Working out of her shop in North Vancouver, British Columbia, luthier Shelley D. Park has been dedicated to building Gypsy jazz–style guitars since 1994. At that time, she was serving as the rhythm guitarist for Pearl Django, one of the earliest acts in North America dedicated to carrying on the music popular in pre- and post-war Paris. Since then, she has focused on creating guitars that closely adhere to the plan originally set by Mario Maccaferri and Selmer and their followers, such as Favino. But instead of simply recreating instruments of the past, Park adds some of her own decorative elements and modern construction ideas, such as a soundport that feeds tone up toward the player’s ears through an additional opening in the guitar’s side.
Park’s Modèle Elan 12 is based on Maccaferri’s original Modèle Jazz guitar, a 12-fret design the Italian luthier developed for Selmer when the company went into guitar production in the early 1930s. These instruments, made only in 1932 and 1933, feature a large, D-shaped soundhole known as the grand bouche (“big mouth”), a 1.85-inch wide nut, and a 640mm (25.2-inch) scale length. They quickly found favor within the Gypsy-jazz community; when Selmer changed to a smaller oval-shaped soundhole and longer 670mm (26.378-inch) scale with a 14-fret neck, following Maccaferri’s departure from the company, the Modèle Jazz became the preferred rhythm guitar.
The guitar seen here, #343, one of Park’s most recent instruments, is customized with a few material and hardware changes. It has a European spruce top, koa binding, and big-leaf maple back, sides, and neck. While the original plans call for laminated rosewood back and sides and a walnut neck, Park prefers maple for its crisp, dry tone. Usually, Park adds soundports only to her smaller oval-hole guitars, but the musician who commissioned this particular instrument plays in a loud group and, like most guitarists, wanted to be able to hear himself better.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.