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Thread: a guide to instrument valuations

  1. #1
    Registered User jim simpson's Avatar
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    Default a guide to instrument valuations

    Does anyone have a formal reference for instrument values in regard to condition, specifically as it relates to repaired, refinished, etc? I know the blue books have a range of values from fair to excellent but I'm looking for a guide to apply to any instrument. I’ve pictured a list for the following (just the things I can think of). I may be off on the value percentage. Just curious what others would apply to issues. Please add to the list for things I’ve not listed.

    1. neck repair - 50%
    2. refinish – 50%
    3. overspray - ?
    4. non-original tuners - ?
    5. missing parts/components - ?
    6. no case - ?
    7. non-original case - ?
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    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: a guide to instrument valuations

    At the risk of sounding argumentative, I just don't think it's that simple. Sorry. Musical instruments are not like used cars, and there is no "bluebook" value, so to speak, based on some simplistic checklist of items. With all possible respect, I think you're barking up the wrong tree, here.

    Depending on the mandolin, for example, repair work done on the neck can improve its value, diminish its value, or leave it the same. Too much depends on the type of work done, the quality of the work, the age of the instrument, the type of mandolin, and so on. And the same thing goes for finish work, replacement parts, the case, and so on.

    Some mandolins are considered to be collectors' items, like Lloyd Loar-signed F5's by Gibson from 1922-24. These have a very different market and valuation is performed differently. For many instrument collectors, qualities like rarity, originality (of the parts, the finish, the case, etc.) and condition are major factors in determining their appraised value, in addition to traditional characteristics, like the instrument's playability and tone. The first two of these considerations does not tend to hold for most other instruments on the market, however. On the other hand, replacing, say, the tuners, tailpiece, bridge, frets, etc., or touching up the finish on a "player's" instrument can actually increase its value. Many high-end mandolins, particularly those from custom builders and small shops, don't usually come with any kind of "factory" case, and certainly not one made by the the builder, so a "non-original case" is not even a consideration.

    In short, there are simply too many variables at play to take the formulaic approach that you seem to be suggesting in your post. A better approach would be to see what's on the market and what is comparable, or to consult with an expert appraiser of mandolins.

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    Default Re: a guide to instrument valuations

    The art of valuations takes a bit of expertise and a lot of experience in the market you are dealing with, and markets fluctuate. I’ve never found those blue books to be very accurate either. As for repairs, much of the value on repaired instruments depends on who performs the repairs. That said, there are a lot of different variables that affect value, and it depends on the builder and or brand and that instrument’s desirability in the marketplace, their availability, etc.

    Mandolins aren’t like guitars, especially vintage electric guitars where much is dependent on original tuners, original case, etc. The mindset is quite different.
    Last edited by Mandobar; May-08-2020 at 2:41pm.
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    Front Porch & Sweet Tea NursingDaBlues's Avatar
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    Default Re: a guide to instrument valuations

    Quote Originally Posted by jim simpson View Post
    Does anyone have a formal reference for instrument values in regard to condition, specifically as it relates to repaired, refinished, etc? I know the blue books have a range of values from fair to excellent but I'm looking for a guide to apply to any instrument. I’ve pictured a list for the following (just the things I can think of). I may be off on the value percentage. Just curious what others would apply to issues. Please add to the list for things I’ve not listed.

    1. neck repair - 50%
    2. refinish – 50%
    3. overspray - ?
    4. non-original tuners - ?
    5. missing parts/components - ?
    6. no case - ?
    7. non-original case - ?
    Wow. That can really be a tough one. There are some brands that will start out “heavily-penalized” to begin with simply because of the years in which they were built. Others just don’t have much of a demand regardless. And there are many folks who do modifications to a mandolin just because they can – which may or may not improve tone or playability, but there it is.

    That said, I don’t have a formal reference. All I can offer is what I usually have in the back of my mind if I’m “shopping.” It’s not a valuation. I just go in with a pretty good idea of the current market value of an instrument at the time it is offered for sale; essentially what like instruments are being sold for and have sold for in the preceding 6 to 12 months. Structural integrity is of foremost importance; originality is important if it is central to the value of the instrument. The instrument is more than likely a premium instrument, whether or not it is considered “vintage.” The penalties are obviously not cumulative. And please notice where I say “up to.”

    1. Neck repair: Repaired headstock breaks should carry a significant penalty; up to 35% even if structurally sound; if well-repaired and minimally noticeable, maybe 30%. F-headstock curl repairs, maybe 5 to 10%, more if noticeable. Speed necks, 30%. Shaved necks, 50% or walk away. Instruments needing a neck reset, a re-fret, or the like, the cost of a such repairs by a qualified luthier.

    2. Refinish: Obvious amateur, walk away. Otherwise, 30% to 40% if the tone remains; otherwise walk away.

    3. Overspray: 10 to 20%? More? Less? Depends on where it’s applied, and how much was applied. And provided you can tell if an overspray was applied.

    4. Non-original tuners: none if originals accompany the instrument. If not, then up to 15%

    5. Missing parts/components: really depends on the parts and components, but for the sake of this exercise: Original pickguard, 10%. Original bridge, up to 10%. Original tailpiece, up to 10%.

    6. No case/non-original case: probably no penalty – but depends on the instrument. Maybe the cost of a quality aftermarket case.

    7. Structural damage other than neck: Loose braces, 5% (or qualified luthier repair cost) to 10% or more depending on extent of damage, including broken/missing braces and top damage. Cracks/splits, cost of repair by a qualified luthier.

    8. Non reversible modifications: enlarged end-pin hole to accommodate a pick-up jack, maybe 5%. Bracing modifications, maybe 10% to 20%. Removed/cut-off Florida, 30%. Non-original scoop to fretboard, 10%. Non-original neck but the original neck is available and in original condition, cost of neck re-set. Non-original neck and the original neck is not available, up to 40% or more.

    9. Electronics: I’m not interested in paying for any electronics; remove them and lower the price accordingly.

    10. Provenance: I don’t care who owned it before. I’m not paying extra for his/her name.

    Some of the above items speak specifically to originality – if that is a key consideration. Other items, like refinish, can significantly impact tone. Almost all alterations, other than common repairs, will diminish future resale value. And all of the penalty numbers are what I personally mull over during an inspection. Of course, I’m free to ‘fudge” if the instrument is very desirable to me and the alteration/repair is minimally significant. Other folks are free to apply whatever penalties they choose. Just know that while I don’t purchase instruments as an investment, I want to be able to at least recoup what I paid should I need to sell.

    And one final FYI, I don’t ever contact folks who state “the [repair/modification] is reflected in the low price that is being asked.”

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    Registered User jim simpson's Avatar
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    Default Re: a guide to instrument valuations

    Thanks to all for your input. I know the variables have to be taken into consideration and I've never considered blue book values anymore than a rough guide. NursingDaBlues, I find myself liking your list and thinking.
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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: a guide to instrument valuations

    At my house we use the WAG system.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Registered Muser dang's Avatar
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    Default Re: a guide to instrument valuations

    Quote Originally Posted by NursingDaBlues View Post
    ....The penalties are obviously not cumulative. And please notice where I say “up to”

    1. Neck repair: Repaired headstock breaks should carry a significant penalty; up to 35% even if structurally sound; if well-repaired and minimally noticeable, maybe 30%. F-headstock curl repairs, maybe 5 to 10%, more if noticeable. Speed necks, 30%. Shaved necks, 50% or walk away. Instruments needing a neck reset, a re-fret, or the like, the cost of a such repairs by a qualified luthier.

    8. Non reversible modifications: enlarged end-pin hole to accommodate a pick-up jack, maybe 5%. Bracing modifications, maybe 10% to 20%. Removed/cut-off Florida, 30%. Non-original scoop to fretboard, 10%. Non-original neck but the original neck is available and in original condition, cost of neck re-set. Non-original neck and the original neck is not available, up to 40% or more.
    I know you’re not giving hard numbers, and everyone approaches this differently, I just wanted to say I think you’ve got some pretty high percentages for a couple of these. Up to 30% - even for a really bad speed neck this seems high.

    I had my speed neck done by the luthier, but it was several years after the mando was made when I sent it in for a checkup. Does that effect the price? When it was made I had the fretboard extension removed and bound, would that lower the cost?

    It just seems to me there are a lot a variables that can confound such a list. That said I appreciate the effort and agree with most of your numbers, in a general sense
    I should be pickin' rather than postin'

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    Default Re: a guide to instrument valuations

    Quote Originally Posted by dang View Post
    I know you’re not giving hard numbers, and everyone approaches this differently, I just wanted to say I think you’ve got some pretty high percentages for a couple of these. Up to 30% - even for a really bad speed neck this seems high.

    I had my speed neck done by the luthier, but it was several years after the mando was made when I sent it in for a checkup. Does that effect the price? When it was made I had the fretboard extension removed and bound, would that lower the cost?

    It just seems to me there are a lot a variables that can confound such a list. That said I appreciate the effort and agree with most of your numbers, in a general sense
    I think that a rule of thumb on a poorly done speed neck is you need to think about what it will take for a professional (as the average person is not capable of restoring the finish on an expensive instrument) to "restore' the neck to its former condition. If you get a few estimates at $300 then take $300 off the value. A speed neck done by the builder is actually an asset, unless it is very poorly done. But I think what most people think of as a bad speed neck is one that was done with a razor blade by a former owner (at least that is how I think of it). And in that same vein of thought a re-top by the original builder may not even detract from the value. However, it is going to depend on the builder.

    Furthermore, I think you can use this line of thinking as a rule of thumb for just about every situation. My spouse is a vintage radio collector and dealer (he is a retired software engineer). We fight about this all the time, because he is also a repairman and one of the only people that I know who can fix and repair transistor radios. Until I met him, I thought you just threw those things away. I also didn't know that some of them sold for $12k, but that's another point. He sometimes will set up at a trade show and do appraisals for people. Cracked cases are pretty common on radios, as well as refinish work, even on plastic (and bakelite). So, you start with the price for something that would sell as in excellent condition and work your way down the instrument's (or radios) foibles. With instruments I generally weight some over other. However, while there can be some guidelines, as Dang states, there are too many variables to document the whole process. Appraising is an art unto itself, and as an accountant, when doing appraisals, I always document how I got to the price point stated, exactly. If you base your findings in fact, then you can be comfortable with the number that you come up with.
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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: a guide to instrument valuations

    You can repair transistor radios? Damn, and I thought I was weird rebuilding server power supplies from the late 1900's because I couldn't buy them anymore.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  15. #10

    Default Re: a guide to instrument valuations

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    You can repair transistor radios? Damn, and I thought I was weird rebuilding server power supplies from the late 1900's because I couldn't buy them anymore.
    Big money on transistors. Very collectible. In fact there are some larger sets (non transistor radios) that go for 6 digits (yes, they have their own "Loar" version of radios).
    Last edited by Mandobar; May-09-2020 at 10:44am.
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: a guide to instrument valuations

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    At my house we use the WAG system.
    I go one better with the SWAG system -- Scientific Wild A**ed Guess. This allows for sophisticated numerical manipulations of unfounded, ignorantly-estimated data.

    Seriously, putting exact percentages and/or dollar figures on what are basically subjective judgments about condition factors influencing expected market prices -- well, it may be an interesting intellectual exercise, but there are so many factors that go into pricing a used mandolin (or a used anything). Spend a few evenings watching American Pickers, Pawn Stars, or Antiques Roadshow, and you'll get a good idea how basically irrational the market for pre-owned objects can be. Just watched a Pickers rerun where they located a totally roached step-van that Aerosmith used in their fledgling days. It barely held together, was full of funk and debris, and Mike and Frank paid $25K for it. A similar vehicle used by your local milkman, wouldn't have brought 1% of that as scrap.

    In the end, market value of a mandolin is what someone will pay for it. If they fall in love with its looks and sound, the fact that it's over-sprayed or has replacement tuners won't deter them from paying more than maybe you or I would. You can try to guesstimate how much each of the listed "condition issues" affects the market price, but you won't know the real answer until you put it up for sale and see.
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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: a guide to instrument valuations

    Having once done a study of auctions sales, I came to the conclusion -- and I'm not the first -- that ultimately the monetary value of an object is what someone is willing to pay for it on the day you need to sell it. As the OP says, the price books are just a rough guide.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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