablo’ Busato, Bucolo, Castelluccia, Favino, Olivieri, Burgassi, Martella, Grizzo, Rossito, Petillo… among many others.
For a long time nobody was even sure if there even was a person named “Busato” although it turns out that there was. He died in 1952, a year before Django. Information on Bernabe Busato and his shop is sketchy at best. At first we thought that it was just a name, because the workshop appeared to move frequently, or else there was more than one. There were also Busato accordions being made at the same time crafted by another firm (Castagnolo? Fratelli Crosio?) and sold through Busato‘s shop with his name on them. He also made or sold banjos, basses, etc.
In Marseille Arthur Carbonell-Torres II was actively producing fine guitars until he ended his very full career in 1975. His father had been a guitar maker in Valencia before he opened a workshop in Marseille around 1922 where he taught his son the craft. After the second world war the son turned to the construction of concert guitars (numbered from about 300 to 580). He taught the craft to Joel Laplane who took over the workshop in 1975.
Django was also photographed with a Carbonnell and owned a Busato.
During the 1930s, the guitar was played by such popular musicians as the singer Tino Rossi, and a jazz artist like Django Reinhardt took it to the highest level of esteem and created a demand which was satisfied by the new luthiers who came with the cabinetmakers from Italy to Paris during the 20s. Some of them came from Catania, Sicily, a manufacturing centre which furnished a lot of cheap instruments for the popular music market. The first to open a workshop in Paris was V. Jacobacci whose workmen were to become many of the luthiers of the future. These new arrivals were named Pappalardo, Di Mauro Amico, Anastasio, Busato, Bucolo, Castelluccia, Favino, Oliveri, Burgasssi, Martella, Grizzo, Rossito, Petilio, etc. They built mandolins, banjos and guitars in large quantities. They worked hard and produced very fairly priced instruments.
Some of their sons, like Pappalardo, Favino, Anastasio and Castelluccia, still carry on their family enterprises today.
One of these emigres had a remarkable international destiny. His name was Mario Maccaferri, born at the beginning of the century near Bologna. Having studied guitar playing and guitar making with Luigi Mozzani in that city, he moved to Paris in 1919, then to London and began a career as guitarist, luthier, engineer and business man. Around 1930 he developed three guitar models for the French firm of Selmer: classical, jazz or orchestra, and Hawaiian. The classical and jazz models had a unique appearance and featured a large cut-away on the upper bout so the left hand could easily reach the highest notes. Classical guitarists did not adopt that feature, but jazz players made it a great success, Django Reinhardt 1st and foremost. The production of these guitars by Selmer lasted only a short time because of a disagreement between the 2 partners. The design eventually entered the public domain and was taken up for many years by the Italian luthiers of Paris. Just before the 2nd World War (1939-1945) Maccaferri emigrated to the United States and started a successful company that made clarinet and saxophone reeds. Shortly after 1954 he invested a lot of money in the manufacture of plastic guitars which were cleverly designed and very affordable, but they proved to be a failure. However, his ukuleles made of the same material became a huge success and more than 9 million were sold.