Knowledge Base:  
Choosing Your First Gypsy Jazz Guitar
Last Updated: 10/17/2019
Origins of the Gypsy Guitar

First conceived in its current form by Mario Maccaferri in the late 20's his modified design by the shop foremen of the Henri Selmer Co would later become one of the most imitated designs in the Jazz guitar world. Although similar steel string guitars would exist in Italy for many years prior it was Maccaferri who brought these steel string folk guitars to the forefront of European Jazz. Utilizing the full power of Selmer's metal working factory he was able to craft unique hardware which was unlike any guitar produced at that time. Many instrument makers in Paris, Mirecourt, Catania and Spain would build guitars of varying levels to supply the demand for affordable versions of the famous Selmer-Maccaferri guitar in Paris.

Important Construction Features

A Pliage or "fold" is a method of arching a flat top to create a strong arched soundboard. The technique was directly passed from Neopolitan mandolin building which produced a very still, strong and lightweight structure to resist the downward pressure of the strings. Original Selmer-Maccaferri steel string guitars were constructed in this fashion.


Carbon steel wrapped with silver plated copper. In 1930 the Savaresse company in France (Later to be known as Savarez) developed the Argentine guitar string. Originally there were several types and qualities. There were lower cost "student" strings for practice called "Argentine Velours" and "Argentine de Luxe" for concerts. In the late 1940's an Argentine string was introduced "Micro" for use with magnetic pickups. In the 70's and 1980's Savarez would produce the Argentine De Luxe light gauge until the debut of the Argentine "New Concept" which re-designed the inside core and wrappings to increase life.

DjangoGuitars considers the Argentine strings to be the best choice for the Gypsy Jazz Guitar.


The Selmer guitar was famous for its art-deco tailpiece with a signature insert made first from galalith and later of Gabon ebony. It is important when selecting your tailpiece to use one which is unbent to properly measure match the correct vibrating length of the string. Unless you are replacing an old tailpiece with its direct replacement then we recommend to buy the tailpiece unbent to insure proper string length and fit with the body.

We recommend placing a pad of leather between the tailpiece and the body of the guitar to reduce vibrations and protect the guitar from string tension bearing down on the tailpiece contact area.

The Bridge

Traditionally constructed of either ebony or rosewood. There are many different kinds of bridges engineered to work with the inside bracing pattern and radius of the fingerboard. It is important to consider that each instrument requires a specific shape of bridge for the instrument to respond correctly. For advice on setup or custom bridges:


In the early days guitarists in the genre would make their own guitar picks of shell or horn. Now many substitutes for natural materials have been devised to give classic sound without harming animals. Picks by Wegen, DjangoJazz, and DjangoGuitars offer a wide variety of picks with bevels that fit with an individual players ergonomic requirement. Depending on how you hold a pick you will want to choose a bevel which allows the pick bevel to rest perpendicular to the strings. For advice on picks or custom picks:

The Case

It is important to consider the conditions in which you will store and house your instrument. There are 3 types of cases: laminated polycarbonate, fiber composition and laminated wood shell cases.

Polycarbonate or ABS: For colder climates and air travel we recommend cases like the BAM Manouche case which are constructed with a foam core covered with polycarbonate. A small layer of air surrounds the instrument insulating it from rapid temperature changes. The inside layer of foam can also absorb impact and shock in ways which a carbon fiber case cannot.

Fiber Composition: For warmer climates a fiberglass or carbon fiber case can stand up to austere conditions like beating sun and heat. These are typically the lightest cases and can weigh less than a gig bag with an instrument inside.

Laminated Wood Shell: For long term storage and general use we suggest a laminated wood shell. Since these cases are wood they can absorb moisture and provide an excellent constant relative humidity. If you live in a cold climate with central heating we recommend to humidify the case with either an Oasis Case+ Humidifier or similar device. The case can be humidified even when the instrument is out of the case.

For advice on cases:

Acoustic Pickups

There are no "perfect" acoustic pickups.
Gypsy guitars are unlike any other type of guitar and require a pickup which captures the resonance of the entire instrument.

Bridge mounted under saddle piezo pickups have the advantage of a direct sound with little feedback but, lack dynamics needed to capture an expressive performance. Coaxial pickups if installed correctly can be an improvement if you require an under-saddle pickup. When considering a bridge mounted piezo you must consider if you wish to change the acoustic sound of your guitar.

Soundboard mounted sensor type pickups provide the most realistic and dynamic reproduction of your performance. Increased output gain and linear signal response allow a completely passive pickup to provide microphone like results without feedback. We believe that the best sensor on the market is the Carlos Juan CS-GJ. Playing with the same force acoustically with the sensor will give you the most realistic result. By inverting the phase of the CS-GJ you can use in conjunction with a microphone. There are no batteries involved, no internal preamp.

Magnetic Pickups

During the late 1940's there were a number of special pickups produced for use on the Selmer guitar. These often microphonic "scatter-wound" pickups gave a characteristic sonic imprint sonomous with Django Reinhardt. Stimer and a few other French small manufacturing houses produce amplifiers and pickups from the 1940's until present day.

Instrument Care and Maintenance

The Finish: We recommend the regular use of a safe cream polish to clean and protect delicate nitrocellulose and water based finishes. A small amount of polish on a low lint polishing cloth applied gently can remove stubborn residue buildup.

The Fingerboard: Use of a small amount of lemon oil can renew the fretboard surface and remove oil and dirt from the surface.

Altamira Guitars

Altamira guitars are quite possibly the most authentic and affordable guitars on the market. We have developed a preparation and setup process which brings out the best qualities of the instrument and provides a more stable instrument for years to come. Every aspect of the guitar is detailed, perfected and custom adjusted by Tommy Davy personally.

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