What do four musicians of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra have in common? They all play on instruments made by the Brooklyn-based luthier, Sam Zygmuntowicz.

It is rare to have so many musicians in one orchestra own instruments by the same maker, but violinists, Steven Copes, Ruggero Allifranchini, Nina Fan, and cellist, Joshua Koestenbaum are all proud owners of Zygmuntowicz instruments.

Click on this link to see a video of Sam Zygmuntowicz at work.


Nina –

I remember reading about Sam in Strings magazine a long time ago. It seems that David Finckel, the cellist of the Emerson Quartet, had brought into rehearsal a cello by some young New York maker, and it shocked the other members with its quality. Soon they were converts, as were many of the top players around, including Isaac Stern and Cho-Liang Lin. Nowadays it’s hard to get your hands on a “Sam.” (I’ve heard that there’s a bumper sticker around that says, “My other instrument is a Strad”!)

Mine is not brand-new; it was made in 1994 (still a baby, by violin standards). It is made on a Guarneri del Gesu model, though not a copy of a particular instrument. I love how responsive it is, and how “healthy” and powerful the sound. It’s also nice to know it’s in perfect condition, with no hidden cracks or repairs–and if something happens to it, I can go back to the maker and have him fix it!

Sam is a brilliant man. He is very interested in the science of acoustics, and he’s constantly experimenting. His craftsmanship is impeccable. I’m on the wait list for another one, and I can’t wait to work with him and see what he comes up with.


I first heard about Sam Zygmuntowicz from violinist, Daniel Phillips, in the early 90s. He’s a very fine , accomplished and knowledgeable violinist and I trusted his opinion as I was getting a little tired of borrowing instruments.

My current violin was made late in 2012 and it is patterned after  the Heifetz 1741 Guarneri del Gesu.

What makes Sam’s instruments so popular is that they are both easy to play and they “functions” and behave like a great instrument .

I enjoy playing on Sam’s violins in part because, like playing a piece of contemporary music of a living composer, you can ask questions and develop a relationship ,make a connection that can last a lifetime in which you can learn and improve from this interaction .


I heard about SZ through cellist David Finckel, who was in St. Paul on a few years ago.  We had dinner and talked about our musical hero, Mstislav Rostropovich, whom David knew very well. Afterwards he showed me his cello, not having told me anything about it.  It was gorgeous.  I assumed that it was—somehow– Rostropovich’s Strad.  David then told me about Sam Z. and his remarkable instruments.

My cello was made in 2006.  It’s Sam’s modification of the “Duport” Stradivarius form.  It’s one of the two cello patterns that Sam uses—the other one being an Amati-style. I’d put my name on Sam’s waiting list about three years beforehand.  In the interim, I bought one his Amati-style cellos, which I then traded in for my current cello.

It has a big, beautiful, clear sound.  It’s brilliant without being harsh.  If I had to describe the sound in terms of color, I think I’d call it “orange-silver.”  It has lots of reserve power—the cello sends out whatever I can put into it.  It responds quickly.  Some cellos have a forgiving delay; this cello speaks immediately.

My cello is an “antiqued” model.  Sam gives clients the choice of “new” or “antiqued.”  He is a famous for his skill and artistry at this processs.

His work is beautiful, nuanced—the antiquing doesn’t subtract from the appearance or integrity—it augments it.  It’s an honoring of history and tradition, I think.

Steve –

img_9081I heard about Sam through Ruggero, and I now own his old violin, which was made in 1997. It was modeled after a Guarneri, the  “Pannette”, made in 1737.

Sam’s instruments are designed to project well in modern concert halls. They operate like great, old Italian instruments. I enjoy playing on this violin because it is dependable, has a consistent sound, and does everything that I need it to do.

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