Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

Pricing for small violin "service".


Recommended Posts

To date, I have concentated mainly on making new violins with one or two restoration projects in between. Now, I am getting enquiries to do some violin "services". That is, making a new bridge, maybe a set of new strings, tailpiece and chinrest. Plus, probably fitting a new soundpost and a good clean-up. I am not talking about bigger repairs like major cracks and re-varnishes etc.

The question is, how does one cost something like this? I imagine I would take the cost price of the parts, add a small mark-up, then charge an hourly rate? Or, are there fixed (international) prices?

Link to comment
Share on other sites


The question is, how does one cost something like this? I imagine I would take the cost price of the parts, add a small mark-up, then charge an hourly rate? Or, are there fixed (international) prices?

I don't think there are any hard-fast rules to share, but if you're buying parts on the wholesale market (in bulk at a discount), a small mark-up is reasonable (handling/investment). If you're buying the parts at the same price as would be available to your customer, then I guess it would be fair to give them a choice of bringing their own (parts), right?

Student mainenance/repair, especially on fractional size instruments, is a game of balancing hourly rate, market demand, appropriate level of work, and speed in my opinion. Parents cn't help but compare what it costs to repair an instrument to what it costs new... and rightly so, I think. It's not easy to make a living in this area of the trade. Most who do suppliment the student repair income with sales and/or rentals.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Cool Amori, great subject.

I’ll tell you how I established my prices.

Pricing is always difficult. Things depend on whether you are looking at this becoming a business or if it is just a hobby.

If it is a business, then the first thing you should do (besides getting a resale licence or a business licence) is start by marking up your supplies. Usually a 100% mark up is not unreasonable. If you are looking to take business away from your local music stores (and are doing business out of your home), then you can go under the standard mark up and remain in business since your overhead will be less than if you are renting a store and have employees.

The music store has many expenses that a home based business doesn't have, so, it is possible to make money on supplies by selling them at a slight discount. Music stores hate this practice, but, so what? Competition is the basis of business.

It is completely legal to do so. You can buy and sell anything, for profit - it is the basis for any business that has as its basic motivation, making a profit.

If brand x strings cost 25.00 plus 6.00 shipping from the supplier, you will likely find them selling for approx 60.00 (perhaps more - I have noticed that sometimes certain products sell for significantly over the 100% mark up of my cost - based on the price of my supplier - since I really shop for inexpensive suppliers who deal in the same goods as the higher priced suppliers.)

A great example of this is Dominant strings, which I get fairly cheaply and which the local music store sells quite high...

If your price to the customer is 50.00 for strings, and the music store is $10.00 or 15.00 over your price, then your customers will notice that and return to you every time they need strings.

Plus $50.00 is what you put on the bill for "cost" when you make up the bill, not 25.00 or 31.00.

If you will notice, your auto mechanic does this when he charges you for parts - they are always MUCH more than the parts cost if you went out and bought them yourself. You will also notice that he doesn't like it when you bring in the parts and want the job done at a discount... he cannot stay in business by doing that because the standard mark up on parts is calculated in to the amount he has to charge in order to stay afloat. So you should refuse customers who attempt to do so also.

Then there is a labor charge, which should be based on whatever you calculate out is the hourly shop rate you need to charge based on how much money you need to make in order to stay in business. If you don't charge at least that much, then you might as well get a day job and remain in the hobby category, because your bills won't get paid.

You will need business cards. Give them out at every opportunity and give them to your customers also. Advertise, at the very least, in the yellow pages. I use standard stationary store invoices, but I have a stamp that says Tucker Violin, with the address and phone number printed on it that I use to stamp the invoices. It's a pretty simple set up yet it is effective and it works and is professional enough for what I charge.

I like to figure out things ahead of time and write them down on a basic Price Guide (two 8.5" X 11" pages) that I can print out from my computer, where the service is described briefly along with the parts, labor, and whatever else is applicable. My company name address and phone number is included at the top of the page, a business card is also attached. It all goes into a white folder and is given to the customer if I believe that they may be a return possibility.

For example this is taken from my Price Guide almost verbatim:

New pegs:

The old set of pegs is replaced with a new set of matched quality ebony pegs, and the old holes are checked for roundness. The new pegs are fitted with the appropriate taper, string holes are drilled in the appropriate location, and the ends are trimmed flush, domed and polished. The new pegs are lubricated and are guaranteed to work smoothly ........... $75.00 (this is not my price - as I don't want to get into specifics regarding pricing. whatever your parts, plus your mark up, plus your labor charge is, is what your price should be)

Often I will have two prices marked, depending on whether the customer wants custom fittings or standard fittings. Or, for example, if they want a student quality or a professional quality bridge. Then too I offer two grades of hair and two different jobs - one is where I throw the hair at the bow (for students) and if it sticks, the bow goes out the door. The other job is for professional players, fiddlers, etc.

Students who are still in school get a vastly different pricing schedule since the teachers will supply parts at cost bought with school district money. I want that work, so I charge students cost plus 10% or 15% only, plus about half the labor charge that I charge the general public. That way the school continues to either send me their repairs directly, or they give the student a paper with me listed as the repair person to bring the instrument to.

If you want to get string repair business from the music stores (who usually don't know squat about string repair, but will wing it if they have to) you will have to introduce yourself to them and sell them on the idea that they can send you their repair work and get it back with a reasonable enough charge for them to be able to add a sufficient mark up to your cost.

An example of that is the fact that my normal re hair charge would be (and this is only an example) $40.00, but they can have me come in and pick up the bow, re hair it, and deliver it back to them for $30.00. They can then charge the customer 45.00 or 50.00 for the service. For them it is much more convenient to have me do it than it is to send it to Albuquerque, wait for it, and then mark it up from that price, which now includes the wait, the hassle, plus shipping charges, which is what they used to have to do.


As an ethical consideration, don't ever try to take their customers - word gets around fast and even though I get their repair ticket along with the bows, I refuse to ever contact their customers. I have been working successfully with the two local music stores here for years now and have established a good working relationship with them. They get a certain cross section of the public that likes dealing with them, and they are not my customers...

School bows I can re hair for $20.00 since a new crap bow can be bought for not much more. At the end of the year I may get thirty to fifty bows to re hair, which I use the cheapest available white hair for. I can re hair a fiberglass bow well in about fifteen minutes so it is principally a service I provide them in order for them to continue their orchestra program. It's what I consider "beer money"

The last thing is this. Don’t worry about what the large shops are charging for a job. They have a specific reason for their pricing schedule, (some of which is overhead, and some of which is experience) and they usually have the ‘stuff’ to back up their prices. So, if something costs $750.00 at the Stradivari String Shop, and you have to charge $250 for the same job, the difference is most likely that their job is worth $750.00, while your own work probably really isn’t up to that level. You will never be satisfied if you do that type of comparison in your situation. On the other hand, if you believe that your work is worth that much - go ahead and charge it. In reality the most such knowledge should do is allow you to modify your own prices slightly towards what is “standard” in the field.

If someone really wants (or requires) a great job fitting a bridge or sound post, I will spend the afternoon getting it perfect and charge them appropriately. The cost could easily exceed ten or twenty times the amount I will charge the school system for slapping a student bridge on.

I also base my charge on the individual customer. I don’t believe that it unethical to do so. If a customer comes in (and I get a lot of these customers here in Roswell) who obviously doesn’t have much available cash, I don’t feel bad low balling a bit for them because they will come back later.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You know, Craig, this is very valuable information--I surely appreciate your counsel on this. I live in a community similar to yours, and I think virtually all of what you have said is applicable.

One thing Michael Darnton pointed out, quite some time ago, was that you can go to Jiffy-lube, or any such similar place, and ask what they charge for shop time (outside the normal oil-change work). They have unskilled labor, essentially, but you pay through the nose for anything else you want done. His point was that he charges less per shop hour than they do, so no one should complain, as his skill level is on the other end of the spectrum, and he is fast, besides.

I suppose you must have done some (at least estimated) time studies to see how long a bridge takes, etc. ? You obviously know how long a bow re-hair takes you. So it must take you about two full days to do those fifty bows, and you net $750+ --you must drink expensive beer...:-)

You have been very encouraging...keep it up.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Selling strings for 100% mark-up is going to be unrealistic in many instances. Certain mail-order houses buy strings in huge quantities and sell them for very little mark-up, essentially selling them at wholesale pricing to the general public. People don't realize just how deeply discounted strings already are! Anyone care to take a guess what the suggested retail price for Dominant strings is right now? It's over $75!!! When was the last time anyone here paid anywhere near that for Dominants? Obligato strings, for example, are sold retail by one mail-order supplier for the same price my wholesaler sells them to me. It's impossible for me to sell them at anywhere near 100% mark-up and keep the price within reason. I do research on the internet to see what the going "discount" rate for strings is and price mine slightly higher just to stay within the ball park. If customers purchase the strings from me I don't charge them for installation, as many shops often do. I keep strings in stock as a service to my customers who would like the convenience of being able to purchase them locally. For the amount of money I have tied up in my string inventory (easily over $1,000 wholesale at any given time), and the relatively low profit margin I make selling them, they're almost hardly worth stocking, but there's no way around it. They're a necessary "evil".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Another odd fact I have learned in this business, is to always charge something, even if your minimum charge is $5.00 or $10.00 for the simplest of tasks.

Oddly, no one seems to appreciate getting work done for free. The only freebies I perform are for people who have bought something (a violin, perhaps) from me already, which alters the dynamic of doing business with them.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"If customers purchase the strings from me I don't charge them for installation, as many shops often do. I keep strings in stock as a service to my customers who would like the convenience of being able to purchase them locally."

I understand.

Out of curiosity, what happens when a string breaks that you are changing? Who pays for it?

I realize that everyone does business differently, and what works for me would not be applicable in every situation.

Dominants are quite expensive at the music store here, so I under sell them - but anyone is free to buy them on line for themselves, and I don't usually include strings in my repair price anyway.

Unlike you, I charge a $10.00 fee for changing strings if they bring in the violin and the strings, and I will eat the cost of a string if I have to. If they want to put the strings on themselves, then they will assume any risk for replacing broken strings, etc...

If the customer is unaware of their options, I will and not think twice about marking up strings. It is part of providing the service I provide to mark up supplies whenever possible...

Whrere the customer gets their break with me is because I generally charge much less than some other businesses that deal specifically with string instruments, set up and repairs for involved work.

Plus, I don't like doing work for free that the customer is perfectly capable of doing him or herself. All I do in that case is assume a risk of a needless expense - and take time away from work that needs to be done. Changing strings also entails dealing with the customer, which doubles the amount of time of the job alone...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"You have been very encouraging...keep it up."

Thanks COB3, I really appreciate the feedback. I often hesitate to put such information forth, as it always seems to attract criticism of some sort. Still, I have nothing to hide and I redially admit to having to work in conditions that are very different from the conditions that I worked in living in Los Angeles. Everything must be put into perspective.

If you're ever passing through Roswell, stop by and visit the shop. Beer is available in the summer months, and after working hours, visitors are always welcome... (guffaw!)

Link to comment
Share on other sites


For the amount of money I have tied up in my string inventory (easily over $1,000 wholesale at any given time), and the relatively low profit margin I make selling them, they're almost hardly worth stocking.

I don't try to compete with the internet on strings. Not only is my wholesale near to their retail (sometimes, when my shipping and their retail sales are taken into account, I end up paying more!) but also there are far too many choices. I simply can't afford to try to keep all the brands on hand. And strings can deteriorate with age, so I don't want to warehouse them.

I do keep a few sets around, mostly Dominants. I also keep notes of what strings particular regular customers prefer, and if possible, try to have them on hand. But that's a service. I charge a few dollars more for my strings than the customer can get them for online, but nowhere near "full retail". 20% is, I feel, a fair markup; enough to pay for tying up my money but not so high that the customer (who usually has seen internet prices) feels it's unreasonable. I am also happy to use strings that the customer provides, as long as they are having other work done on the instrument. If someone just wants me to put strings on (that they brought), I'll charge something.

Lutherie really is a lot like car repair. The price per hour is comparable, and generally less than a plumber (something that's useful to point out if anyone complains about price). My local garage doesn't keep parts on hand that he can get immediately from a parts dealer in town. (I guess that's JIT -- "just in time"-- inventrory handling) .

Amori, there are a number of shops that post their repair pricing on the internet. The prices themselves vary a lot, but compare the prices for particular jobs to their 'per hour' price. This will give you some indication of how long they think a particular job should take. Then, look at your own skills. Do any of the time estimates look way out of line?

Look at your skills again, and the quality of your work. Perhaps Craig can rehair a bow in 15 minutes, while it takes you an hour and a half, but that doesn't mean you can charge 6x as much as he does. Similarly, if you have the eye and skill to fit a soundpost properly in two minutes (I've seen it done), you shouldn't be penalized for your speed. And if you can cut a magnificent bridge that brings out the best in an instrument, that bridge is worth more to the customer than an 'ordinary' bridge. The time involved is not necessarily part of the equation. (That's where the $750 cello bridge comes in; that price may be based in part on the time needed to cut a bridge of that quality, but ulitmatly they can charge that much because it IS a bridge 'of that quality').

Put your time estimates and your shop rate together to make a tentative price sheet, then modify for considerations of quality and skill. Then I suggest looking at the local competition. If your prices are wildly different, find out why. If you are high, and it doesn't seem to be a matter of doing a better job, ask yourself if you are willing to compete. If you are low, ask yourself why. Are you simply faster? If you are basing your time estimate on a few jobs that went well, have you anticipated and accounted for all the things that could reasonably go wrong, and need to be covered in a set price?

Nothing new here -- but I hope it helps.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Too bad there isn't a "flat-time" book, as there is for auto mechanics. Everyone works to a different standard, evidently.

I don't really see any way around it, though. I have trouble in this area, too. Apparently my "pricing cells" atrophied in the sixties, and I choke on today's prices, even if I am the one charging them. Gotta learn it, though. This is a survival skill, right along with bridge-fitting, etc.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For myself, violin work is changing (as my skill continues to grow )from hobby to small business (later this year...I hope). I also live in a small community that has a few music shops and one "real, professionally trained, with 25 years experience" luthier. She is pleasant and has helped my learning and I would not infringe on her business (even if I could). In other words, I won't have a local market except some of her overflow during very busy times. My business will mostly be restorations for sale over the internet. I have to determine the cost of my investment of purchases, time, and parts/fittings to establish prices for violins (Probably $500 - $3,000) and bows ($75 - $2500). I'll probably incure some ship/return loss to also figure in. The good part is that I can really take my time but, indeed time is money so that 8 hours cutting and fitting a bridge is probably not reasonable (in this price range). If, I can then compete with "the big kids" I will make a profit. If not, my children may be supprised by their entire inheritance (of many violins and hundreds of bows).

CT - I LOVE rehairing bows too


Link to comment
Share on other sites

"CT - I LOVE rehairing bows too


Probably we are the only two in the United States.

I can easily spend an entire day working on bows. I just got finished repairing a bow that had been broken off at the mortice. It was a "crap" student bow that had at one time been a decent bow - it looks like it came with a circa 1950's or possibly 1960's German student fiddle. Very decent wood, even though it was all beat up. I spent a couple of days, on and off, making the break disappear. Well, almost - if you look really close you can see where the new wood is under the finish.

Even though the repair was at school district wages, it was so damn satisfying that I realy don't care one way or the other.

In many ways this school repair job has allowed me to hone some skills I never would have had the opportunity to have developed this far otherwise.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

QUOTE: "In many ways this school repair job has allowed me to hone some skills I never would have had the opportunity to have developed this far otherwise. "

It would be awfull to to occasionally/rarely face a badly cracked or broken $1,000+ bow without having often repaired many student bows with similar breaks.

Yep, love them bows

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One of Henry Strobel's newest books, "My Real-World Violin Shop" deals with running a repair shop and he has a two tier (student-professional) list of "suggested" prices for various instrument and bow repairs. Also the book has various templates for rentals, evaluations, etc. if one is dealing with rentals. It is $29.95 and worth it. I have found it very helpful. You can find it at Henry's site.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow...been gone for a few days but this has been one of the most informative discussions about the business anywere!!

My only problem is many of you speak of competition...well..seems to this novice except for accessories and sales of equipment ...there reallly is nothing apparent for repair/revarnish etc. The yellow pages have no listings for luthiers???

What say you?

Link to comment
Share on other sites


The yellow pages have no listings for luthiers???

Check under violins or musical instruments... "luthier" is not a term that is used much. Some of the specialized independent makers/restorers/dealers don't advertise at all -- the person we go to here in town has no listing or storefront, just word of mouth advertising.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This post has garnered more interest that I would have expected, thank you for all your input. Although the subject is non-technical it is still of importance to most netters.

My perception is that, in the year or so I have been participating, the forum has changed quite a bit in terms of what netters find interesting to discuss.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Your post has helped me tremendously. Thank you for sharing this type of information (and in a way even I can understand). Are you sure you weren't a teacher in a former life?

Thanks again Craig.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, it has helped me with what to do about getting involved in repairs and their costs.

And also what to say to the numerous people I seem to get who are looking for an old violin, no cracks, good tone, well made, fully and well set up and they are looking to pay as much as £100.

The reply is not repeatable.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...