Dating back to the 1930's, Gypsy Jazz (or Jazz Manouche) is an instantly recognisable sound, honed in the seedy bars of post-WWI Paris by travelling musicians, most notably the spectacularly talented Django Reinhardt - often thought of as one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century.

 

In Paris during the 1920s, travelling Romani and Gypsy musicians brought varied musical influences to the clubs and bars of the city, including influences from Russia, Italy, Belgium, Spain, the Middle East and the Balkans, which melded with the popular modern American jazz of the time. Belgian-born Reinhardt was the star of this new scene, creating an entirely acoustic form of jazz that replaced the driving drums with percussive rhythm guitar, known as 'La Pompe'. 

 

 

An important part of the Gypsy Jazz sound is the Selmer-Maccaferri style guitar, created by Italian musician and luthier Mario Maccaferri and the French instrument maker Selmer. The Selmer-Maccaferri guitar has a very distinctive design, with a large D-shaped soundhole (grande bouche or large mouth) or small oval-shaped soundhole (petit bouche), a floating bridge and metal tailpiece, gently arched spruce soundboard; and ladder-braced top and back. The Selmer-Maccaferri was the first guitar with a cutaway and a steel-reinforced neck, and they were built for volume and presence - all the better to cut through the noise of a rowdy late-night French bar!

Many musicians, upon playing one for the first time, are surprised by the crunchy, nasal and barky sound of an unaccompanied Gypsy Jazz guitar, and the higher-than-usual action. This is integral to the loud and snappy sound of Gypsy Jazz music, as are the strings: usually very light silver-plated copper on a steel core, like Savarez Argentine or D'Addario Gypsy-Jazz strings.

The different soundholes available in Gypsy Jazz guitars affect the tone greatly - small, oval-shaped petit bouche soundholes are more suited to lead guitar and soloing, and can cut through a busy and loud mix with ease. The larger D-shaped grande bouche soundhole is designed to produce a thicker, deeper sound for the signature percussive rhythm of the genre. That's not to say they aren't interchangable - there's no reason lead guitar cannot be played on a grande bouche and vice versa!

One of the most important parts of the Gypsy Jazz tonal puzzle is the plectrum. The light plastic pick you use on your steel-string won’t quite cut it in terms of tone and volume on a Gypsy Jazz guitar, which is best played with a specialised type of pick, up to 7mm thick. Most serious players opt for a Wegen pick, handmade in the Netherlands and designed as perfect replicas of the handmade picks used by Django and other notable players.

 

Gypsy Jazz guitars are now available from a wider range of builders than ever before, with wonderful options available at a range of price points. Acoustic Centre has a fantastic range of Gypsy Jazz guitars, from the entry-level Cigano range, to beautifully crafted offerings from Gitane, Eastman and Altamira. Check out our whole range here.


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