Michalis Pantelides is a luthier from the famed Stradivari School in Cremona and spoke to Saskia Constantinou about the art of creating stringed instruments and bows.
What led to your decision to become a luthier?
I started playing the violin from a very young age and that’s when my love for classical music and especially for the violin was born. Apart from playing the violin and participating in various orchestras, I also used to create plastic models and always paid attention to details. My passion for searching something different led to the idea of following this antique craft art of violin making and restoring.
What did your studies in Cremona involve?
I studied at the International Violin Making School A. Stradivari in Cremona in Italy for 5 years and completed two diplomas with Honors, in Violin Making and Restoration. During my studies I learned the traditional Cremonese violin making method, which passes from one Maestro to another during the centuries and includes the selection of the wood, the carving process, as well as the varnish and setting up of the instrument, combined with modern research like acoustic physics and sound analysis. I then worked for two years in various workshops while completing a diploma in Bow Making.
In your own instruments, do you follow any particular style and if yes, why?
In my instruments I always follow the traditional style of Cremona, and the first Masters such as Antonio Stradivari, Andrea Amati and Guarneri. The Cremonese style of violin making is the oldest and most famous in the world for its high quality instruments. I was very fortunate to be part of this tradition, with great teachers, who passed on their knowledge of this antique art, which had been passed on to them by other maestros in a lineage going back to Stradivari’s era.
Do you also make other stringed instruments?
Yes – violas and cellos on order, as well as their bows. I also import a variety of string quartet instruments from other countries and try to have in stock whatever a violin player may need, such as strings, cases and accessories.
How does a luthier evaluate an instrument, as opposed to a violinist who is concerned primarily with sound?
A luthier evaluates an instrument mainly by the quality of its making. He examines details such as the quality of the wood, the varnish, how accurately it was crafted by its maker, etc. He also evaluates the instrument according to the maker and the violin school and tradition to which he belongs.
Violin making is a long process as everything is done by hand. A violin needs 250 working hours and a month for the varnish.
How long does it take to make an instrument or a bow?
A violin takes around 250 working hours plus one month for the varnish. A bow needs approximately 70 working hours. Violin making is a long process, since you are creating everything by hand, and, apart from making something aesthetically beautiful, you also have to produce a high quality sound to satisfy musicians and their needs.
Where do you source your wood from?
I import my wood from the Balkans, where maple is found and is used for the back, the scroll and the ribs of the violin. From the Italian Alps I import top quality red spruce for the top part of the instrument. For bows, I use pernambuco, imported from Brazil.
Why is the varnish so important?
There are three important factors to consider. The first is to seal and protect the wood and instrument, the second is to exalt the characteristics of the wood and the details of the work, creating a beautiful result. Last, but not least, is how it increases the quality of the instrument’s sound. One of my Maestros always said that “With a bad varnish you can destroy a very nice violin” and I couldn’t agree with him more.
Cyprus is probably rather limited market – how important is it to have an international following?
Undoubtedly it is important to have international following and I am very lucky to have that especially in Cremona, as well as other parts of the world. It is also important to keep in touch with other violin makers, since you can always share ideas, exchange knowledge and stay up to date.
How do you break into international markets and have your art recognized and appreciated?
Your own instruments are the best way to break into international markets. They’re the best advertisement of your work and carry a part of you and your personality. I also participate in international fairs and competitions to present my work. I recently participated at the famous “Triennale” Violin Making Competition of Cremona and am proud to say that my instrument was selected from hundreds to be part of the exhibition and of the competition’s printed catalogue with the world’s top violins.