Violin/Tambovsky violin


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I bought my violin back in 2003/4 when I was in high school. At the time, Nikolai Tambovsky was fairly unknown and working out of the shop in the basement of his house in Overland Park. I believe we bought the violin, bow, and case for around $150 or $200...when I went to look them up on Craigslist and check his website now, the cheapest one I can find is $800, and they go all the way up to $14,000, so I'm worried that I could be letting it go for WAY too little out of ignorance. The label is most definitely real, I bought it from him myself, it says "Nikolai String Center, fecit anno 2001" ...any light you could shed on this would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Hi Kristie

First let me say that I have never heard of his shop or seen his instruments. I am giving an opinion on what I can see on his web site and other resources I have at my disposal. He is also not listed in any violin makers database or auction house results and I have many at my disposal. Nor is he listed in the "Violin Makers of the United States" book that was written well after his stated start in the business.  He does not state his training location on his web site, although this is a common thing for violin makers to be proud of as it gives their qualifications merit. I guess what I am saying is I have no real knowledge of his qualifications as a violin maker. This does not mean that he was not trained as such, but I can't find any reference to him being a maker other than his own statements. His business is listed on a number of web sites, but many of these seem to be listed there by him.  

So these are my observations. He sells all levels of instruments that are "shop labeled" instruments. They are advertised as "Violin labeled as", not as "made by". This does not mean that he made or didn't make them even though he claims (on another Q and A site, that even some of the lower priced instruments, some sold on Ebay for under $600, are made in his shop here in the US. Just think of that statement. I don't care how good he is, it takes at least 50 hours to make a violin, no mater how good you are. But lets assume that he is extremely fast and can make one in 30 hours. That means that assuming the materials were free, he is only charging 20/hour for his work.  The materials are not free and will cost a minimum of $150 for anything worth purchasing. So that means that $600 violin is $450 but that Ebay violin includes a case and a bow, another $50, now we are down to $400. That would mean that he made that violin for $13/hour. Sorry but these things just don't add up. Even taking into account that your instrument was purchased 10 years ago, the instrument that you purchased from him had to be made in Asia. Looking at the scroll, that is also where I believe it was made, but any violin shop would be able to tell with an in person evaluation.  My guess is that the instrument is probably still worth about what you paid for it, but certainly no more. I certainly could be wrong, but I haven't been able to examine the violin in person.

This policy of "shop labeling" is common and not always meant to deceive, but rather to have a shop brand so that the shop can sell without competition of the brand name. You see this in every type of business. Just think of those ads that state, "we will pay you 110% of the purchase price if you find the same item sold for less". They know this can't happen because they have there own model numbers on the items. Labels only take seconds to install, and more instruments have false labels in them then real ones.

I would take it in person to have it evaluated as I am at a loss since I can't see the instrument. I am sorry that I do not have first hand knowledge of his operation. You might also place this question on the open question section rather than posed at a specific expert. Good luck.


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David Lashof


I can answer questions on violin, viola, cello and bass making, repair and maintenance as well as supply general violin value ranges and information on instrument makers’ assuming the instrument's as labeled. I don't give values for modern makers as many of these modern makers are yet unknown to me. I can only give you feedback based on what information you give me, and no authority on the instrument can know every maker's work that ever lived. I have access to many books on makers and auction prices on over 25,000 makers, as well as having 36 years of experience with selling and appraising violins. Without having the instrument in hand, any estimate over the internet is just a guess as the label inside an instrument is more often wrong than right, so just having that information is not very useful. Pictures can sometimes be helpful but only so much, as the "feel" of the instrument along with small clues in workmanship and varnish cannot be seen in pictures. Any pictures should be high quality close-ups of the top and back. Additional photos of the front and treble side of the neck are also useful. It is always best to have an instrument seen in person at a violin shop that does appraisals. I can also provide advice on bows, rosin, strings and other string instrument accessories. As I am now retired, I have no bias towards selling anything; I only wish to share my knowledge and experience by providing information for those that may be getting confused by misinformation, misdirection or conflicting statements. (While I have seen many thousands of instruments and have performed numerous appraisals; if I have not evaluated an instrument in person, any information I set forth in an opinion is just that, an opinion based solely on what you have provided. Thusly, no financial decision should be based on that opinion, but rather, further investigation should be performed by having the instrument examined in person.)


I am a retired violin maker and repairman with 35 years experience having worked in Chicago and Maryland at 5 different violin shops and music stores including the first violin repairman at William Harris Lee in Chicago, the head repairman at Weavers Violins in Maryland, and in my own shop of 25 years. I have made 160 instruments and have restored countless professional level and student grade instruments. I am an accomplished violinist having performed with semi-professional as well as amateur groups although I haven't played for years and mostly stay away from questions about playing. I have taught violin making and restoration to about 20 students; three of which have gone on professionally and now have their own shops. I know violins from playing, selling, repairing, making and teaching.

Violin Society of America (VSA). American String Teachers Association (ASTA)

I graduated from the prestigious 4 year Chicago School of Violin Making in 1981 under Master Violin Maker Tschu Ho Lee. I also studied with violin maker Willis M. Gault in Washington DC from 1973-75, who was the former owner of the oldest known example of an instrument from the modern violin family, an Andreas Amati Viola.

Awards and Honors
2008 Chester Petranek Award for service to the music community. ASTA award for service. Top All Expert in Violin for 2014 and 2015.

Past/Present Clients
I have worked with many professional musicians from DC area Symphonies as well as players from all over the US. Here are just a few, Leonard Slatkin - Former conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra. Doris Gazda - Nationally renowned string specialist and composer. Bernard Greenhouse, Tanya Anisimova - Internationally renowned Solo Cellists. Jody Gatwood, Mark Pfannschmidt, Lori Barnet, Doug Dubé, Judy Silverman - National Philharmonic Orchestra. Robert Blatt, David Hardy, Glen Garlick - National Symphony Orchestra. Eddie Stubbs, Brendan Mulvahill, Nate Leath - Professional Fiddle Players. David Basche, Pat Braunlich, John Knudson, Romano Solano, Ed Ferris, Fred Lieder - freelance musicians.

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