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Thread: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

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    Default What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    I have worked with several different luthiers over the years, for minor repairs, pickup installations, and even had a guitar custom built for me (that sadly I no longer own). My most recent experience was having worn frets replaced on a used Capek I bought a couple of months ago. Bob Groat in Santa Rosa CA did that work, and the results were fantastic. This is the second time Bob's worked on a mandolin for me, and although Bob's focus as a builder is bass guitars, he just knocks it out of the park working on the bass's midget cousin. (Bob also builds guitars and ukes.) My Capek plays even better and sounds even better than before the fret work, and Bob completed the work in less than a week and charged me about as much as a dozen sets of strings for his valuable time.

    I'm curious about other people's experiences with luthiers. When were you delighted by a luthier? Were you ever hugely disappointed by someone's work?

  2. #2
    Registered User swain's Avatar
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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    Only experience was one who didn't return phone calls. Don't care how "good" a guy is, if he or she won't communicate, forget it.

    But that was actually a good experience, because since then I have done some of my own re-fretting, all of my own bridge fitting, made and fit some nuts, and am just playing along waiting for something else to go wrong so that I can learn how to DIY.

    swain

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    Registered User Jesse Harmon's Avatar
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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    Two experiences both great. The first with Roger Borys who was then in Shelbourne Vt. who built me his Jazz electric. He later moved to New Jersey. Beautiful guitar with wood binding and pick guard. The second was with Gary Zimnicki in Allen Park, Mi. I had him do a classical guitar. Spruce top with coco bolo back and sides. 14 frets at the bout with cutaway. It is a great guitar and I love the extra room at the top end. One of the best experiences was picking out the specific wood at his shop and putting my name on it. Hope there is a mandolin in my future but thought I would play a few first to make sure I know a little more about what I really would like in a mando. I haven't thought once about trading either of my guitars.

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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    My best experience has to be my first. I was a twelve years old and starting in my first orchestra in Houston, Texas. My violin pegs just would not cooperate so the director gave me the name of a violin maker. As soon as I stepped into his shop I was hooked I knew that I wanted to make instruments. I started going to the library and reading all I could about the craft. I even started a notebook with definitions of terms and saving articles. Thank you Mr. Dorsey!

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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    He may or may not be a luthier (read: builder), but for a complete re-fret of my Gil, Snuffy Smith was the man. Quality, price, time - all superior. And the stories...

  6. #6

    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanN View Post
    He may or may not be a luthier (read: builder), but for a complete re-fret of my Gil, Snuffy Smith was the man. Quality, price, time - all superior. And the stories...
    Good enough for T...good enough for me

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    Registered User John Duncan's Avatar
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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    I had the most amazing experience with Will and Fred Kimble. My senior year of high school, 2005, Will called me up in the spring of 04, while we were both living in Franklin, NC. He told me that he knew I had to do a senior project and wanted to see if I wanted to build a mandolin with him. At that time, I knew Will as a picking buddy and that he built mandolins as well; I did not fully realize what a master craftsman and national name he was becoming. We initially sat down and decided that I would build, from a stew mac kit, an A-5 inspired by the Rose/ Loar A-5. We went through the initial process as if I was a customer. We determined head stock shape, inlay, and top binding. We did not go over wood selection because I would be working from a kit.
    My parents purchased for me, and A-5 stew mac kit, and by early summer 2004, Will and I lit into it. Will was an amazing teacher and a great friend while I was in his shop. His work ethic is incredible, as well as his commitment to brilliant aesthetics, tone and playability.
    Some highlights from this experience for me include discovering some major knots in the back and top of the kit and restarting from scratch book matched pieces of maple. Scraping the binding after doing finish work was a nightmare, and I thoroughly gouged some spots around the binding. Lucky for me, I did this primarily on the back!
    The manner in which Will taught me was amazing and tough at the same time. He had three other models being built during my stay in his shop. He would demonstrate techniques on these and ask me to replicate the work on my own mandolin. Rarely, he would lend a major helping hand to the project (like with setting the neck in the dovetail, and the fit of the neck in general) but, for the most part I did the bulk of the work on my instrument.
    Fred Kimble is an amazing finish guy. He is brilliantly meticulous and was very patient with me and the humid summers in WNC.
    Will and Fred did a lot to spark the building interest in me. I have a huge appreciation for them and that experience as a whole. The mandolin I built with them is the only mandolin I own and it is the instrument I use in recording and playing with the groups I play with here in WNC.
    I am getting ready to buy another kit and start another A-5 (7 years later!) very soon and will sorely miss all the guidance, anecdotes and music that came out of the Kimble shop.
    My Youtube Channel: http://bit.ly/1F9sJ8G

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    Registered Mandolin User mandopete's Avatar
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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    I was looking for an oval hole mandolin and happened across one that I liked at Fletcher Brock's table at Wintergrass a few years back. I was not intending to buy anything, but I asked how much it would cost to have him build one like it and he said he would sell me the one he had at a great price. I didn't have a check book and he was not set up for a credit card so he just told me to take the mandolin and send him a check when I got home.

    Now I know Fletcher, so he may have relied on a personal relationship in order to do this. But that's one of my greatest luthier experiences ever.
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    Registered User abuteague's Avatar
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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    I had one guy do a set up. He said my nut slot for one of my d strings was too shallow. Did you notice that? No, I say. Do you want me to fix it for you? Ok I say. He does it with the rest of the set up.

    I go to another luthier for a set up a year later. He says, one of your d string nut slots is too deep. Did you notice that? No, I say. Looks like some hack went and filed it too far. Do you want me to fix it? Ok, I say and he does it with the rest of the setup.

    Both are well known and respected luthiers with 20+ years of experience.

    It reminds me of one time I went to get my hair cut and my regular guy wasn't available. I had someone else give me a hair cut. When I went back to my regular guy, he was mad. "Who cut your hair!? Was it a drunk? I can fix this. It will be a challenge, but I can fix this. Don't go to this other person again!"
    You know, I didn't really see much of a difference between haircuts.

    The best for an issue beyond setup is when they look at the problem, call the builder, present solutions, and follow up with skilled work or by sending it to the builder if the builder wants to see it. Good customer service. Good listening. Logical process. Respecting the builder.

    The worst. Well. The worst was going to get my mandolin re fretted/a fret dress because I wore out the frets. The guy said, "it will cost more than the mandolin is worth." It may have been true, but he didn't quote me a price. He then started pointing out my mandolin's flaws. I lost my voice and left the shop. I felt like a nobody with a no-name, no-good, mandolin-shaped-object despite pouring hours into learning to play that thing day after day. I never went into that shop again. It was an Ibanez two point with a red sunburst finish.
    I thought maybe it would cost more than HE valued the mandolin, but I wanted at least an opportunity to make that choice myself.
    I guess I should count myself lucky, because the guy probably didn't say anything false, or create damage and charge me for it. It could have been worse. But a little empathy for your customer might make a difference now and again.

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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    In the process now and I have to say the process has been fantastic!! Sends me photos during the building process and I am watching it being built step by step ! Should be completed by July! Andrew Mowry has been fantastic to deal with!
    Last edited by yankees1; May-20-2011 at 9:57am.
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain------supposedly !

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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    Best exerience by far...custom builds from Bill Bussmann of Old Wave fame. He has been a hoot to work with, and manages to impart his unique character into his instruments. Worst experience...had a "respected" guitar builder replace the nut on my 1946 TG-50 so that I could tune it GDAE. He managed to crack the fretboard and pop off a sizeable chunk of the headstock when he removed the old nut. When I mentioned the obvious damage to him he got all huffy and announced that the guitar wasn't worth much anyway. Then he tried to place the blame for the botched work on me as in "well, you brought it to me, didn't you?"
    mr.randy

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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    Positive:
    > Joe Mendel of St. Louis takes the prize. He is honest, hard-working, personable, knowledgeable, has every darn luthiery tool ever made, has a network of other luthiers he can call on when he doesn't know something and he likes nothing better than to share a beer with you and chat while he is working on your instrument. He is well beyond what any luthiery customer has a right to expect.
    > A plus one for Bill Bussman. He does great work, of course, but he is also one of those people that you feel richer just for having met him. He is one of a kind.
    > Jimmy Gravity of Gravity Strings in St. Louis. A crumdgoen, to be sure, but if I ever had my instrument completely wrecked, I would go to him to have it glued back together. His rep is that he can handle anything and I believe it. Also, his store is kind of like a stringed instrument museum.

    Negative:
    > I won't mention any names, because I did once and later got approached in an alley next to the store by the owner/luthier and thought I was going be in a fist fight. But there is a certain music store in my former hometown where 1) I had a set up done and afterwards the instrument played worse than when I brought it in. The bridge was about a full inch, and more than a half tone, off of intonation. There were other problems also. 2) I had a pickup installed in my Martin guitar and they glued the jack in place with a glue that could not be softened. Of course, the jack didn't need any glue at all, it had a set screw, which was not used. Later, when I asked another luthier to make a change to the pickup, he said it did not look like it could be done without major surgery because of the glue. I know other people who have had equally aggregious problems.
    > There is an actual luthiery school that will also go unnamed where the owner and main instructor is a nice guy, but comes across as the biggest stuck-in-the-late-60's stoner you would every want to meet. He botched a tuner replacement on a mando I had. Also the "original design" instruments he creates might raise suspicions of BWI (Building While Impaired)

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    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    Lou Stiver - Great!
    Dave Cohen - Great!
    Larry Muth - Great!
    Wayne Henderson - Great (still waiting though)!
    Steve Peck (local repair/Martin Warrantee) - Great!

    Count me as lucky, I guess. . .

    f-d
    ¡papá gordo ain’t no madre flaca!

    '20 A3, '30 L-1, '97 914, 2012 Cohen A5, 2012 Muth A5, '14 OM28A

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    Registered User dcoventry's Avatar
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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    mmmmmmmmm....Larry Muth builds some cool ones. I forgot you had one those too, FD! And the Henderson still in the wings! mas MAS
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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    Great experiences:
    I had my Flatiron refretted, new nut, set-up by Mike Munford. It was better sounding and played easier than when it was new.

    The greatest was my wife's 1963 full size Kay Bass. The neck had started to separate and the bridge twisted. It also had lots of dings from many years of play. We took it to David Mansbridge in Annapolis. That is the most spectacular work I've seen. His daughter touched up some of the dings & scratches on the edges and you cannot tell she did it. To top it off, he delivered to my wife here in Hagerstown because he was traveling to this area.

    The absolute best, most phenomonal experience was with Pete Hart building a Buckeye for me. Did I mention that I like the Buckeye?

    Worst experience: An absolute shock to one of my mandolins, but I won't mention the details because the luthier has such a fantastic reputation. It happens.

    Bob
    re simmers

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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    Mallory Penlan in Salisbury, NC, has an excellent local rep and was great about talking me through what he was going to do in a guitar set-up for me (I understood/knew ahead of time, but it was cool to hear him talk through his thought process). Lots of vintage instruments in for work that he spoke freely about as well. And, he had a really nice OM cutaway he was building that looked amazing. Prices seemed pretty fair as well. There are a lot of guys around who do good set-up work, but for major stuff, fretwork, etc, I'd definitely recommend Mallory.

    I also have a Silverangel Econo A that I bought used. The first owner didn't know what kind of bracing or top wood it had (looked as if it may have been cedar but I wasn't sure), so I emailed Ken with the # and asked if he had any records. His first email asked me to send him the # and he'd be happy to check it out the next day (I pm'd him here pretty late one evening). The second email, which came about 30 seconds later, said he was sorry he'd read through the first one so quickly and missed the #, and that he'd get back to me the next day. The 3rd email, which came about 5 minutes later, held all of the information I had requested (top was spruce, but X-bracing was done with cedar from an old telegraph pole), some questions about how the sound had matured, and an invite to call and talk to him if I had any other questions. Let's just say I can't imagine there being any communication issues with him during a build process!

    Worst experience was a set-up on my first mandolin, which needed a serious truss adjustment, nut filing, bridge adjustment and placement, and some fret levelling/dressing. 50 bucks (charged afterwards, and I was willing to spend up to 200) got me an incomplete truss adjustment and instructions to change the strings. He also didn't notice the fretboard beginning to separate from the neck after the truss adjustment. The mando was an ebay disaster, obviously, but I wasn't terribly excited about having this particular guy do any more work for me. Shortly thereafter, I discovered this forum, so I guess that was the positive outcome there, and I eventually did get the thing playing (still my beater and project experimentation mando). I hear the guy was a good guitar tech, and maybe it's possible that he saw the thing for the disaster it was and just didn't want to get into it...
    Chuck

  17. #17
    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    Quote Originally Posted by abuteague View Post
    It reminds me of one time I went to get my hair cut and my regular guy wasn't available. I had someone else give me a hair cut. When I went back to my regular guy, he was mad. "Who cut your hair!? Was it a drunk? I can fix this. It will be a challenge, but I can fix this. Don't go to this other person again!"
    You know, I didn't really see much of a difference between haircuts.

    The best for an issue beyond setup is when they look at the problem, call the builder, present solutions, and follow up with skilled work or by sending it to the builder if the builder wants to see it. Good customer service. Good listening. Logical process. Respecting the builder.

    The worst. Well. The worst was going to get my mandolin re fretted/a fret dress because I wore out the frets. The guy said, "it will cost more than the mandolin is worth." It may have been true, but he didn't quote me a price. He then started pointing out my mandolin's flaws. I lost my voice and left the shop. I felt like a nobody with a no-name, no-good, mandolin-shaped-object despite pouring hours into learning to play that thing day after day. I never went into that shop again. It was an Ibanez two point with a red sunburst finish.
    I thought maybe it would cost more than HE valued the mandolin, but I wanted at least an opportunity to make that choice myself.
    I guess I should count myself lucky, because the guy probably didn't say anything false, or create damage and charge me for it. It could have been worse. But a little empathy for your customer might make a difference now and again.
    This reads like experiences I had (minus the haircut but that I know from someone else that I generally listen to).

    Best experience:
    Paul Duff ! (very great luthier, very generous to do business with, great mandolins!)
    Antique Acoustics (Rudie Blazer & Willi Henkes) Tübingen (www.antique-acoustics.de): Droolworthy golden area guitar recreations, top drawer luthiers, quintessential repairmen, savvy musicians and general nice guys! (Rudie builds some very nice Chicago style mandolins)
    Jürgen Richter, Hamburg, savvy all things mandolin, good setup man and quite a character. I bought my Strad-O-Lin from him and haven´t regretted one minute. He improved the Strad with a new bridge, fret replacement and setup. Given the fact that the old dame is a little brittle the fret replacement was very nicely done. Jürgen "unmessed" a setup that I had done by one of the worst experiences.

    Worst:
    You won´t know them anyhow but I won´t tell. Yet, If you are in need of luthiers in or around Magdeburg or Vienna or Kiel, drop me a line and I´ll warn ya.
    - Guitar setup. The guitar rattles. I take it to the "luthier". He says it needs a new bridge insert (at least), maybe a new nut... The red lights were on. I told him to leave the nut alone, don´t mess with the frets and don´t shave the bridge. Just see what you can do with the bridge insert. He files a bone bridge insert that somewhat made the guitar playable, yet it was so low that the rattle was pretty much constant when you didn´t play with a butterfly hand. I brought the guitar to Jürgen Richter when I had the time. He filed a new (high) bridge insert, crowned the frets and voila, everything is pretty much fine.
    -Mandolin setup. Thinking that it´s pretty much what a violin luthier can do, I brought the Strad-O-Lin to two ladies who had a shop in Magdeburg (since moved to Vienna). The placed the bridge yet it was all wrong. The harmonics spoke of a well placed bridge yet all the other frets were wrong. Again I took it to Jürgen Richter when I was in his part of the world and he set it right.
    - Kiel (way back): I thought of amplifying my guitar and thought of playing over a condenser mic. All I ever heard was "it can´t be done. Why don´t you use a piezo. All we have to do is drill here, glue there..." Goodness gracious... All I did is leave. Since then I proved a thousand times that you can play over a single mic with a whole band.
    Olaf

  18. #18
    Work in Progress Ed Goist's Avatar
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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    Quote Originally Posted by fatt-dad View Post
    Lou Stiver - Great!
    Dave Cohen - Great!
    Larry Muth - Great!
    Wayne Henderson - Great (still waiting though)!
    Steve Peck (local repair/Martin Warrantee) - Great!

    Count me as lucky, I guess. . .

    f-d
    Count me as lucky too!:
    Virgil Lay (past guitar work) - Great! (To be expected, he was a legend here in NE Ohio).
    Ken Lesko (recent guitar work) - Great!
    Howard 'Sonny' Morris - Great!
    Jason Harshbarger - Great! (Delivery soon - Really looking forward to it!)
    Max Girouard - Great! (Has done Wonderful refurbishing work on my 1900 Brandt, and is just about to start on an A-Style Oval-hole hybrid mandolin for me).

    Actually, it's safe to say that my universally positive interactions with Sonny, Jason, & Max are a huge reason why I am such a fervent proponent of small domestic builders.

    Sonny, Jason and Max are all great guys who do fine work - Highly recommended!
    c.1965 Harmony Monterey H410 Mandolin
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    Registered User dcoventry's Avatar
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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    I have had many interactions with the fine fellow who bulit my guitar, Jeff Traugott, and he has been unfaillingly pleasant, flexible and helpful. I think he charges me some absurdly low rate for repairs and setups based on 1989 prices from when I bought the guitar. Seriously.

    Pete Langdell built my G5 and has been doing some tune-ups on it. Talking to Pete is like flipping through an encyclopedia of mando information. He is pleasant, laughs easily, is very witty, and is very reasonable and flexible, too. I admitted my near ignorance, and he said we all start somewhere. He could have taken advantage and did not. He did what was best for the instrument, and told me why.

    Them's some cool cats. They work for the instruments, and I am just an inconvenient custodian!
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  20. #20
    Unruly Crumudgeon Loretta Callahan's Avatar
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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    I made an unfortunate mandolin purchase online .... as the company offered lay away. The mandolin arrived, and not only was it not setup, it was simply re-shipped from the manufacturer ... unopened by the retailer. One of the tuners had fallen off; it was a mess.

    I took it to Ken Cartwright in Stayton, Oregon for a setup and a bone nut ... and the neck was wonky. He sent it back; manufacturer sent another to him. It had another bad neck. Mandolin #3 arrived to Ken and he fixed it up nicely for me.

    Ken made what could have been a real disaster into what turned out to be a very informative and pleasant experience. The drive from Portland to Stayton, OR is really lovely and relaxing. Ken's the mano medic for sure.
    Just visiting.

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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    I have to give a thumbs up to Bruce Weber and his crew. I have ordered 3 mandolins from him and all of them have exceeded my expectations. I personally haven't had to use their customer service, but from the many previous posts it is top notch. I also would like to mention John Piccolo, at Piccolo's Music in Helena, Mt., he does my setups and does great work.

  22. #22
    Work in Progress Ed Goist's Avatar
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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    Quote Originally Posted by George R. Lane View Post
    I have to give a thumbs up to Bruce Weber and his crew...snip...I personally haven't had to use their customer service...snip...
    George, that, in and of itself, is a powerful testimonial!
    c.1965 Harmony Monterey H410 Mandolin
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  23. #23

    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    Great stories all around! I'm glad to read about so many positive experiences. I personally have never had a bad experience with a luthier. I am very lucky to have a good shop that's close to home and provides excellent service and quality work. With over a dozen fretted instruments that get routine use, I like knowing there's someone nearby who can keep them all in good working order. I would love to have the skills and tools to do it myself, but as much as I enjoy fixing things, I love playing music even more, and I'd rather have a pro who knows what he's doing holding the chisel close to my favorite Martin rather than my own hand. I'd never forgive myself if I damaged one of my instruments while trying to adjust or fix something. I've done small truss rod tweaks, shaved down a saddle, and tightened a loose tuner on occasion. I've even done some solder work inside my electrics. But major repairs I leave to the pros. Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences!

  24. #24
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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    My experience with Randy Wood back in 1993 was excellent. He listened to what I thought I wanted and made a mandolin that is just superb. He also did some adjustments and fret dressing after about 10 years. He is really nice, very knowledgeable and great to work with. I would recommend him and his staff to anyone who is interested in getting a really first class instrument. In my humble opinion he is the best.

  25. #25
    Registered User baiyongjie's Avatar
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    Default Re: What was your best experience with a luthier? Your worst?

    I just got home from a luthier (Yamamoto Makoto, in Kobe, Japan) and really wanted to post about what a great experience it was, so I'm glad this thread is here.

    It wasn't like business at all, he made me cappuccino and played a bunch of music for me while we chatted about mandolins and music in general. He let me play around on his first and fifth mandolin, and they were wonderful instruments. His first one wasn't as fancy as number five, but it was so wonderful to play. I've messed around on some multi-thousand dollar mandolins in a music store once, but this was much nicer. Perfect, I think. It's not for sale, and I can understand why. I wouldn't let go of it if it were mine. He offered to let me take it home with me while he worked on mine, but I didn't want to expose it to my three kids.

    He's going to drive my mandolin back to me when he finishes up. I'm so excited to play it again. Judging from his two mandolins I got to look at and play, I feel like I'm getting an upgrade to my mandolin proportionally greater than what I'm paying. There are both good and bad experiences out there, but I highly recommend anyone to take their mandolin to a luthier and see. Of course, now I want one of his custom mandolins!

    As for worst experience, I bought a kit from a luthier who happens to have a great reputation, but it came with several annoying problems he wasn't willing to fix without me paying extra, on account of the bad economy, he complained. It came with two right side tuners, the head plate was half an inch shorter than the template, and instead of the adjustable ebony bridge advertised, it came with a one piece rosewood blank. I feel bad for people trying to do business now, but if you do good business with me, you'll have a repeat customer!
    Last edited by baiyongjie; May-22-2011 at 12:50am.

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