For nearly a decade, Zygmuntowicz prodded Jenson to send the instrument back to him one more time. She finally did, and after 10 months of work, Zygmuntowicz returned it to Jenson just days before she was due to perform as a soloist at Carnegie Hall. This time, it was spot-on. “It was a totally different instrument,” Jenson says. “I felt like I had finally gotten my voice back. Sam changed my life.”
There was financial reward for all of Zygmuntowicz’s effort: Jenson now owns three of his violins. But that’s not why he pushed so hard to get her instrument right. After all, if his goal were cold, hard cash, he could sell his instruments exclusively to collectors and investors, who would pay much more and ?require a lot less collaboration — freeing up Zygmuntowicz to make even more instruments.
“I’m not highly motivated by money,” he says. “I don’t want to be obnoxious about it. I like money just fine. But I want these instruments to be affordable to musicians, because I love working for working musicians.”
That attitude is something Zygmuntowicz picked up from his father. His parents, who had survived internment in the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps, eventually moved to Philadelphia, where Zygmuntowicz was later born, and then relocated to another Philadelphia neighborhood when their son was 13. That’s where he carved his first instrument: a flute, made from Japanese knotweed.
Zygmuntowicz’s father ran a laundry business and would drive all the way across Philadelphia just to drop off clothes for a single client. “My dad had a real sense of mission,” Zygmuntowicz says. “He wanted to help people. That’s pretty much my model.”
But where Zygmuntowicz’s father served mostly working-class customers, Zygmuntowicz’s business model has been built to serve artists. “Violinists have an avocation,” he says. “They’re trying to do something really hard. They’ve studied since they were 3 years old to be good at this instrument. They have to perform in front of a couple ?thousand people. And they get paid ?whatever they can manage to get paid for it. I feel the same way about my work. I don’t work harder? now that I get paid more. I just feel more pressure to take care of people.”