Django’s Rio Guitar

Django’s Rio Guitar
As used at the
1st Nice Jazz Festival 1948


Karl Sckneider was a German Luthier but made the Guitars, Ukuleles and Violins in his works in Switzerland.  They were possibly the 1st electric guitars to be produced in Europe.


The Rio guitars have had two logos styles during time, the 1st one above is on Django’s/Sarane’s/Cavelli guitar and the 2nd font style black one is visible on Sarane’s copy.


Nice‘s very first Jazz Festival was held at Nice Opera House in 1948, closing the annual Carnival. Since that year, the festival has hosted numerous jazz legends such as Louis Armstrong, Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt. After a break, the festival made its grand comeback in 1974 in Cimiez‘s arena.

The origin of Nice’s opera house goes back to 1776 when a wealthy noble family, the Alli-Maccarani’s, obtained permission from the King of Sardinia, Amadeus III, to transform their old mansion into a theatre house. This was only a few years before the French Revolution.

The Nice Jazz Festival, held annually since 1948 in Nice, on the French Riviera was “the 1st jazz festival of international significance.” At the inaugural festival, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars were the headliners “the biggest, flashiest, and most prestigious jazz festival in Europe.”  Armstrong was recorded on February 22, 1948. This is basically the same band that appeared on his unforgettable Town Hall and Symphony Hall concerts. However, you would never know it, the musicians were totally uninspired. Add the fact that the acetate masters have deteriorated badly over the years; you have, at best, a rare performance. Even the flashy drumming of big Sid Catlett and Satchmo’s genius couldn’t save it.

Over the years, many artists, such as Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald Helen Humes, Herbie Hancock, and Miles Davis, regularly appeared at the festival. After 1994, it saw a change of emphasis, with more world music and pop. But the festival’s newest organizer, Vivian Sicnasi, has reinstated an eclectic mix of traditional and modern sounds with a international line-up; it remains “one of the Riviera’s biggest annual events.”

In February 1948, Nice’s Comité established a jazz festival in the city as part of a wider project to help garner some of the limelight that had been shone on neighbouring Cannes for its creation of the Cannes Film Festival a couple of years earlier.  Unfortunately, for the event organisers, the event wasn’t much lauded by the French media despite attracting such greats as Louis Armstrong and other famous American jazz musicians. As a result, there was no follow up Nice Jazz Festival the following year and it would take a few years longer to establish this event, as it is now, on the Nice calendar.

The Nice Jazz Festival has been fortunate enough to play host to many musical legends, of all genres, over the years including, as mentioned previously, Miles Davis, as well as Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Cliff, B.B. King (2001 to name but a few.  Previously held in the theatre de Verdure in Nice, the Nice Jazz Festival has evolved since its inception. Initially a strictly jazz event it has expanded, to its current day format, to include many artistic styles  The resultant mood is one of calm and happiness very much reflecting the picturesque surroundings of the ancient village of Cimiez.

The concerts are billed as “jazz picnics” and the current open air setting at the Gallo-Roman Arenes et Jardins de Cimiez (Arenas and Gardens of Cimiez) certainly enforces this. Les Arenes adjoins magnificent olive gardens and, as well as having a sprinkling of olive trees within the grounds, contains busts of jazz legends from across the eras. Les Arenes in Nice is not the subject of Van Gogh’s painting of the same name but the arena in Arles, which is the subject, is similar.

The gardens house three stages and performances generally run from 7 in the evening through to midnight and often beyond. Over this period, as many as ten major artists can be seen in a single day on the various stages, made possible as visitors to the festival are encouraged to roam freely around the setting. In between a wander from stage to stage, festival-goers can avail of traditional local favourites including socca and pissaladiere as well as select international cuisine including authentic creole food, The 8-day experience may be too long for some visitors to the festival.


This is a well known photo of Django playing a De Luxe Rio Electric Guitar in 1948 but it is not generally known that is was taken at the Nice Opera House as part of the first Nice Jazz Festival:

Behind Django and above him is Challain Ferret (a southpaw) and you can just see Emmanuel Soudieux’s right hand. Joseph Reinhardt is behind and to the right and Stephane Grappelli is standing left. This German made Rio Guitar was probably Sarane Ferret’s or Pierre Cavalli‘s and Marcel Bianchi may also have owned one.

Nice has always swung to the cool sounds of jazz, first of all in the 1920s and ’30s in hotels like the Negresco, then at the Opera House. The annual jazz festival started in 1948 and is now Europe’s greatest — a huge, prestigious, world-class event among the Roman ruins in Cimiez, way above the city.

4 et 6, rue St-François-de-Paule

1948 NiceDjangoStephStephane Grappelli (violin)
Django Reinhardt (guitar so1o)
Joseph Reinhardt (guitar)
Challin Ferret (guitar)
Emmanuel Soudieux (basse)

Django and Stéphane appeared by last-minute invitation. They were applauded, but their performance was eclipsed by the triumphant reception given to Claude Luter and his band. Boris Vian, a critic who once would have known better, delivered a brutal judgement: ~ Grappelli and Reinhardt, without conviction, churned it out for the 36th time…”

1948 NiceStephDjango

There are the poor quality recordings of the group made at this concert and you can hear what the Rio guitar sounded like when played by Django.  Django’s Chord work drowns out Stephane’s Acoustic Violin as he did Duke Ellington‘s Orchestra in the USA 1946

The RIO guitars seem to have a variety of headstocks and I have yet to find one the same as Django‘s at the Nice Festival. Alain Antonietto said it was from Marcel Bianchi‘s that Django borrowed but I do not see how he would know that for certain. Probably a guess as he was aware Bianchi owned one. We will never be absolutely sure. You can listen to some good audio quality samples from the Nice concert here:-  Premier Festival International deJazz de Nice

It is possible to purchase copies of the Armstrong set but nothing from Django which is a great shame as the sound quality of the stuff we have of him there is so dreadful. Amazing that the French have recordings of the American musicians who performed there but seemingly nothing from their own greatest jazz musician.

Attached shots from the concert. The guitar with RIO on the headstock is from 1948 with Challain Ferret and that guitar was probably one he borrowed from Bianchi or Sarane Ferret
– Roger S Baxter

Artists included – Claude Luter, Louis Armstrong, Mezz Mezzrow, Arvell Shaw, Barney Bigard, JackTeagarden, Earl Hines, Bobby Jaspar, Sammy Price,  Rex Stewart,

SaraneFerretRio SarraneRhythmRio

Left Image – Sarane Ferret, with the loaned a Rio Guitar, Rene Mailhes and the actress Magda Schneider – Romy Schneider’s mother

Right Image – Sarane Ferret playing what looks like a Selmer and the rhythm guitarist with the RIO that may also have belonged to Sarane.


Acoustic and Electric Rio Guitars were made by the German Luthier, Karl Schneider in Switzerland and claimed to be the 1st electric guitars produced in Europe. The one Django is playing in the photo probably belonged to Pierre Cavalli’s who also played in the same Festival. Cavalli was the guitarist with the pianist Francis Burger with Luca Burkhard trumpet, Walt Burger tenor sax, Buddy Buzer alto sax, clarinet, vibraphone, Pierre Cavalli, Rio Guitar, René Steinbeck double bass and Willie Bossart drums.  Respected French jazz and session guitarist Pierre Cavalli wrote a number of TV series themes

DjangoRio48Bianchi is claimed to be playing a Swiss-made Bale Guitar but may indeed be the Rio.

Bianchi was taken prisoner by the Germans during the early days of the war. Somehow he escaped and made his way back to Marseilles (his home). Later he found his way to Switzerland, where he managed to get a permit to work. He played regularly with the Jerry Thomas Swingtette and with Fred Bohler and made a few records. He also played his 1st electric guitar via some American soldier who had one. In 1944 he purchased the Bale guitar which was a copy of a Gibson. He took this guitar with him when he was repatriated,

There is a photo of him with this same guitar at “Le Doyen” in 1945  and it is clearly from around the same time.  There are several other photos of Sarane with his Rio, and compared to the plain tailpiece and lacquered peghead on Bianchi’s guitar, Sarane‘s guitar had a much heavier and elaborate tailpiece and headstock.

MarcelBianchiBale MarcelBale

These particular blond Gibson-style French guitars are hard to identify in old photos because so many were made by different European workshops.  there are some Jacobacci advertisements from the 60s around, and they made very similar guitars under several labels. The RV Guitars and amps made in the Bramer workshops and sold at the famous Major Conn store in Pigalle back in the 50s also looked almost exactly like the Rio and Bale Guitars.

Premier Festival International de Jazz de Nice

Bernard Pieffer pianist toured with Hubert Rostaing and Jacques Helian. In February 1948 he performed in Nice at what was probably the world’s 1st jazz festival; it was there that Bernard’s playing so impressed Ellington alumnus Rex Stewart that he hired Bernard to tour and record with his band. After working with Stewart he recorded with Don Byas, James Moody, and Kenny Clarke, and he again reunited with Django for club dates and a tour.

Highspots of that early period include a visit with an all star British band –
Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band – to the first International Jazz Festival in Nice (1948), where Humph also  ‘sat in’ with the likes of Rex Stewart, Jack Teagarden and Earl Hines and where Louis Armstrong was heard to say ‘That boy’s comin’ on!’. In 1956, when Louis Armstrong and his All Stars played a run of concerts in London, Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band were chosen to open the shows. On the last night, during the finale, Humph put a homemade crown on Satchmo’s head and, belatedly, crowned him ‘King of Jazz’.

Premier Festival International de Jazz organisé le 2 février 1948 par la ville de Nice. Différentes formations se succèdent pour y représenter leur pays, mais aussi les orchestres du trompettiste Rex STEWART, du clarinettiste Claude LUTER, du trompettiste Louis ARMSTRONG qui chante en duo avec le tromboniste Jack TEAGARDEN avec Earl HINES au piano et du clarinettiste Mezz MEZZROW. Les musiciens interprétent des morceaux de style New Orleans et de style moderne :- à 1’46 : présentation de l’Orchestre du trompettiste Rex STEWART avec Sandy WILLIAMS au trombone, George KENNEDY au saxophone alto, Vernon STORY au saxophone ténor, Don GAYZE au piano et Ted CURRY à la batterie – morceau de blues – morceau de swing – “The man I love” – à 10’26 : présentation de l’Orchestre du pianiste Jean LECLERC avec le trompettiste Hermann SANDERS, le saxophoniste ténor Bobby JASPAR, le saxophoniste alto Jacques PELZER, le guitariste Pierre ROBERT, le contrebassiste Phil GATES, le batteur Géo STEN et le vibraphoniste chanteur SADI – morceau joué par l’Orchestre de Jean LECLERC – à 16’20 : morceau joué par Lucky THOMPSON, accompagné par un pianiste, un contrebassiste et un vibraphoniste – à 21’06 : présentation de l’Orchestre du clarinettiste Claude LUTER avec Pierre MERLIN et Claude RAVANI à la trompette cornet, Mowgli JOSPIN au trombone, Christian AZI au piano, Claude PHILIPPE au banjo et Michel PACOUD à la batterie – morceau de style New Orleans – autre morceau – à 28’38 : présentation de l’Orchestre du pianiste Francis BURGER avec le trompettiste Luca BURKHARDT, le saxophoniste ténor Walt BURGER, le saxophoniste alto, clarinettiste et vibraphoniste Buddy BUZER, le guitariste Pierre CAVALLI, le contrebassiste René STEINBACK et le batteur Willie BOSSART – “How high the moon” – à 35’48 : présentation de l’Orchestre du clarinettiste de Mezz MEZZROW avec le pianiste Sammy PRICE, le batteur Baby DODDS, le contrebassiste Pops FOSTER, le trompettiste Erwin GOODWIN, le tromboniste James HATCHIN et le clarinettiste Bob WILBERT – “Royal garden blues” enchaîné par un blues et par un morceau de style New Orleans (coupure du son à 48’36) – à 49’38 : présentation du saxophoniste clarinettiste Derek NEVILLE avec Humphrey Lyttleton à la trompette, Bobby Mickleburgh au trombone, Jimmy GILMORE au saxophone ténor, Dick JONES au piano, Bert HOWELL à la contrebasse et Carlo KRAMER à la batterie – morceau de style New Orleans – autre morceau de style be bop – à 58’29 : présentation de l’Orchestre “Hot five” du trompettiste Louis ARMSTRONG avec le pianiste Earl HINES, le clarinettiste Barney BIGARD, le tromboniste Jack TEAGARDEN, le contrebassiste Arvell SHAW et le batteur Big Sid CATLETT – “Muskrat ramble” – “Old rockin chair” chanté par Jack TEAGARDEN en duo avec Louis ARMSTRONG – boogie woogie sur “Saint Louis blues” enchaîné – morceau de style New Orleans

No mention of QHCF so perhaps a last minute addition is correct and therefore not listed in this account.