The Nouveau Model
A voice created for and played by top young artists
I met Stephane Wrembel, Adrien Moignard, Robin Nolan, and Gonzalo Bergara through Mathieu Chatelain at a music festival called Django in June in Boston several years ago. Up till that point the Gypsy Jazz scene had a very strong traditional focus particularly here in America. People would choose one of the styles – the highly rhythmic and virtuosic Dutch style or the very explosive and hard-driving German style or the clever and melodic French style – and they would set about mastering that style and repertoire to prove their legitimacy. Many styles of music are like this; the community of devout fans “police” artists and penalize them for straying too far from what has been done before. But these young guys (The “Young Lions” as they’ve become known) all came from different backgrounds and they had enough early success in their careers to have a little breathing room within which to be creative, and they were all thankfully too young to really care about coloring between the lines. Moreover, they knew the rules so well that they could break them in ways that made even hardcore traditionalists weak in the knees. I remember thinking: “My god, these guys are creating something completely new in a relatively conservative musical genre and they’re getting away with it – this is fantastic!”
OK, rewind a few years. Mathieu Chatelain came through Portland with Sebastien Giniaux and the group ‘Norig’. Sebastien performed on one of my early guitars and then we all went to dinner. I must have asked Mathieu a hundred questions about what made a good Gypsy guitar. A few times he chuckled and said: “I would not have expected you to ask that question – almost no one does – but I think it is very important so here is what I think – and you should ask other players too.” At the end of the night he gave me a big hug and pat on the back – and I’m fairly certain he was joking in a friendly way when he smiled and said: “OK maestro – so now you know what to do – go build it!”
So I did. I built and built and built and built. I had put a chunk of money aside from my previous career and so instead of building for a clientele, I built just to learn. Probably the first 20 never got more than a wash-coat of shellac on them before I ripped them apart and rebuilt them or outright destroyed them and started over. Two years later, Mathieu came through Boston with Adrien Moignard and I went out to see them and meet the “Young Lions” and show them the new guitars. I vividly remember sitting in my room with Mathieu and Adrien – I was either so nervous or excited that I had developed tunnel-vision and it looked like the other end of the room was 30 yards away – and I could hear them say: “We don’t think you understand how fast you have improved – it’s a bit crazy actually.” Later that night Stephane Wrembel encapsulated the feeling of that trip. He said: “Bob, you seem really happy. Something wonderful is happening to you and these new guitars speak of that transformation and that’s so cool to see. Live in the light of Django, not the shadow of Django. Keep innovating – he would want it that way. Everyone kept calling them the “new guitars” and so in honor of these really wonderful young jazz musicians, that is what I called them. The “Nouveau” guitars.
Ask me in 20 years what the future of this model is. It was conceived for these wonderful young jazz guitarists and honed by their feedback. Like the music itself, this guitar grows. Since the beginning, new voices to the conversation such as Alfonso Ponticelli, Romain Vuillemin, Gwen Cahue, Jeff Radaich, The Boyers, and Roy Williams have shed new light on various elements of real world performance. Additionally, veteran guitarists have generously answered my questions and given feedback. Romane helped me understand more about neck feel and playability, John Jorgenson and Neil Andersson opened my eyes to the issues of “real world” intonation that guitarists contend with. Then there is the consistent and experienced voice of Michael Horowitz who plays so many of the guitars I make and also plays nearly every great vintage gypsy guitar that enters this country. Last but not by any means least, when an acoustic issue stumps me, my loudspeaker design mentor Ken Humphries is willing to take a call. The time and consideration of all these gentlemen has given me a depth and breadth of real-world hard-earned knowledge that would be impossible to gain any other way. I can’t possibly thank them sufficiently, so I just try to honor their time and efforts by listening closely when they speak, and then putting their wisdom to use.
Ask me in 20 years what the future of this model is …like the music itself, this guitar grows.