Django’s Selmer

Django’s Selmer Guitar

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Django’s Selmer #503

django_reinhardt_selmerDjango Reinhardt secured an endorsement deal with Selmer, so many Selmer guitars passed his hands (he sold or gave away a lot of them). There are 2 guitars that we are sure of belonged to Django more permanently No.503 and No.704 as he never valued guitars that came free other than for playing on and he had the choice of the Selmer WorkshopNo.503 came in Django’s possession in 1940 and he played it until his death in 1953. The guitar was on display in the Musée Instrumental de Paris, (See Ade Holland anecdote). No.704 came into his possession in 1948, just before a tour in Italy. The top was crushed during that tour and was repaired by an Italian Luthier.

Django Reinhardt used very light silk-and-steel strings ( .010 to .046) on his guitar generally from Argentina.  Django liked to use the thickest guitar picks he could find, most of the time using natural tortoise shell.  Selmer stopped producing guitars in 1952.

The large D-Holes were the first of the Maccaferri domed soundboard design which generated a much louder sound with Steel Strings,  The large soundhole was there to accommodate and reflect the the sound from the unique patent resonator also introduced by Maccaferri for increased Volume.  But alas in practice they quickly became the source of buzzing and detachment and were discarded by the musicians.  Selmer then introduced the oval Soundhole which Django readily adopted.

DjangoGuitarAfter Mario Maccaferri had left the Selmer factory, Selmer continued making guitars. They made some changes like introducing the small oval sound hole and the 14th fret neck (67 cm scale length, 21 frets, 14th fret to the body). In this period however they experimented, amongst other things, with the bracing of the top. Obviously they tried to make the top as light as possible. That is probably the reason for leaving out some braces. It is quite unique to find such a ‘transitional model’ and, due to the condition the guitar is in, to have have the opportunity to open it. (#430)

BarneyKessellBarney Kessel owned one of Django’s Selmer guitars, and he said it was difficult to play chords on and didn’t stay in tune very well.  There are definitely some inherent tuning issues with that style of guitar. Sometimes, if you play an octave on the B and the D strings in the middle of the neck, the D string is flat and the B string is sharp.  Django definitely developed a style to suit that instrument, although he played other guitars before the Selmer.  The Selmer came out in 1932, and he didn’t get his first one until 1934. So his style was already intact at that time. There are stories about when he came to America without a guitar, because he figured the Americans would be lining up to give him guitars to play. Well, they didn’t, so the Duke’s tour manager secured a non-cutaway Gibson ES-330 with a P-90 pickup, and he was really bummed out. He wrote back to his manager: “Don’t speak to me about American tin-pot guitars anymore!”


Django’s Guitar

By ALLAN HODGKISS (Hodgkins)
BMG Magazine Dec 1958
Selmer303At the outbreak of WWII, Django Reinhardt returned to France and after Dunkirk news of the famous French guitarist was eagerly sought by friends and enthusiasts all over the world. During the Nazi occupation of France little was heard of him. The wildest rumours circulated. Some said he was dead others that he was in a concentration camp. In June 1942 the American music magazine ‘Down Beat’ printed the news that definite word had arrived in New York this week confirming the death of Django Reinhardt.” Our own ‘Melody Maker’ to use its own words, ran round in circles to check up on this dreadful news.” It reported the news as incorrect. Stephane Grappelli stated he was certain he would have heard such news through neutral sources-and one ” M.M.” reader wrote in to say he had heard Django playing guitar from ‘Poste Parisien‘ Radio Station.

1946ReunionWhen the Hot Club of France was in England, (1939) I deputised for one of the guitarists for a fortnight and so had a unique opportunity of studying Django‘s playing and I also heard him broadcasting from Radio Paris on September 22nd 1942 so I, for one, did not believe the story of Reinhardt’s death. Four years later my belief was proven. In January 1946 Django Reinhardt came back to London after an absence of 7 years. It was an extremely exciting occasion for me as I was to work with Django yet again. A series of broadcasts and concerts had been arranged to feature the great guitarist and his partner Stephane Grappelli. The two great French artists were to be accompanied by a British rhythm section consisting of myself and Jack Llewellyn on guitars and Coleridge Goode on bass. A meeting with Django was arranged to take place at Grappelli’s flat in Piccadilly and when I arrived at the rendezvous, Charles Delaunay (the Hot Club of France authority), Grappelli and Django were in the midst of what appeared to be an exciting and happy conversation. Unfortunately my command of the French language is limited to “the pen of my aunt” etc.

DjangoGuitarThere was so much I wanted to say to Django.  Stephane’s first words were: “Allan, this is the man!” and with the help of Grappelli and Delaunay, we were soon nostalgically discussing so many incidents and people we had shared and known when the great guitarist was in this country before (1938 & 39). Even his smile at an almost forgotten name, a half-remembered place, brought back memories. Conversations we had had on the long train journeys with Stephane, George Shearing, and other members of the then British Quintet came back as Django stood facing us and I could not help recalling how those conversations usually wound up with endless stories of Django’s playing, his personality, etc., and, of course, the endless reminiscences of Stephane and Django in Paris before the world had heard of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France.

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Django, Allan Hodgkins, Bassist Coleridge Goode, & Jack Llewellyn on Grande Bouche Selmer, concealed by Stephane.  Is Django’s cheek swollen?

That night we ” sketched out ” the recording sessions we did for Decca and HMV (His Masters Voice now EMI) for numbers to be released on Delauney’s French “Swing” label.  In the recording studio Django surpassed himself in the haunting melancholy “Nuages” (which, incidentally. was later published with lyrics as “The Bluest Kind of Blues”). In this session too. was the first Grappelli/Reinhardt recording of another “Nuages” which was re-christened- “Love’s Melody ” and lyrics added.
Coleridge Goode on Nuages

BMG Cover

BMG Cover

IT’S THE BLUEST KIND OF BLUES (Reinhardt / Williams)

It’s the bluest kind of blues, my baby sings
It’s the newest kind of blues, my baby sings
It’s the kind that makes you sigh
It’s the kind that makes you cry
Doing something to my poor heart
Like a soft lullaby
It’s the bluest kind of blues, my baby sings
It’s the truest kind of blues, my baby brings
Always on my mind, awake or a-sleeping
It’s the bluest kind of blues, my baby sings
Always on my mind, awake or a-sleeping –
It’s the bluest kind of blues my baby sings

Django gave a really breathtaking display of inspired technique in “Liza” and “Tiger Rag‘ but his version of the French National Anthem was never released unfortunately. Apparently the French Authorities did not take kindly to Reinhardt’s “jazzed up” version of their National Anthem so the record was never released. (Till much Later under a different title ‘Echoes of France‘)  Whenever I hear the “Marseillaise” played I cannot help getting itchy fingers on Django’s behalf!
Coleridge Goode on Echoes of France

Concerts had been provisionally arranged but Django was taken ill and admitted to the French hospital in London for a not-too-serious operation. His wife (Naguine) and son (Babik) were in London on what I believe was their first visit to this country. Madame Reinhardt seemed rather lost but luckily Delaunay and Grappelli were always at hand to make things easier for her.

HIS EYES

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Django, Beryl Davis, and Grappelli with the said Petite Bouche at the French Hospital

On visiting Django in hospital I was pleased to find he was quite cheerful. As usual his eyes were a feature that anyone who met him never missed. On that particular evening he entrusted with me something I will never forget. Django asked me to look after his guitar for him during his stay in hospital and told me he wished me to use the instrument for the BBC broadcast I was to undertake with Grappelli later in the month.

If he was “out of action” he said, at least his guitar could be kept going! In these days of big, bright, gaudy be-jewelled guitars I think Django’s instrument needs a description.  The guitar was not the usual Maccaferri D-shaped soundhole, etc. but a rather shabby, much scratched instrument with exceedingly light gauge strings.  The 6th string was approximately the same gauge as a normal 4th. The strings were perfectly balanced so that the 1st string was similar in gauge to the E string on a violin. The sound hole was narrow and elliptical, with the ellipse running in line with the fingerboard.  This unusual instrument had been designed specially for Django by Mario Maccaferri but almost as much as the instrument I remember the case in which Django kept it.  It was cheap battered and torn and was kept together by string with a piece of bent wire for a handle.  When one remembers that even as early as 1935 Django Reinhardt was already something of a legendary figure, whose free expression and unrivalled technique stood unprecedented in the history of guitar music, this battered tawdry old case becomes the more significant.  At 16 years of age I had wild dreams of the fabulous amazing Django and there I was with the guitar and case of my “God” of the past!  I felt truly honoured. Many had been the time when I had sat enthralled, amazed and spellbound at the music that had issued from it.  Now, here it was, in my own two hands.

DjangoGibso48At home I found it impossible to pass the guitar without 5 or 10 minutes of day-dreaming with the instrument in my hands thinking of the wonderful choruses, bridge passages, modulations and, above all, the original compositions that had emanated from this shabby grubby amalgam of wood and wires.  The thin but firm strings had with their owner’s inspiration lifted the solo jazz guitar away from its previous limitations to ride along with the clarinet and trumpet as never before.  Django Reinhardt-the one guitarist whose playing had inspired every guitarist in almost every country in the world. In my possession was a dirty battered old case, minus its handle-and inside a very 2nd hand-looking guitar that could come to life with so much sparkle in the brilliant hands of its owner.  I can recall that my wife thought it incredible that such quality of tone and inspiration had issued from that “old guitar” After playing it I realised why Django had never liked the big ‘cello-built‘ type of orchestral guitar. I can remember a night in 1938 when Danny Perri (the Canadian guitarist) offered Django his own super-de-luxe American ‘cello-guitar’ to play. With a smile and a polite shake of his head, Django refused. He acted in the same way later with my own ‘cello-built’ guitar. Django once explained to me that the big guitars could not “speak” for him!

Danny Perri also had a career in the USA, and was with Jack Hylton in the UK .  For many years he worked as accompanist to Perry Como.

EXTRA HAZARD

Django’s guitar was extremely responsive (I could quite easily raise the 5th and 6th strings a quarter of a tone with finger pressure alone) and during the broadcast this extra hazard, did not help my already nervous feeling about playing on the instrument. Grappelli had assured me that using Django’s guitar would inspire me but my own feeling, then as now. was that it was not a good broadcast. In retrospect it may be that this impression was bred by imagination out of over-sensitivity on my part-it is so difficult to be objective when combining the functions of critic and performer.  The fact remains that this instrument which performed miracles under Diango’s fingers, spoke a different kind of magic for me.  More of a personal and psychological feeling, than musical perhaps.

I can still remember starting out from home for the BBC Studios, feeling like a person secretly carrying an atom bomb around. This feeling heightened when I passed through the West End on the Underground train. A young fellow had got into the carriage at Piccadilly carrying a guitar. He sat opposite me with his guitar case resting across his knees, and what a case! Shining, Polished and Nickel-Plated fittings positively gleaming in their newness.  It put Django’s case to shame.  I had a strong urge to let him into the secret. for I had noticed he could not completely hide a smile as his eye caught sight of the shabby article in my care.  I wanted to shout : ” Boy! If You only knew” But I kept it to myself.

Selmer Maccaferri is an unusual looking instrument, distinguished by a fairly large body with squarish bouts, and either a “D”-shaped or a longitudinal oval soundhole. The strings are gathered at the tail like an archtop guitar, but the top is formed from thin spruce (like a flat-top or classical) forced into a shallow dome. It also has a wide fingerboard and slotted head like a nylon-string guitar. The loud volume and penetrating tone make it suitable for single-note soloing and it is frequently employed as a lead guitar in Gypsy Swing

Archtops – The adoption of ‘f -holes’ instead of Round draws you back to a time when the archtop acoustic guitar began to reign supreme. The 1950’s archtops introduced a higher level of  playability for Jazz Guitarists. With more projection & volume in the low/mids than the more traditional roundhole archtop acoustic guitars, the dynamically rich tone of the archtop made it a dream to play, and it really delivered when amplified.

Lloyd Loar of the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co introduced the Violin/Cello -inspired f-hole design now usually associated with archtop guitars, after designing a style of mandolin of the same type. The typical archtop guitar has a large, deep, hollow body whose form is much like that of a mandolin or violin family instrument. Nowadays, most archtops are equipped with magnetic pickups and are therefore both acoustic and electric. F-hole archtop guitars were immediately adopted upon their release by jazz musicians and have remained popular, usually with flatwound strings.

Radio Days

PostParisienAuditorium

Auditorium – Poste Parisien -116b Avenue des Champs Elysées

English language commercial radio programmes were beamed from continental stations like Radios Paris, Post Parisien, and especially Radio Normandy. Roy Plomley started on Radio Normandy in April 1936 and moving on at the end of that year to the IBC’s Paris-based station, Poste Parisien. Between mid-1937 and late 1939 he was involved in writing and production, travelling back and forth between these two IBC stations in France and the Company’s offices and studios in London, while also presenting the variety programme Radio Normandy Calling, recorded on location in Theatres at UK seaside resorts and regularly beating the BBC in audience ratings.

Alain Romans Du Poste Parisien Et Son Ensemble
Featuring – Arthur Briggs