Our Instrument Makers
Biographies, Photos and Other Interesting Information for Collectors
Ming Jiang Zhu - Wojciech Topa - Thomas Kowalski - Mitio Dimitrov - Angela Moneff - Ivan Stankov - Petko Petkov
Ming Jiang Zhu was one of the world's most respected makers and an incredible success story worthy of Time Magazine's attention!
Zhu started his violin craft in 1975 when he was selected to study at the Guangzhou Musical Instruments School in China, an institution which has produced many famous world-class makers. Two years later he applied scientic research and hands-on practice at the Guangzhou Musical Instrument Research Institute.
In 1991 he opened his own workshop making his own brand: Mingjiang Violins. In the next year he won three awards in the Violin Society of America Competition.
Mr. Zhu has since won an impressive sixteen awards over the past 20 years, on the way winning an enviable reputation internationally which earned him an interview with Time Magazine in 1996.
His two Gold Medals in Violin Making [1994 and 2006] and a Silver Award in Viola making  in the Violin Society of America Competitions earn him much respect in the luthier world, in practice rooms and concert halls and beyond.
Mr. Zhu passed away at the end of 2014 but his legacy lives on through the workshop, which produces instruments to the very same high standards of excellence.
Wojciech (pronounced Voy-zhec) Topa is from Zakopane in southern Poland and is perhaps Poland's finest luthier. Aided by two assistants, he produces masterful violins and violas with mature tone from the start which opens up and matures even more with play.
Mr. Topa's immaculate worksmanship has been appreciated among some of the most prestigious luthiers and players in Asia, Europe, Canada and the United States. We are very pleased to carry these fine instruments.
As a side note, in addition to making world-class violins Mr. Topa is also plays in the Goral [indigenous Polish] folk music band "Zakopower."
Mr. Kowalski's love of music brought him to study violin making under the direction of master violin maker Jan Bobak in 1991.
Mr. Kowalski crafted instruments for the famous American workshop William Harris Lee and, in 1995, he became a member of the Polish Violin Makers Association. Mr. Kowalski founded his own workshop, “Luthierie Kowalscy,” in 1999 and has since taken part in many exhibitions.
His instruments are played by professional players in symphony orchestras in such cities as Tokyo, Chicago, Helsinki, Berlin, Vienna, Moscow, Warsaw and many more across the globe.
Utilizing techniques from his furniture career, Mr. Kowalski utilizes highly refined techniques of decorative intarsia and carving not seen on many instruments. He also enjoys working with woods outside the usual maple and spruce, but instead using sycamore for its depth of grain and excellent tonal qualities. Mr. Kowlaski has a connection to each piece, saying his instruments "possess artistic and spiritual value."
His instruments are inspired by the works of great Italian masters like Stradivari and Guarneri and he only works with the woods "of excellent sound qualities from the Balkan region." Above all, he prefers to work with naturally dried sycamore and high quality spruce. Furthermore, he has created his own special alcohol varnish.
Mitio Dimitrov is a member of the Bulgarian regional Association of the Master-luthiers and the Chamber of Handicraftsmen. He participates in exhibitions and competitions in Bulgaria and in the International competition in Trienne (Italia).
In fact, in 2009 at the 12th International Triennial Competition his violin ranked 12th Place of the 198 violins from around the world.
Musicians from Bulgaria, Italy, Belgium, the United States, Canada and Japan play on his master-grade instruments.
Moneff studied violin making with her husband, Ivan Stankov who, in turn, studied with makers who graduated from the Cremona School in Italy in the early 1990s.
Moneff is approaching the level of a "master" maker. As a colleague said in compliment of Moneff's refinements, "a real maker always struggles to improves his/her work, so it's a continuous process towards perfection."
Moneff shared with Fiddleheads, "Instrument making is a beautiful, charming magic. One has to have this craft in her heart." Of her training she says, "For me it is exceptionally interesting and I
Little-known fact: Moneff is married to Ivan Stankov. She has a son who plays violin and she was formerly an obstetrician, preferring to craft violins. Her Bulgarian name is "Angelina Koleva Moneva Stankova" but she makes violins under her anglicized trade name.
Stankov studied with graduates of the Cremona School in Italy. He uses traditional Italian methods of construction and select well-seasoned European spruce and Balkans maple tone wood.
His violins are finished in the method of England's David Rubio. Here a pine-resin oil varnish is brushed over a special coat of mineral ground. This advanced varnishing technique was developed after many years of studying the genuine violins of Giuseppe Guarneri and Antonio Stradivari.
In 2009 Stankov took part in two contests – in Italy at the Trianalle and in the
Fiddleheads sometimes carries rare "crazy back" violins by Stankov. They are nicknamed "crazy back" violins for the intensely flamed woods used on the back plates. Only a couple crazy backs are made each year owing to the rare supply of this incredible wood.
Stankov lives in the Kazanlak region or "Rose city" of Bulgaria with his wife, Angela Moneff, who is also a fine maker.