A Modified Copy of the ‘Trampler’ Amati

featured in May 2014 New York Fine Instruments & Bows

By Samuel Zygmuntowicz

A Fine Contemporary American Viola by Samuel Zygmuntowicz, New York, 1999

Some of the greatest old violas began as large tenore instruments, which were later reduced for easier playability; a very effective strategy to fit a big viola sound into a manageable instrument, and a design principle that I have followed in my own violas.

The model for this instrument came about when in the early 1990s the violist Walter Trampler asked me to make a copy of his c. 1566 Andrea Amati. I had long admired this handsome, decorated Amati, with its remarkable dark sonority, and been tempted to use it as a model. The original tenore proportions remain apparent in its generous sculptural curves, and it is a magnificent specimen, even recut to its current size of 17 7/16″ (443mm). However, I felt that it would be difficult to make an effective exact copy. With Trampler’s support, I decided instead to make a new interpretation with its own internal logic.

To do this I reduced the body length on my new design from 17 7/16″ to 17″ (432mm) and slightly reduced the bout width to increase clearance, especially on the upper bout, which I made more sloped to give easier access to the high positions. When the original Amati had been cut down, the upper and lower bouts had been reduced, leaving the middle bouts untouched. Shortening the middle bouts on the new model and moving the f-holes up a bit helped restore the proportions, with the additional benefit of a slightly shortened string length. I slightly redrew the outline curves to improve the unity of the overall design and I made an undistorted arch and channel in the style of Amati for the top and back.

Tonally this new viola was reminiscent of the original, with a full and expansive sound. While not as dark as the original, it gained considerable focus and ease of speaking. The reduction in proportion made the instrument much more playable, and it became Mr Trampler’s principal instrument in his later years. In homage to the original Amati, this new viola was decorated with an inscription on the ribs in gold leaf.

Zygmuntowicz treble

Informed emulation of classic style can focus, rather than inhibit, the maker’s creativity.The 1999 instrument presented here was built on the same model as the Trampler viola. Unlike Trampler’s instrument it is not decorated, but it shares the same concept: part copy of the Amati as it is now, part restoration to Amati’s original style, and part my idea of what a viola should be. The design experience led me to try other ideas and to combine familiar elements in new ways, and I have used a similar process in other instruments that I have designed. At its best, the informed emulation of classic style can focus, rather than inhibit, the maker’s creativity.

Since 1985 Zygmuntowicz has worked independently in Brooklyn, New York, making new instruments for performers such as Cho-Liang Lin, Joshua Bell, Vadim Repin, Maxim Vengerov, Yo-Yo Ma, and the entire Emerson String Quartet. He also serves as Director of Strad 3D, which brings a scientifically rigorous and interdisciplinary approach to the study of fine instruments. His recent instruments at auction include a 2006 violin made on a late-Stradivari model, which sold for $84,000, a 1995 violin made especially for Ruggiero Ricci, which sold for $108,000, and a 1994 violin made especially for Isaac Stern, selling for $130,000.

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