Hawaiian Guitar by way of French Musicians from Italy

…with a little harp guitar thrown in!

Confused yet?  Good!

This is a quick, harp guitar-centric look at Gino Bordin, a prolific virtuoso Hawaiian guitarist from Paris, who wasn’t French, but Italian, and who didn’t actually play much Hawaiian music on the steel guitar.

All of my information comes from the charming and informative booklet accompanying the great Gino Bordin CD that collects 25 of Bordin’s countless steel guitar recordings (casual reporting like this reminds me of my “armchair musicologist” days; btw, that was a clever turn-of-phrase gag that almost no one ever really got.).

Liner notes are by collector/researcher Cyril LeFebvre, translated by Les Cook, founder of the increasingly valuable label, Grass Skirt Records (the same fellow who donated the wonderful Platini postcard of Monday’s blog.  The notes tell of Bordin, a native of northeast Italy, settling in Paris as a musician in the early 1920’s.  He played guitar, guitar-banjo and musical saw, eventually dedicating himself to the steel guitar, of which he became Paris’ master.

The Northern Italian emigrating to Paris background explains why one of the first photos the booklet includes of Bordin shows him with a distinctive Italian harp guitar.

A Mozzani?  That’s what Selmer guitar author François Charle thought (providing the i.d. to Cyril), but no – something similar by an as-yet-unidentified maker (at first glance, I too was taken aback).  The builder was clearly influenced by Mozzani, obvious from the similar double-arm silhouette and creative soundholes.  But he also wanted to make it his own, so there are various changes to the outline that differentiates it.  He (sorry, ladies, I just assume it was another “he”) eschewed a fancy Mozzani-style bridge and likewise the complicated adjustable floating neck.  His instead uses a simple theorbo-style extension, laid against and fitted just inside the arm.  Not as attractive, if you ask me, but simple and effective, and still a fantastic-looking harp guitar!

The beautiful photo is a full scan of the original, kindly submitted by Cyril.  I think it’s reasonable to imagine that Bordin played solo harp guitar along with his other guitars and banjos, if only occasionally and briefly.  That’s also assuming that this is his personal instrument.

Another fantastic photo in the booklet shows Bordin (in front with musical saw) with a huge group of musical friends, with someone else holding the same guitar.

Among his steel guitars, Bordin played a 7-string Selmer Hawaiian for a few years, and later a 6-, then 7-string electric National.  As I said above, he played very little actual Hawaiian music, though he tried to at least invoke the flavor through his song titles (“Hawaiian This,” “Hawaiian That”).  In yet another convoluted cultural crossover, The Italian Bordin often played Viennese waltzes on his Hawaiian guitar in the French instrumental style.

One of Bordin’s duo partners was another steel guitarist, Alex Manara.  Perhaps not surprisingly, Manara was a fellow Italian, though born in France on the family’s way to Paris.  And yet, Manara, too, couldn’t escape his harp guitar cultural instincts – for in the 1930’s he’s playing his own Italian harp guitar in L’Orchestra Montmartrois Constantino.  Two different French record catalogs include photos of the band, with Manara on his harp guitar.  This instrument does not match anything in our vast Italian maker archives either.  It is clearly another Taraffo/Gazzo-inspired instrument, perhaps from Genoa as well.  Unfortunately, though Cyril had the opportunity to talk with a 97-year old Manara, his amazing memory could not recall where the harp guitar came from!  (It was Manara who explained that Gino would often visit his countryman friend Mario Maccaferri at Mozzani’s workshop.  Ergo, the assumption that the chitarra lyra came from there.)

Italian, French, Viennese, Hawaiian…it doesn’t matter – the harp guitar will figure into the musical story somehow!

  1. Martin Says:

    Oohh yes ……the CD is absolute brillant …..Hawai meets Paris ……I love the music .

  2. palix Says:

    news about Gino Bordin

    http://keepswinging.blogspot.fr/2010/04/gino-bordin-and-hawaiian-guitar-1930s.html

  3. palix Says:

    news about Gino Bordin

    http://beyond-the-coda.blogspot.fr/search/label/Cyril%20Lefebvre

  4. Palix Says:

    news about Cyril Lefbvre
    http://beyond-the-coda.blogspot.fr/2013/01/cocaine-blues.html

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