The Theory of Everything in Traditional Lutherie !

A restless Researcher, famous Musician & master Luthier,  who is producing sounds of the old Peiraiotiko  Rempetiko !

Unique shape three-course bouzouki, made by Isidoros & Andreas Papadamou

Last week I had the pleasure and the privilege to discuss with another restless researcher, and master luthier, regarding the traditional lutherie: Mr. Isidoro Papadamou
Isidoros Papadamou is a well known musician and  a highly regarded, musical instrument maker.
Papadamou family creates for many years instruments with a great characteristic sound of the old Peiraiotiko Rebetiko Era. 

I have to admit that I had visited  many times his workshop's web site ( admiring especially his unique, special-instrument replicas, of the Yovan Tsaous tampouro-bouzouko and the A.Stathopoulos bouzouki.

I always had the curiosity and thirst to learn more from this luthier regarding his experience in his personal journey finding and producing the old Rebetiko sound

-The need and the 'virus' for instrument making and research was the result of  pursuing new musical horizons as a musician, or from your personal experiences and an inner need;

Isidoros Papadamou
-When I was young and I was learning bouzouki, back in 1962, the traditional lutherie was passing a period of recession. 
Not so much in terms of instrument's construction, as in terms of research for the quality sound. The modern bouzouki bowl had grown much bigger, became rounded, and the sound produced 
was completely different from the one in  previous years. 

To this event contributed the use of pickup which acquitted the luthiers from the agony of producing a great sound. Even the most failed and soundless of their musical instruments, could be sold with the excuse that were suitable for the use of pickup.

Due to this event I suspect that even the most anxious luthieres gradually abandoned the pursuit of sound quality and perfection since they started to be interested mostly in the commercial sector.

Researching for the old pre-war sound, on modern bouzouki instruments, I understood very early that I could not find it in any of them.

Oblong tzoura made by Isidoros & Andreas Papadamou
Beautiful rosettes made by Isidoros & Andreas Papadamou
-What event prompted the young musician Isidoro Papadamou to discover for the first time the magical world of musical instrument making ?

Isidoros Papadamou
-Was an afternoon  of 1983 when I promised to myself that I will sit down and try myself  to create that sound I was looking for.
That is  how I found myself involved in this beautiful art of  lutherie, and in an intense research for the good sound.
I started slowly and after I discovered a number of construction  techniques, I made my first musical instruments.

Then I turned myself to the research of sound .Using at the beginning my hand and my ear I started clapping the woods trying to understand their differences .At the same time I built some tools
which helped in this research.

This effort took me many years until I was able to to extract my first solid conclusions .

Making the pick-guard inlay
Beautiful decorative of the capping strip

-You give great importance to the choice of woods. Especially on the soundboard and  its categorization accordingly to its origin and its characteristics. Here abroad ,is a big speculation regarding the external appearance of the soundboard's fibers and the present of the "bear claw" to characterize a soundboard AAA master grade. But you are evaluating the woods with different criteria  rather than just visual. Can you explain us a little further your research?

Isidoros Papadamou
-During this course of research I  passed through various stages of doubt and frustration as there were no interlocutors to exchange our observations and explain some difficult acoustic phenomena.

Around the year 2000 I gathered all my comments, conclusions and observations  and I made a personal statement to myself .


Was a  simple and short theory which was able to classify woods in groups [classes].
I had already concluded to the properties that interested me in a good musical instrument 
I will mention the main:

1.  POWER [sufficient sound] .With a simple hit the instrument "delivers"(produces)  the sound it  has.

2. DYNAMIC. Resistance to a strong hit .The note remains clear even in extreme situations .This helps the player to express the passion of his play.

3. IMMEDIACY .The sound  "touches" you directly- burst straight up on you and touches you .The opposite is OBLIQUITY .The sound  is  passing by your side without the direct taste of it, causing even unpleasant feelings

4. SHARPNESS-PURITY .The sound is well-tuned and stable without de-tune  of the note from the bowl.

5. THE SMOOTH LINK  BETWEEN THE NOTES .No gaps in the connection between the notes.

6. BALANCE OF FREQUENCIESProduction of the treble , the middle, and bass at their best grade

With these properties as my research weapon,  I ended up at the theory I mentioned above.
In simple words I can say that I separated  the woods which I investigated,  into four main categories (groups)

A-B-C-D.  The separation was based on their dynamics.(momentum) 

A = lot of momentum
B = moderate momentum
C = minimum momentum
D= no momentum at all.

I also detected that in the group A that the woods were not all the same. 

They had same grade of dynamic(momentum) but they differed as to the other properties.

I separated for that reason the  group A into four subcategories

A GENUINE - A BUZZ- A POSSIBLE -A FORTE or PSEFDO-ALPHA .For the characteristics of group A I do not consider appropriate to analyze in detail. I gave these  names by my own since there was no previous bibliography regarding them.

The group B remained with only one "representative" 

In groups C and D. I defined also some sub-categories,  but I do not consider appropriate to analyze in details.
For those (luthiers) who have not researched  long enough and with persistence, even the sound from these categories is a satisfaction sound for them. Especially for the ones who do not want to work hard to produce a great sound !

The musical instruments  of  the categories C and D, even if their sound has strength, the note is dull, terminated and de-tuned..

With my weapon just my ear, and with humility and humbleness, I want to believe that I finally have arrived somewhere now at my 65 years old,  after a long research journey, and countless hours of work.

I know that other fellow luthiers look only the physical characteristics of the woods  and they use these characteristics as their main weapon by thinning to produce a  powerful sound . I respect this approach  but personally I am opposed to this way of approaching such a serious phenomenon 

Soundboard hole decoration
-As I mentioned earlier I am an admirer of your special instrument constructions,  especially  the replica of Yovan Tsaous  tabouro-bouzouko. Could you share with us some photos of its construction? 

-Sure. Together me and my son Andreas, researched, observed,  and worked with the the old forms of the great luthiers of the past, because we liked their shapes, their beautiful  sounds and their unique construction. One of them is the famous Yovan Tsaous tampouro-bouzouko made by the master luthier Kyriakos Lazaridis-Pesmatzoglou.

Making of Yovan Tsaous tabouro-bouzouko replicas

PS: The luthier added more information regarding his special unique instrument constructions as the article was live on the blog.


-From my first years in lutherie, I got involved with the construction of this unique bouzouki form  .With a long but not wide bowl, pear-shape, between the lute and bouzouki, with a long fingerboard of 80 cm suitable for low tuning which produces a particular atmospheric sound .With six or eight strings , the  instrument can  accept different tuning. The first who bought from us such an instrument was Thanasis Papakonstantinou and he composed with his instrument beautiful melodies.
I made several of bouzoukomanes, other with the technique "on the air" (without  mold) and others with mold .The construction on the air has risks, but that technique leads the soul to a freer movement. I use them in my music and usually my son Andreas is the one who plays with such musical instruments.


-Construction by the luthier Lazaridis .Based on older musical instruments which Eitziridis (Yovan Tsaous) brought  from the Asia Minor and asked the luthier Lazaridis  to construct for him identical ones.
We copied the most representative .We used computer design and calculations because we did not have before us the original instrument. But based on the fret-board we were able to calculate all the rest analogies and achieve its construction. We didn't use the original scale and  proportions since no player would be able to play it now days .Ours in the back is more shallow than the original .We consciously constructed that way to put a personal stamp to our creation.
We have built a lot of them and some with hollow necks made just from staves.


-We wanted to repeat the basic form, keeping the proportions and playing a little with the dimensions  The decoration and joint of the head stock are identical as the original .The curve of the staves is following our own technique.  The sound refers to the old Rebetiko sound. In this direction helped the shape of the bowl and specific woods  we used .

4.  TAMPOURAS OF GAILA . [ Makrigianni ] .

-We used similar shape and dimensions of its bowl  to various tzoura construction. A sharp curve which closes at the highest point, and the use of super-rising staves  to acquire the necessary depth .


-We built it as a special order for a client. The bowl uses the technique of the wooden Turkish chumbus


  1. Thank you Chris.
    Definitely Papadamou family creates some beautiful unique string instruments


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