Sophocles Thomas Papas, 92, a lover of music who taught classical guitar and operated the Guitar Shop in downtown Washington for almost 60 years, died of a heart ailment Feb. 26 at The Hermitage of Northern Virginia, a retirement home in Alexandria.
As a young man, Mr. Papas often played his guitar on radio stations in the Washington area. Over the years his students included jazz great Charlie Byrd, the wives of senators and diplomats, music teachers and amateurs of varying degrees of talent. It was once said of him that he could probably "get music out of a stalk of celery if he tried hard enough."
He was a longtime friend of Andres Segovia, the great Spanish classical guitarist. Segovia once gave Mr. Papas a Spanish beret after seeing him in one of Parisian style of which Segovia disapproved.
"If I can't fill Segovia's shoes, at least I can wear his hat," commented Mr. Papas.
Born in Greece, Mr. Papas served in the Greek army and came to the United States in 1914. He moved to the Washington area about 1920 after having worked in a gun factory in Worcester, Mass. By 1922 he had opened a guitar studio here, and as he became more widely known a great variety of people used to drop by to hear him play. Tallulah Bankhead came by several times as did Ginger Rogers. The poet and author Carl Sandburg was a friend of Mr. Papas.
A student of the history of the guitar, Mr. Papas insisted that the instrument that the Emperor Nero is said to have played while Rome burned was probably much closer to a guitar than a violin.
Mr. Papas, who retired in 1981, had a wide collection of old and unusual musical instruments, ranging from a three-stringed Japanese samisen that looked like a miniature ship's mast to a Middle Eastern rabab, which was shaped like a submarine periscope. The collection also included a Spanish bandurria, Serbian gusla and Russian balalaika.
During Mr. Papas' lifetime, the popular perception of guitar music as being one that was exclusively country and western changed to include classical and jazz, and Mr. Papas took some credit for that change.
He was a resident of Fairfax and a member of Almas Temple of the Shrine.
His marriage to Eveline Papas ended in divorce. His second wife, Mercia Lorentz, died in 1985.
Survivors include a daughter by his first wife, Elisabeth Smith of Waterloo, Ontario; two sons by his second wife, Theodore T., of Fairfax and David S., of San Francisco; two sisters in Greece, and three grandchildren.