The famous Grachis family from Chicago

The Stradivarius of the Greek lutherie in United States!

Photo of Grachis  workshop in Chicago ,circa 1910.
We will examine this photo at the end of this post
The following post has been conducted almost 2 years ago (April 2015). Has been forgotten since then inside my digital files and folders. A recent auction on Ebay of a rare  1913 Dimitis Grachis bouzouki, woke up my memory. Here is the original research  :

For some good time now I was trying to collect information regarding the famous luthiers of Chicago Dimitris and his son Giorgos Grachis .These were the last (but not the least ) from my list of the great luthiers who worked and lived in USA during the early 20th century

Chicago circa 1900. "12th Street Bascule Bridge
Loop street scene in 1900; colorized photograph
Accordingly to the information I collected , Giorgos (George)  Grachis considered by many musician who had immigrated to US,  as the most famous luthier comparing him as the Stradivarius of the Greek lutherie in United States.

It is no accident that  two of the top musicians in New York, Manolis Karapiperis and Ioannis Halkias used in their recordings, bouzoukia made by Grachis and not from the other famous Greek luthiers of NY.

George Grachis  was the president of the Association of Greek Musicians  of US under the name Apollo and his workshop had the name TERPANDROS. 

Laouto 1927 Dimitris Grahis:From the Archives of luthier Giannis Tsoulogiannis

From  IV The organological development and performance practice of the Greek bouzouki we read:

All this time I was unable to collect vital information regarding the Grachis family since all my research ended up fruitless due to the wrong spelling of their last name 

I was researching under the false last names Gretsis, Gretchis, Grechis, Graitchis, Graichis, Greches, and not Grachis

The only few information I  had collected using the last name Gretsis was from  the Chicago foreign language press survey : Greek

-The Greek Press , April 23, 1930
At the end of the performance, George Gretsis' orchestra entertained us
with those undying Greek songs of Kleftourias (Hohinhoods)*

-The Greek Press ^ Dec. 4, 1930
Music will be furnished hy George Gretsis orchestra* A« Parisis is
director of the play* 

-In July 1931 the church choir was organized under the leadership of Mr.
George Gretsis, a noted violinist. The choir consisted of twenty six
members, eight men and eighteen girls. Miss Olga Massias was elected
as organist for the choir. The members of the choir were divided into
four groups, soprano, alto, bass and tenor, according to the range of
their voices. Practice was held once a week. The choir made its first
public appearance on St. Spyridon' s Day, December 13, 1931, and since
then has sung at practically all church services.  

-Mr. George Gretsis, our director* left in the spring of 1932 and after a
few more changes in the personnel, at present the choir is under the
leadership of Mr« Andrew Petropulos* 

Finally the breakthrough in my research came from the  good friend, talented musician, and enthusiast of Greek traditional music,  Yiannis (Ioannis) Pappayiorgas aka John Pappas ( who owns a Grachis santouri, a  1924 Grachis lavouto, and a 1910 Dimitrios Grachis bouzouki, with a beautiful story behind it.

1910 Dimitrios Grachis bouzouki
Do not reproduce without permission. Property of  John Pappas 
1910 Dimitrios Grachis bouzouki
Do not reproduce without permission. Property of  John Pappas 

-"My first bouzouki was a 1910 Dimitrios Grachis bouzouki (with a sort of lavouto shape).  I got to meet George Grachis who was the son of Dimitrios (and a great violinist too), in his shop. 

He had all kinds of molds and things and it was very exciting for me.  Unfortunately, when he died, a non Greek luthier got all his materials.
I remember especially that Mr. Grachis showed me an old catalog from their Chicago shop; I sure wish I had a copy of that: santouria, lavouta, bouzoukia, klarina!!!  Po po po, it was marvelous.  I do have a santouri and a lavouto made by George Grachis.

 I remember I brought my old bouzouki with me to show it to  him, and he told me that he "used to glue the labels in" in those days (1910).  The label also has a repair notation where he,himself, did some repairs in 1952, when my father owned the bouzouki.  (It used to hang on the wall in the old kafeneiou (cafeteria), and the old rebetes would take it down and play it; I remember this when I was very little."

-"My Grachis bouzouki belonged to my father.  He owned a kafeneion (cafeteria)  in San Francisco, and later sold it and had a bar (taverna).  He told the owner of the kafeneion that whenever that man sold or closed the kafeneion, he had to give the bouzouki back to my father. 
Exterior from Yiannis (Ioannis) Pappayiorgas aka John Pappas kafeneio in San Francisco 

Grachis  bouzouki always was hung on the wall for whenever someone "meraklothike kai ithele na to paiksei." (getting into the mood to play it)   So, when the kafeneion was closed, the bouzouki came back to our house.  When I was about 14 or 15 my father gave it to me since I had "meraki" to play this traditional music instrument." 

That was the first time John called the luthier Graichis  (and not Gretsis)
To my question why he called the luthier's last name  Graichis, he sent me 3 very informative photos

Do not reproduce without permission. Property of  John Pappas
Do not reproduce without permission. Property of  John Pappas
At the last photo he noted:
"And here I have a picture of Mr. Grachis, that I took on his grave at the Hellenic cemetery  where all the Orthodox people (including my relatives) are buried.  In the picture, he is playing the violin! "

Do not reproduce without permission. Property of  John Pappas

Having the correct last name , wasn't long before I started to collect multiple valuable information.

-From A Passion for Polka: Old-time Ethnic Music in America By Victor Greene, for the partnership between George Grachis and Spyro Stamo forming a record company named the Greek record company of Chicago. 

- Also from the "Greeks in Chicago " by Michael George Davros we read 

-From the The Musical Leader, Volume 36 dated 1918.

-From " The Greek music tour program booklet " edited by Joe Graziosi (1982)
we read:
"George Grachis Greek Music Store and Factory of Chicago was well established by 1916 and catered to the needs of Greek musicians.Learning the skills of instrument  making in Greece, Grachis superb instruments were played by musicians throughout America.Because of his great craftsmanship , he was popularly known as the Greek "Stradivarius"

-From registration card during the Second  World War

- From the ancestry US website  

Birth: 15 Aug 1882
Death: Oct 1965
Last residence: (California)

The fact that  George  Grachis moved from Chicago to California, brought me to the most valuable resource

The son of George and the grandson of Dimitris

Dimitris George Grachis (Artist, Geometer and Philosopher)

-From Mr  Dimitris George Grachis website we collect the following information.

"I was born in 1932 on the north side of Chicago. I was given the first name of my grandfather and the middle name of my father. I was born into a long line of creative people.

 My father, George Dimitrios Grachis was a professional violinist and began to play professionally at the age of eight, he wrote Greek folk music, and was a string instrument maker. He got his talent from his father Dimitrios George Grachis who was a natural genius and a master violin maker. My grandfather always claimed that we have genius in our blood that goes back to the classic period of Greek history."

"After the Second World War (1947) my father decided that it was time to make a big move to California. In 1947, we moved to San Mateo, California, and I started at the San Mateo High School. My learning was still not up to standards and in 1949; I joined, to my father’s approval the U.S. Navy and qualified for radar school"

-From the article  “An Approach to Playing Violin in Rebetiko " by Hank Bradley we collect the following information.

As noted elsewhere, they (like George Grachis in Chicago) were the recording directors, and organized the bands and chose the musicians who made the recordings. Below is a listing, with names of some of the singers they accompanied, and the names of their labels.

George Grachis
Marika Papaghika, Angelo K. Stamos, Katsani (Mourmouris)
Greek Record Co. of Chicago

-From "United States and Canada Greek business directory" we find the address of George Grachis store in Chicago 1915 :

- From the same year (1915) we find a photo couple of blocks further from Grachis workshop

Crowd standing outside the Blue Island Savings Bank at 1147 Blue Island Avenue, Chicago, 1915
-And couple of other ones from 1883-1915

Exterior view of Cerf Meyer's saloon at 848 Blue Island Avenue in Chicago 1911
Exterior view of the George Kappes Saloon located at 84 LaSalle Street or 613 Blue Island Avenue in Chicago IL 1883
The Blue Island Market, circa 1915, looking west on Broadway from Western Avenue.

Lute rosette made by Giorgos Grachis
Not many musical instruments , especially bouzoukia are surviving nowadays from this famous luthier family, apart from the rare 1910 Dimitrios Grachis bouzouki owned by Yiannis (Ioannis) Pappayiorgas aka John Pappas 

-A 1923 Dimitrios Gretsis bouzouki, from personal archive of Alexandros Koustas

-An earlier 1913  Dimitrios Gretsis bouzouki, which appeared recently on an Ebay listing

- A 1913 George Gretsis bouzouki, from the bouzoukigreek forum.

Other musical instruments of the family have surfaced the internet as :

- A rare American violin made by Demitreos Grachis, Chicago, dated 1937 sold on an auction for 6,500 British pounds

-A 1953 by George Grachis, Laouto 

-An  1921 Grachis laouto 

An 15 1/4" viola "Demitreos Grachis" with deep ribs, c. 1937

Details from Grachis  workshop photo in Chicago circa 1910.

Due  to  my profession, I could not resist to investigate a little further the photo taken from Grachis workshop in Chicago dating the year of 1910.

We can easily identify George Grachis in a very young age..aprox 10-15 years old, holding a violin.
With some rough calculations taking in consideration that George Grachis was born on 1882, the photo is dating from 1892-1897 (see Update #4)

Dimitris Grachis appears in the photo wearing luthier's apron and smoking a hookah

We also can identify a big variety of instruments , from violins to trumpets to clarinets, to accordions,to santouria, laouta, mandolins, bouzoukia (with Neapolitan step) and tzouro-baglamades* (see Update #3)

Finally , my most accurate resource , the luthier and close friend Giannis Tsoulogiannis after an intense research, was able to locate  few pages from George Crachis catalogue referring to Grachis  bouzouki instruments 

From the cataloque we read:
"....With great sadness we noticed that the Greek Diaspora of America, evaluates the quality of bouzouki , laouta and mandolin instruments by the number of the staves. This perception is very wrong, because the value of a musical instrument depends on the good materials used the grantsmanship and the polishing expertise...."

Also from the same cataloque of 1915,  Grachis manufactures two types of bouzouki: bouzouki in mandola style with soundboard carrying  Neapolitan step , entirely made by rosewood, and bouzouki in laouto style (misolaouto) with a flat soundboard, which describes in greater size of the former one.

The research continues; I kindly urge friends of the blog especially residence of Chicago and  San Francisco, to help us with any further information they may have collected. They can post information in the comments section Thank you 

1. The good friend, talented musician, and enthusiast of Greek traditional music,  Yiannis (Ioannis) Pappayiorgas aka John Pappas ( sent me the following photos from George Grachis

George Grachis with his violin

2. Aydin Chaloupka sent me a rare photograph of  Jack Xalikias from 1932, before the minore, playing his Grachis bouzouki

3. The close friend and luthier Giannis Tsoulogiannis, raised the important question if the small string instrument appears at the right lower corner of Grachis workshop, is a tzouro-mpaglamas ( as I initially thought) or a small tabouras.

Using digital software I was able to scale (calculating also the small perspective angle of the photograph)  and align the two instruments side by side.

Using as a hypothesis that the Neapolitan style bouzouki is 67 cm scale , then the small musical instrument in question is aprox. 46 -47 cm

If we take in consideration also that the years of 1900 the tzouras as the hybrid instrument we know it today, had not appeared yet, and by examine the photograph and the instrument in question a bit closer,(traces of mperntedes on the neck)  then the hypothesis that this is a tabouras with move-able frets (mperntedes) appears to be correct

4. Giannis Tsoulogiannis, raised another important question regarding the boy holding a violin at the right side of Grachis workshop. Accordingly to Giannis, George Grachis migrated to USA in a much older age from Ligourio Peloponnese, when he was already a young  luthier. Accordingly again to Giannis the photo is circa 1910 and the boy in the picture is not George Grachis

I am under an intense investigation to find out if Giannis assumption is once again correct .

My new research started by asking the only person I know who had seen eye to eye George Grachis back in 1960..Yiannis (Ioannis) Pappayiorgas aka John Pappas was only 15-16 years old when he visited the luthier's workshop.

"When I showed my 1910 bouzouki to Mr. George Grachis he said:
-Oooh yes, my father made this,  I  remembered repairing it.
Back then (1910s)  I put the labels inside the instruments.

1910 Dimitrios Grachis bouzouki
Do not reproduce without permission. Property of  John Pappas 

Yannis unfortunately didn't have further information which could bring more light on the question if the boy holding the violin in the Grachis workshop , is George Grachis

But Yannis Pappas revealed another important (for the historical records) information:
The existence of hybrid flat-back  kitharo-bouzouka made by George Grachis

"I wanted to buy a newer style bouzouki so I could put a pick up in the sound hole, but he( George Grachis)  showed me the only two he had, which he had made for his grandsons but they had not been interested. They were flatback bouzoukia, very nice actually, but I wanted a traditional bouzouki so I did not buy one. "

"To be updated"    


  1. This is excellent ! Congratulaations Spyro for the article !

  2. I can send you a picture of Jack Halikias with his Gretsis if you want. His head is cut out in the photo, but you can see the instrument.. Also, my friend Stavros Kourousis won that Gretsis bouzouki, he also has another Gretsis that is currently being restored that was made by Giorgo..

    1. Dear Aydin
      Yes , please send any photographs you have
      I will greatly appreciate :)
      Email :

  3. Excellent! Well researched and informative piece!

  4. This is an article about my great grandfather. I deeply appreciate the time and effort you put in to commemorating my family. Thank you.

    1. Dear Uknown
      Email me at
      If you want to share more information regarding you great grandfather

      Thank you


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