A Facebook post by a father-son restoration duo caught the attention of a mysterious San Francisco guitar collector who commissioned a duplicate of a Maltese folklore instrument dating back nearly 300 years.
“This instrument has played a major role in the story of Maltese traditional music and is part of our musical identity. It is good to know that this has been preserved and not lost to time, especially now that collectors have shown an interest,” restorer Charles Busuttil said.
Mr Busuttil, together with his father Felix, restored the instrument using authentic artisanal methods in the garage beneath their family home which acts as the main store of the restoration firm Band Aid.
The instrument, known as a kitarrin, is about half the size of a standard parlour guitar and is a predecessor of the terzin, a similar instrument used in contemporary għana (Maltese folk music).
“It was played by prejjem [lead folk guitarists] as far back as the 1700s in what you could call the golden era of Maltese folk music. This is one of the few examples of an intact and restored kitarrin,” Mr Busuttil Jr said.
The instrument was noticed by a number of foreign collectors, including a San Francisco man who commissioned a duplicate.
Asked about the collector and the price of the duplicate, both were coy, saying only that it cost “several hundred euros”.
The Busuttils first stumbled across the instrument during an auction at a Żebbuġ house. Dusty and riddled with woodworm, the kitarrin had no strings and no tuning pegs. Despite this, the two knew they had stumbled upon a rare gem.
“We restore several instruments but this was quite a find and we have put several months into fixing and then duplicating it,” Mr Busuttil Sr said, as he walked through his garage-turned-workshop in Żabbar. The workshop is home to dozens of vintage musical knick-knacks that the father-son duo has helped bring back to life.
“I make the moulds by hand and then pick the wood to make the duplicates. For the kitarrin, we used wood from an old beam we found in a town house. Therefore, the instrument is as authentic as possible,” Mr Busuttil said as his father, 73, tapped the polished wood with a mallet to test the aged timbre’s resonance.
In the corner of the workshop, beside a large boat built by Mr Busuttil Sr, the original kitarrin rests on what, at first sight, appears to be an ordinary work bench. On closer inspection, this turns out to be a three-string half-size double bass the two have been working on for several years.
The 300-year-old instrument, which strongly resembles another built by famous instrument-maker Joseph Tonna in 1858, has an interesting story.
“When we found this, it was in a dire state. We spent countless hours sanding it by hand and finding the right wood to make it playable,” Mr Busuttil Jr explained, adding that the instrument had been used in the now extinct funeral marches, popular some 300 years ago.
Kindly reproduced from Times of Malta, 30th December 2013.