Following the footsteps of a master luthier

 N. Fronimopoulos discusses with Zozef's mentor !

Nikos Fronimopoulos in his workshop
Following my invitation, the notable, master luthier, Nikos Fronimopoulos  (, passes the doorsteps of the "Memories" blog, to kindly share with us his experience, his thoughts, and feelings from the important attempt reviving a Konstantis Gkelis (master luthier and teacher of Zozef Terzivasian  pre-war bouzouki instrument with 61 cm scale.

Konstantis Gkelis bouzouki. Photo taken by N. Fronimopoulos 2009

The luthier Nikos Fronimopoulos born in Athens Greece 1958.
Discovering in his family'storage room at the age of 17, his grandfather's violin, meant to become the missing link which slowly guided him into the magical world of old Rebetiko era, the bouzouki instrument, and the traditional lutherie.

Researcher, author, master luthier, and above everything a person with a restless spirit, Nikos Fronimopoulos is well known for the repair and restoration of  Makriyannis's historical taboura, and the break-through discovery of its luthier, Leonida Gaila.

Apart of being the first one who has described the vibrational modes of traditional lute instruments- using the Chladni charts (powder diagrams),-  Nikos Fronimopoulos occupies a prominent position of respect in my heart, due to his significant role in Artistic traditional lutherie, his generosity to share his knowledge in instrument making, and the unparalleled quality & aesthetics which his musical instruments carry.

After the restoration of Makriyannis' historical taboura, the recreation of its exact copy, the restoration and repair of Anastasios Stathopoulos' and Zozef Terzivasian's unique bouzouki instruments, the luthier once again surprises me with his latest project .

The re-creation (construction based on) of the sole surviving bouzouki instrument made by the master luthier Konstantis Gkelis.

Very little is known about the old famous Syriano luthier , Konstantis Gkeli . The few information regarding his work comes from Markos Vamvakaris himself in his autobiography:

" First of all, I met the Syriano compatriot , who had served ​​20 years in prison , called Konstantis Ntelis
He is the one constructed the best bouzouki instruments.  He was an "ace" in  bouzouki making . 
Until these days, bouzouki instruments made by him are in the highest demand as the Stradivarius violins . 
He created instruments with  hollowed bowl (skaftos/gonato construction) but also with staves.
There were many others making musical instruments, as guitars and bouzoukia . 
I met Ntelis  here in Piraeus in 1930, after he finished his 20 years sentence in prison. 
When Ntelis came out from prison, he opened a small workshop  at Karaiskaki , where was the hangout of the underworld, the illegals, the whores,.... do not ask me.
In that small workshop he started making musical instruments .
He had a young boy as his helper, Zozef (Terzivasian) was his name . Ntelis started to teach  Zozef  the secret of the Lutherie Art . Five -ten years later when Ntelis died, the art of lutherie remained at Zozef''s hands....

...I had a lot of bouzoukia made by  Nteli , but I sold them all! 
By the time I learned the bouzouki, amateur bouzouki enthusiasts were coming to  ask me
- Are you going to teach me bouzouki ? 
-I will teach you!
- Should I buy a bouzouki ? 
-I have an extra one!

I was selling my Ntelis bouzouki and I was buying another one for myself. 
Unfortunately I didn't keep not even one (from this luthier)
There were many others, making bouzouki instruments, but like Ntelis no one!"

Konstantis Gkelis with Agkop Tsakirian
Property of Panagiotis Kagiafas (

From the luthier's label inside the  bowl of the sole survived bouzouki, It is obvious that his real name was Gkelis and not Ntelis, as reported by Markos Vamvakaris.

Konstantis Gkelis bouzouki. Photo taken by N. Fronimopoulos 2009
Constructing the K. Gkelis' replica

In his attempt  to create a bouzouki following the technical characteristics of the historical instrument, the luthier Nikos Fronimopoulos, after carefully taken all the necessary measurements from the original bouzouki, he designed the vertical and horizontal cross sections, the contour lines (curves), and formed the mold made by elevation sections.

For the creation of the bowl the luthier used old walnut and curly maple wood.

 The master-grade spruce top carries the characteristic Neapolitan mandolin step, and an exceptional handmade wooden rosette covers the round-shape sound-hole with Konstantis Gkelis initials  (G & K).

The instrument carries the characteristic V shape connection between the neck and the head stock, found in pre-war bouzoukia.

The most significant difference between the original K. Gkelis bouzouki and N. Fronimopoulos  re-creation  is the shape and the decoration of the pick-guard.
Since the original pick-guard and butterfly decoration was not functional, the luthier N.Fronimopoulos shaped a butterfly following  the decoration found on a 1910 Dimitri Mourtzino mandolin.

The luthier delivers for one more time a historical instrument with unsurpassed beauty, balance, aesthetics, and finish.
Alongside the provision of information and photographs from the making process of  Gkelis bouzouki, the luthier N. Fronimopoulos was kind enough to reveal his thoughts and emotions during the discovery of the original Gkelis bouzouki and the construction of its replica.

-Mr. Fronimopoule, do you remember the day you "met" Konstanti Gkeli ?

N. Fronimopoulos
-Of course!  Was winter of 2009. I was constructing an oud for my close friend Alexandro Mpotonaki. He was visiting me every Saturday at my workshop to monitor the progress of his instrument creation. In one of his visits, Alexandros informed me for a friend who was a painter, and had an old, de-tuned bouzouki of his grand father, bought somewhere in 1918.

I asked him to bring a photograph of the musical instrument with him, at his next visit.
Indeed the next Saturday Alexandros brought a photograph of the old bouzouki.
Impressed by its over all construction, I asked him to find out if the bouzouki had a luthier's label inside its bowl.
I week later Alexandros called me, informing me for the presence of a little printed stamped label that reads: ORGANOPOIEIO K. Gkeli

Immediately , I understood  that this was perhaps the only surviving bouzouki instrument created by the famous bouzouki luthier Kostanti Nteli , as Markos Vamvakaris mentioned him in his autobiography. 

I asked Alexandros if the owner was willing to lend me for a day this rare instrument, in order to closely examine it.  

The next week Alexandros  arrived at my workshop, holding the Gkelis bouzouki.

I remember very clearly that day. I was quite excited to finally see for first time an instrument made by the hands of a great luthier!
I had also invited my friend and researcher of Greek Traditional Lutherie Panagioti Kagiafa. 
The instrument was in good condition , but unfortunately due to the detachment of the soundboard's  inner braces, I didn't dare to tune it.

 I took all the necessary measurements to be able later in time, to make a complete study and finally design a replica model. 

The luthier N. Fronimopoulos holds for first time the rare Gkelis bouzouki. Winter 2009

- What motivated you after 4 years to take the decision  and revive Gkelis bouzouki? Perhaps an incident?

N. Fronimopoulos
-The sound of the old recordings , is partially due to the particular playing technique from the musicians of that era , but is being also determined,( to a large extent), from the unique timbre which  the old bouzouki instruments produced.

With the same mentality as to the approach  recreating the baroque music, where modern luthiers construct  similar musical instruments of that era ( eg.  violin in the old form, bows , etc. ) , similarly I felt the same need  constructing old style bouzouki, to recreate the sound of the  first Rebetiko recordings

The craftsmanship of the old bouzouki era has completely different technical characteristics (comparing to  the modern bouzouki construction), which defines a completely different sound.

I keep notes and measurements of several such old buzouki instruments made by various luthiers (A Stathopoulos , I. Stathopoulos , D. Mourtzinos , K.Gkeli , E.Kopeliadi etc. ). Some of them I repaired and some other bouzouki instruments I managed to examine up close and study . Always therefore , was in my mind to work on such an old bouzouki model .

This summer , I worked on the very - difficult - restoration of an elaborate D Mourtzinos , 1910 mandolin . The comparison of Mourtzinos mandolin profile, with the one from Gkelis bouzouki  , gave me the first motivation . 
Gkelis model was almost identical to the Mourtzinos one , extended by about 2 centimeters. 
I started looking the proportions of the two designs and  I found myself involved in new surprises ! Almost without realizing it , I proceeded designing  the model , and the rest was simply a matter of time ...

Gkelis model profile is almost identical to the Mourtzinos one , extended by about 2 centimeters
-Mr Fronimopoule, can you give us some further information regarding the technical specifications of your latest Gkelis bouzouki creation?

N. Fronimopoulos
-In theory , the re-construction of the model was based on the geometric design ( ie design using a compass and a ruler ) .
By studying the traces of the surviving instrument , I tried first of all to create a balance between some small asymmetries . Then I tried to determine the centers of the circles which generate the model . This led to the creation of the final model , which is very symmetrical with very smooth changes of curvature , almost identical to  the original instrument.

It should be clear at this point that my goal was not to build an exact copy , but to creatively construct a bouzouki -based on the historical  Gkelis instrument . 
While , for example , I kept all the technical peculiarities of the pre-war era (Neapolitan step on sound board,  V joint of the neck with the head-stock, strings scale, original rosette  design, etc ) , I did not keep and follow the neck's and fret-board's wide dimension.
For this reason I did not construct the neck as one piece , but I used the reinforcement technique with laminate wood . With the same mentality, I used ebony wood for the fret-board and not the utilization of a softer wood.

For the internal reinforcement of the soundboard (bracing) I also didn't use parallel braces ,but instead tilted (in an angle) braces commonly found in  mandolins , and bouzouki instruments of that era.

With creative and artistic freedom I also encountered the butterfly pick-guard design/decoration . 
Expressing my sincere apologies to the master luthier K. Gkeli , I must point out that the original butterfly design was not functional, as it didn't cover the important part of the soundboard which could have the greatest damage from the pick.
Aesthetically also I believe that the original butterfly design was in inconsistent with the over all construction. 

Instead I used a symmetrical butterfly design with  a small central motif , inspired by a D. Mourtzinos mandolin .

Of course , the whole instrument was constructed with organic adhesives and alcohol-based natural varnish.

Geometric design of K. Gkelis bouzouki
-The master luthier N.Fronimopoulos discusses with the master luthier K.Gkeli through this beautiful integration process of the bouzouki construction.What he learns for the luthier and the 1920s-1930s traditional lutherie? What he will keep as a memory from this experience?

N. Fronimopoulos
- First of all, we note that the luthier K.Gkelis was a craftsman with a very talented " hand, " as far as the technical part of his job . Both the construction , and the finish of the bouzouki instrument are in a very high level .

The next important element concerns the similarities of Gkelis model with mandolin models of that era . We can not say with confidence  if Gkelis copies a mature mandolin model of Mourtzinos , or if both were creating models based on Italian mandolin instruments. 

However, by comparing the  Gkelis bouzouki with a D. Mourtzinos 1910 quality mandolin, shows very strong similarity !
Very important also is the geometrical proportions of the bowl : Ratio width to length , 2 / 3 , and also depth to width also , 2/ 3 .

The musical instrument making of that era exclusively uses  few hand tools and natural materials (glues , varnishes ), which anyway - due to my bond with the classical Lutherie ( violin making ) - I also keep in the making of the traditional musical instruments .
Another feature is the thick (wide)neck dimensions and the smallest in size head-block . Also Gkelis bouzouki has the shortest in length scale I have ever encountered in bouzouki instruments ( 61 cm).

During the creation of the bouzouki I maintained the scale and the small size head-block , something that I would not dare to implement if I was constructing a bouzouki instrument with longer scale, due to the greater forces from the strings. For functional reasons I didn't keep the same width of the neck, constructing a more narrow one than the thick original.
The luthiers of that era  had no easy access to special, expensive, hard to find woods.
Normally they were working with any best wood they had handy at that time . 
This fact led me to decide to non- use  some 'special' woods , but a simple , good maple wood , walnut and mahogany wood , as opposed to the fret-board , where I used the "special" ebony wood .

-What is your opinion regarding the traditional  lutherie of 1920s and today? The bouzouki instruments of then and now?

 N. Fronimopoulos
-My view is that we are talking about two separate musical instruments : an ancestor and a descendant .
So . when we are constructing a type of musical instrument we must necessarily retain the technical characteristics, passing them of course through our " filter" . 

As two chefs who are cooking a  meal based on the same recipe , each one of them  will present their own taste in food, (due to the small , specific details in the cooking process), likewise every luthier will create its own , special color and timbre of the sound for the musical instruments he manufactures.

In my opinion the present time gives us a unique advantage : we can have a vertical view of the history and elements of our art . Also the modern scientific research, and the "tools" of registering  all these data and information which  once only empirically someone could reach and experience , gives us even more possibilities .
On the other hand, the large supply and use of mechanical tools (in traditional lutherie) which can replace the human hand , can lead the production of musical instruments to other paths ... It's the choice of every luthier which path he will follow.

-If the master luthier Fronimopoulos could turn back time, in what year he would  stop the time machine , what part ( country ) he would like to visit and live  , and what musical instruments he would like mainly to create ;

 N. Fronimopoulos
-Of course in Cremona during the 17th century , in the workshops of the master and greatest luthiers who formed and played a key role in shaping the instruments of the violin family .

As for Greece , in the workshops of Kolokotroni street, the golden era of the Greek instrument- interwar era. Specifically,in the workshop of Dimitrios Mourtzinos , whose art and craftsmanship has nothing to be jealous of, from his European colleagues.

Or even earlier years , at the workshop of Leonidas Gaila having the opportunity to see up close the construction of  his "tabourades".

But I have no complaints . Living in my times I have the opportunity to meet many of the great , old  fellow luthiers through their musical instruments, involved with them, in a creative dialogue .

I have also been able to cook my own "food" , using freely the old recipes . And  is commonly known that the best food , cooked ' on the "woods"...

My conversation with the  luthier ends with a last photo followed by his words:
And a picture irrelevant but.... maybe relevant to our matter. (Cooking inside the Maroudas cell, Mount Athos).

N Fronimopoulos cooking inside the Maroudas cell, Mount Athos

Examining the noble attitude of a  very talented luthier, with his eyes towards the great luthiers of the past, with his mind "opened" to modern techniques, but also with his heart tied to the purity of the Greek traditional lutherie, I would say that Nikos Fronimopoulos "cooks" successfully in his Legraina workshop, for many years now, sweet and delicious "musical instrument recipes" which have the taste and the aroma equivalent to the ones created by Master and greatest luthiers of a bygone era!


  1. Όταν θα δείτε ότι αυτό ήταν τετραχορδη μαντόλα... καλά βρέ μπαγάσα, αφού σε το είχα πεί, γιατί ....?

    1. Αγαπητε "Ανωνυμε"
      Το Μεμοριες ειναι ανοιχτο και σε προσκαλει σε μια νεα επιστημονικη και εμπεριστατομενη τοποθετηση του ισχυρισμου πως το μπουζουκι του Κ.Γκελη ηταν τετραχορδη μοντολα (οπως και αλλα προπολεμικα μπουζουκια φανταζομαι), εαν θπαρχουν καινουργια στοιχεια.

      Δεσμευομαι να αναρτησω ως αρθρο σε αυτο το μπλοκ, την νεα επιστημονικη αυτη αναλυση

      Περιμενω αναγωνιως

    2. Δεν είμαι ο Ανώνυμος. Είμαι ο Γιαννης Κουκουριγκος. Απλά λόγω αδυναμίας να χρησιμοποιησω τα διάφορα, επέλεξα το ανώνυμος. Ούτε με γοητεύει ο όρος αυτός, ούτε με ενοχλεί η δημοσιότητα! Δεν νομίζω ότι την στιγμή αυτή θα επιλέξω να δημοσιεύσω κάτι. Μετά από άρκετές αντιγραφές των απόψεών μου, έχω γίνει πιό προσεκτικός! Πριν προλάβω να ανοιγοκλίσω τα μάτια μου θα λανσαριστεί στα Φόρουμ σαν η μεγάλη ανακάλυψη. Όμως μπορείς να θεωρήσεις την εκτίμησι που χαίρω στο χώρο των Ελληνων οργανοποιών, (Το τελευταίο δεν μπορεί να αμφισβητηθεί ουτε από τον "φίλο" μου τον Καγιάφα) ως εγγύησι για των λόγων μου το αληθές! Ας υπάρξει ένας που μπορεί να αμφισβητήσει την τιμιοτητά μου!!

  2. Κυριε Κουκουριγκο
    Αναμένω όταν κρίνεις, να μου στείλεις αυτά τα νέα στοιχεία προς δημοσίευση

    Πάντως το άρθρο κάνει λόγο για μια αξιοθαύμαστη και αξιέπαινη προσπάθεια ενος ταλαντούχου οργανοποιου αναβίωσης ενος ιστορικού μπουζουκιου

    Ας μείνουμε σε αυτή την προσπάθεια λοιπόν προς το παρόν

  3. I would love to hear a soundclip of the instrument! It looks beautiful.

  4. Here is the sound clip Pierce! ;)

  5. Τα οργανα αυτα τα εφτιαχναν στο καλουπι που ειχαν για την μεγαλη μαντολα .Το οτι βαζαν χερια σε μαντολες και εκαναν μπουζουκια ειναι αλλο θεμα εντελως διαφορετικο.Σταυρος Κ.


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