An introduction (start here)
Is it a Maccaferri?
Or is it a Selmer?
The Internal Resonator
About Mario Maccaferri
About François Charle
The Selmer Maccaferri book
Email: click here
Many people outside France are a bit bewildered about what is a "Maccaferri" and/or a "Selmer" guitar. Since this confusion has existed for so long, the terms (in the English-speaking world, anyway) are probably permanently jumbled. Nonetheless, here are a few basic facts that may help clarify the situation.
For starters, Maccaferri was never originally a brand name. In the twenties and thirties, Mario Maccaferri was a classical guitarist of considerable renown, a contemporary of Segovia back when classical guitarists were a bolder, rarer and rather less-defined breed than they are today. He had also studied lutherie and indeed became a master luthier. From his own musical experience and his formidable lutherie background in Italy, he synthesized a vision of a new guitar. His influence on twentieth century guitar can probably not be fully understood independently from that of his mentor in Italy, Luigi Mozzani. Suffice to say for now, Maccaferri only became a "brand name" after he emigrated to the US. In Europe before the War he was a guitarist and a luthier-visionary, and the designer of a particular guitar with noteworthy innovations, like his internal resonator, sealed tuning machines, and a metal-reinforced neck, among others.
Second of all, we have the venerable firm of Selmer & Cie in Paris. Maccaferri and some friends in London convinced Selmer to stake him to a lutherie atelier which would produce guitars built to his specifications, to be sold through Selmer dealers. One can only imagine the charisma and persuasiveness they must have employed to inspire, especially during the Depression, such a complete departure from Selmer's usual enterprise: wind instruments like clarinets and saxophones.
Maccaferri designed a cluster of guitars which Selmer built and marketed for only two years: 1932 and 1933. By 1934, he had parted company with Selmer, whereupon someone in the Selmer shop redesigned the guitar and, thereafter, Selmer basically sold only that one model. Maccaferri's era of influence at Selmer preceded Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club jazz phenomenon. Being first and foremost a classical musician, Maccaferri never knew Reinhardt, nor even knew his music.
Commencing in 1932, Maccaferri hired workers (mostly Italians, by the way), oversaw the outfitting of the workshops and the making of jigs and molds, established specifications for the initial models, and generally got things rolling while continuing his career as a concertising classical guitarist (though this was soon to be cut short by a freak accident).
It appears that Mario Maccaferri's main influence at Selmer was getting things started in 1931-32. Once production had begun, he spent little time at the atelier. Alas, his involvement at Selmer had completely faded away by 1934. Following his departure, his name and the patent numbers for his resonator had been eliminated from the headstock engraving and his "credit" was literally inked out on the internal label. In early 1934, someone at the atelier changed the design of the modèle Jazz from the D-hole to the oval-hole model. After a few rare transitional "bouche ovale" models with the old 12 fret, 648mm scale (see photo at right), the longer 670mm scale was introduced and became standard for the rest of Selmer's production time. Django immediately and eagerly switched to the oval hole model and played it almost exclusively (though he seemed to play on a lot of borrowed guitars, especially when someone was there with a camera!) until he passed away in 1953. His last Selmer guitar, by the way, #503 (below), was made in 1940, and he played this one exclusively for the rest of his life. Upon his death, his widow donated it to the museum of the Conservatoire Nationale in Paris, now at the Cité de la Musique, where it is proudly displayed alongside Stéphane Grappelli's violin.
The D-hole model was never made again. In fact, only the new modèle Jazz was produced at all, though a handful of old bodies and parts were combined and sent out in later years. By l939, Selmer had added Django's name to the headstock, though only a few rare guitars actually bear this inscription.
The rule of thumb for describing Selmer guitars: the 1932-33 models with the D-hole are called Maccaferri, or Selmer Maccaferri, guitars, while the later oval-hole model is simply called a Selmer guitar. The only guitars bearing the brand name of Maccaferri were either made of plastic in the U.S. in the 1950s, or made in Japan in the 1970s.
The important thing about Mario Maccaferri is that, while his involvement with Selmer was brief and though the flagship Selmer model was perfected by someone else after he left, Mr. Maccaferri made it happen in the first place.
If you want the full story, read François Charle's book.
François Charle, the noted luthier, collector and dealer in Paris, wrote and published the definitive book on Selmer and Maccaferri guitars. Work on this labor of love began in earnest a decade before it finally appeared in print in 1999. In the process of preparing this study, he documented hundreds of the surviving Selmer guitars, traveling all over Europe to do interviews and take photos. In this effort, he enjoyed the support and cooperation of myriad other collectors, experts, and musicians around the world. The book was released in 1999. It sold out both its French and English hardback editions long ago, but is available again in paperback.
Working plans for a Selmer, anyone? Click here.
Click here to find out more about Rosyne and François Charle.
Visit their website: www.rfcharle.com
Do you own a Selmer guitar?
François Charle is archiving a complete database on Selmer guitars
and has over 500 in his list already.
Please contact him about it, if you haven't already.
All references kept strictly confidential.
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