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'I've been doing things with my hands all my life'

Private practitioner follows passion in music and visual arts

September 15, 2014
Dr. Martin Ters poses with one of his handmade guitars.
Strumming along: Dr. Martin Ters poses with one of his handmade guitars.
image of the back of one of Dr. Ters' guitars.
Special creation: Dr. Ters has traveled to Europe in search of just the right wood for his handmade guitars, the back of one shown here.
Dr. Ters' painted clocks
Time for some creativity: A multifaceted artist, Dr. Ters also created these painted clocks.
Louisville, Colo. —
Hands down, Dr. Martin Ters is one talented individual.

His hands, in fact, embody the main tool he plies in his career as a general dentist — and as a multifaceted artist: painter, woodworker, luthier and classical musician.

"I've been doing things with my hands all my life, making little wooden boats and airplanes that fly with radios and models of three-masted battleships from the 18th century," said Dr. Ters. "I've always liked wood and always liked to do something and create things."

He adds with a chuckle, "Dentistry is not enough."

Perhaps his most prevalent and time-consuming craft is his work as a luthier — or, in his case more precisely, guitar maker. He even built a website for his stringed creations — martintersguitars.com.
Having played classical guitar since he was 10, Dr. Ters joined the Denver Classical Guitar Society and Boulder Guitar Society and marveled at some of the instruments fellow members owned.

"I thought, 'How does one get a guitar like this?' Then I realized that it can cost $25,000," he said. "I thought, 'Well, how about if I try to make one?' Then I found somebody who was teaching classes here in Arvada, and I signed up for it and made my first guitar. It was an acoustic guitar with the steel strings. It came out very nice. It actually came out better than the factory guitars."

Dr. Ters moonlights as a musician because, as he said, "It's kind of fun." He occasionally takes on gigs, playing his self-made guitars for senior citizens at local libraries and in retirement homes.

"Some of them pay a little money; some of them are free," he said. "But people are always saying, 'Come back and play!'"

Dr. Ters grew up in communist Czechoslovakia before defecting in 1986 to America, where he obtained political asylum to escape persecution. He said he saw dentistry as a noble profession and that's why he chose it. He first practiced in Czechoslovakia, where he was also an M.D., having practiced general medicine in the army as a young man.

"I really enjoyed it for a while until I realized that the communist government didn't really care about people," he said. "They just had their issues with numbers. The more fillings you did in an hour, the better dentist you were, and you were compensated for it. I was at the bottom of the line because I was slow and I was doing things the right way. My fillings didn't come out the next day, people bringing them in, in their hand, saying 'I got it yesterday, and, look, it's all gone.' My fillings were not falling out, and I was liked because of that by the people; and I was in trouble politically because of that."

Like his start in dentistry, his artistic interests also have roots in early days growing up in Europe.

His father was an artist and so was uncle who lived in France. His mother and sister are art teachers, he said.

His father also was an art conservationist, who renewed church frescos and statues, and Dr. Ters followed his father's lead.

Today, he has occasion to take on repair projects.

"A friend of mine is a periodontist here in Boulder," he said. "I just finished repairing his heirloom guitar that his father had. It was really trashed. I spent several months working on it. I like to do repairs, too.  I like to resurrect the instruments and bring the beauty where it was once lost — make it nice again. Just like teeth. Same thing. There's no difference."

But given a choice, Dr. Ters pursued dentistry for his day job. The profession provides the best of these worlds.  

"I think dentistry kind of put things together so I can still work with my hands and wear a white coat," he said with a laugh. "So it was one of the reasons I chose dentistry, because I like to fix things. I like to put things back together where decay over time and bacteria took it away from people. I just like to be able to restore things, so this is my calling."