The Bionic Gypsy Guitar? Can we (re)build her?

I'm looking for opinions from makers, luthiers, experts (lend me your years..?!)

Let's suppose I have access to a fine violin maker who's willing to have a crack at a 'Hacc'aferri... (my dad, yo!)

(He also has copious experience in taking apart and repairing sensitive instruments)

His having years of experience making extremely fine, sought after and well-loved instruments in the violin family - including ‘cellos - BUT having no moulds or other ‘jig'-type things relevant to 'maccaferri-style' guitar making, caused me to think along the following lines:

Consider the lowly cheap n' nasties: The Stagg, The Aeirsi, The SX etc.

What, EXACTLY, is it that makes them so bad?

My intuitive sense is that it must come down MAINLY to the ’Top’ (poor materials, poor construction, too-heavy bracing that doesn't allow the soundboard to sing properly.. etc.) - and, that things like the back, sides, neck material, headstock style, relative cheapness or expensiveness of the tailpiece and machines, play little (if any) part in the beloved characteristic SOUND of manouche guitars.. 

Am I broadly correct?

Obviously - should it need to be said - my goal is THE SOUND, I couldn't give a rat's a** what it looks like..

(He can make and has made (and fretted and fitted) excellent rosewood fingerboards in the past so that part is not an issue either, nor is the bridge.)

To get to MY QUESTION:

Any reason NOT to just buy an 'El Cheapo’ (for the 'bits' - and to save him having to make tools to make sides etc.) - and hand-craft an excellent Top/Soundboard and fingerboard for her??

Your thoughts please, gurus!


  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 657

    A friend of mine did this exact thing to a rosewood Takamine D-xx around 40 years ago. He used Martin braces and layout, a top quality soundboard and a very light nitro finish. It worked perfectly - he called that guitar the "Sladeamine" (his last name was Slade) and it sounded great. When I saw him a few years ago he was still playing it. Your mileage may vary, of course.

  • tomcunntomcunn ✭✭✭
    Posts: 124

    my first gypsy guitar was an SX

    and it is surprisingly good; other players have thought so as well and asked, what it this?

  • ChrisMartinChrisMartin Shellharbour NSW Australia✭✭ Di Mauro x2, Petrarca, Genovesi, Burns, Kremona Zornitsa & Paul Beuscher resonator.
    edited September 2020 Posts: 959

    If he has the skills and is game to try it why not?

    I suspect your thinking is correct and if you can start with a $300 donor, strip the finish and remove the fingerboard (obviously you will have to to replace the top) then use that as a start. The skills are needed for making and fitting the top and braces, then the edge binding, and then give it a few coats of nitro. Replacing the fingerboard may necessitate a fret job but why not while you have the chance. Hardware is easily available, I have used Schaller Deluxe covered tuners on a few and can recommend. One thing I don't know about, although I am sure there are online tutorials somewhere, is how to make the 'rosette' soundhole decoration. I will look that up on Google.

    Now you have given me an idea for a new project.................I don't have that much experience but I do have the Michael Collins book and a total lack of fear that lets me try anything once.

  • DeuxDoigts_TonnerreDeuxDoigts_Tonnerre Lawrenceville GA USANew Stringphonic #503 Basic, Altamira M30D, Eastman AR810CE, Giannini Craviola
    Posts: 56

    I met a fellow at DiJ 2019 that had done a "Mac-Enstein" guitar. He made the top out of some reclaimed wood from an antique dresser that had been in the family for years. I think it had worm holes in it too!!! I believe he used a Gitane for the body, can't remember about the neck. He said he did not think it would sound good, but when he put it together he was pleasantly surprised. It looked quite rustic for sure.

  • mac63000mac63000 Tacoma, WANew Geronimo Mateos Jazz B
    Posts: 248

    Geronimo Mateos actually has a ton of videos on how they make guitars, including a video on rosettes:

  • BonesBones Moderator
    Posts: 3,320

    Sure why not. Probably try to make the top with a pliage if possible but you need to worry about the neck angle as it is SUPER important if you do a pliage (or really even a dome top). If your donor guitar doesn't have the correct neck angle you will need to reset the neck to get the proper bridge height/action/etc.

  • bluemovesbluemoves New
    Posts: 50

    Hey, massive thanks everyone - really really helpful!

    Something's going ahead! - he's got the Michael Collins plans and is sourcing materials..!

    (We don't live in the same country so communication is by email and therefore I'm not on top of exactly where he's at with it..)

    So, while I'm here.. who knows about woods on the Selmer 503? (I've realised my interest is in one that's as close to Django's own as possible (like, duh?, perhaps? :)) !! The Selmer 503 - [so, though a Maccaferri design, maybe not a Maccaferri-period product.?])

    Top / Back / Sides / Neck / Fingerboard / Bridge ?

    I'm sure among you guys the knowledge is there :D

    Thanks so much.

  • edited September 2020 Posts: 4,802

    Selmers were usually spruce top, laminated rosewood b/s and walnut neck, rosewood fretboard and bridge (not sure about that one, could've been ebony). Are you now moving towards a full build?

    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • BonesBones Moderator
    Posts: 3,320

    Cool, keep us posted. Post some pics of the process if possible.

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