Creation of a company in Courbevoie

Stimer workshop
Stimer workshop in Courbevoie, in the early 1950s. Jean Guen collection

IN April 1946, Jean entered the craft register and founded a radio sets construction and repair company with his childhood friend, Paul Pieretti, an accordionist and also a radio passionate. Henceforth craftmen, they rented a small workshop located at 39, rue d'Alençon in Courbevoie in Paris region and launched their business under the name Établissement Guen et Pieretty. On the official documents of the company, Paul replaced the final « i » of his patronym by the letter « y » in order to francize it. Lucienne Guen, Jean's sister-in-law, worked as the secretary. In the midst of the post-war housing crisis, Jean took up residence in the second floor of the workshop where he lived for several years.

First pickup for guitar

One day in 1946, a young man brought his guitar at the Courbevoie workshop. He amplified his instrument by means of a piezo-electric cartridge placed on the sound box. He was dissatisfied with this system which generated too much treble. He then requested Jean to find a way to increase the bass response of his amplifier. Jean replied that the problem came from the piezo-electric pickup which naturally created little bass and suggested to change the pickup type.

Jean carried out his first trials with a receiver's electromagnet plugged into an amplifier that he stood close to the guitar strings. Using a wide enough magnet to cover the whole strings surrounding by a coil bobbin, Jean developed his first magnetic pickup for guitar. He originally named his creation « magnetophone » instead of « pickup ». When describing its manufacture, Jean stated : « This was mainly a mechanical issue : drawing of sheet metal, printing, drilling, tapping, glueing a magnet, making a magnetic circuit. That's called electromechanics. Regarding electricity, it's just winding a thread. [...] There was also chrome-plating, setting-up potentiometers, but it wasn't a big deal. »

Invoice no. 1
Incoice no. 1, dated 10 December 1946, for the Major music store. MuPop collection (Jean Guen donation)

By word of mouth, other musicians willing to fit their guitars with the same type of magnetic pickup went to the workshop. « So there, I had to make a deep drawing tool and a die trimming tool. It was then that my studies at the Andresy school were useful. » In the same year, the Établissement Guen et Pieretty provided the Major wholesaler, future Major Conn, located near the Place Pigalle in Paris.


Stimer : an origin unrelated to music

DURING the forties, drivers were obliged to leave the position lamps of their parked vehicle on as soon as dusk fell. These regulations reduced the run time of cars batteries, also called accumulators. Therefore, Jean had the idea to create a small device capable of providing ready electrical energy to batteries. « My slogan was "Start in a flash !".  » Jean remembers.

This device, equipped with alligator clips allowing connection with the battery as well as a power cord, could, thanks to its compact size, be screwed inside the car. Jean first considered calling this accumulator charger « Stimul » in reference to its action consisting in stimulating the battery. « But we were accustomed to Anglo-Saxon-sounding names and I thought that "Stimer" was more appropriate for the language of that epoch. » The Stimer brand appeared in the beginning of 1947.

Prospectus promoting the Stimer accumulator charger Prospectus promoting the Stimer accumulator charger
Prospectus published in the late 1940s promoting the Stimer accumulator charger. Jean Guen collection
Incoice no. 70
Incoice no. 70, dated 18 October 1947, for the sale of five accumulator chargers. MuPop collection (Jean Guen donation)
Invoice no. 221
Invoice no. 221, dated 17 January 1949, the first with the name « Établissements Guen Frères » as header. MuPop collection (Jean Guen donation)

Yves Guen's arrival in the company

Around the year 1948, Jean hired his brother Yves, a good mechanic who worked back then as a fruit and vegetables travelling salesman. Shortly after the latter's arrival, Paul Pieretti decided to resign. The company was then renamed Établissements Guen Frères. « My brother has been very helpful because I'm just an inventor, a dreamer... But I'm not the person to make money. I'm like those that create : we create solely to create. » Jean acknowledges. Less pragmatic than his elder brother, Jean could accasionally go astray : « Major Conn ordered me ten amplifiers. I was pleased to make such a quantity, but I was yet more into echo chambers. [Edith] Piaf, when she was singing, it was sometimes ethereal. This was due to echo chambers that produced reverberation. I wanted to build some using magnetic tape. But my brother pushed me to fulfil the order, he badgered me ! His quality is that he was a good manager. »

Jean Guen checking the voltage of an amplifier
Jean Guen is checking the voltages on an amplifier before installation into a cabinet, in the early 1950s. Jean Guen collection
Lucienne Guen typewriting a letter
Lucienne Guen is typewriting mails destined for customers, in the early 1950s. Jean Guen collection
Yves Guen taking a break
Yves Guen smoking a cigar during a break, in the early 1950s. Jean Guen collection
Guen family in front of the workshop
Jean Guen with family is posing in front of his workshop in the early 1950s. Christian Guen, the little boy on the picture, launched in 2014 a reissue of the old Stimer pickups. Jean Guen collection


First industrial Stimer pickup : the ST 48

ST 48 sketch
Sketch of the ST 48 made from memory by Jean Guen at the age of 93 years. Nicolas Pellet collection

STILL in 1948, Jean made his first Stimer pickup designed to be mass-produced: the Standard 48, better known as the ST 48. Flagship product of the brand, it was adopted by many musicians

The ST 48 is a single-coil pickup housed in a chrome-plated metal housing. « The double coil avoids hum interference, Jean says. Since it complicated the manufacture and the customers didn't request it, we only made single coil pickups. » It has a power button, mounted at the end of the housing, allowing to adjust the volume of the amplifier directly from the pickup. It is attached over the sound hole, under the strings, using screws. A rubber-insulated cable enables a high impedance connection with any amplifiers. The Stimer brand is engraved on the housing.

First industrial Stimer amplifiers

ST 48 sketch
P 8 amplifier. MuPop collection

During the same period, a range of Stimer amplifiers appeared. The first three industrial models are baptized the M 6, the P 8, later renamed the M 8, and the M 12, respectively, with a power of 6, 8 and 12 watts and weighing between 4,5 and 9 kg.

These amplifiers are fitted with loudspeakers of the French brand Véga and Visseaux tubes, french also. The Établissements Vedovelli, Rousseau & Cie, located in Suresnes, are one of the main transformers suppliers. The controls, accessible behind the case, are located on the chassis bulkhead, slightly tilted in the shape of a desk. Apart from the guitar input, they feature phono input for record players. A roll made of canvas allows to protect the speaker during transports. Four cleats are set inside the hinged lid so as to easily wind up the cables. The M 12 model includes an output for the addition of a supplementary speaker. A mixer box was subsequently created, allowing four pickups and/or microphones to be plugged into a single amplifier.

Stimer booklet Stimer booklet
First booklet promoting the Stimer pickup and amplifiers. On the front page, the first release of the ST 48 model, without brand indication, screwed on a guitar. Jean Guen collection

Innovative products that struggle to seduce

Although at that time, competition was virtually nonexistent in France - the first RV (Radio Vidéo) pickups and amplifiers made by Steve Brammer and distributed through Major-Conn store dating back to 1952/1953 - the early days were tough. Jean was facing musicians and resellers reluctance towards his novel creations. Jean remembers his first unsuccessful prospecting attempts : « I recall going to see a luthier at rue de Rome [in Paris] with my amplifier and a guitar fitted with a pickup. Fifteen minutes of demonstration in front of his friends later, he told me : "No, I'm sorry, you are going against what we are looking for". I left with the tail between the legs. Music stores didn't want it ! I recall going to see Paul Beuscher. I had an appointment. I came before Emile Prud'Homme, a well-know accordionist at that time. Mister Seiller senior [Roger Seiller was the director of music publisher Paul Beuscher] greeted me without bringing me into his office and said : "What's this ?" I replied : "This is an electric guitar". He didn't even let me try it. He asked me if it has a good future. I answered that I think so. He called as a witness to Emile Prud'Homme guitar player and asked him : "What do you think about electric guitar ?". He responded : "This is bullshit !" Once again, I left with the tail between the legs. However Paul Beuscher has then been one of my biggest customers. »

In 1950, Jean built his first solid body electric guitars, without sound box. In view of this almost unknown instrument, some showed themselves sarcastic. «  We were subject to ridicule [...] People told me that it could be useful to beat the linens. » Jean says. « I sold my first guitar to a muscian who was playing at the Gaumont-Palace, on Place Clichy [in Paris]. I accompagnied him by car to his rehearshal. Once finished, we started talking about electric guitar with the conductor. He didn't know at all. It seems aberrant today but that's how things were back then ! I explained to him that it was an electric guitar without sound box. My customer showed him his guitar of which he was very proud. The conductor said : "OK, that's why I heard organ sounds while it was supposed to be guitar !" We used to produce lower tone at that time, we're seeking the organ. It was a matter of winding turns. We can modulate with electronics. » These models, not being a real success, were quickly abandoned.

1951 Paris Fair
Yves Guen and his wife, Lucienne, on the Stimer booth during the 1951 Paris Fair. A solid body electric guitar, on the left of the picture, was presented. On the right, a lap steel can be sighted, laying on the display. Jean Guen collection
Prototype of a Stimer solid body guitar
Jean Guen presents, in may 1998, an old prototype of a Stimer solid body electric guitar, similar to the model exhibited at the 1951 Paris Fair. It is now exhibited at the Museum of Popular Music (MuPop) in Montluçon. Marc Touché photo and collection

In May 1950, Jean's creations were exhibited for the first time at the Foire de Paris (« Paris Fair ») held at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre in Paris. A few months later, in decembre 1950, the Guen brothers company participated in the first Salon International du Jazz (« International Jazz Fair» ) which took place in la Maison de la Chimie in Paris (« House of Chemistry» ).

In trade shows, many did not sense his avant-gardism. « At the Paris Fair, there were two loonies [...] There were myself, and an other one named [Georges] Jenny. Indeed this man made an instrument called the Ondioline. It was a small keyboard which could play trumpet, hunting horn and a whole bunch of other stuff. Well, that guy was perceived as a clown. I was myslef considered as a nutcase. »

First Stimer adverstisement in the <i>Jazz Hot</i> magazine
First Stimer adverstisement published in the Jazz Hot magazine, in April 1949. The product is presented as coming from the U.S.A. in order to attract customers. Nicolas Pellet collection

To promote the Stimer products, the Guen brothers entrusted their advertising to specialized magazines and in particular Jazz Hot and Revue de l'Accordéoniste with witch they had actively collaborated for many years.

A turning point : encounter with Django Reinhardt

French guitarist Django Reinhardt became the first promoter of the Stimer brand. At the end of 1950, he equipped himself with a ST 48 pickup and a M 12 amplifier. Jean rememembers this decisive encounter : « Actually, after meeting Django Reinhardt, things really started to take off. Because everybody was shunning me ! Some believed in me while others not. One day, Django and his manager went to the workshop on the rue d'Alençon in Courbevoie. They asked me to handle him. He did business with me. Then I did some advertising with Django Reinhardt. From then on, a lots of guys came to see me and things began to rise, rise...  » In February 1951, Jazz Hot readers found out the first Stimer advertisement mentioning the name of Django Reinhardt. In the early 1953, the Gypsy musician posed for the French photographer Hervé Derrien in his Samois house for the purposes of a Stimer publicity which was published in the April 1953 issues of Jazz Hot and Revue de l'Accordéoniste.

Jean Guen and Django Reinhardt
Jean Guen and Django Reinhardt photographed at the guitarist's home in Samois-sur-Seine, in 1953. Photo Hervé Derrien

Before this collabration, Django Reinhardt, during a visit at Major music shop, had previously tried a Stimer pickup. Jean remembers an inconclusive experience : « This was before I worked with Django. Miss Deshaies [according to Jean, the Deshaies couple were the managers of the Major shop at the end of the 1940s] wanted to sell him guitar pickups. They were working together regarding advertising. There was an incredible crowd and Django was trying an electric guitar [Jean means an acoustic guitar with an added magnetic pickup], one of the first I made. Django started to play and said : "It's strange, the chanterelle [the upper string] doesn't work ?!" Then Mister Deshaies asked for a new string. "Knock, knock, knock". It didn't help. They changed the string 5-6 times, it still didn't work... During the war, it was unthinkable to make guitar or violin strings with chrome to prevent rust. They were like piano strings, pure steel. Once fingers were wet, they started to rust. So, they [the strings manufacturers] made rust-proof chrome strings. But the problem was that from a certain percentage, they were no longer magnetic. This had been a calamity for me ! I tried to do something with a dual jack so as to send a current into the coil to magnetise the string. »

Around the same period, the French guitarists Jean Bonal, Marcel Bianchi, Jean-Pierre Sasson and Henri Crolla adopted Stimer pickups and amplifiers. During his stay in Paris in the late 1952, the American guitarist Les Paul payed a visit to Jean in his workshop : « Les Paul came with Django. He and Mary Ford, his wife, bought me two pickups and one amplifier. Then, I drove them to the Bourget Airport. They were scheduled to perfom that evening at the London Palladium. It happened quickly. When I told this story to the Jazz Hot magazine, they said : "You're out of you mind ?! Les Paul and Django who came to your home, that would have made a terrific publicity !" I had not thought about that, I wasn't a typical trader. » Later, other musicians like Roger Chaput or Django's brother Joseph Reinhardt called upon the Établissements Guen Frères to provide them amplification equipment.

Tribute to Django Reinhardt Tribute to Django Reinhardt
Tribute written by Jean Guen (with its translation) to the memory of Django Reinhardt, published in the June 1953 issue of Revue de l'Accordéoniste. Nicolas Pellet collection

The S 51 pickup and other models

While the ST 48 fixing mean required drilling the guitar soundboard, Jean developed a pickup that is positioned on the instrument through a rod terminated with a string clamp placed between the bridge and the tailpiece. « Guys wanted no holes, so we had to find something else. A rod allowed to position the pickup at a certain lenght and it held by squeezing. And it didn't damage the guitar ! » A preliminary model, virtually unobtainable today, was issued in 1949 under the name ST 49. A final version appeared in 1951 : the S 51.

Fair around 1949 and 1950
The Guen brothers on a booth around 1949 and 1950. We can sight the ST 49 pickup, attached on the left-hand jazz guitar. It is a prototype of the model S 51 but differs from the latter in the lack of sliding rod. Jean Guen collection
S 51 pickup
The S 51, attached via two bars plucking the strings under the bridge. Jean Guen collection

The S 51 pickup is technically similar to the ST 48 with the advantage of being attached without damaging the guitar. More complex to make, this model was more expensive than the ST 48. Thanks to its sliding rod, the pickup also enables to obtain multiple tones, lifting it at different positions . The design features a separate volume potentiometer linked to the fixing foot.

Around 1953, the company unveiled the M 10 model amplifier, with a power of 10 watts. It displayed a new yellow and brown livery, as well as a new logo. As light as the M 8 model, it has two guitar inputs with independent adjustments and a new system of rear opening without latches. M 6 and M 12 remained marketed and displayed the same appearance as their little brother. The former was fitted with an additional guitar input while the latter's power was increased to 18 watts.

M 6 amplifier
M 6 amplifier, presented in its post-1952 version. This modern look is reminiscent of a television front. MuPop collection
1953 Paris fair
Stimer booth at the 1953 Paris Fair. In the background, one can distinguish those of Paul Beuscher, famous Parisian instrument seller, and Georges Jenny who invented the Ondioline electronic keyboard. Jean Guen collection

The same years, Jean finalized a new pickup for accordion with two knobs for the power and tone adjustment. It can be easily fixed to the instrument by means of four threaded rods.

1955 Paris fair
Stimer booth at the 1955 Paris Fair. On the right, the accordion is fitted with the accordion pickup, created in 1953. In the center, the amplifier with the trapezoidal canvas may be a preliminary version of the Nuance model. Jean Guen collection
Nuance amplifier
Nuance amplifier, created in 1955 and endowed with tonality changer accessible without opening the back of the device. Jean Guen collection

At the end of 1955, an 18-watt powered amplifier baptized Nuance, endowed with tonality changer, completed the Stimer devices series. There are two versions, with or without remote-controlled vibrato system. This model features three inputs. For the first time, the control panel has been placed on the upper side, close at hand.

Invoice no. 3229
Invoice no. 3229 dated 28 June 1956 for the sale of one accordion pickup. Jean Guen collection
Invoice no. 4280
Invoice no. 4280 dated 30 december 1957 for the sale of three ST 48 pickups. Jean Guen collection


Experience at the United Nations

Jean Guen during the 1951 U.N. General Assembly
Jean Guen, second row, first from the left, posing with his work mates at the Palais Chaillot in Paris during the sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1951. Jean Guen collection

ALONGSIDE his activities in Courbevoie, Jean was recruited in September 1948, through his friend Georges Godebert mentioned earlier, as a sound technician at the Palais Chaillot in Paris where the third session of the United Nations General Assembly was held. Three years later, Jean resumed the same position at the same place within the framework of the sixth General Assembly, at the end of 1951.

In the course of these events, Jean worked on simultaneous translation system for conference allowing attendees to hear instantaneously in headphones the translation of a speech given in a foreign language.

Creation of a simultaneous translation service

Following this experience, Jean decided to join a simultaneous interpretation service to his activity. He then undertook the construction of a translation device, easily transportable, intended for rental during the conferences of international organizations.

This device is made of microphones for conference speakers as well as a case including four amplifiers and the control equipment. The listening is done thanks to ultra light stethoscopic headphones plugged to a strip on which switches are located, allowing delegates to select the requested language. Each interpreter, seated inside a booth, has a desk with built-in microphone. From there, they can connect to a circuit different from that of the speaker, thereby enabling the interpretation.

Headphones and strip
Microphone for the interpreter. Caroline Pellet collection and photo
Speaker microphone
Microphone for the speaker. Caroline Pellet collection and photo
Headphones and strip
Stethoscopic headphones plugged to a strip allowing to select the requested language. Caroline Pellet collection and photo
Nameplates allowing to identify each delegation taking part in the conference. Caroline Pellet collection and photo
Front wiew of the case
Front wiew of the case. Caroline Pellet collection and photo
Back view of the case
Back view of the case. Caroline Pellet collection and photo
Side view of the case
Side view of the case. Caroline Pellet collection and photo
CLose-up on the amplifiers
Close-up on the four amplifiers. Caroline Pellet collection and photo

At the beginning of 1954, Jean started to canvass several international organizations in order to offer the management of the simultaneous translation system during their conferences. He choosed International Associations published by the Union of International Associations as advertising medium.

Thereafter, he had the opportunity to work for organizations such as the NATO at the Palais Chaillot in May 1954, the European Movement (International Youth Secretariat) in Cap-d'Ail during summer of 1954 or the Société du Verre Textile in Aix-les-Bains in September 1957.

Circular letter
Circular letter presenting the Stimer simultaneous translation device. Printed in several hundreds of copies, it was sent to internationanl organizations all around the world. Jean Guen collection
1955 Ordre National des Médecins convention
Jean Guen, on the right, managing the sound system at a convention organized by the Ordre National des Médecins in the main amphitheater of the Paris Medical University, in October 1955. Each interpreter is located in one of the four booths. Jean Guen collection


Guen brothers split

DURING 1957, Jean and Yves Guen decided to cease their collaboration. The two brothers had to share the stock of Stimer products of which they are co-owners. They came to an agreement stipulating that the amplifiers as well as the simultaneous translation device would remain Jean's property whereas Yves would retain the pickups. On first January 1958, the company was splitted and two separate accounts were opened.

This separation poses the question of the future of the Stimer brand. Jean remembers oral agreements between him and his brother at that time : « I asked him [Yves] : "What shall we do with Stimer ?" Because it was as well known as Philips ! We sold all over the world, in colonies : Indochine... We sold in England, in Germany... I suggested him to take "Stimer France" and that I take "Stimer Véritable", or vice versa. » Faced with his brothers's refusal, Jean undertook to abandon the Stimer brand : « I did not want to keep Stimer because that would place me in a position of superiority over my brother. »

Yves Guen's future

Stimer Yves Guen tariff
Prices for Stimer pickups offered by Yves Guen at the beginning of the 1960s. Jean Guen collection

Yves established his new business, the Établissements Yves Guen, at 13 avenue Montesquieu in Maison-Lafitte and undertook the production of new guitar pickups : the Django and SYG 2 models with adjustable fixing, then the S 60, composed of two pickups. He also developed several pickups designed to other instruments such as a model for violin, the Clarence model for gut-stringed and nylon-stringed instruments as well as the Électrode model for accordion.

The Yves company then moved to 11, rue de la Convention in Sartouville at the end of 1960. Yves, joined by his son Christian in 1971, kept using the Stimer brand until his death in 1986.