Modern Masters: Sam Zygmuntowicz, Violin Maker


NEW YORK (MYFOXNY) - I'm Sam Zygmuntowicz. I'm a violin maker.

I was doing sculpture and artwork from as little as I can remember. Everyone assumed I would be a sculptor. I thought so myself -- I wanted to be Rodin.

I read a book about a violin maker when I was 13 and it just caught my imagination. I was pretty much obsessed with instrument making from that point.

The violin is an amazing instrument. It's given me a lifetime of challenge just to try to better what I do.

If you could actually see the motions -- the violin is twisting, turning, fluctuating. For some of it, it's pumping like a heart. I'm not saying that this wood is actually alive, it's like it's alive.

I've made instruments for Isaac Stern, Joshua Bell, Yo-Yo Ma, Cho Liang Lin, Leila Josefowicz, the Emerson String Quartet. Professional violinists are probably the most highly trained individuals in our society right up there with athletes. They can hear amazingly small distinctions.

I had an experience once. A client of mine was trying a number of violins. We got into Carnegie Hall and I was sitting in the back of the hall. And on stage there was a musician. There were two Strads, a Guarneri and my violin. And I was there with a very well-known violin dealer and a couple of other experienced listeners and none of us knew which was which. And the violin dealer said "Well, congratulations, I don't know which is the Strad and which is yours."

This is the violin that I made for Isaac Stern in 1991. It was a copy of his Guarneri. Isaac Stern has passed on since then. It's still being played. I'm still taking care of the fiddle.

A big part of what I do is adjust instruments for the people who have them from me. And that relationship is something that I really enjoy.

It's a great feeling to go to a concert hall and hear someone play my violin. On the one hand it's just fun. On the other hand I'm kind of listening: "OK, is it loud enough? Is the bass full? Is it projecting?" So I'm always just kind of listening with half an ear delay.

Every day when I come in here and look at this wood pile I wonder, you know: "Who's going first -- it or me?" This is basically for me more than a lifetime's worth of wood.

You can just feel it when you hold it in your hands just how lively it is. It's just waiting to go. Still needs a few more years before I use it.

I feel like I have different people in me. There is the artist who actually shapes and carves. And there is the engineer who thinks about the structure. And there is the sound technician who is doing adjustments. I feel like those parts of me take turns. They sort of exist at the same time but they come out to the surface at different points.

At this stage I'm trying to imagine how this is going to vibrate when it's all together, by feel, by the numbers, and by sound.

You can plan as much as you want but you don't really know until the musician puts the bow down on the string.

Making a great violin, or becoming a great violin maker, you could say it's very simple. You just start by making some kind of violin and then you make the next one a little better and you figure out what's wrong with that one. And you make the next one a little better. If you have enough time in your life, eventually you will be making a great violin.

3 years ago