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D J Hodson Guitars
by Andy Mackenzie

D J Hodson Mandolin

The violin has long been held up as the supreme example of a design that cannot be improved. Three hundred years ago the luthiers of Cremona got it right and no amount of future tweaking has produced a better sounding instrument. For those of us who delight in Django's every note would add a further example to this scenario, the 1920's designs of Italian maestro Mario Maccaferri. His design for a 'jazz' guitar was not following any precedent other than that the sound should be loud and strident like a banjo - an opinion formed after a single visit to a jazz concert.

The 'Modele Jazz' guitar produced by Selmer to offer a choice to Maccaferri's favoured classical and Hawaiian designs has since become a classic and is the holy grail of most guitarists. This popularity has produced many copies over the years, some good many bad, some seeking to improve the design for whatever reason, and some, who just accept that you can't improve on perfection.

Hodson Mandolin back viewEnglish luthier David Hodson is firmly in the latter camp and single handedly produces a range of modern instruments that could have been produced seventy years ago.

His range is even wider than Selmer's original catalogue as David offers not only the 'Modele Jazz' design, classical and four string models but also basses, mandolins, mandola’s, ukuleles, bouzoukis and seven-string acoustic and electric guitars - all echoing the Selmer style.


If ever there was a design that should have been in the Selmer catalogue then this is it. Hodson's mandolins are not only the cutest instruments you have seen but also some of the best sounding. The review model has Macasser Ebony back and sides, Spruce top, a Maple neck with an Ebony fingerboard and bridge. It looks just like a Selmer guitar with a growth defect and causes no end of interest whenever and wherever it is played.

The mandolin, because of its American bluegrass and European folk connection has found a familiar home in gypsy jazz and the aesthetics of this design reinforce the connection still further. For those uncertain of this just listen to Paul Hares of the UK group “Crazy Rhythm” or the American virtuoso John Jorgenson who both play Hodson mandolins in the gypsy jazz style.

Here I must declare an interest.
So impressed have I been, I ordered a fiddle back maple bodied example for myself. I am so taken with the instrument that I find I am practising with it at every opportunity- it travels in the car with me and because of its size is a regular companion on most trips. If Martin Taylor can start learning the mandolin then there is no excuse for any of us. I don't recommend, I demand, you track down one of Hodson's mandolins - you will be glad you did .

Hodson Model 503sr guitarMODEL 503SR

Available in either D-hole (Grande bouche) or the Oval hole (Petite bouche) styles this is Dave's take on the models used by Django and is produced in the same way, using the same materials as the Selmer originals. This is certainly not the case with other luthiers claiming to produce a Selmer replica; the only other builder I'm aware of to produce in such a way is Frenchman Maurice Dupont.

The basic problem for modern luthiers is twofold - the first is their own preconceptions and fear of returns under guarantee, the second is the customers preconceptions and expectations.

Most builders know that to build a guitar that meets the specifications of an original Selmer the top has to be thin, the neck has to be (by modern trends) bulky, the finish minimal, the back and sides have to be laminated the bridge like a shell and the humidity of the timbers has to be tinder-box dry. Most know that the first thing a customer does when he/she receives a new instrument is inspect it visually or delicately strum it - not play it with the ferocity required to fill a jazz club acoustically.

To this end I can't blame most guys (and girls now) in producing great looking 'safe' instruments that sound good in their owners front rooms but offer a whisper when played in anger. Most are heavily built with thick and glossy finishes that look great but kill the sound.

No such caution from Mr Hodson however, he obviously builds for the player the instruments offered for review not only looked great but sounded better than any other modern replica I have tried.

I had the opportunity to use a “Vintaged” model 503 at a recent theatre concert and it filled the hall acoustically!

The review guitar I used has the standard solid spruce top that is extremely thin and lightly braced. The neck is slightly larger than most modern guitars, (as Selmers were but as a seven string player I didn't notice!) and perhaps most interestingly the guitar had been aged much in the same way as the Murphy Les Paul’s and Fender Relic series of reissues.

This option may not be to everyone's taste but I loved the vibe of the guitar. It looked fifty years old. The varnish had been 'worn' through, the metal parts oxidised and the finish chipped and scratched. It fooled everybody, the amount of guys who came up after the show and said “You can't beat the sound of an original Selmer.” I did tell them “the truth” and showed them the guitar and all, like me, were extremely impressed.

Hodson Eddie Freeman Special guitarTHE EDDIE FREEMAN SPECIAL

This is one of my favourites and should be in every rhythm guitarist’s arsenal. Originally conceived by dance band guitarist Freeman as a hybrid instrument sitting somewhere between the banjo and guitar. Selmer produced this ill-fated instrument in the 1930s. What Hodson has done is revived the design to offer an alternative to the standard tenor specification guitar he also produces. The Freeman is basically a D-hole 503 but with a full scale four string neck, only 32mm at the nut.

The feel is similar to banjo but the sound is all guitar, very punchy when tuned to the middle four strings of the standard guitar (A D G B) - the way I prefer to tune. It can be tuned as a plectrum banjo (C G B D) or the alleged Freeman tuning (C,G,D,A, this being the most likely, as reported in Francois Charle's book) which ever tuning is used, it still produces a strong pounding rhythm ideal for any acoustic ensemble. This is not a novelty instrument but a guitar design that really works, perhaps Mr Freeman's day will yet come after all.

For full details see David’s website www.hodsonjazzguitars.com or contact David directly by e-mail at Reveal David's E-mail


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Source http://www.hodsonjazzguitars.com
January, 2005