If you’re a guitar player looking to explore the music of Django Reinhardt and the manouche jazz of the Belgium-born Romani guitarist and his cohorts, sooner or later you’ll find yourself ogling the distinctive Selmer-style guitars that are practically required for playing this endlessly cool style. With their long scale lengths, small oval soundholes, and unique strings, these specialized instruments were built to create penetrating acoustic sound when played with a heavy pick.
If your ears are used to boomy dreadnoughts, your first impression of a Selmer-style guitar might be that it’s all zing and no booty. While that may be true of some of the lower-end student models, a quality petite bouche (“small mouth”) guitar is a very quick and responsive instrument, with a woody midrange, growling lows, and singing high-end that’s super for lead and rhythm work alike.
La Pompe and Circumstance
Eastman spent a few years working on its Selmer model, and the company debuted this guitar, the DM1, in January. I was able to get my hands on the first one available and had a swinging time getting my rhythm chops in shape for the chugging Gypsy-jazz rhythm called la pompe and working on diminished scale runs popular among Djangoheads.
From a spec-sheet perspective, the DM1 checks all of the right boxes for the Gypsy-jazz fan: the oval soundhole with its characteristic striped rosette; floating, compensated mustache bridge; curvaceous metal tailpiece with ebony inlay; ladder-braced spruce top, and laminated rosewood back and sides. This last feature is accurate to how the original Selmers were built, based on a pioneering design by Mario Maccaferri to make the guitars more durable and project more because of the stiff back and sides.
Let’s address the gorilla in the room before we continue—our tester guitar’s finish is a controversial choice in the picky world of Gypsy-jazz traditionalists. It features Eastman’s unique Classic finish, inspired by the weathered and well-played look of old violins. Though some other players thought it looked like fake antiquing, I liked the finish’s subtle shading and the fact that it resembles nothing else. (For those less interested in causing a riot at your next Hot Club jam, Eastman also offers the guitar in a more traditional natural finish.) Whether this color is your jam or not, the open-pore finish was well applied, and I get the sense that each one finished in this color will be unique.
Pompe It Up
I compared the Eastman with a few other Selmer-style guitars, including a student-grade Gitane DG-250 and a stellar DuPont MD30 that has seen decades of service to Django’s legacy. The flat-D-shaped neck profile is more substantial than the typical Chinese-built Selmer copy and more comfortable for my fretting hand than my trusty old Gitane. The setup was excellent from first strum and the intonation and fretwork along the thick ebony fingerboard were flawless. Overall, the DM1 offers a good version of the classic Django zing, with robust bass, an even response all along the fingerboard, and impressive projection. Its nuanced, woody tone was superior to that of other similarly priced guitars, though it lacked the depth of tone and powerful output of the professional-grade, handmade DuPont—which costs several times more.
I hosted a tone-tasting session with Paul Mehling—a regular AG contributor and the founder of the Hot Club of San Francisco—who, acting on a hunch, added a very thin ebony shim under the bridge foot’s treble side. Raising the bridge just a millimeter gave the DM1 a notable improvement in tone and volume. Rather than an indictment of the Eastman’s factory setup—which would be difficult to fault on a guitar that plays this smoothly—this little experiment might serve as encouragement to have a professional help to optimize your guitar to your tastes.
There have never been more instrument options for the aspiring Gypsy-jazz student or seasoned vet. If you’re looking to learn this exciting style of playing, or to further your skills, you won’t be able to find a guitar for under $1,000 that sounds as good as the Eastman DM1.
Body Ladder-braced Sitka spruce top; laminated rosewood back and sides; rosewood binding; nitrocellulose finish
Neck Maple neck with dual-action truss rod; flat-radius ebony fingerboard with pearl position marker inlays;
670 mm (26.38″) scale length
Other 1-3/4″ wide bone nut; rosewood mustache-style bridge; Selmer-style tailpiece
Made in China
Price $999 MAP
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
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