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Thread: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

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    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    I dropped a two-month-old mandolin off at Mass Street Music yesterday. I thought it needed a new nut but there were some other minor playing issues. Trey examined the mandolin and decided it needed fret dressing and a new nut. The fret dressing would be $200 and the new nut $100. Both seemed a lot higher than I expected, but the fret dressing itself seemed to be a long way into the price range of getting new frets!

    I asked about the high price and was pointed to the Plek machine behind me as a factor. "Very popular with our customers."

    So, I'm hoping that I'll be extra thrilled with the results, because I'm sure wincing at the price now. (Mass Street does have a very good reputation for its repairs, so that is worth something, too.)
    Doug Brock
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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    Two months old and it needs a new nut already, and a fret dressing? Do you play 20 hours/day? Wow!!! Or was the nut "off" from the start?
    I was going to buy a used mandolin at one point (that deal fell through) and it needed new frets, I had priced new frets and the price was per fret, I don't remember what it was. Seems to my memory it was in the vicinity of $10/fret.

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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    Mandolin nuts are time consuming to make, and are more difficult to make than guitar nuts.
    That having been said, I charge a bit less to make a mandolin nut.

    If I charged $200 for a fret dress, I wouldn't have any customers. They grumble at half that price.

    For the record, I generally charge $300 for a complete re-fret. If the fingerboard is really chewed up or badly warped, it would add $50 to $75 to that price.

    If you know what you're doing, it is not difficult to level frets accurately and quickly without a PLEK machine.
    Last edited by rcc56; Oct-25-2019 at 10:35am.

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    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    LadysSolo: No, there were problems with the mandolin from the start. I've just been waiting for work on the two Martins to get completed before I took the mandolin in for their opinion.

    Yep, around $10/fret is the sort of price range I'd been expecting for NEW FRETS which would of course include fret dressing, and you generally don't need all frets replaced. Maybe just first 18, maybe even fewer.

    Honestly, I was thinking it might be more like $75 for fret dressing and maybe $60 for the nut. That Plek machine might be the big factor to not overlook. I was reading more about it today and maybe it's worth that extra money to help assure that you're getting everything out of your mandolin that it can deliver.
    Doug Brock
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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    I don't think $200 for a fret dressing and a new nut would not be out of line for a shop. A shop does have more expenses than a one man repair shop doing it in his home shop. But I could not justify paying that much.

    LadySolo - Two months old and it needs a new nut already, and a fret dressing? - See John Hamlett's recent post on builders learning how to properly setup a mandolin.

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    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    Quote Originally Posted by Northwest Steve View Post
    I don't think $200 for a fret dressing and a new nut would not be out of line for a shop. A shop does have more expenses than a one man repair shop doing it in his home shop. But I could not justify paying that much.
    $200 for the fret redress. $100 for the nut. $300 total.
    Doug Brock
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    Registered User sunburst's Avatar
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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    You don't have to pay that much for fret work.
    As a repairman, if they can charge that much and get people to pay, more power to them!

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    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    Quote Originally Posted by sunburst View Post
    You don't have to pay that much for fret work.
    As a repairman, if they can charge that much and get people to pay, more power to them!
    Lol, true. I know I could shop around, and I know some good folks who would require shipping of my instrument (with all the issues of shipping)... Mass Street does have a good reputation for their work so I just cringed and relinquished my mandolin. Hopefully I'll be thrilled in about three weeks (they do seem to have enough work to keep them busy).
    Doug Brock
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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    Yes, I did understand it was $300 total, but was thinking $200 total would be at the top end of fair in my book.

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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    I agree it seems like a lot. Are they putting Evo frets on? That might change things.

    I also feel good work is worth the cost. I had a local fellow screw up my acoustic guitar to the tune of $300, and I paid a total of about $500 finding someone who could fix it, going through two people who could not before I found a true gem, who also charged much less than the other three (John Mannino, Pennsylvania, https://www.facebook.com/LumberCityGuitars). So, if I could have taken it somewhere and they were like, "Yeah, we charge more but it'll be done right," that's a valuable service. Still, I'd much rather give John Hamlett or John Mannino my money. There's something about the heart of the matter as well, which is what I see in what those fellows have to offer.

    There's also a shipping factor. You're basically in for $100 if you ship it back and forth, and shipping is a little risky, and Mass Street knows that as well. With that said, I once got a fantastic new mandolin nut cut and installed for about $30.

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    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Briggs View Post
    I agree it seems like a lot. Are they putting Evo frets on? That might change things.
    They aren't replacing the frets. Just dressing the existing nickle silver frets (and the existing frets are a couple of months old).
    Doug Brock
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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    When PLEK first came out, Joe Glaser in Nashville was one of the first shops to have it that I heard, early around 2003 or 2004. I believe the first in the United States. He did a short video explaining what it did using lasers, etc. I remember the cost of the machine was somewhere between $100-200K, which would be out of the question for most smaller shops. In general, people like precision and a machine like that can claim accuracy to a thousandth of a millimeter, whereas most repairman are still talking in terms of thousands of an inch....

    In a sense, it gives a repair shop a means of justifying their price, based on accuracy. But again, how much accuracy do you need? Basically, the strings have to follow the neck with no high frets, right?

    Nothing against Glaser, he does fine work. AKA, the luthier to the stars. I've owned two Glaser B-benders and they were both great. OTOH, the first time I heard of an $800 fret job (stainless) was from Glaser and the first time I ever heard of an 18 month waiting list was from Glaser (unless you're a celeb...) So, players like exclusivity and will pay for it, it seems....

    Back to the original OP, I would say it would depend on the instrument, IMHO. Spending $300 on a $500 instrument wouldn't make sense to me, but it would on a more expensive instrument.

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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Brock View Post
    They aren't replacing the frets. Just dressing the existing nickle silver frets (and the existing frets are a couple of months old).
    Okay, thanks for sharing. I once priced a full refret job for less than what you are being quoted, not to rub it in. I'm sure it will be great work, just way expensive for dressing frets, nonetheless frets that are a few months old so likely have some wear on them, but nothing excessive. I've gotten setups for $50-$75 that include fret dressing, bridge seating, nut filing, truss rod tweaking, and whatever else.

    Again, it'll likely be great work, and who knows, maybe they'll do something unanticipated that helps justify the cost.

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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    If you get a quote and don't like it then don't pay it. Don't seem like this should be a reason to bad mouth a business.

    The luthier charge what they charge, like anyone else.

    Music stores are for many people a pretty discretionary place to spend money. Not exactly like the stores are minting money, popping up all over the place.

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    man about town Markus's Avatar
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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    Were the frets off from the beginning? While this shop might be expensive, so is a new mandolin that needs work straight out of the gate!
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    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    Quote Originally Posted by Luna Pick View Post
    If you get a quote and don't like it then don't pay it. Don't seem like this should be a reason to bad mouth a business.

    The luthier charge what they charge, like anyone else.

    Music stores are for many people a pretty discretionary place to spend money. Not exactly like the stores are minting money, popping up all over the place.
    I'm not badmouthing them. I said that they have a great reputation for their work and they seem to be getting plenty of work. I'm still curious how they can charge so much more for routine work than most other well-qualified people seem to charge. Maybe it's the Plek? Hence the discussion.
    Doug Brock
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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    Just a couple of comments and observations; 1st, as already mentioned....why would a two month old mandolin need a fret dress and a new nut, unless the work was not properly done by the builder? and 2nd) A $100-$200k PLEK machine needs to be paid for by the business that bought it, so you're mandolin is not getting a hand fret dressing, it's getting PLEK'd. If if needs that kind of work, I go back to observation #1.

    I'll underline, my great appreciation for superb lutherie work. I drive 5 hrs each way to see Michael Heiden. I drive 830 miles each way to take my vintage Martin to Dennis Berck.

    If you can find someone close who does supremely accurate work, you're lucky. Jim Baggett who owns Mass St Music is a superb vintage Martin luthier and an upstanding guy.
    I'd be more concerned about why my 2 month old mandolin needs work, than surprised at what that good work costs.
    Last edited by doc holiday; Oct-25-2019 at 2:44pm.

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    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    Quote Originally Posted by Markus View Post
    Were the frets off from the beginning? While this shop might be expensive, so is a new mandolin that needs work straight out of the gate!
    Yes, there were some fret (and nut) issues from the beginning. I like the luthier, who is going through some issues, so I don't want to bother him; I just want to get the instrument to playing to its best capability.
    Doug Brock
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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    They are paying for the machine. We got along just fine before them. They make sense for doing production work. If someone is sold that a pleck job is better, having paid the price, the customer will rave about how it is so much better. We tend to be like that. I’m happy with the fret level my local luthier can provide. Heck, I’m happy with the fret level I can do with a sanding beam, machinist’s straightedge, and feeler gauge. It is a time consuming repetitive task, and a pleck makes sense as a machine to alleviate a burdensome task, but that is a benefit for the shop. The hype is needed for the customer to agree to pay for it.
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    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    Quote Originally Posted by Br1ck View Post
    They are paying for the machine. We got along just fine before them. They make sense for doing production work. If someone is sold that a pleck job is better, having paid the price, the customer will rave about how it is so much better. We tend to be like that. I’m happy with the fret level my local luthier can provide. Heck, I’m happy with the fret level I can do with a sanding beam, machinist’s straightedge, and feeler gauge. It is a time consuming repetitive task, and a pleck makes sense as a machine to alleviate a burdensome task, but that is a benefit for the shop. The hype is needed for the customer to agree to pay for it.
    I thought about trying to make a nut myself (I've made them for other guitars before, but never for a mandolin), but there were so many little issues with this mandolin that I wanted a good repair person to get it right to begin with. I'd eventually like to learn to dress frets and make mandolin nuts, just because I seem to be accumulating mandolins. (Any surprise there, lol?)
    Doug Brock
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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    Mandolin nuts are time consuming to make, and are more difficult to make than guitar nuts.
    That having been said, I charge a bit less to make a mandolin nut.

    If I charged $200 for a fret dress, I wouldn't have any customers. They grumble at half that price.

    For the record, I generally charge $300 for a complete re-fret. If the fingerboard is really chewed up or badly warped, it would add $50 to $75 to that price.

    If you know what you're doing, it is not difficult to level frets accurately and quickly without a PLEK machine.
    I had never heard of a PLEK machine, so I watched a video on it. It certainly seems that it could remove human error out of the mix. For a high-end instrument, it may be worth the money knowing that the frets are as level as possible

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    Registered User Doug Brock's Avatar
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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    Quote Originally Posted by DaveGinNJ View Post
    I had never heard of a PLEK machine, so I watched a video on it. It certainly seems that it could remove human error out of the mix. For a high-end instrument, it may be worth the money knowing that the frets are as level as possible
    This mandolin isn't high-end by any means, but it's the most expensive mandolin I've yet owned. For various reasons, I plan to keep this particular mandolin and pass it along to one of my sons who has expressed particular interest in it. That makes it a bit easier to justify paying the high price for this work. And if the results are good enough, maybe I won't need to buy a higher-priced mandolin! (Ok, if money comes free, I'll probably "need" to buy something in the $3k-$5k range, just to know what that kind of instrument is really like.)

    When my East MD315 needs frets or fretwork, though, I'll try somebody else, somebody who has a good reputation but charges significantly less. Or learn to do it myself.
    Doug Brock
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  26. #23

    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Brock View Post
    I thought about trying to make a nut myself (I've made them for other guitars before, but never for a mandolin), but there were so many little issues with this mandolin that I wanted a good repair person to get it right to begin with. I'd eventually like to learn to dress frets and make mandolin nuts, just because I seem to be accumulating mandolins. (Any surprise there, lol?)
    I have maybe a dozen stringed instruments, and over the last 20 years or so, I've been getting more interested in instrument repair, maintenance and, building. Some of my twenty year old telecaster parts guitar builds were showing fretwear, so I ended up buying fret tools. Half the deal is that you need tools. I started repairing and refreting friend's instruments that "weren't worth repairing." I haven't screwed anything up yet. Once I got the tools, I bought a couple of cheaper instruments and went to town. So far, every instrument I've touched has been improved. I do think Rob Meldrum should put out an advanced setup eBook addressing frets. Are you listening Rob?

    A fret dressing is ,IMHO, an important part of a setup. More so on mandolin than anything.

    I do know pleck machines are being used probably anywhere where quantity building happens. Collings, Martin, Taylor, et al. It's not always advertised when the hand made image is part of the culture. A pleck is a robot after all. So is a CNC. Plecks certainly work, I just don't think one would notice the difference between a plecked instrument and a fret level done by a fine luthier. Yes, you can play a Taylor in a store and think they play easier than others. By design Taylor sets them up that way to sell guitars. Fine, unless you like higher action. Plecked frets are part of this certainly, But I prefer Martin's higher action that can easily be lowered by your dealer if that is what you want. I believe the machines are around $200K, hence the extra hundred bucks.
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    Registered User doc holiday's Avatar
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    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    Br1ck, from the conversation, i read that there's more going on than the odd high fret. We were just given the abbreviated version of the entire conversation. "but there were so many little issues with this mandolin"..... It might turn out that the $200 fretwork is indeed a bargain.....

  29. #25

    Default Re: $200 to dress mandolin frets? Ouch!

    If it's done right,it's worth it.

    If it's done right quickly then it's really worth it.

    Support your favorite luthier/repair person.

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