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First Impressions and String Tensions

ElliotElliot Madison, WisconsinNew
Way new here - first post.

I've been playing guitar for quite a while, and decided to pick up the Gypsy way after finding that my picking and strumming technique is naturally close to this style.

Recently I had the opportunity to try out both the D and Oval variations of this guitar, and although I will not mention the brand (because there are people who like theirs), I will say that they were around $2k each, and out of my price range, so I will be buying a Gitane whatever I do. The problem is that I was not overly impressed with either one. I was expecting a more rounded tone, despite the naturally raspy sound. Of the two, the D sounded sweeter, and the Oval seemed to sacrifice the fullness of the A and D strings for the more trebly B string sound. The high Es on both sounded pretty much the same. I was pleased to find that either neck seemed playable to me, and not a determining factor. I did not feel that the oval is necessarily a lead guitar by any means, and I am tempted to conclude that Django's adoption of the Oval was more due to just a difference in timbre against the other type of guitars in the background. If the case was reversed, that the rest of the band played ovals and the lead player playing a D hole, I don't think it would be surprising.

I also did not find much difference in string tension between either guitar which has ended up as more of a concern to me than anything else. In the brief clip in Chapter 7 (1:35 in) of the Burns Jazz series on PBS that shows Django playing, he repeatedly bends I think the D string, and the strings are much looser than either guitar I tried, which was an effort to go up even a half step, while the wide bends Django was doing looked to be easily a hole step up. I've never heard anyone say he tuned down, so I was just left wondering where the discrepancy came from.



  • Bob HoloBob Holo Moderator
    Posts: 1,252
    Well, string tension is a function of four things:

    If everything else is held equal:

    1.) String size (thicker is stiffer)
    2.) Scale length (longer is stiffer)
    3.) Bridge height (higher is stiffer)
    4.) Neck angle (higher is stiffer)

    Other things such as nut height and truss rod relief and custom fret leveling with eased frets on the topside of the fret board... could all affect playability too, I guess...

    At any rate, it used to be (back in the '30s) that all D holes were short scale and all oval holes were long scale... not so anymore. Generally, if the guitar has 14 frets to the body it's a 670mm scale length. (or close to it - Gitane actually has a smidge longer than this for its oval hole models) and 12 frets to the body ... shorter scale...

    There are a lot of variables on these guitars, but I'm not too surprised that you played two guitars with similar string tensions that sounded similar despite oval vs. D holes... (except the tonal qualities you pointed out) The similar string tension probably meant they were both 14 fret models... with 670mm scales. So yes, they would play and sound sorta similar. Or maybe the D hole was a short scale with heavy strings and the Oval had lighter strings. Who knows - at any rate, trust me, with similar strings you'd feel a lot of difference between an original 14 fret oval and original 12 fret D hole.
    You get one chance to enjoy this day, but if you're doing it right, that's enough.
  • ElliotElliot Madison, WisconsinNew
    Posts: 551
    Well, I recently found that the guitars in question were fitted with Dell' Arte strings, which might have accounted for some of the uneven sound, so I thought I might pass that on.
  • drollingdrolling New
    Posts: 153
    Hi Elliot & welcome to the forum. Just noticed your post as I'm not here as much since I blew the dust off my telecaster & reformed my noize band- trying to play gypsy jazz on a jacked-up selmac definitely improved my electric chops, if nothing else.

    I'm wondering what type of instrument you're used to, as I can't say I've found the string tension on my Gitanes to be that different from most of the guitars I play. Certainly more than a light strung/low action electric, but way less than my old resonator w/dobro strings (.16 on top!!).

    Those Dell'Arte strings can be inconsistent, but I've had similar problems w/the *holy grail* Argentines. Presently my GJ guitars are strung w/Gallis- 10s on the long scale & 11s on the short. They do feel a bit more slinky & supple than the other brands I've tried. Perhaps a bit warmer sounding, as well.

    I started w/a short scale D hole and quickly moved to the longer scale oval hole b/c I actually prefer the brighter tone for this style of music. It really isn't a typical acoustic sound- quite dry & lacking sustain, compared to a dreadnaught- And it's not easy to get a good sound out of these guitars right away. The whole approach was a radical departure from most everything I'd been doing.

    What kind of pick did you use to test drive the guitars? Of course guys like Bireli can use a 25 cent plastic dunlop, but I need all the help I can get. The big, fat, expensive picks are absolutely essential for me to pull it off w/any authority.

    If you do go w/a Gitane, and decide on the longer scale model, I can tell you that the string tension is considerably less on my DG-300 than the maple 250 I also own. The cant of the neck & headstock angle are similar, but the difference in feel is significant. The 300 has a fuller, rounder tone and a chunkier neck profile, but it's also the most expensive in the line.

    Since I got mine, there's been several new budget entries from Aria & Johnson, so I'd get myself a big pick (in a pinch, a Dunlop 'Stubby', w/a bit of filing will do) and get out there & try as many as possible.

    Good luck!
  • Josh HeggJosh Hegg Tacoma, WAModerator
    Posts: 622

    It's been a while since this post has had any action and I'm wondering how things are going with your GJ venture. I read your first post and looked over the replays. You said in your first post you were expecting a different tone. I have a friend that has a very expensive Taylor. In the strumming, folk, singer song writer world I guess it's the sheeeeet. To my ear I would be kicking myself if I had payed for a guitar that cost that much and sounded like that! WAY too much low end. And forget getting any volume out of it. The thing is almost unplayable. We butt heads over this all the time. He is convinced that it sounds the "best" but I don't really know because I can't ever hear it. All this to say your ear will change and you will start to understand why these guitars sound the way they do as you progress in your skill.

  • ElliotElliot Madison, WisconsinNew
    Posts: 551
    Hi Josh,

    Thank you for your interest, you are very kind. This has been an interesting challenge for me, since I have only seen but one or two guitars of this type in front of my face, and that was only the ones I described above. However, I do have a few things going for me, that being a good ear, a background in classical guitar, cds, dvds, a good number of videos available on the net, and of course the respected opinions of people on this forum like yourself.
    The first pit I've been careful not to fall into is unconsciously expecting a Taylor or Martin sound. I know this is a completely different animal I'm looking for. Next thing is a string to string consistency, and not something that sounds like two guitars - one on the EADG strings, and another on the B and E strings. From listening closely to Django, I know that it should sing sweetly when chords are strummed less vigorously. Lastly, it should have that distinctive volume, bark, or what I think of as an acoustic 'overdriven' sound that is the hallmark of the tensioned, curved top.
    For these reasons I have made the decision to sell my electric and amp, - if they call the police again it will be half a guitar in fines right there-
    squeeze the old piggy bank harder, buck up and order a Modele Jazz from Manouche Guitars. Their excellent videos and mp3s have convinced me that it has the necessary qualities, the tuners are encased, mahogany neck, ebony fretboard, all the good stuff, and although I'd endorse a box of Cracker Jacks with Dental Floss on it if I was being paid, the interest in it is hot, and Moreno loves his, and is touring and recording with it. Plus it comes looked over and set up by the head of the company, ready to go with no shimming or modifications needed. If you go to their site, please let me know what you think. Of course I cannot post a review, since I have nothing to compare it to. It will be a month yet until it arrives, and I am guitarless - first time in 30 years - with only a Troubadour Harp and Ocarina to keep me company, but I suppose every birth has its pains and I feel it will be worth it. Until then I am watching Dvds, reading Michael's books, and scouring thrift shops for old buttons to carve into picks - today I found some rounded off square ones that look great!
    I know I won't be able to contain myself once I get it, and since hardly anyone I know even knows what Gypsy Jazz is, I hope no one minds if I make an announcement when my baby gets here. The excitement is mounting and I get a little feverish even thinking about it -

    Wish me luck - if it weren't for this forum, I couldn't have gotten even this tiny distance! Thanks, everyone, for being here.

  • Josh HeggJosh Hegg Tacoma, WAModerator
    Posts: 622

    I'm very interested in the Manouche guitars. It seems like there has been a run of lower priced guitars that look nice but can't hit the mark sound wise. On one end you have the Pattenote that looks.. well... sort of like a bum's guitar but has a great sound and can tend to be a bit harder to play and then you have... some others that I won't talk about that look really nice but sound like sheeite. I have an email out to John about the Manouche guitars. I have seen the web site and wished that there were some better pictures and close ups of the neck, bridge, tuners, etc. Namely the things that have been problems on some of the other guitars form Saga. It would be great if these turn out to play and sound great. I love it when I can get a guitar that is fun to play for under $2,000! Please keep us all posted.

    Side note: the new run of Pigalle from Dell Arte are really nice. Not the onse that have the Saga Body but the new ones that are lighter in color. I played one at Djangofest NW and had my credit card not been maxed would have got one on the spot. They are around $1,100 I think.

    Why will it be a month until you get it? Are they still in production or are you not ordering it right away?

  • ElliotElliot Madison, WisconsinNew
    Posts: 551
    Hi Josh -

    Yes, they are currently in production, the first run coming in with 15 guitars.

    If I could have seen a Pigalle available in person like the one you've described, I probably would have been seduced into buying it, but the local shop has had a standing order now for months and has no idea when even one will be coming in.

    You would think that on the basis of logic alone, with attention to detail and construction it would be feasible to recreate a great Selmer guitar at a price below that of a luthier - after all, they were factory built guitars to start with, thankfully, so we aren't trying to get an approximation of something on the order of a $40,000 Segovia quality classical.

  • Josh HeggJosh Hegg Tacoma, WAModerator
    Posts: 622
    You make a great point. Selmers were a production instrument. With all the drive for a hand built instrument I really never thought about it that way. So I guess if you really want a Slemer replica you would have to buy a production model! I have played a real Selmer and they are great. The one I have played a few times has a wonderful low end that I have yet to find on newer guitars. I think that might be due to the age. All these guitars people are buying now just might end up sounding pretty damn good over time! Who knows the D-500, which I like by the way, might end up being a wonder of a guitar in 60 years! They will be going for 25,000 like some of the Slemers these days!

  • sockeyesockeye Philadelphie sur SchuylkillNew
    Posts: 415
    Compared to other types of guitars all the $2kish hand built Selmac copies are pretty darn inexpensive. True, they mostly have laminated back & sides, but still...they're handmade guitars that run in the same range as a comparable Martin or Taylor price-wise.
  • Josh HeggJosh Hegg Tacoma, WAModerator
    Posts: 622
    True, but we can't discount, not that any one has in this thread, the production models since the original, the one every one wants to sound like, was it's self a production, machine made instrument.
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