The luthier of Metaxourgeio

Traditional craftsmanship in Greece – a workshop supporting the tradition of lutes in greek music in Athens

The Mountakis brothers’ workshop is located in Metaxourgeio. Michalis Mountakis speaks about his craft, the importance of high quality and the long tradition of lutes in greek music.

The workshop of the Mountakis brothers is located in Metaxourgeio, between the two main arterial roads Pireos and Achilleos. Their father moved from Crete to Athens in 1963, in order to learn the craft of instrument making. In the late 60s he set up his own business that is now continued by his sons. Instrument making requires utmost precision and high quality materials. Michalis says: “We only use wood for building our instruments.” Synthetic materials are in his opinion no rivals for natural resources, “they lack character.” In terms of glues however, new technologies are of great advantage, having a positive effect on the sound of the instruments.

Michalis gets up and fetches a piece of wood from the storage. “This is a bar from the lintel of an old house, I think it’s over 100 years old. It’s from my father’s collection” he tells us. Older and matured wood makes instruments whose sound is less sensitive to climate fluctuations. The wood stock is a treasury and Michalis is very proud of it.

The sound of the lute and Greek music
Bouzouki, tzouras, baglamas, laoutos and also guitars are hanging from the workshop’s ceiling. A luthier doesn’t necessarily have to be a musician, but Michalis thinks it is important to be able to play the instruments he builds, in oder to speak their language. He takes a small string instrument, “this is a Cretan lyra, an antique bowed lute with three strings that are played with a bow.”

The origin of the word music (μουσική) is Greek, however in ancient Greece it wasn’t limited to musical art, but included all artistic skills. Nowadays, when talking about Greek music, this means melodies and lyrics that mainly originated in the 19th century as protest and resistance songs, and have an important political significance. One of the key movements of modern Greek music was the Rembétiko. In the early 1920s refugees of Greek origin from Asia Minor came to Greece. Uprooted and without economic perspective, living on the fringes of society, they developed a subculture in Athens, a critical, identity searching music full of melancholy.

 

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A trend back to the authentic sound
Michalis loves the music and sound of each of the instruments he builds. A musical instrument is a personal, emotional object. Michalis’ instruments are exclusively custom work. He keeps in touch with his clients, “it is a special relationship of trust”, he says. Whether when building a new instrument or repairing an old one, the interaction with the musician is absolutely essential for Michalis. With their combined knowledge they complement each other and contribute to the perfect sound of the instrument. For Michalis this close relationship defines the quality of his work. The order situation isn’t bad, he says. Over the past years there has been a trend towards authentic sound. The sound quality of the instrument is decisive, not its decoration. This means in particular that experience, diligence and quality are more and more important for the customers, who are willing to pay a higher price in return. With his joyful nature Michalis has an optimistic view on the future and remains unperturbed by the general ambience of doom.

Michalis Mountakis in his workshop in Metaxourgeio

 

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