Selmer Guitars (background and observations)

pickitjohnpickitjohn South Texas Corpus, San Antonio, AustinVirtuoso Patenotte 260
in History Posts: 936
Came across an interesting web page on Selmer Guitars

for a more detailed read go here:

Just a sample below...

Some background and observations about
the main Selmer six-string guitar models
A small attempt at putting into words some thoughts about these guitars, for the benefit of those who have yet had the opportunity to to spend much time with them.

The Maccaferri model, with the large D-shaped soundhole, was originally designed to accommodate Mario Maccaferri's patented Internal Resonator. In many cases however, it seems that the guitar worked better for players without that resonator, as few original Selmers retain one. We believe this is due to a production error that caused them to come loose and buzz, provoking their prompt and sometime brutal removal. That said, the basic 1932-33 D-hole guitar has 12 frets and a 648mm (25.5") scale, very similar to our contemporary Martin/Gibson/Fender scales, with a "classical-width" fingerboard. Necks on the early Selmers were generally quite large. The few with maple bodies had maple necks, generally all other necks were walnut.

pay no attention to the moiréThe later Selmer model, with the small vertical oval soundhole, never had a resonator; in fact, it was a design repudiation of the resonator model. Around late 1933, after a handful of transitional models, it was offered with the longer 670mm (26.4") scale. Once it was available, this was the model that Django really played. Almost all Selmers ever made are this model. Virtually all Selmer guitars, early and late, were of laminated Indian rosewood with walnut necks. There exist a few very late ones with solid rosewood necks and a few rare all-mahogany or birdseye maple guitars with matching maple necks. Selmer tops were always solid European spruce.

In terms of sound, the two main models differ more to the player than to the listener. Because of how the soundhole affects the way the sound emanates from the guitar's body, the player hears perhaps more accurately what the D-hole model sounds like to others. By contrast, with its small soundhole, the oval-hole model seems to project more directionally. It's generally agreed that the longer scale on the oval-hole model allows it to be played harder as well.

By far the most important element in a guitar's sound (besides the player!) is the top. All Selmer models had solid French spruce tops. The tonewoods of the body certainly color that sound, and these tonal differences are again more evident to the player than to the listener.

To most players familiar with the tonal contrast of a normal American-style flattop and a normal American-style archtop, the Selmer-style guitars define a third point on a triangle - as different from the former two as they are from each other. First impressions are generally that they sound "trebly," but it should be noted that the style of playing these guitars is fundamentally different- particularly with the oval-hole model - than what is usually employed playing more conventional flattop and archtop instruments. Once the picking hand's "sweet spot" is found, the full dynamic range appears.

pick on




  • Michael BauerMichael Bauer Chicago, ILProdigy Selmers, Busatos and more…oh my!
    edited December 2013 Posts: 1,002

    The original Maccaferri design of the Selmer was intended to be for classical guitar. It was adapted for steel strings to accommodate the rising interest in jazz guitar in the early 1930's. For the record, their are two versions of the resonator. Selmer changed the design after Maccaferri departed, probably to simplify production. It was, by all accounts, a poor design, unlike Maccaferri's. It is the later Selmer version that comes loose and causes problems. Maccaferri was asked about this once, and he stated emphatically that it was not his resonators that were coming loose.

    I have a 1932 Selmer, Number 103, which has the resonator intact, and trust me, it sounds fabulous. It is also very loud.

    In my opinion, the oval hole was not designed "in repudiation" of the d-hole. On the contrary, the area of the opening of the oval hole, is almost exactly that of the opening of the resonator in the d-hole (Keep in mind, the opening is not the D-hole, but rather the opening of the resonator inside the body). What I believe they were trying to do was to get close to the same sound without having the resonator inside.

    It is the modern d-holes, those without resonators, that sound "wrong". They certainly do not sound anything like Maccaferri or even Selmer originally intended. To me, they sound like large rooms with no furniture in them…too boomy and bassy. The d-hole does project better to the player than the oval does, but the sound dissipates faster as a result. It seems that some modern builders have been able to modify the bracing design a bit to get a tighter sound out of d-holes, and people have gotten used to the "empty room" d-hole sound, but a d-hole without a resonator sounds nothing at all like an original Maccaferri-built Selmer. There were a few Selmers built with left-over d-hole tops, without resonators, but they weren't even transitional models, in my view. They were just using up parts. Selmer was nothing, if not frugal.

    I am fortunate enough to own three Selmers, numbers 103 (1932), 565 (1942), and 862 (1951). I have also played several others. There is probably more difference between a middle era Selmer and a late Selmer (those built by Pierre Roulot, than there is between a d-hole and an early to middle period oval. The tops are thicker on the later models, the necks are rosewood instead of walnut, and the pliage is much taller on the late Selmers. Late Selmers have their own sound. It's a really good sound, and, to me, closer to how most modern Selmer copies sound.

    One other thing: the bracing on Selmers is a much-misunderstood thing, even by a few experts. There was never a period where four-brace tops were the norm. Selmer 503 has five braces, for example, as do the vast majority of Selmers in the much-coveted 500 series. I have only played or known of one other Selmer with four braces, #520. It's hard to say how they came about, but it may be that one of the workers at the factory was just a bit lazy, or perhaps it was a failed experiment. There can't be more than a handful of four-brace tops.


    I've never been a guitar player, but I've played one on stage.
  • HCQHCQ Northeast NJ✭✭✭
    Posts: 225
    Thanks for the link!
  • Its always good to get your perspectives Michael. I have the Selmer guitar book and it is a good reference...but I really enjoy the insights.
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • pickitjohnpickitjohn South Texas Corpus, San Antonio, AustinVirtuoso Patenotte 260
    Posts: 936
    @Michael Bauer

    Glad you took the time to chime in. Nice to have the voice of someone who has SHARED studied and acquired so many fine instruments.

  • MatteoMatteo Sweden✭✭✭✭ JWC Modele Jazz, Lottonen "Selmer-Maccaferri"
    Posts: 393
    Very interesting information about the internal resonator, Michael B. I haven't heard about how the design of the oval hole relates to the opening of the resonator before. One thing I'm wondering, though, is if other builders of D-hole guitars in Paris back in the old days (Busato, Castelluccia, Di Mauro et al) also used an internal resonator or built their D-hole guitars without it, like modern luthiers?
  • Michael BauerMichael Bauer Chicago, ILProdigy Selmers, Busatos and more…oh my!
    Posts: 1,002
    I'm not aware of anyone else using an internal resonator. That was strictly Maccaferri's idea. Di Mauro, Castelluccia, Couesnon and the others weren't building instruments in the price range where they could have accommodated the expense and complexity of an internal resonator. Probably only Busato was making guitars to directly compete with Selmer, and I have never seen an example of a d-hole Busato until after WWII, and probably not until the '50s. I do think that the other builders imitated the d-hole design after Selmer, but, if you look, almost all of them seem to have a smaller opening than the Selmer "D", i.e. di Mauro, Castelluccia, Patenotte. But remember, all of them used different internal bracing patterns, and created different sounds than the Selmers.

    I think Selmer was trying to recreate the sound of the d-hole without the complex design and construction required, hence the small oval. All the Busatos I have seen from the '30s have small ovals, near in size or slightly larger than Selmers. The oval shape sound hole was not uncommon in the era anyway. Even Gibson was using oval sound holes on some early models, although oriented sideways, instead of end-to-end.

    I have a Maccaferri "classical" from 1924 which has a very small body (and the only cutaway model he made in that era), very close in dimensions to the internal resonator cavity inside the d-hole. It has a really big sound, and I wonder if it didn't give him the idea of enclosing it inside a larger body, so that the player's own body wouldn't dampen the sound by absorbing vibrations. It's certainly food for thought.

    I've never been a guitar player, but I've played one on stage.
  • MatteoMatteo Sweden✭✭✭✭ JWC Modele Jazz, Lottonen "Selmer-Maccaferri"
    edited December 2013 Posts: 393
    Oh yes, I have noticed the smaller D-holes on those other Parisian grand bouche guitars, but I didn't know about different bracings etc. Anyway, as a player of a modern D-hole guitar (see my profile image) I wasn't too keen on hearing that it should have the wrong sound, ha ha! ;-) However, at this point I'm really concentrating on getting better at playing, not worrying too much about what is the perfect guitar. But all info is valuable if I should someday want to buy another one. And besides, it's just fun to know these details. I guess you could say that D-hole guitars without internal resonator at least were a part of the Paris jazz sound of yesterday, if not exactly true to the Quintette de Hot Club de France sound. That's good enough for me. Thanks again for your interesting thoughts on these matters! :-)
  • Michael BauerMichael Bauer Chicago, ILProdigy Selmers, Busatos and more…oh my!
    Posts: 1,002
    Matteo, I do think that modern d-holes can sound very good. There are really muddy ones, like the Saga D-500, but I had a Dupont d-hole from 1992 that I really liked, and J.P. Favino and Rodrigo Shopis have made some very nice d-holes. I also think long-scale d-holes have their own sound, which I happen to like very much. Modern luthiers seem to have found a way to tighten up the sound in today's d-holes. And the old Selmer d-holes weren't bad, they just don't sound anything like the original Macs with the resonators intact.
    I've never been a guitar player, but I've played one on stage.
  • edited December 2013 Posts: 3,707
    Michael Dunn uses internal sound boxes in both his Mystery Pacific (D Hole) and Ultrafox guitars.
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
  • Michael BauerMichael Bauer Chicago, ILProdigy Selmers, Busatos and more…oh my!
    Posts: 1,002
    I've seen them, Jay, and the design is unique to him, as you would expect. They are nothing like the Maccaferri design or the later Selmer design. Michael Dunn certainly follows his own path.
    I've never been a guitar player, but I've played one on stage.
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