Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

354
Banjo Lovers Online


Want to hide these Google ads? Join the Players Union!

Page: 1  2   Last Page (2) 

Jun 2, 2020 - 8:07:48 AM
205 posts since 5/13/2009

I am sorry to report that some time back I had a very bad experience with a luthier of good reputation.

I left a banjo and a deposit with him on Day 1. After some Email exchange I agreed on Day 3 to his offer of a complete breakdown, refitting of the tone ring, heel recut, and a setup including a quality bridge for $150.

On Day 7 he sent an Email saying: "Ring fit was a little snug, took care of that, will cut the heel soon and get it back together. I'll have it ready to go sometime next week"

On Day 22 he sent an Email saying: "The banjo plays and sounds great.”

We waited to plan a return trip to fit his schedule. He told us we could come up on Day 48. We booked a reservation at a local hotel because we didn't want to make the long drive up and back in the same day. We agreed we would shoot for being at his house by 3:00PM.

We arrived about 30 minutes early and the banjo wasn't ready. He said he was still cleaning, and there would be an additional $20 charge for a quality bridge. We were told to go ahead to the hotel and call him back in an hour or hour and a half. But if the banjo "played great and sounded great" on Day 22, why was it not ready? And why was there an additional charge for the bridge that he had said on Day 3 was included? I was very upset, but managed to print out his Email on the hotel computer stating that the bridge was included.

When we returned, I asked about the tone ring fit. He said that he had checked and the tone ring was OK. But that didn't match what he said on Day 7. He also said that someone had whittled on the heel with a pocket knife, and he had had to add wood to the heel before making the recut. The banjo sounded and played pretty good, but I noticed that the cleaning that was done was only partial. I showed him his Email about the bridge and he agreed there wouldn't be any additional charge. I paid the balance of what I owed of the $150.

We drove home the next day, but the more I thought about it, the more suspicious and angry I got. Finally I took the banjo completely apart for a thorough inspection. I found that the head was split underneath the tension hoop. The tone ring was tight, but I got it off the rim without damage. All the finish on the rim under the tone ring was intact. You could put a piece of paper between the ring's inner edge and the top of the rim, so it was resting on the rim at the skirt. Clearly no refitting of the tone ring was ever done. I found a thin wood shim between the bottom of the heel and the rim, with stain smeared on its edge so it wouldn't show. Some of the stain had gotten on the finished part of the heel as well. There was no evidence of any wood having been added to the heel, and the original finish on the outside edges of the heel was intact, so no evidence of any recut. The heel was bearing on the flange in three places, to the degree that a split had started at the lowest cut in the heel. The screw in the end of the top co-rod was sticking out of the rim by ¼ inch. Finally, there was crud on the metal and wood parts in areas that required disassembly to get to.

He had the banjo for nearly 7 weeks. As best I can tell, he never touched it before Day 48. There was no tone ring refit, no heel recut, no disassembly and thorough cleaning, the head was split, and he attempted to charge me extra for the bridge. He installed a spike I never asked for, acting as if he had done me a favor. What I got for my $150 was a bridge, strings, a spike I didn’t want, and about an hour's worth of surface cleaning and setup. Add to that the time and effort to drive over 5 hours each way and the cost of an overnight hotel stay.

So I proceeded with fear and trepidation to do the work myself with hand tools. I imagine the tone ring refit would be pretty short work on a lathe. As it was, I very slowly sanded and filed my way there, so it rested on its inner edge, with clearance at the skirt, and had a slip fit, rechecking fit excessively, and hoping not to do anything catastrophic. I relieved the parts of the heel that were bearing on the flange, and relieved the contact between the end of the fretboard and the tension hoop. I had never done any of this before, which is why I was willing to pay to have it done.

I had been told that the neck adjustment at the heel just required an Allen wrench. Close examination showed that was not the case. A special tool is required, which is rarely still with the banjo after 40 years. So I made one, slotting the end of a 5/16 inch hex bolt. Clearly he never adjusted the neck.

On the positive side, the banjo now sounds and plays really good, and I sure learned a lot.

I could have printed out all the Email exchanges before picking up the banjo, but it never occurred to me to prepare for a confrontation with this luthier. I am far less upset about the waste of money than I am over the lies and betrayal of trust. I won't trash him on the forum or write a bad review on him. But if anyone happens to ask me about the service I got from him, I will certainly tell them the truth. At this point he believes he got away with what he did or rather failed to do, but I am not as stupid as he thinks. Most puzzling is the fact that he has a reputation for quality work performed in a timely manner and at a reasonable price with many positive reviews. Why me? May he reap what he sowed.

Jun 2, 2020 - 8:18:52 AM
likes this

54867 posts since 12/14/2005

By not giving away YOUR location, you are leaving the door open so that anybody wanting to deal with ANY luthier might be sending you a PM, just to make sure the one they are dealing with, is NOT him.

How about naming a town near you, and a ballpark distance of how big a circle to draw on the map?

Like, if it was ME what done ya wrong, you could post MILWAKEE WISCONSIN and 40 miles.
And 40 miles would put the experts at Spruce Tree Music, in MADISON, 80 miles away, well beyond the Zone of Suspicion.

Jun 2, 2020 - 8:20:58 AM
like this

dirigible

Canada

20 posts since 3/8/2010

I think this warrants a bad review. If people don't write poor reviews, what incentive does the luthier have to improve his service? This may have happened to other customers that also declined to leave a review...

Jun 2, 2020 - 8:25:23 AM

2032 posts since 1/21/2003

I saw that you posted a very good review of work John Boulding had done for you years ago. Why didn't you just contract with him to have the most recent work done on your banjo?

Jun 2, 2020 - 8:38:10 AM

3879 posts since 5/12/2010

That is truly a shameful way to do business, and if this is any indication of his / her current approach that "reputable" qualifier will soon be lost.

In any business a good reputation is worth more than money, and it is something that takes a long while, and a lot of effort to earn.

It is earned by delivering what is promised, or better, and when delivery starts to differ from what is promised a good reputation will dissolve in a hurry.

I have seen a number of one man shops achieve a top drawer reputation, then let it go down the drain because of stuff exactly like what you describe. I understand how it can happen, but that doesn't excuse it.

I build banjos, and still occasionally do some repair work. Those that know what I can do, and have one of my banjos, appreciate the quality of my work, but it is just a hobby for me at this point. I think a lot of banjo builders start out this way, but when the hobby starts to become a business one has to be very careful about what they can reasonably deliver, and never let their inbox overflow beyond that.

Jun 2, 2020 - 8:41:50 AM
like this

691 posts since 6/11/2003

I have heard and read dozens of stories like this in my 45 year career. I have always had the practice of refunding payment to any dis satisfied customer. I suggest strongly that players learn to maintain their own instruments. In this case that is what the banjo owner here did in the end anyway.

I would not trust a self described "Luthier" to work on a banjo. Find a long standing reputable "Banjo Repair Person".

Jun 2, 2020 - 9:12:47 AM
likes this

3879 posts since 5/12/2010

Bart is spot on about it.

Whatever one calls themselves, taking care of customer satisfaction is key to earning a good reputation. Sometimes a simple misunderstanding of what is to be done can result in disappointments, sometimes the customer's expectation does not match the extent or quality of the work done, but anyone who has done this kind of work, or just about any kind of skilled work, will occasionally have a dissatisfied customer where a refund is the only way to take care of business.

What the OP describes appears to be something beyond dissatisfaction with the quality of work, it sounds more like deceit. Work that was paid for was not done.

Jun 2, 2020 - 9:16:13 AM

113 posts since 2/16/2020

I'm sorry for your experience; it sucks when your trust is betrayed. I had some inlays done on a banjo neck years ago (1970s) at a local shop which they screwed up. At least they didn't make excuses but I'm still looking at those inlays. I understand the need to vent.

I'm thinking about having a custom banjo made, which is a leap of faith in itself. I guess I'll just play the odds and hope to not engage the luthier you encountered.

Robert

Jun 2, 2020 - 10:30:25 AM

10810 posts since 2/12/2011

Terrible. How can people do that? Sheesh!!

Jun 2, 2020 - 10:37:34 AM
Players Union Member

dbrooks

USA

3822 posts since 3/11/2004

banjobart , thanks for weighing in on this. From thw design and execution of your instruments to the way you treat customers (as evidenced by your post), you are model to be followed.

David

Jun 2, 2020 - 10:49:56 AM

301 posts since 4/3/2012

I had an experience like this early on in my banjo life. Like you, I went home and learned how to fix it myself. Eventually I even made a couple of banjos. It has been a great learning experience. While I wouldn't recommend that particular shop to anyone, I am grateful in a way for the valuable life lesson.

Too bad about the lost time and money, but there is no gain in worrying about what you can't get back.

Edited by - banjopickingman on 06/02/2020 10:51:02

Jun 2, 2020 - 1:04:26 PM

587 posts since 11/21/2018

Man, I feel for you. Been there, done that...
Perhaps revealing the luthier in question, here, via PMs would be an option you'd feel comfortable with?

Personally I feel strongly that the luthier's name or name of business should be disclosed to prevent the same treatment/experience from happening to the rest of us.

It's one thing to be put off, delayed, etc. but to be repeatedly lied to is not only reprehensible but illegal from a business standpoint. IF documentation of the entire process could be shown or on hand, I think this would be fair.

You MAY be able to get your old email correspondence back by contacting your email server. They may still be there at "HQ". We have been able to retreive some that way.

You might consider telling the luthier in writing what you've told us and demand a refund for the repair and your hotel room/gas, etc. or you will reveal their name or name of business if this is not fulfilled within a reasonable time limit. 

 

Edited by - northernbelle on 06/02/2020 13:16:39

Jun 2, 2020 - 1:47:32 PM
like this

13018 posts since 6/29/2005

Everyone is a "luthier" until proven guilty—you don't need a license or any formal training—just like politicians.

I don't do repairs, and the reason is that I am a builder, and if I started repairing other peoples' problems it would be a giant distraction and a time sink and I would never get anything done.  I applaud anyone who can do both—it's a tough job.  Building banjos to numerous different specifications is tough enough for me.

Not to drift the thread, but thinking about what Mike Gregory said, I think everyone on the BHO ought to be required to say where they live (generally) and provide the requested bits of info in their profile if they want to post something, instead of just blowing it off.  It's not like giving your social security # or bank account, just where are you from, and what are your banjo interests—not much to ask.  One thing about the BHO is that I think we are respectful of one another and wouldn't want any dirty laundry we had to be hung out in public on the forum.

Jun 2, 2020 - 5:52:44 PM

doryman

USA

836 posts since 11/26/2012

quote:
Originally posted by kmwaters

Terrible. How can people do that? Sheesh!!


I don't know if it's the case here, and I'm not making excuses for anyone, but I wonder if there are underlying health issues (physical or mental).  The entire story reminds me of an instrument repair person I knew who slowly lost the ability to conduct his once-reputable business because of related physical and mental declines.  Many of the same issues came up; instruments that took forever to be repaired...or were never repaired,  shoddy workmanship, forgetfulness, erratic and ever-changing prices, poor or non-existent record keeping, etc...

Jun 3, 2020 - 4:34:13 AM
like this

Brett

USA

2186 posts since 11/29/2005

It does a big disservice to all repair shops when you won’t throw us a bone who or where. Because it makes us all skeptical of the shop we are considering hiring. The truth really is black and white, put your truth to print. Let us know so we can return to planning our banjo repairs and projects. We are all in the same boat, looking for a good repairman. Your practical experience can guide us, but not with incomplete information. Only makes everyone suspect.

Jun 3, 2020 - 5:14:58 AM
like this

691 posts since 6/11/2003

This situation reminds me of a old joke:

A man tried on a jacket that he hadn't worn in 10 years and found a claim tag for a banjo repair in the pocket. The man wondered if the old banjo shop still had it so he went in and presented the tag to the repairman. In a very irritated voice the repairman said,
"Do you expect me to keep a broken banjo for 10 years?
"It wouldn't hurt you to look," the man said.
In a fit of rage, the repairman went to his back room to look for the banjo and in a little while he yells back to the man out front, "is it left handed with a broken head?"
"Yes, that's it," the man answered.
Then the repairman said," It will be ready Thursday."

Jun 3, 2020 - 6:44:22 AM

13018 posts since 6/29/2005

quote:
Originally posted by banjobart

This situation reminds me of a old joke:

A man tried on a jacket that he hadn't worn in 10 years and found a claim tag for a banjo repair in the pocket. The man wondered if the old banjo shop still had it so he went in and presented the tag to the repairman. In a very irritated voice the repairman said,
"Do you expect me to keep a broken banjo for 10 years?
"It wouldn't hurt you to look," the man said.
In a fit of rage, the repairman went to his back room to look for the banjo and in a little while he yells back to the man out front, "is it left handed with a broken head?"
"Yes, that's it," the man answered.
Then the repairman said," It will be ready Thursday."


Love it!

Jun 3, 2020 - 7:11:30 AM

3132 posts since 5/29/2011

I appreciate Bart pointing out that there is a difference between a luthier and a banjo repair person. The two require different sets of skills. Of course some people can be equally adept, or lacking, at both.

Jun 3, 2020 - 9:06:10 AM
like this

2876 posts since 2/18/2009

I decided some years ago (after watching some "discussions" about the term on Fiddle Hangout) that I would never call my self a luthier, and if anyone else called me one I would politely correct them. I'm also not a banjo repair person, just an instrument builder.

Jun 3, 2020 - 9:29:26 AM
likes this

13018 posts since 6/29/2005

In my years restoring historic buildings I became aware of the fact that every real estate broker knows a repairman who will make things "work" and look good for the showings, inspections, and eventual sale.

Later on the new home owner has to actually do it right.

Jun 3, 2020 - 9:32:44 AM
like this

7677 posts since 1/7/2005

If a person is a skilled guitar 'luthier', i don't see how they would have much difficulty working on a banjo. The skill set is basically the same. If anything, a banjo is easier since many of the parts are merely bolted on. Anyone who screws up a banjo will likely screw up anything they get their hands on.

DD

Jun 3, 2020 - 11:35:50 AM

DRH

USA

482 posts since 5/29/2018

quote:
Originally posted by doryman

I don't know if it's the case here, and I'm not making excuses for anyone, but I wonder if there are underlying health issues (physical or mental).  The entire story reminds me of an instrument repair person I knew who slowly lost the ability to conduct his once-reputable business because of related physical and mental declines.  .............


I can attest to this.  Two long term clients offered me enough work to double or triple this year's income.  I was feeling great so I took on the work in January.

And then I got sick again.  I had to tell my client I was unable to continue.  I also handed over few thousand dollars worth of completed work with no bill.  Fortunately I had informed the client in January that this might happen.  Been there before.  But I've had previous clients that were not so forgiving.  I lost a few because of things beyond my control.

Just a guess:  If this luthier is active on BHO he knows this could ruin his business and personal reputation.  Give him a chance to make it right.

Jun 3, 2020 - 1:22:20 PM
like this

7267 posts since 8/28/2013

quote:
Originally posted by Ken LeVan

In my years restoring historic buildings I became aware of the fact that every real estate broker knows a repairman who will make things "work" and look good for the showings, inspections, and eventual sale.

Later on the new home owner has to actually do it right.


That is so true. I've been re-doing most every "improvement" done to my home since I bought it. Even the doorknobs had to be redone, because the screw holes were drilled at an angle. The electrician who supposedly had rewired the house learned his trade working as a pretzel maker.

I also agree with Dan Drabek concerning the idea that expert guitar people should be able to repair a banjo. There are so many similarities, and although there are some set-up differences, these should be easy enough to learn. It's just that a few  too many instrument repair people are uncaring and money-grubbing hacks. I used to rebuild pianos, and there are fewer similarities between those and banjos than between guitars and banjos, but if a person is careful and does his research, even a piano tuner should be able to fix a banjo.

I used to go to Piano Technician's Guild meetings, but never joined, due to the fact that even in a supposedly "elite" and heavily tested group, there were people who were dumb as a bag of piano hammers and did work that could turn a Steinway into an unplayable mess.

There are bad actors in every field, and I live in fear that my doctor cheated on his exams and still only managed a "C." There's probably no way to stop these hacks and quacks, but it's always good to know which luthiers, doctors, mechanics, and home repair persons to avoid.

Jun 3, 2020 - 2:23:31 PM
likes this

13018 posts since 6/29/2005

There is definitely a difference in how you approach building from scratch vs repair—To take that one step further, I'd say that builders will approach repairs in a different way than dedicated repair people. A short time back someone on this forum said that people who aren't repairmen should refrain from giving repair advice, which I took exception to at the time, but he had a point—my repair methods would not be cost or time-effective, and it's really not my business.

I started 55 years ago in Brooklyn repairing busted instruments for art students with low budgets, making necks for banjos people had bought at pawn shops, and converting some instruments to left handed - kind of a service.  I learned from people in New York who were well known builders,and they were willing to talk to me and explain things—I was just an industrial design student working on a project, which was a guitar I was designing as a thesis project.  I understood at that time from talking to people at the Martin factory (I visited many times), that to make a guitar left-handed, the bracing on the top has to be reversed—how many repair people are going to do that, and what would it cost?  Martin would have to do it that way, because they are builders, and their name is on it. Ditto me— I am not going to repair something half-assedly, and that's why I can't do repairs of other people's instruments.

I never heard the term "luthier" until much later, and then it was referring to a violin maker.  I think it's very unfortunate that it's become a ubiquitous term for anyone who dabbles with instruments, akin to people claiming to be "graphic designers", once an art practiced by such as Paul Rand, Ivan Chermayev, Milton Glazer, Herb Lubalin, Saul Bass, Josef Müller-Brockmann (who designed the Helvetica font) et al.  You can now call yourself anything you like—be a graphic designer or a luthier.

I could do repairs very well if I wanted to, but don't because I would always spend more time on it than it was worth, and it would never be cost effective, not ethically being able to charge the customer for the I time I had spent, or them understanding of what was involved—It's a Rodney Dangerfield.  As a builder, I build the instrument in the way I think is right, charge an agreed-upon price for an instrument and any extra things I want to do because I think they are important are on me—anything the client wants extra I would treat as a no penalty pass-through.  This kind of makes up for my lack of imagination in anticipating something I wish I had included in the original plan is producing something I am proud of in the end.   I could always raise my prices, and I'm sure I will at some point.

One of the nicest things anyone has said to me on this forum was that my banjos are "worth more than they cost"—that's my goal—tough to do, and even tougher with a repair of something that's serioulsy FUBAR.

Edited by - Ken LeVan on 06/03/2020 14:24:52

Jun 3, 2020 - 8:50:23 PM
like this

7267 posts since 8/28/2013

One thing that should be understood by all repair people is that there are vast numbers of clients/customers who only consider price when looking to get something repaired. I believe a lot of trouble can be avoided by turning down clents/customers who are clueless about what itcosts and what it takes to do a job properly. In many cases, I have been able to explain what needed to be done and the disasterous outcome of not doing something correctly, and those people will usually accept the quoted price. But there have been other instances where a client just refuses to believe what they are being told, and those types need to be politely told to try another repair person.

Jun 3, 2020 - 11:54:47 PM

54867 posts since 12/14/2005

If memory serves, there was an article, wumpty-three years ago, where some luthier gave the client a written estimate, including how much TIME repairing or replacing each part would take.

Once the client was aware that it wasn't QUITE as quick as replacing a light bulb, there was much less fuss over the total cost.

Page: 1  2   Last Page (2) 

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories

0.296875