My interest in Greek bouzouki construction grew out of necessity. My first "bouzouki," if you could call it that, was purchased during a family trip to Greece. Like most young bouzouki enthusiasts, this first instrument was purchased in the Monastiraki region of Athens, Greece, at the foot of the Acropolis. Monastiraki is a tourist area - loaded with shops selling tourist souvenirs. Like all such instruments it was poorly made, with low quality materials, and hardly even suited for hanging on the wall. That particular model had a fiberglass body, and the frets were installed right into the neck (no fretboard). The entire instrument was covered with black paint and the decoration was painted on. It was nearly impossible to play, and was a discouraging instrument for a beginning player.
I have had a life-long interest in woodworking and woodcarving, and have had formal training in both. With a little research into guitar making, I figured I could make something better than my Monastiraki bouzouki. However, making the body, with its rounded, lute shaped-back, was something I could not figure out. Then I met a Renaissance lute maker, who agreed to help me in my efforts, and I completed my first instrument in 1980. That first instrument taught me a lot of things, mostly what not to do. The methods of construction used to make lutes are vastly different from those used to make bouzoukis, which are more akin to steel string guitars, due to the forces applied by eight steel strings (as opposed to gut or nylon strings on lutes).
After years of intensive study and research on lutherie techniques, woodworking and joinery, guitar and instrument making, I developed a renewed interest in Greek bouzouki construction and building my own bouzoukis. With the proliferation of the Internet, I was then able to accumulate a wealth of information on Greek bouzouki construction. There are now many Greek bouzouki forums where enthusiasts discuss Greek music, instruments and makers, as well as bouzouki making. Professional Greek bouzouki luthiers are beginning to develop their own web sites and are sharing information more readily than they did in the past. Previously, there was a great hesitancy among professional Greek bouzouki luthiers to reveal any of their "secrets," probably for fear of losing business to somebody who would then take that information and start building similar instruments. However, some makers are now more willing to share knowledge, possibly due to an increase in demand for quality instruments. I believe the Internet, has played a major role in increasing the awareness of the Greek bouzouki and established a more global market.
During several trips to Greece, I met numerous luthiers who have provided me with invaluable information on the Greek bouzouki construction process. Foremost among these is Christos Tsolis, of Athens, Greece, whose warmth, generosity and willingness to share information and ideas has made him my friend, as well as mentor. Over the Internet, I have also contacted many guitar makers and bouzouki luthiers, who have also become my friends and have shared willingly of their knowledge and skills, and I would like to acknowledge them as well, particularly George Stasinopoulos, of Australia, and Roger Siminoff, of California. I thank them all.
In my instrument building, I incorporate techniques and ideas from a variety of sources, and strive to make the best instruments possible. I am not constrained by tradition, but rather, I try to understand how and why instruments were historically made, and then determine if a new construction technique might make a better sounding and playing instrument. If so, I use the new technique, but if not, I continue the tradition. I am also flexible in trying new materials, bracing patterns, design ideas and time saving procedures.
Currently, I work as a hobbyist luthier. I don't sell any instruments. I make instruments for friends, relatives and as donations to organizations. Not being "in business" allows me to take my time with each instrument and do everything to the best of my ability, whether that means throwing away a part and starting again or taking extra time to make sure everything is perfect. I use the best materials I can find for each instrument. Making your own instruments allows you to design inlays with a particular theme, explore different woods and materials that compliment each other, and to experiment with techniques to improve the structure and sound of your instrument. Instrument making involves many skills - architecture, cabinetmaking, drawing, inlaying, metal working, and sound engineering. I regard the art of lutherie like putting together a puzzle, except I have to make all the pieces. In the end, stringing up and playing an instrument of your own design and construction is a reward like no other.
I am in the process of writing a book on Greek bouzouki construction to share the knowledge I have accumulated over the years. There are many Greek bouzouki players, collectors and enthusiasts that have expressed an interest in bouzouki making, repair and maintenance. Having spent countless hours researching and collecting information on bouzouki making, I want to share this information with others.