My encounter with Luthier Chris Pantazelos
Richard H. Lyon
I took lessons on the trumpet as a teenager (dreams of Harry James), but the instrument hurt my lips and was too difficult to play. I resolved to find an instrument easy to get a sound from if I were to take lessons again. This was finally realized with the guitar some 50 years later when I retired from MIT.
As I studied the guitar and became familiar with the composers and players, I noticed that quite a bit of the music had been composed for the lute. My guitar teacher informed me that the word "lute" was derived from "L'ud", an instrument I knew from attendance at Armenian weddings, of which there are quite a few in the Belmont area. When I asked how I might get a lute, I learned about Unique Strings, also in Belmont.
I am an Acoustician by profession with a special interest in how products of various kinds (dishwashers, air cleaners, electric tooth brushes, etc.) make sound, so I had carried out measurements of the sound radiation from my guitars (student and professional) by the time I first went to Unique Strings and met Chris and Peter. Chris showed me the design possibilities for a Lute and we selected the woods (apple wood and rosewood) for the back, and inlay design for the fingerboard. We also discussed my studies of guitar sound.
Chris is not only a student and builder of classical and ancient instruments; he is also an experimenter, looking for new ways to build the instrument for an improved sound. The number of possible variations in wood thickness, how components are joined together, dimensions, and placement, is very large. If scientific principles can help to reduce the number of choices, that is very desirable, but it is not always evident what an experiment is telling you when a change is made.
Chris and I have had many discussions of the principles of sound production by stringed instruments. His inquisitiveness and willingness to absorb a new idea and implement it in an instrument is both refreshing and impressive. I enjoy playing the lute he built for me, and I enjoy looking at it, as do all the people I proudly show it to.