Thursday, August 12, 2010

Guitars of Oscar Alemán

A competent musician can play any instrument of the chosen type and make the sound his or her own, the individual musician combines the 'output' with his or her personal 'touch' and thus conducts the sound of the instrument to his or her personal taste. However, sometimes the sound of a musician is tightly connected with his or her prefered instrument, and this is just the case when considering the sound of Alemán's guitar(s). Throughout his recording career Oscar Alemán is known to have used at least two different types of guitars, the steel body National resonator model (- the Tricone, Style 2, see picture below) and the Selmer-Macaferri 'D'-hole ('la grande bouche') originally favoured by Django Reinhardt.

This entry is not intended to be a technical description and evaluation of the two mentioned types of guitars used by Alemán, however, from time to time we get questions according this matter and therefore we thought it a good idea to introduce the subject in this blog.- The shown National tricone, style 2 is described here and you can find further info about the National steel body instruments in the highly recommended book on the subject by Bob Brozman. - Generally, Alemán played and recorded with his National tricone in the 1930s, unfortunately, he did not have it with him when going back to Argentina, as it was confiscated by the Nazis in 1940. To give you an impression of the sound of Alemán's National tricone, here's the famous solo recording of "Nobody's Sweetheart" from December 1938, recorded in Copenhagen

The sound of the steel body National tricone is quite unique and for the well trained ear it is easy to differentiate from other guitars thanks to the more 'metalic' sound (- originally it was intended to be used by Hawaiian-style guitarists playing slide). The choice of this instrument may first of all depend on its build-in resonators that are intended to amplify the sound; before electric guitars, microphones and amplifiers emerged, the resonator guitars were an acoustic solution to problems with amplification of the instrument, especially when played in an orchestra where the sound of a guitar often would drown by the sound of other instruments. The same story can be told regarding the Selmer-Macaferri 'grande bouche' that originally was constructed with a similar acoustic amplification system inside the wooden box of the body, but later changed to a more conventional 'box'. Alemán played and recorded with a Selmer-Macaferri 'grande bouche' replica build by the Argentine luthier Sergio Repiso 'copied' from Alemán's original Selmer-Macaferri that he had brought with him from Europe (see picture below of a Repiso 'grande bouche').

The Selmer- Macaferri type guitars are commonly prefered by Gypsy-style guitarists and you can read more about these instruments here

The sound of Alemán's 'grande bouche' guitar model is to be heard in all of his recordings made during the 1940s and 1950s, from around 1954 electric amplification is added with the help of a Stimer-like pick-up (-attached in the sound hole of the instrument) and used throughout live-performance and recordings from the 1960s and 1970s. Here's an example of the 'grande bouche' model without amplification from Alemán's late '40ies recording of the tune "Blue Skies"

To end this small feature on the guitars played by Alemán, here's an example of the 'grande bouche' added electric amplification, the tune is "Tono Nº 1" from the 'Alemán '72' album