In the galaxy of Gypsy jazz guitars, the Modèle Special Chorus made by Sicilian-born, Parisian-based Antoine Di Mauro was something special. Departing from the standard Selmer grande and petite bouche models, Di Mauro added stylized f-holes for a unique, transatlantic look – as well as a distinctive voice. Today, vintage Special Chorus guitars of the 1950s and ’60s are highly sought after.
Gypsy jazz fan and guitar maker Alain Cola is wise to this. Seeking to re-create an affordable version of the Special Chorus, the man behind the respected Dell’Arte guitar line joined forces with Chinese luthier Hanson Yao, who crafts the Altamira line. The result is the stunning Manouche Latcho Drom Swing 42.
Yao, who apprenticed at the legendary Rodriguez workshop in Spain, builds a range of classical, flamenco, and Gypsy guitars. The Swing 42 stands out for its style and tone.
Like many great original Selmer or Busato guitars, the Swing 42 is lightweight, with thin and vibrant sides, back, and soundboard. The back and sides are crafted of laminated East Indian rosewood. The top is made of cedar, although the guitar is also available with a spruce soundboard for the same price. Ladder bracing supports the top in the typical Selmer pattern, with small reinforcements under the wings of the f-shaped sound holes.
The Swing 42 is available with a natural cedar finish, but we love the antiqued look that gives the guitar a hand-rubbed, violin-like hue, as if it was found in a well-traveled Gypsy caravan (or at least under piles of bric-à-brac in a Paris flea market).
The mahogany neck is capped by an ebony fretboard and has a thin, soft “C” profile that’s easy to get your hand around and fret fluidly. The neck joins the body at the 14th fret like later Selmer oval-hole models. Fretmarkers are suave rectangles on the fingerboard’s top edge, differing from original Special Chorus guitars but adding an art deco touch complimenting the f holes. And unlike most originals with their fretmarker at the French-favored ninth, the Swing 42 goes with the standard tenth.
The tailpiece is a quality Selmer replica, a bit bright for the antique finish, but which certainly can’t be faulted for doing its job.
The tuners also do what they’re supposed to do – and match the pricepoint. A cool instant upgrade would be to swap on replica Selmer- or Bilardi-style tuners.
Building a fine-looking guitar is one thing, but capturing that distinctive Gypsy jazz voice is another. How does the Swing 42 sound?
The lightweight body is pure resonance. The sound is large, although not over-loud, which is a lovely combination. With the cedar top, the guitar feels very live. The tone is dry, making it ideal for the famous Gypsy jazz pompe rhythm. Single-note lines sing with a voice belying the guitar’s price. And it’s all sure to open up and improve further with age and playing! And, the guitar loves to be played. That light body with its well-balanced headstock, the sweet neck profile, and fluent fret feel all give it playability rivaling much more expensive Gypsy guitars, while build quality makes for a solid, dependable instrument compared with too many vintage French guitars.
You might be tempted to buy a Swing 42 as a gig guitar – the price and sound are right. Though inexpensive compared with vintage models, you won’t feel short-changed, and may find yourself playing it all the time while your Selmer has a well-deserved rest.
This article originally appeared in VG October 2016 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.