Graziano Selmer Style tenorCalifornia luthier Tony Graziano began making instruments in 1969, and since 1995, the affable Santa Cruz-based builder has been focusing almost exclusively on making ukuleles for enthusiasts and professional players. Though he offers several standard models, most of his ukes are custom orders, based on traditional designs enhanced with gorgeous woods and his own special flourishes.
One of the most distinctiveand to this players eyescoolest ukes in his lineup is the Selmer Style, a tenor ukulele patterned after the Selmer guitars favored by Django Reinhardt, the Manouche-jazz improvisatory genius and progenitor of the Hot Club style. Like its big guitar brothers, the Selmer Style uke has an oval soundhole, cutaway design, slotted headstock, floating mustache bridge, and brass tailpiece.
The test model came with koa back and sides and cedar topan optional combination that should offer a mellower tone than the standard Selmers spruce and rosewood mixand an integral pickup. (Graziano also offers this model in the Maccaferri style, which has a large D-shaped soundhole like those on the rhythm guitars favored by Hot Club strummers.)
Despite its Django-inspired look and construction, you dont have to be a soloist to dig the Selmer ukes zippy sound. Much like its design forebear, which is noted for its volume and its singing lead sounds, this uke has a quick response that seems to launch notes like a cannon. However, theres more to the Graziano than a fierce attack.
Take it a little easier with the strumming, and the Graziano opens up with a mellower, more classic uke sound. Dig in with your fingernails or a pick, however, and you just might be creating a new way to play Gypsy swing. As an avid guitarist in that style, I really love playing some of the genres classics on this new voice.
Favorites like Nuages seem to take on an especially sweet quality with the ukes voicing and the Aquila Nylgut strings, known for generating a plump and warm sound.
The craftsmanship throughout the uke is marvelous. Everything is perfectly fit and finished, but not perfect in a sterile, factory-made way. This uke has a life to it that only seems to come from a small custom builder at the top of his game.
The woods Graziano uses only add to the ukes specialness. The cedar top is gorgeous, and theres a casual beauty to the lightly flamed koa back and sides. The bolt-on Honduran mahogany neck is thick and rounded and about as comfortable a neck as my hands have met, with outstanding fretwork. And this uke has something you rarely see on other ukuleles (but might find on the highest-end acoustic guitars), Brazilian rosewood, which Graziano uses for the bridge, fingerboard, binding, headstock face, and tailpiece top.
In an acoustic rehearsal setting, the Selmer had no trouble being heard when playing with another uke (vintage Martin Style 1 with a wonderful patina), amplified singer, and drums on a furiously fast rendition of the playful chestnut Whose Honey Are You?
To hear the Grazianos plugged-in sound, I tried it out with a Fishman Loudbox 100. The K&K Aloha Twin pickup uses two elements that are attached to the tops interior, between the soundhole and the bridge.
The passive design doesnt require a preamp, so I went straight into the acoustic-ready Fishman and right away heard a warmer, fuller tone, rather than the clackiness I often hear with undersaddle pickups.
After experimenting with the amps EQ, I ended up favoring the straight, flat sound of the amp for all of my playing. The K&K only amplified the things I wanted to hear, like the Selmers sweet and punchy attack, and not my arm rubbing the ukes top.
I also was able to get considerable volume without resorting to the amps built-in feedback-fighting controls. Playing the Selmer live at amedium-sized club, I ran it through a passive DI into the house system, and, wow, did it sound impressivebig, sparkly strums, oodles of clarity, and a special balance between warmth and jangle.
In this rarified price range, players should expect a special playing experience, and with the Graziano Selmer Style, they definitely get one.
Its a suave ukulele that balances the panache and polish of Paris with the laidback fun of Honolulu.
- Tenor size with lightly flamed koa back and sides and Western red cedar top
- Nitrocellulose gloss finish
- Honduras mahogany neck with Brazilian rosewood fingerboard
- Grover Sta-Tite tuners
- K&K Aloha Twin pickup
- Aquila Nylgut strings
- Hard-shell case
- $2,300 base; $2,400 as tested with pickup ($100) and these wood options
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