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Giving deposits to builders

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Stu Rose, Oct 14, 2013.

  1. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    I never said it didn't serve a useful purpose, but it does have some harmful side effects that effect the rest of the industry. It has spawned threads like this that make sweeping generalizations that if you buy a custom instrument, then there is a good chance you will loose your deposit with nothing to show for it. It is simply not the case with most builders.
  2. This thread is only one person's opinion and so far it doesn't seem to be getting much support. My problem with the OP is that he added insult to injury by calling Huff's victims idiots.
  3. As I've mentioned before on another thread about this issue, The Darrin Huff thread (and this one as well) does not have harmful side effects; his business practices did. Don't shoot the messenger. The issues are real, and the cause is people who make those issues real.

    Talking about how to protect oneself from disreputable business practices does not give the industry a black eye, disreputable business practices do. It is unfortunate that it only takes a few examples to make people concerned, but that is the reality.

    If I had lost a few thousand dollars to a builder who ripped me off, talk about how most builders are good and honest business men would neither make me feel any better, nor make me feel like it wasn't important for people to know what happened.

    This issue is, for most of us, very unlike most issues of dealing with a small business because we are usually dealing with someone too far away for us to pick up the kind of clues we might get dealing with a local person. People dealing with contractors frequently have similar issues, despite state licensing and all sorts of consumer protections designed to deal with that particular issue, and that's dealing with someone in your own town. Hiring a custom builder has far fewer protections built in, so it's perfectly reasonable to debate how best to attempt to protect oneself, and not just by assuring oneself that most builders are honest so there's no need to worry about it.
  4. You should equally read all my posts, I apologized here and on the Huff thread for an uncalled for reaction in spur of the moment. I have no problem saying I made a mistake.

    Which made me start this thread to maybe help some people understand a big deposit is not necessary. Business people should be properly capitalized and not take large deposits many months in advance for a bass they didn't even start making.
  5. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    People should also realize that one bad apple shouldn't spoil the whole bunch. This thread was completely useless, as the OP was never taken advantage of. People are much more likely to share a bad experience than they are a good one. These threads make it seem that everyone that does custom work, building basses, pickups, or basically anything custom, are all crooks and should not be trusted. Fact is, its grossly exaggerated, and pretty uncommon in the industry.
  6. No, they really don't.

    However, they do sometimes make it seem like some people are incredibly defensive about this issue.
  7. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    In my view there are good and bad (or at least unacceptably risky) reasons to take a deposit on a custom build:

    A good reason is to create a well defined and mutually acceptable outcome in case the deal is broken, either by the buyer or the seller.

    A bad reason is if the maker needs the money to run their business or cover personal expenses.

    The deposit is like a loan. If the maker spends it on stuff, they could spiral into a situation where they run themselves out of the cash needed to operate the business. This could just be because their expenses were more than anticipated, or they run into things like family emergencies. Whatever. The outcome is equivalent to bankruptcy. I'd consider it unacceptably risky because most small businesses fail.

    All ethics aside, recovery from bankruptcy is unlikely to happen without screwing your creditors, who are also your customers and your source of vital word-of-mouth advertising. It's probably pretty rare simply because most custom gear makers get past the most risky phase of the business before they run out of startup cash. Or, if their business fails, they're able to pull themselves back out with their reputations intact because they didn't spend the deposit money.

    For this reason, a person setting up a custom gear business would be well advised to make sure that they have enough cash going in, to cover their expenses without needing to dip into the deposit money.
  8. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars

    If one person that was considering a custom job reads a thread like this and decides its not worth the "risk" that takes money out of a builders pocket, and a special instrument out of someones hands.
  9. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin Banned

    Dec 11, 1999
    For both my Zons , and I am a Zon artist, I paid, in full, up front. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I work with a builder I trust implicitly. I also did not want to be in a position that when the build was complete, I for some reason, didn't have the money to pay.
  10. devo_stevo


    Aug 2, 2006
    Northern Utah
    Builder: Brumbaugh Guitarworks
    This is something that I, as a one man shop looking to start doing more work in the next year or two have been thinking about a lot lately. I think that this response here is spot on. You should have the capital to build a bass without using the deposit. That money should be put away until the instrument is delivered and the customer is happy with it.

    I've seen way too many threads around here where a person isn't happy with an instrument for this reason or that and they go on a head hunting expedition. The only way for the builder to save face at that point is often a refund of their money. If I had to pull that out of my pocket every time, I'd go broke really fast.

    What I'm going to do is build something and sell it. This should give me the capital that I need to build the next one, plus a little bit (or maybe not as I'm just getting going). Then I can take a smaller deposit for the next commissioned build and get it started. Then a payment maybe halfway through the process with the remainder due before shipping it to them. I'm still trying to decide how to do this all, so it's a bit muddled at the moment.
  11. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin Banned

    Dec 11, 1999
    I have worked very closely with a number of boutique instrument builders and I would say that some of the conjecture about the way they build is flat out wrong. That being said, I do believe that the fairest way to determine the amount of a deposit is to include the cost of all the raw materials, wood, top, pickups, bridge, tuners, etc. The labor portion of the total cost is paid upon delivery. This does 2 things: 1) it makes sure that the buyer is serious and invested in the build and 2) it makes certain that the builder is not out $ when the buyer flakes on them
  12. Mike I heard you play you are fantastic. Back to topic.

    I was trying to convey that some builders ask to much up front when they know they will not get to your bass for months. I see nothing fair about that.

    My solution a builder can get a reasonable deposit but only with-in 30 days of starting the bass and they should guaranty you a completion date.

    I know MTD just for example has a year waiting period or more he might not start you bass for 9 months why should they hang on to your money for 9 months. They should contact you at 8 months and ask for the deposit.

    Worst case, if you don't make the deposit the builder made nothing and you paid nothing. What's wrong with that?

  13. Companies like MTD have a waiting list due to popularity. Get in line if you want. If you don't like that, there are other bass makers on the market.
  14. Try to follow this, MTD was just an EXAMPLE read my post I said "for example", not a cut on MTD products.

    It's real hard to have conversations here on TB I noticed because people seem to very often take insult when none was intended, they read into something that is not there. I have seen this over and over and over.

    There was a post yesterday, I guy asked what is better on a P bass flats or rounds and people acted like he was troll and trying to start WWIII, he just wanted some opinions. Seriously!

    What's up with that do you think without being defensive? Why can't people just talk about the subject?
  15. Jared Lash

    Jared Lash Born under punches

    Aug 21, 2006
    Denver, CO
    As stated, the total number of man hours spent is not indicative of the actual time needed to produce an instrument. Many steps (neck glueups, body glueup, sealer application, finish drying etc) all require time spent to do them and then many days to dry, settle, cure etc.

    By definition boutique/custom builders generally don't build 10 basses at a time or even TWO of the same build at the same time. Why would a custom builder possibly build up bodies, necks and/or fingerboards if they don't know what woods, number of strings or scale the customer wants?

    Fodera does what you are discussing with their Standard line, which is how (relatively speaking) these instruments are discounted compared to a custom Fodera bass. But by definition those aren't custom basses. For their custom basses, just as with practically every other builder who makes custom basses, the build process doesn't start AT ALL until the specs are locked in by the customer and their build slot comes up in the queue.

    There are many reasons builders do (and should) ask for deposits. Some are that:

    1) It separates actual customers from guys who are just "kicking the tires" and asking the builder lots of questions but don't intend to actually order. Most builders are very generous with their time (even to non-customers) but every minute spent corresponding is one not spent building and thus earning a living.

    2) It provides capital to procure materials. Yes, many builders have standardized offerings and purchase their wood, hardware, electronics etc in large quantities. But some true one-man shops don't. Chris Stambaugh had no Nothern Ash in stock when I ordered my bass and had to go to his supplier to get some.

    A bigger deal though would be getting something like a custom 7 string brass bridge in a certain color (say gold) from Hipshot. Without a deposit either the builder buys it in advance and is stuck with a non-standard piece of hardware if the customer backs out of the build. The alternative is waiting until the build is about to start and THEN asking for the deposit (as you've suggested) which means not ordering that custom piece until after that point which could cause long delays. Likewise with custom pickups etc.

    3) It allows a builder to have a set build schedule. The deposit helps to lock in a build. As noted, custom builders (especially one man shops) produce a limited number of instruments in a year. Without a deposit customers have the ability to back out up until the moment the build is supposed to start. This would lead the builder to scramble to fill his build schedule. Can he move something from next month's schedule? Maybe, maybe not. Again, he may not have the materials - especially if he didn't have a deposit to acquire or order anything needed.

    I don't think people realize how small the margins are for building basses. Or for that matter, building pickups or pedals or most bass gear. Having an unexpected gap in the build schedule has a major impact on a builder's bottom line. Building one less instrument (or even two) that projected for one month isn't a big deal. But having it happen repeatedly could drive some of these little guys out of business.

    My advice is, if you don't want to put down a deposit and wait then don't commission a custom bass. Buy off the shelf (either production models or custom basses sold by dealers) or used.

    And more importantly, if you DO want a custom bass and are willing to put down a deposit and wait then choose a builder with a great reputation who you feel comfortable putting your trust in and giving your money to.

    Personally I currently only have custom basses, three from one builder and one from another and I have a fifth custom bass still in process. All of them have features that are unavailable in production basses. And I trust the builders I've chosen to do business with. And I had zero issue sending them a deposit.
  16. guy n. cognito

    guy n. cognito Secret Agent Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 28, 2005
    Nashville, TN
    Didn't all of this start by you calling the victims names in the Huff thread? Do you have a hard time drawing a correlation between your stance there and the reaction you've received here?
  17. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin Banned

    Dec 11, 1999
    The truth lies somewhere in between this comment and Stu's. Builders will do a run of necks based on orders. Many of the same tools that they use for bodies they use for necks, therefore they set up for necks, do necks, then set up for bodies and do them. In the case of MTD, they do, as someone mentioned, then clean the entire shop and set up for finishing. They just cannot do one bass at a time.

    I hear and understand Stu's original argument. The fact of the matter is that all too often builders who took a deposit a month or so before build would have WAY too many who order with all good intention but 8 months later cannot follow through. You also will get a guy who will order from 4 or 5 different builders and the first one who contacts him will get the build and the other builders will get stuck with a spot to fill and no one to fill it.

    It is an unfortunate situation. The Huff situation is the exception not the rule AND I bet there is another side of the story that we do not know. I remember a thread lambasting Ken Bebensee (a fabulous builder and great guy) for waiting 10 years for a bass. We only heard one side of the story, but I know that there is a different side.

    As I said earlier, I had no issue with paying for my Zons upfront. There are many builders I would do the same with. I think I draw the line with the hobbyist builder; the guy who does not depend on building instruments to make a living.
  18. There's a YouTube video of a guy who made an electric guitar, bookmatched top, dual buckers and all, in a total of 24 hours. (Does not include finish drying time.)
  19. steelbed45

    steelbed45 TRemington Supporting Member

    Feb 23, 2011
    Nolanville, TX

    Thought - shifting your business model to purposely introduce uncertainty sounds foolish.
  20. Jared Lash

    Jared Lash Born under punches

    Aug 21, 2006
    Denver, CO
    I see what you're saying and yes, many builders do several necks at a time as part of a batch but what Stu was claiming was that custom builders would (should?) have necks (and bodies etc) completed for your bass BEFORE you place your order.

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