Karolos Tsakirian – Third Generation of master craftsmanship

Karolos Tsakirian started as an apprentice at his father workshop, Onnik Tsakirian, at the age of fourteen. After years of having his own workshop in N.Y., he made the choice to return in Athens, the Mecca of bouzouki, to expand the family business in the same location that his father Onnik founded in 1960. Karolos build string instruments of bouzouki family (e.g. bouzouki, baglama, tzouta), laoutos and classical guitars.

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Karolos Tsakirian in his workshop in Athens.

Three generations of master lutherie – since 1924

The legendary tradition begun in 1924 when his grand father, Agop, emigrated from Turkey and opened the first shop in Piraeus (the Mother City of the rebetiko music). In 196O his son Onnik (Karolos’s father) moved to his own store in downtown Athens, building instruments for the great bouzouki players like Manolis Chiotis, Lemonopoulos, Giannis Tatassopoulos, Lakis Karnezis, Giannis Stamatiou (Sporos), Bebis Staergiou, Giannis Angelou and others. He was also the recipient of the gold medal of master craftsmanship in the International Expo in Thessaloniki in 1965.

Agop Tsakirian (1905 – 1973)

The grandfather of Karolos, Agop Tsakirian, came to Greece as a refugee from Smyrna in 1922. His family, as many others refugees, settled in the Piraeus area. He learned lutherie from Aram Papazian who was the husband of his sister Rosa. He was also a refugee and an accomplished luthier from Smyrna. He opened his store at 7 Fokionos street in Piraeus. Papazian was an educated man and had very good relations with all the musicians from Asia Minor. Papazian was mostly building ouds, laoutos, lyras etc. Instruments that were played in the old country. When Papazian died, the workshop passed at the hands of Agop Tsakirian. He continued to build all these instruments and according to the needs of that time, he ended up making a reputation for building very good bouzoukis.

At the workshop of Agop worked for a few years the well known, also Armenian luthier, Zozef. Agop had very famous musicians as clients like Markos Vamvakaris, Giorgos Batis, Bagianteras, Yovan Chaous. Agop made the favorite baglama of Giorgos Batis who carried it with him everywhere in the pocket of his coat and he called it ‘o magas’. When Batis died it was his wish to be buried with his much loved baglama. Agop Tsakirian died in 1973 but he was able to pass the art of lutherie to his two sons, Onnik and Aram.

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Photo as appeares at the book “The Anthology of Rebetiko” written by Panos Geramanis.From left: Giannis Bafounis or Samiotis, Theodoros Polikandriotis, Beba Blans. Bebis Stergiou, Roupen (wih oud) and the great luthier Agop Tsakirian. Photo taken at the famous night club Kefala’s.

Onnik Tsakirian (1931 – 1983)

Onnik who married in 1950 decided to open his own workshop. At the beginning he worked at his home then he opened a shop in Korydallos and in 1960 he opened the shop at the center of Athens at 3 Aristotelous street. Onnik Tsakirian was considered one of the best luthiers of his time. The legendary bouzouki player, Manolis Chiotis was playing Onnik’s instruments. The famous black bouzouki that Chiotis is playing in some of the Greek films of that time (1960′s) is made by Onnik Tsakirian. In November of 1970, for family reasons, Onnik immigrates to the USA.In the beginning, he went to Los Angeles, where he was hired as a specialist by ‘Fender Guitar Company’. The time he spent in Fender was a great experience for him but, he was also rewarded with the Green Card which gave him the right to live and work in the United States. Onnik wanted to have his own shop so, he moved in 1973, after he received the Green Card, in New York City. In Astoria he made his new workshop.

A few years later, his son Karolos joined him, who went to NYC to study and work in the family workshop. Eventually, Karolos became a luthier himself and continued the family tradition. The shop in Athens was ran by Onnik’s wife, with special technician Gregory Kolusoglu who stayed at the workshop until 1990. Onnik Tsakirian died at a very young at the age of 52.

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Onnik Tsakirian holding the guitar surrounded by the fellow musicians outside the Athens shop in 1967.

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Onnik Tsakirian was considered one of the best luthiers of his time. The legendary bouzouki player, Manolis Chiotis was playing his instruments. The famous black bouzouki that Chiotis is playing in some of the Greek films of that time (1960′s) is made by Onnik.
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Karolos Tsakirian

Karolos Tsakirian (present) continues the tradition of fine making instruments. The master players, Giannis Stamatiou, Lakis Karnezis, Giannis Tatassopoulos are some of his most respected clients. In his downtown Athens shop you can often see legendary bouzouki virtuosos, as well as great players of today as Christos Nikolopoulos, Giannis Moraitis, Giorgos Dramalis, Giorgos Kollias, Panagiotis Stergiou, Manolis Karantinis, Lakis Argyriadis, Nikos Tatassopoulos, Kostas Doumouliakas, Babis Goles to name a few.Starting as a 14 year apprentice, he became a luthier on his own accord after his father’s death, 30 years ago. He was working at the shop while going to a night high school. For the next few years, until the age of 20, he was doing most of the design work for the bouzoukis built in the shop.

Since then he had set the goal to build instruments of superior quality. After years of concentrated efforts and many experiments he has come to master his craft. He has made, and still makes, bouzoukis for musicians all around the world. It’s a personal accomplishment, to have made a name of his own.

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Karolos Tsakirian with the Legendary bouzouki soloist Giannis Stamatiou (Sporos) in his workshop.
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Photo taken at Karolos Tsakirian’s shop in Athens. From left: Lakis Karnezis, Karolos Tsakirian, George Dramalis, Giannis Stamatiou (Sporos).

Karolos Tsakirian, since 1993, has returned in Athens Greece after 17 years in N.Y, where he had his own workshop. Making his choice to have his working place in the city which is the Mecca of bouzouki, he expanded the family business opening a new store next to the one already existing and founded in 1960 by his father Onnik, in the heart of Athens close to Omonia Square.

While living in New York he was often asked by the Queens Council of the Arts to give demonstration of his craft. He has also been a member of the Guild of American Luthiers. His love for the bouzouki and its sound led him to be an accomplished bouzouki performer in Greek clubs in NYC.This valuable experience has added to a thorough understanding of the instrument as well as the needs of its musicians. His family background, his forty years of involvement in superior craftsmanship, mixed with his own experience as a player, have resulted in an exceptional combination. l0011

Photo taken in Tsakirian’s shop in Athens. From left: Kostas Dimoulakias, Takis Tsagkrounos and Karolos Tsakirian
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In his downtown Athens shop you can often see legendary bouzouki virtuosos, as well as great players of today. In the photos the great bouzouki virtuoso Panagiotis Stergioy in Karolos Tsakirian’s shop.
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