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Thread: Repair Estimate too High?

  1. #1

    Default Repair Estimate too High?

    Hello,
    I have a 1907 American Conservatory bowlback mandolin. Structurally and aesthetically good condition but missing a bridge. In need of buffing, possible refurbishing. For the bridge, strings,and buffing about $400 was the estimate. If refurbished the price starts at $750. Does this sound right?

  2. #2

    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    I certainly don't know the going price but I can offer this. Any instrument worth playing and listening to will usually be in the 2k to 25k range. If you think this is a good instrument and someone can restore it for less the 1k than I think it's a win. Just my opinion.
    Richard Hutchings

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    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    How much would you pay to get your car serviced?

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  5. #4

    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    Echo Dick’s analysis, but as the owner, fixer-upper of several bowlbacks, I would hesitate to say that one is ‘structurally’ sound if it arrived without string tension or strings. These things are fragile, and old. Since mine are generally inexpensive, I don’t worry much about being too abrupt with one, and I can understand that a luthier with personal standards would properly be wary, and price in the risk of handing back a pile of splinters.

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    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    $400 sounds a bit high for a bridge and buffing. The quote of $750 for "refurbishing" raises an at least yellow flag. It is impossible to tell what work is needed without a careful examination. After that an estimate can be given that includes the work to be done. It is impossible evaluate a quote without knowing what would be done for the cost.

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    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    Most luthiers won't touch a bowlback for anything major. With that said, without at least some pictures anything anyone says is conjecture. Let me put this gently. If you put $400.00 into that mandolin you will have a mandolin that's worth maybe $100.00 to $150.00 on a good day in playable shape. If it needs to be refurbished maybe a little less. Unless this is a family heirloom I'd just start watching for one on eBay that's in better shape and complete.

    Just for giggles scan through these sold items. The green numbers shows they sold, the crossed out number says it sold for less than that number:

    https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw...ete=1&_fosrp=1
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    Lots of good advice already...but I think those estimates are on the high side for repairing/restoring a bowlback.

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    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    Quote Originally Posted by munchkin.john@mchsi.com View Post
    ... possible refurbishing ... price starts at $750.
    I can only imagine that "refurbishing" is intended to include structural items like re-gluing ribs and/or braces; that would be a not-very-common skill relative to bowlbacks, and worth paying for IF you really like the specific instrument.

    If "refurbishing" of tuners is needed, I'd do that before seeing a luthier:
    http://www.lutherie.net/tuner.maintenance.html
    Don't let the more extreme steps past simple dismounting & lubrication, such as full disassembly via centerpunch, intimidate you; that's almost never needed (at least I've never needed it!)... AND might be factored into the $750 estimate.
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  12. #9

    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    Edgerton - I suspect correctly says ‘most won’t touch’ and in this or any other business, means that there is no competition on price. The medical industry is an example. If you’re one of only a few who will address a problem, there is no blue book price for what you do. I got sent to a periodontist last year. Got a pretty standard tooth cleaning for $2000/hour. Four, 15 minute sessions at $500 each. Why? Because she could, and because she had a following. Also built her own commercial building in the very expensive part of town.
    I digress.
    If I wasn’t a DIY person, and had this fellow’s bowlback, i’d probably just go to the local music store and at least get it strung up and a bridge added for cheaper, but I have no experience with such places. I would, for sure, specifiy light strings in any case, and check the thing for stability in string height over a few weeks afterwards. If the result is moderately playable, and I liked the tonality, I’d then begin to think about further work. That’s the point where the market value becomes less relevant. Buffing would be at the absolute bottom of the agenda.

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    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    Not a lot of folks really want to tackle a bowl back, in part I think because there are some real challenges dealing with the bowl, and in part because so many of them are old, 100 years or more, and in part because most 100 year old bowls I have known tend to be really finicky even when in the best of repair, and so there may be some trepidation on the part of a luthier to charge money taking a risk that, depending on the mood of the bowl, the owner may not be totally happy anyway.
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    Registered User j. condino's Avatar
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    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    Often, seemingly high prices are a polite way of telling someone who does not want to listen, "No thank you."

    You do have to be careful about it.....

    A few years ago I had a very persistent person who wanted an old early telecaster with the side inserted frets refretted. I tried my best to tell him I was not the guy for it- long wait, busy, high cost, et cetera. I told him that it would take up as much bench time as an old Martin neck reset, so I would have to charge him $750 and we both knew he could get it done for half that from other people in town. Damned if he didn't show up 20 minutes later with $750 cash in hand...so I did the job for him PLUS another three telecasters that month because he was so excited about it.....

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    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    Upping the price doesn’t always make the job go away. An old musical accomplice of mine ran a jazz quartet. They had more work than they wanted so they doubled their price. As a result people seemed to think that, if they’re charging that much, they must be good, so their bookings doubled.

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    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    Quote Originally Posted by j. condino View Post
    ...Damned if he didn't show up 20 minutes later with $750 cash in hand...so I did the job for him PLUS another three telecasters that month because he was so excited about it.....
    I do so love a story with a happy ending.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    An experienced luthier will know what it will take to repair something and usually give an accurate estimate, sometimes factoring in their workload. They may also say whether an instrument may be worth it, emotional value aside.

    Seems like anything, the buyer can can it or leave it, or get a second or third opinion. The luthier may know the details of the work better, having looked at the actual instrument, than many folks on this thread. And I'm pretty sure we have great luthiers on this forum.

    Guess that's a long way of saying maybe just get a second "hands-on" opinion if you can.

  21. #15

    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    . worth maybe $100.00 to $150.00 on a good day in playable shape. If it needs to be refurbished maybe a little less. Unless this is a family heirloom
    Interesting, seems as if my family heirloom Washburn is worth a lot less now than the figure I got from Mandolin bros many years ago... Maybe the ease of on line selling has got a lot more old instruments out of the attic.

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    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    Quote Originally Posted by JimCh View Post
    Interesting, seems as if my family heirloom Washburn is worth a lot less now than the figure I got from Mandolin bros many years ago... Maybe the ease of on line selling has got a lot more old instruments out of the attic.
    Bingo. Stan's prices many years ago were based on what Stan knew from his own experience and possibly some exchanged experiences with his competitors. There was no Internet and no one single marketplace you could check. This didn't just impact our little corner of the world, it has affected other aspects of the antique world as well. I have a Louis Icart print hanging in my living room that was a gift from an elderly neighbor that I had helped out back in the early 80's. Her late husband bought it in the early 1900's. I had it appraised a few years later at Southeby's (when I had actually learned what it was) and I got an appraisal price of around $30,000.00. You can buy one just like mine on eBay for about $3,000.00 most weeks.

    Years ago I bought and sold instruments on eBay. You could buy low and sell high. Good luck doing that with any regularity now. Things came out from under beds and out of closets. What had appeared to be rare became almost commonplace.

    Family heirlooms change the entire picture. There is no way to calculate the affection for the product but I will say from experience that the heirloom value can drop as it's passed along through different generations. The further you get from the personal relationships the easier it is to discount the value. I have a few items I treasure that I doubt my children will feel the same about.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

  23. #17

    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    The words ‘rare’ ‘collectible’ ‘unusual’ have lost value quicker than Beanie Babies. Ebay, for sure, eliminated the fun of finding things, the ‘net made the obscure suddenly visible, and on top of that, the demographic wanderings of newer generations vastly reduced interest in holding on to family things, from furniture right on down to photo albums.
    At the same time, our new living only in the moment world means that some artifact that’s only a few years old can become ‘vintage’. For millions of us, film cameras, and worse, movie cameras become incomprehensible relics of some unknown past. One software update jettisons your stuff into the void.
    So, a century-old bowlback, seldom used in country or pop music, becomes exotic, despite the huge residual supply. As difficult to maintain as the intricate innards of a film camera, or your five-year-old phone.
    A wooden instrument? Wow, must be a million years old!

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    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    I would say those prices indicate that the luthier has experience with circa 1900 American made bowlbacks. Perhaps the main take away is that if you are serious about playing the mandolin, you can spend either of those two figures on mid-range pac-rim modern mandolins that will hold up to modern strings and last a while. There is possibly zero guarantee of that with the one you have, even if it is constructed better than the average ones from that era.

  25. #19

    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    Different luthiers have different costs and abilities and will have different rates. My rates are 2/3 what they were when I was in NYC. You can always shop around and get different estimates but keep in mind some charge for that. I do if the instrument doesn’t end up being left for work. I don’t think this forum can accurately judge your estimate.

    There’s a lot to consider when defining an instrument’s worth. Often resale value is all people think about. However I’ve done loads of restoration jobs for players that far exceed the resale value. I can think of one in particular that was $2300 for a fiddle that could maybe get $900 after the work was done. This player had 2 fiddles and this one was his grandfather’s. It meant a lot to be able to teach violin lessons on it. In another situation I was explaining how a fiddle needed more work than it could be sold for and the player told me it was worth $20k because that’s around what he makes a year playing on it and he didn’t want a different one. Restoration costs, resale value, and sentimental value seem to collide when the instrument owner is no longer a player of the specific instrument type. In these circumstances I suggest making the instrument look nice for display purposes. That way it still has its sentimental value for everyone to see and the cost is much less than a fully restored machine.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    Quote Originally Posted by munchkin.john@mchsi.com View Post
    Hello,
    I have a 1907 American Conservatory bowlback mandolin. Structurally and aesthetically good condition but missing a bridge. In need of buffing, possible refurbishing. For the bridge, strings,and buffing about $400 was the estimate. If refurbished the price starts at $750. Does this sound right?
    American Conservatory mandolins were the mid-range line just below Washburn instruments. They are decent instruments and well-made. Some are just as excellent instruments as the upper-end Washburns.

    You say that it is "Structurally and aesthetically good condition" but if so then what does the refurbishing entail? Refinishing, polishing, essentially cosmetic work? Buffing? Yiu say it is aesthetically in good condition then why does it need buffing? Are there cracks? Is the neck set properly?

    As others have mentioned: find a replacement bridge and a set of ultralight strings (GHS A-240 set is decent and very reasonably priced) and see if it will play well. I would give this a slightly higher value than Mike E gives it but that would be in playable condition and not needing major luthier work like neck reset.
    Last edited by Jim Garber; Aug-19-2020 at 12:18pm.
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    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Garber View Post
    ...I would give this a slightly higher value than Mike E gives it but that would be in playable condition and not needing major luthier work like neck reset.
    How much is slightly? It already needs a bridge.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    The thing is on so many of the “price it high, because I’d rather not do it” ideas is, the customer is not just paying for this project but for the knowledge attained through doing myriad repair jobs to learn that this is going to be difficult. I have fallen victim to bidding the job really high because it was going to be an awful ordeal only to have it backfire! Paying for expertise may be costly but paying for years of learning is never a poor investment, it might feel foolhardy but, if the end product is something you will cherish, the cost does not really matter does it?
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    How much is slightly? It already needs a bridge.
    I think the OP’s description of condition is confusing. If truly structurally sound an American Conservatory mid grade could be valued $200-300. Maybe the OP needs to post some photos to show us what he actually has.
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  33. #24
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    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    On a good day, with a near perfect mandolin, and the right buyer maybe. Now, I can say "If you put $400.00 into that mandolin you will have a mandolin that's worth maybe $100.00 to $300.00 on a good day in playable shape." I'm good with that, he only loses $100.00 or slightly more on the deal!
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Repair Estimate too High?

    That is assuming it is an AC mandolin of the higher quality. Actually L&H has some budget lines not as high quality as AC.
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