LUTHIER. There's a word that rolls off the tongue. It has a sound all of its own, medieval and romantic.
The Macquarie Dictionary tells us a luthier is “a maker of lutes, and of other stringed instruments, as viols, violins, etc”.
Luthier and piano tuner Jonathan Parise
Luthiers are not to be found down every cobble-stoned lane; in fact, they are a very rare breed. Just ask any string instrument owner seeking someone with the skill to set up, repair or custom-build a guitar or mandolin.
In my search for a luthier, a local musician comes to my aid and I find myself in the Inverloch home of Jonathan and Trilby Parise. I am ushered into Jonathan’s crowded workshop where I sit myself down on a well-worn stool decorated with guitars and words that inform me that D’Addario Guitar Strings are The Player’s Choice.
Some of the electric guitars (Fender Stratocaster, Fender Telecaster, Gibson Les Paul, Gibson Gary Moore) that Jonathan has maintained and repaired for local musos.
Jonathan recently replaced the entire ebony fingerboard on this double bass by rebuilding a new one from a rough piece of ebony.
He had to remove the neck from this 1970s Maton acoustic guitar to reset the position.The walls are covered with racks of tools of the trade and laid out on a work bench are the skeletal innards of a piano in the process of restoration. There is a wall display of pick guards in a variety of patterns and colours. “The earlier material was tortoise shell but today it has been replaced by plastic,” Jonathan informs me.
Behind a work bench is a double bass with a recently replaced finger board made of ebony. “The piece of ebony alone cost $600 and then I had to shape and finish it from the rough,” he says.
Jonathan Parise is a luthier and piano tuner technician, as was his father and his father's father before him. His grandfather started building guitars more than 60 years ago in his home town in the south of Italy.
Jonathan’s family come from Prato, Italy, a Tuscan city 18 kilometres from Florence, with roots firmly embedded in the world of music. He mentions the links with Cremona, just to the north, the home of Stradivari, the most influential violin maker in the industry.
"There are hundreds of businesses and shops there building and repairing violins and guitars," he says, with the quiet pride of one who is part of an ancient tradition.
At the age of 14, he found himself swept up into the family business, making, repairing and fine-tuning musical instruments. From that point, his destiny was set.
In 2001, Monash University came to Prato and with it came Trilby Chapman of Inverloch. She was to become Jonathan's wife not many years later.
Ten years ago, they decided to make Melbourne their home so father and son agreed to divide their business and go their separate ways.
For Jonathan, the transition was not easy. He found the work of tuning pianos in homes and music retail shops uninspiring, so he and Trilby went back to Italy.
Eventually they took the plunge and returned to Trilby’s home town of Inverloch. “It was all open paddocks and cows,” Jonathan says. “Where were the pianos, where was the work? It took me years to get used to it.”
But even in what Jonathan refers to as a dying profession he is kept busy. His piano-tuning work takes him throughout Gippsland. He is in regular contact with his father who cannot comprehend the distances his son travels in this strange country.
To fit in his work commitments he has to carefully structure his week, setting days aside for piano tuning and time to devote to instrument repairs. In the future, he hopes to find time to create and build his own personal style of guitars.
He has settled comfortably into his adopted country but you get the sense there is still more to be achieved; that there remain parts of the skills learnt in the Italian traditions that are yet to be explored and developed.
The opportunity to do that may still be a while off. Trilby, who works in ceramics, is a qualified teacher with a diploma in education but for now she is fully occupied with raising their two girls, Bonnie and Polly, with help from the family dog Charlie.
In the meanwhile, there are all those pianos to tune.
Contact Jonathan Parise at email@example.com, 5674 2597 or 0438 384 887.