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Is this unreasonable?

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by tplyons, Feb 14, 2004.

  1. tplyons


    Apr 6, 2003
    Madison, NJ
    When I bought my upright I knew it'd need some work, I expected to cut back on fancy feasts and expensive new toys for a while, but I had no idea I'd have to sell a limb...

    Does this seem a little steep to you?

  2. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    Maybe, but not off the scale.

    $195 for the board dress is right where most of the quotes I have ever gotten where. I always heard $150-200 for that job, and they would quote me a price after they looked at the bass. I paid $150 to have my ES9 dressed and it was along with some other work.

    It would probably take close to an hour to scrape down the neck and oil it up. $50 an hour is pretty reasonable IMO.

    Helicores go for for less than $100 online. I think Upton sells them for about $90 or so. The one local retailer around here that carries them marks them at $125. I might question this price as the strings have to come off to dress the board anyway, and thus reinstalled. Unless this shop typically charges this for those strings, it sounds a little like double dipping.

    I paid $165 for installation of a high quality bridge with wheels.

    But that doesn't mean anything really. The guy that has done my work has a small shop in a beatup building in a fairly affordable part of town. He is trying to get his business started.

    It all depends on who you want to work with. Where you are and how many folks there are in your area offering this sort of service.

    I know of one shop in my metro area that would easily quote prices as high or higher than the ones you got. But he has a very good reputation and has been in business for more than 30 years. If there weren't plenty of folks out there that trusted him, I don't think he would still be around. In fact, I've never talked to the guy when he didn't have more work than he could handle.

    I wouldn't pick a luthier based on price. You need to find someone you can really trust with your instrument.
  3. tplyons


    Apr 6, 2003
    Madison, NJ
    I'm thinking I'll just buy the Helicores and hand them to my luthier when the time comes...and if they charge me $50 to install them I'll just stare at him 'til he lowers the price.

    The rest is about what I was afraid of, this guy's just on the high side of normal. That's what I get for living an hour outside NYC. I'm not looking for a cheap luthier, I want someone respectable, but not worshippable... I want to be able to afford the best for my bass, and get done everything I need.

    BTW, does anyone know any affordable, reputable luthiers in northern NJ?
  4. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    I live in Ridgewood. I drive to Brewster, NY. To me, it's a small price to pay.
  5. tplyons


    Apr 6, 2003
    Madison, NJ
    Whoa, I used to play in a band in Ridgewood! But we've since split. Unfortunately, there's no way I could get the bass much farther than 30 minutes from Morristown until March...my parents refuse to drive my bass "all over the east coast cause it's so big" as they say... I get my licence then.
  6. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    The string price is high as you know. The other prices-if he does good quality work then he is making a little more than your garbageman[but no benefits] and far, far less than your plumber. Don't be a cheapskate.
  7. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    I seriously question whether this forum should be used as a means of comparing (and therefore affecting) prices luthiers charge for particular jobs. We have a government commission, called the FTC, which forbids competitors from discussing and/or comparing prices; this legislation has been on the books for decades, with the goal of preventing price fixing, and encouraging natural competition. What a particular luthier charges is based on several factors: 1) training and experience, 2) overhead (costs of doing business), 3) reputation, 4) quality of work, and of the instrument being worked on, 5) cost of living in that area, 6) that particular luthier's workload. If your purpose in posting prices and seeking commentary is to force down the luthiers' rates, you will ultimately shoot yourself in the foot by squeezing the talented, experienced ones together with the butchers, and ultimately affecting talented luthiers' decisions about whether to stay in the business. I personally try to always charge fairly for the work I do, whether that particular job makes me a great profit or puts me in the red. To paraphrase brother Jeff, a really good bass luthier might make as much as the average "sanitation engineer", sans health insurance, unemployment insurance, disability insurance and pension. IMHO, TB members should leave these pricing comparisons for private conversations and referrals. Moderators?
  8. tplyons


    Apr 6, 2003
    Madison, NJ
    Arnold, I understand where you're coming from, but I do not see this as a method of regulating luthier's prices. I'm just looking to see whether this luthier is pulling my leg because in the world of a electric bass, these prices are absurd, but I'm in a new world now. Like comparing dollars to yen, just have to convert to another measure right?
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    That's a tough call. On the one hand, you don't want any particular luthier getting heat for what he or she charges to do their work. On the other hand, the forum exists in part to help newbies gather information about what they can expect when they get into playing DB. Looking at the prices that PAPER LION posted, I made a mental cost of living adjustment to account for the difference between the New York area and the Midwest, and was not too shocked at anything I read in the quoted pricing.

    As far as I'm concerned, I have a few options in town when it comes to "cheap" luthiery, and I use these when I'm looking for work on my backup bass that I need done right away, always realizing that I'm getting what I pay for - this is not said to disparage any local luthiers, only to point out that our only dedicated Bass luthier died a few years back and the remaining folks spend most of their time working on the other members of the string family. When I need my regular gigging bass worked on, I always drive the 100 miles to Cincinnati to have the bass pros work on it. Both of the shops that I've used have been very good about quoting ballpark prices before I decide to head up, letting me make up my own mind about whether I feel the job will be worth it. So far, the price I have paid has always seemed a fair deal to me when I get the bass back.

    I think that what all bassists here on the board and elsewhere would do well to recognize is that most of these luthiers we deal with get into their craft the same way most of us who are professional musicians get into ours - they are drawn to it for reasons that they in all likelihood can't really explain. Why would a person want to choose a field which offers low pay, sporadic work, no health insurance, no retirement benefits, little understanding from others about the nature of what their craft really entails behind the scenes, and an uncertain workload at almost all times? There's only one real answer besides supposing that they are just plain crazy, and that is that they do what they do in spite of all of this because they are dedicating their lives to doing something that they really want to do and love to do...in other words, they do it because they can't afford to NOT do it because it is their calling in life. I don't know about the rest of you guys, but these guys are the ones I want working on the instrument I'm going to use on a daily basis as I follow and pursue my own calling in life.

    TP - there are options. Examine them, and make a decision about which seems most worth it to you. Yes, you will probably find someone who would do the work cheaper. But will they do it better? Will they care as much? Only experience will tell, and if I am guessing correctly by the statement about your driver’s license that you are short of your 18th birthday, then I would simply add that that's pretty much how life works. You try something out, and if you're not happy with the result, you try something else until you find something you are happy with. What I can tell you is that luthiers in general are not making a killing doing what they do - many are just scraping by. What you are paying for is their expertise in making sure that everything is done as well as possible - something that only someone who has really cared enough to put in the time to discover can do. If you want less than that, I doubt you'll have too much trouble finding it.

    As to the question of whether these discussions should be allowed here on the board, I'm open to suggestions and comments, but my gut feeling is that as long as no names are used or even implied, there's not too much harm done...especially since I suspect most members here realize that the level of specialization involved in the field of luthiery means that the "hourly rate" anyone might pay for work actually includes the hours it took to acquire the skills to do the work right in the first place - and when you factor that in, the price seems almost ludicrously cheap.

    But I'm open to suggestions about the subject. Sam?

    EDIT: fixed a Geological Infarction. :)
  10. tplyons


    Apr 6, 2003
    Madison, NJ
    Yep, this is hurting the argument that I look into luthery myself... however I'm still very interested in becoming one later in life.

    Thanks for the input everyone, it seems like I'm in a bit over my head, but that's what being a musician is all about, being poor, and doing what you love, pinching pennies to keep your instruments in shape and it's something I'm more than willing to do because it's not a hobby, it's a passion. Looks like I'm not eating anything over $3.00/meal any time soon :D
  11. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    I get to feeling the way AES does when I read posts from afar that no Kay, no American Standard can possibly worth more than $2M. It depends on where you are and what the local market forces dictate, in addition to the qualities of the particular instrument. At Arnold's shop, I once played an utterly astonishing bass that had been used in NYC recording studios for decades. It was bought for more than many people think you should pay for a carved bass. It was a King plywood.
  12. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    One guy gets his fingerboard regraduated and dressed. He plays with really low strings and pulls hard. The job is very demanding, takes the luthier eight hours, but the player only feels he should pay the $150 some other guy charged tomeone on TB for a fingerboard dressing. That particular job took an hour. The luthier wants a little extra for the demanding job but meets with resistance and resentment because fingerboard jobs are only "supposed" to cost $150. Now he's got a reputation as a rip-off artist. This is why you can give an estimate, but the actual price will depend on the particular job. That said, the 8-hour fingerboard job happens to me a few times a year, and I generally eat most of the loss...

    Chris F, I thought you made some good points in your rebuttal. I agree that names need to be kept out of it. BTW, New Jersey is not part of New England. Flunked Geography?
  13. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Agreed that getting prices, even ballpark ones, is always dangerous over the net (as on the phone). Still, my opinion (which is in no way final) is that this kind of discussion helps more than it hurts in the big picture. I've learned many times here at TB that there are at least as many lurkers as posters, and having statements like the one you just posted written in to discussions like this helps many people who don't know a luthier from a Lutheran see more sides of the whole story.

    To the whole story, I would add that my own teacher is something of a nutjob about getting his basses worked on - for fingerboard work, he ships his Italian Orchestra bass to a guy out west (at great cost) because that's the guy who does the job the way he likes it done. To me, this says, "the job is worth whatever it's worth to you to get it done right". You can always find someone to do it cheaply. Hell, I'll fix your transmission for $20. Never mind that I don't know **** about cars.

    Along the same lines, there's a guy UP NORTH who's making these great new plywood basses. They go for more than I've ever seen new plys going for. And yet, the only thing that keeps me from putting money in my old Standard backup bass is the fact that I've played one of these new basses and loved the hell out of it, and would like to find a way to get my hands on it. Is it "overpriced", someone may ask?

    I might have said "yes" not too long ago. Then I played it.

    Many times. For some reason, I've never been much good at Geology...
  14. tplyons


    Apr 6, 2003
    Madison, NJ
    Yep, I understand that these are all estimates, I'm expecting to pay a little more than what I was quoted...seems like I'm going to have to save for a long long time working my minimum wage job twelve hours a week, or sell parts of my body...

    Thanks for everything!

    Oh, and New Jersey isn't just a state, it's a state of mind, it's wherever you want it to be!
  15. Oh, and New Jersey isn't just a state, it's a state of mind, it's wherever you want it to be![/QUOTE]

    Having moveed to VT 10 years ago i always say,
    NJ is not a bad place to be from, it's just not a good place to be.
  16. scott reed

    scott reed Supporting Member

    Nov 4, 2002

    Tim, I feel your pain as I'm sure some of my students would
    if they needed adjustment or repairs to a double bass. I've
    got a day's drive to get to Chris' guy, another to reach Mike
    Shank and another to see Arnold or Jeff. Right now, I've got
    to order a 3/4 Belgian bridge for a 7/8 bass from England because the blank isn't available to the US luthier. I'm also
    on a pickup adventure because the Full Circle pickup cannot
    be fit on every thread size OR every bridge. The Yamahiko
    might work but there's no guarantee and the ante is $600
    for the pickup alone. This to me is "the price of rock and
    roll". I'm thankful there are luthiers who care and are
    available at these prices - especially if a restoration is in
    the cards. I'm also thankful that Eddie Gomez, Dave Holland
    and countless others are not lowering their fees below the
    $50 gig that is so common in my neck of the woods, not to
    mention all the gigs that have been outsourced to synth
    players and out-of-town musicians. You gotta love it like
    I imagine most of us on this site do. The price of admission
    isn't cheap in either money or time. Of course, you can
    always join our brothers on the "other side" and "spank the
    plank" for hundreds of dollars and hours less. It's fun too.
    Of course, you still have transportation costs, union dues,
    self-employment tax and various other incidentals involved
    in a small business - just like the luthiers have.
    Oh, we old college guys used to sell our plasma for cash.
    I think it's better than selling body parts! Keep the faith!
  17. tplyons


    Apr 6, 2003
    Madison, NJ
    Yep, definately a passion. One I can't afford to learn right now, but I'm trying...thanks for the pep talk!
  18. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    Sam--you actually took my FTC reference seriously? LOL!!! ;)
  19. John Sprague

    John Sprague Sam Shen's US Distributor

    Mar 10, 2003
    Rochester, NY
    Sales Manager, CSC Products Inc.
    I'm looking forward to seeing if Jazzlawyer or someone else in the know can clarify the legalities behind posting on a message board. Are we discussing like pals in a pool hall, or are we publishing?

    ***puts on devil's advocate's hat***:

    The shop has been lambasted on his string price, but those who know what he's paying for those strings and what he is selling them for would probably agree that his percentage markup is no different than most consumer goods we buy, from groceries to vacuum cleaners to car parts. The tradition it seems in the music business is that the expendible items such as strings, sticks, reeds and what-not that musicians buy are supposed to be nearly given away. And if you're buying strings online (shame!) for $80, that's pretty much a gift.

    Robertsons was at the TMEA show in San Antonio this week, and they brought along some amazing instruments. I'd say their setup work was down right sexy, the bridges were art of a high order. I have no idea what they charge, the point is that you're hiring an artisan to set you up, and good artists cost a few schmooks.

    Good luck :)
  20. Gufenov


    Jun 8, 2003
    I have no issue with a skilled craftsman (craftsperson?) charging a fair price for their expertise and their work. Having said that, I much prefer to be told, "here's my price for the strings (alternator, dryer belt, etc.), and here is my labor charge for installation. Having paid $185 for my last set of Obligatos, I can tell you I won't be purchasing the next set from the same source. I didn't expect to be given the "discount music store" price, but I also didn't expect to need "Preparation H" after writing the check.

    John, what "shame" is there in buying a set of strings online for $80? Is there "shame" in buying a Shen Bass for $1,800?

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