By the hour or the job?


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I was curious how the fine folks here generally charge for their repair/restoration work.

We have a set hourly charge, but it seems that it is rarely applied, and the charge tends to be for the job.

For example, there is a flat fee for removing a violin top, wether it takes 5 minutes or an hour. (You should see what we charge to put it back on! ;) )

I suppose that we actually do a combination of the two in some form.

Do others run a strictly by the hour fee structure or a strictly by the job fee structure?

Just curious. Thanks.

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I dunno if I'm one of "the fine folks", but I charge by hour. The less time I have to spend, the better for the customer.

We usually agree on a max price, and very often I'm able to deliver for a somewhat lower sum. That makes happy customers!

Using a standard price for a job and then finish it on less hours than apropriate for that price, would be unfair to the customer, in my opinion. And bad for my income, if it takes more time than expected.

But some kind of 'price list' laying around for standard operations, is fine for making a good estimation.

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I prefer to be charged "by the job". Cheaper.

Carl.. Depends on who is doing the charging, I think.

I use both methods, based on the same hourly scale. Clients tend to like a firm idea of what the maintenance costs will be... therefore I have set charges for things like bridges, fingerboard planing, posts, etc.

Then I have "guideline charges" which I use as "targets" for things like neck-sets, grafts, etc. (which sometimes turn out not to be as straight forward as expected).

When it comes to any really "in depth" restoration/repair, the "set" charges are useful numbers to use for a general estimate, but tend not to reflect the actual the truth in the end... so my estimate is usually a range and the actual charge based in terms of rate per hour.

Insurance clams are often an exception to this... many companies like to define their liability on the spot. So be it.

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Carl.. Depends on who is doing the charging, I think.

I use both methods, based on the same hourly scale. Clients tend to like a firm idea of what the end not to reflect the actual the truth in the end... so my estimate is usually a range and the actual charge based in terms of rate per hour.

Insurance clams are often an exception to this... many companies like to define their liability on the spot. So be it.

Indeed it does. Always been an admirer of your fine wit.

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I use fixed charges for bridges, posts, seams, bow rehairs, wire windings, thumbgrips, pegs, nuts, saddles, and MANY others. On less well defined repairs like neck resets, cracks, recambering, regraduation, etc., I usually give the client a range of where I believe the actual cost will end up. Nine out of ten times I stay within the parameters. If the cost exceeds the estimate I'll call the client and explain what extra work was unearthed during the repair. For example; if the estimate was for top removal and a crack repair, and a split endblock is discovered it's time to start dialing.

Barry

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In general, fixed rates are based on a predictable time for a simple job at a standard rate, i. e. fixed rates are derived from hourly rates. More complex work is often less predictable. Free services are a more complex economic consideration.

Addie, not a luthier

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I use fixed charges for bridges, posts, seams, bow rehairs, wire windings, thumbgrips, pegs, nuts, saddles, and MANY others...

I also have standard fixed charges for things like these that I routinely do. For more complicated jobs, I have several possible systems:

1. If I am asked to quote a price for the job, I break it down into separate operations (for example on a rib repair it be something like: remove top, remove lower block, remove rib, remove linings from rib, make rib counter form, etc). Then I estimate how long each operation should take, total up the time and multiply by an hourly rate to provide the customer with a price for the job. I charge the quoted price, no matter how long the job actually ends up taking. I keep track of the time each operation takes and compare that with my time estimate.

2. If it's something that I have no idea how long it might take because it's so unusual, I just charge an hourly rate. I don't charge for time that I spend researching new (to me) techniques, practicing them on pieces of scrap wood, etc., because I figure that the customer comes to me assuming that I already know what I'm doing and should not be paying me for the time I spend figuring out something new.

Of the two, I much prefer the first system, because then I can take as much time as I find necessary to do a good job without worrying about running up the clock on the customer's time.

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As a consumer of service rather than a provider I like to know the person I'm dealing with or at least the person's reputation. If I like that then I'll prefer going by the hourly rate, trusting the luthier not to gouge me. My automobile repair shop has fixed charges for everything and most of the time they take less time than the fixed xharge was based on. I often feel like I'm being overcharged when a repair that is charged at $200 for labor takes less than an hour.

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Auto repair shops have volumes and volumes of price guides for repairs. You basically lookup the make, model, year and repair, and it tells you how many hours. Multiply that by your hourly rate, and you have your fixed rate.

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I put myself through college fixing cars, and back then, the flat-rate book times were based on actual time and motion studies of doing a job "by the book", but any decent mechanic could beat "book" times by the judicious use of shortcuts (and hard work). Bear in mind, though, that once we were paid for a job, we "ate" any comebacks on our own time - for free. Also, we didn't get paid extra for jobs that had snags and took longer than they should. I still remember a colleague who pinched a main wiring harness and burned it out on an otherwise simple job. Burned up over a day replacing it (this was in the late 1960s).

Currently, I have fixed prices for common services based on my experience, with an eye to what the competition charges, as well. On more complex jobs, I give a firm estimate up front, along with caveats about things I might discover. I don't do anything without written approval from the customer as to scope of work and price. Best to have a clear understanding up front.

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the problem with true hourly rate is it rewards lazy slow workers(like me) and penalizes fast efficient workers, plus its a pain in the xxx to keep track of time, do you charge for breaks, what if you screw up and have to do something over, do you charge hours for that, i prefer to set job price based on a reasonable time an average worker would take, then i can be lazy and take three hours to fit a bridge and only charge the customer for one hour......

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I've been pricing custom Ironwork for some time...IF the price structure is honest, it works out either way.Hourly or bid. I will try to give a "not to exceed" number as well, hoping that I can deliver at a lower cost. What's nice is to have a list of job times for cross reference(the Book)in order to make sure your getting your hourly, finding realistic times ....including break time ,but not for mistakes...I almost always add a 10% profit margin,It might sound like greed but it's very important for small shops....you need a vacation to...and cash for unseen expenses, both financial and time,remember that the customer is not merely getting a new sound post...service, experience, expertize,all count for something. Also on any job that has more than a few components, I do as complete breakdown as possible....never give a price right away,always do the math...It'll save your @**.

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the problem with true hourly rate is it rewards lazy slow workers(like me) and penalizes fast efficient workers.....

Yes, I suppose it could... but the real proof is in the standards one sets for the work and the setting. In other words, if working for someone else, the business owner has a say in setting the standards... If you're working for yourself, you do.

For me, ethics are a key here... and really I can't speak for others, only myself. Organized and ethical methodology has to be employed to the planning of the work and communication with the client.

I do know the business pretty well, though. Some shops work, or have worked, on strict "units". So and so many for a bridge, such and such for a bass bar, so and so much for a sp patch. These units are usually based on time averages. The passing of the work left to the person in charge of the shop. Others work differently, but almost any business has to have some focus on costs, quality and competition. No one I know uses a completely "stiff" set of charges for complicated jobs, however.

Personally, I'm very fast at some things, not on others. Most of the standard stuff is really a no-brainer. I can chug along with my set rate doing fingerboards, fingerboard dressings, bridges, pegs and posts... and don't bother even looking at the clock. At the end of the day, I've accomplished about what I expected to... more or less... and my clients pay exactly what I've estimated for those kind of jobs.

Other things, I'm very slow about... however the speed may have something to do with my expectations for the outcome. If I were willing to squint a little, I'm sure I'd actually be quite fast. :) In other words, I develop a system, or method, that will give me the results I'm happy with, and my clients come to me (I think) 'cause that know to expect a high standard... and are willing to pay for it.

For example, when I approach an old, previously repaired crack... or a series of such cracks, I know about what to expect.. but it's not a no-brainer. Until the piece is thoroughly cleaned and the old retouch removed in the areas needing to be reworked, I can't really tell how much time per cm the job will take. Some things you can "see" quite clearly getting the gunk off and opening the fiddle, others you really can't. What previous crap is in the crack? How much wood has been compressed. Has the crack been scraped? How much? What's under that opaque barn paint? Is the ground gone? Intact? To accomplish what I feel is an acceptable outcome, is that crack going to run $100 a cm? $200? $50? Was the top pried off with a spoon the last time it was removed? How many splinters need to be inlayed in order to revive the gluing surface? I'm not looking for "well, it's better than it was" as a result.

Working with an estimate range, once the job progresses to the point that things are more certain, the client can be consulted. Sometimes there is a ceiling to the budget. If there is, there may be certain aspects of the job that are left for a later date. This decision has to be a mutual one, however... ethically based and reasonably structured. It may be the client's instrument, but it's my reputation.

I believe ethics also have to be employed when considering the overall "picture" as well. Recommending a $30K job for a $20K violin isn't something I'd do. I've seen it mentioned on the board that the value of the instrument vs the cost of the repair isn't as critical... if the player loves the fiddle... but for me, the other side of that statement is; I don't have to be the person who does that restoration.

Anyway, I'm sure others out there deal with these issues in varied ways, but it's probably all fine as long as the client is aware of the methodology.

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Great answers! It seems that the hourly fee is often used as a guideline, and most jobs tend to be a known quantity, so the price can be set.

However, there are some repairs that are priced well over the actual time it takes.

I figure that this is because one has to factor in the time and experience that one has put in in order to be able to perform the job professionally.

For example: A violin with a bass bar crack, or replacing a bass bar (for whatever reason). This is a job that would have easily taken me many hours in the past, but that I can now

complete in an hour or two. If I were to charge by the hour, the fee would be far below what this kind of job (I feel) would merit.

If I charge 500$ (random price) for a new bass bar, but it only takes me one hour, is this fair, considering all the years it has taken me to be able to do it in an hour?

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If I charge 500$ (random price) for a new bass bar, but it only takes me one hour, is this fair, considering all the years it has taken me to be able to do it in an hour?

I think so. Something like that they are paying you to do a good job, that only comes with experience. Experience is expensive.

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In my opinion the fee for service should be similar if by the hour or by the job. As a luthier one should know their capabilities then base their fee on that capability it would include personal knowledge of how long a job takes them (generally), he or she would know the quality of their work and could derive a fair price for that quality (hence a flat rate and it should be similar to the hourly price)

I read a book by a well known Luthier in it he said the first rule is 'Do no Harm' also stated in the afore mentioned book 'do not learn your trade on a customers instrument' To justify his statements he suggested 'first go out and acquire damaged instruments and bows and Practice, Practice, Practice'. When your teacher or Mentor says you are ready for a particular type of service then proceed to other peoples instruments and always do your best job. If you work on a so called cheap instrument treat it as if it was a concert instrument, the owner may not be able to afford anything else so it is precious to them.

The idea that your repair effort is the same quality or value as mine would be doubtful so would telling someone else what to charge for their work without experiencing it first hand. Also learned from a master 'repairs are as vital to the instrument as building it' adding or removing wood will affect the sound, remember "A Job Worth Doing is Worth Doing Well" the price of that is not measured in dollars. I recommend charging what you believe your worth.

On the other hand if you get no clients perhaps you value your work to high? (just kidding)

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Reminds me of a saying I've heard from blacksmiths.

There are two ways a blacksmith can go to Hell. One is to charge too much. The other is to charge too little.

I'm in the midst of bushing a pegbox for a customer. It was a mess, that had been previously "repaired." In reaming the peghole, I discovered, with the edge of my reamer, a nail that had been driven in down vertically through the pegbox wall in an attempt to hold the crack together. I still can't see evidence of the nail from the outside, but it is a bit of a mess and I don't want to disturb any more than I need to. Repairing repairs is hard-to-predict work. I wasn't using my good reamer for this job -- I'm at least that smart -- but my not-good reamer is now a little less good. Do I get to charge the customer extra for that loss? No, at least not directly. But do I account for it overall in my pricing scheme? Yes. Tools, inventory, loss, damage, training all gets accounted for in the overall fiscal scheme. It has to.

For the record, most of my jobs are billed by the job, based on how long it typically takes me to do that job. ;)

Cheers,

Ken

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If I charge 500$ (random price) for a new bass bar, but it only takes me one hour, is this fair, considering all the years it has taken me to be able to do it in an hour?

I attended a GAL meeting in Tacoma,WA, some years ago, and Frank Ford gave a class/demonstration on re-fretting a guitar. The subject was a small body Guild acoustic. The class was a 1 hr block of time. He demonstrated and discussed, and by the end of the hour, the guitar was playing. That would "normally" be a 2-2.5hr job. In the end, he posed the question of what to charge. Do you charge by time, or is the fact that you can do that $225 job in 1 hr your profit gained by experience? He charged that repair by a set fee.

Now, I can't fit a bass bar in 15 minutes, as some on this forum have claimed to be able to do, but some go quickly, some are a bitch. I charge bars by a set fee. A new set of pegs (no bushings), bridges, post, plane fb, and such, I charge by a set fee. When I have to open something up for a repair that is more involved, I give a range to start, and give something more solid after the instrument is open. Nothing like opening a violin up and finding what glue(s) the prior repairer(s) used!

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Now, I can't fit a bass bar in 15 minutes, as some on this forum have claimed to be able to do, but some go quickly, some are a bitch.

You're not alone. While I've watched a few who were lightening fast, I can't do it anywhere near that quickly either.... and bars go much more slowly for me if I'm dealing with previous repair issues/patches and the like (and fitting them in a cast, which I often do).

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