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kevin Prestwich

Making vs Repairs vs Sales

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This question was sparked by a comment made by Mr. Burgess in the recent "Beginning Luthier" thread: How much time do you spend building new instruments vs doing repairs and/or sales? Which activity actually pays the bills and which of these activities do you like doing the most?

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I like making instruments a lot, but probably because I don't get to do it very often.  If I were making more, I might crave doing more repairs.  Right now the main income comes from repair work.  I suspect that will shift to sales more and more as time goes on.  My business is still in the new phase and probably will be for a couple of years still, so things are in flux.  

 

I worked for someone else for a number of years before starting my own shop.  Even though I knew there would be a lot to do in starting a new business, when I actually got there it surprised me on how much time I actually spent away from the bench.  Stupid things like dealing with the bank when something doesn't work with accepting credit card payments or sitting on the phone and ordering inventory or figuring out legal bs with the lawyer.  Also, a lot to gather and set up when starting something new.  Often when I get to doing something that I've done a bunch of times previously to owning a business, I realize I don't have some sort of jig or special tool that the shop I worked for already had in place.  Then I spend time making something or hunting down a special tool.  Over time those instances become less frequent.  

 

When you are the only one around, you have to wear so many hats.  It was definitely easier when I only had to focus on restoration, but I do enjoy doing my own thing too.  

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I spend the vast majority of my time making. I would estimate 95% of my income comes from the sale of my own instruments. I do spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with some of the same details that Matthew mentioned, ordering supplies, emailing or meeting with customers, taxes, paying bills, shipping instruments.

I'm very fortunate. I've always worked for myself at least part time, even when I worked at a big shop doing restoration. I've been on my own as a full-time maker since 2008. When I transitioned to my own business full-time I did a few restoration jobs now and then to get some cash flow, but that has ebbed over time.

Michael

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100% making, I don´t miss the 28 years I spend restoring, even if , at that time I´d loved it. It´s a new life, much less stressful, much less responsibility and pressure. If you do a mistake (after 40 years, it does not happened) you just throw it away and make a new piece, restoring you don´t have the right to be wrong!

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Let me give a different perspective.

A few years ago, I was making an instrument. I work alone, and I kept being distracted by all the little business details Matt mentioned. For me, being easily distracted is a sign that I'm not focused. I also had a moderately tricky repair on the bench, and I wasn't sure how I was going to approach it.  Then one morning, I woke early with a brainstorm on how to tackle the repair, and I rushed down to the workshop. Later in the day, I realized I had missed lunch. I had not been so excited to go to work in a long time. Why? Because of the challenge of figuring it out. Every repair, and especially every restoration, is different. It's always a juggling act. I like puzzles. 

To me, new making seems like doing the same thing over and over. Yes, each time I learn something (and I certainly know I have a lot of room for improvement). And yes, it's satisfying to see a finished instrument and think "I made that"-- though I almost always seem to see the flaws more than the achievement. Maybe that's part of it, but somehow, I just don't get the satisfaction from new making as I get from figuring out a tricky repair problem and resurrecting an instrument. 

When I realized that, I decided to specialize in repairs and restoration. And the funny thing is, that decision also freed my making. Now that it's a secondary activity, it's more fun, and I feel more free to experiment.  I may never be particularly well-known (an interesting thing about restoration is that, if you do it well, nobody sees what you've done), but that's okay.

Your milage may vary. I suspect it's more a matter of one's personality than anything else. I like puzzles, I dislike routine.  Of course, I detest paperwork, so I'd probably do better working for someone than trying to run my own business, but that's a different topic. 

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I split time between running a small string shop for someone else 3 days a week, and making instruments in my own shop 2 days. There's not much pressure to crank out violins at home, so I can take my time and relax. That is makes it more fun for me than time under a time constraint.

As head of the string shop the experience is as Matthew described. I do setup and repairs, conduct showings, source product, manage stock etc... It gets pretty overwhelming. 40%-50% of my time is bench time, sometimes less. At a previous shop we did a time study and found that luthiers without administrative duties had about 70% bench time, and the rest is miscellaneous things like sharpening, customer consults etc... That's important to keep in mind when setting a shop rate. It helps make sure you value your time properly, and bill a reasonable rate. When you factor in the cost of space, and time lost to non-billable tasks it's probably 2-3 times the hourly wage you want assuming you're going to want a small amount to reinvest into the shop. I. The home shop there are fewer admin tasks, but I do a lot more study and outreach to make sure I'm still growing professionally and not working in a bubble.

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Interesting, Claire!

And Lurker, you're going to have to let us know where you're at eventually. I respect that you're wary of an atmosphere of badmouthing colleagues; believe me.... I live hip-deep in your world. Sometimes the tide brings it up to nipple-depth; hell. I'd be interested to know more of what your balance means by knowing what context you're balancing it in.

I actually refused repair and setup work the last few months. I'm not yet sure if I regret it. But my shop is twenty feet off the back of the house; I can't go HOME from work if I want to; my work day is broken up by kids going to preschool and dog feeding and lawn mowing; I chew off an instrument and a half a month lately to try and catch back up from going off on my own;

and the prospect of giving some of my seven-day week over to the telescoping, exponentially expanding problems of a well-meaning neighbor's attic violin repair made my blood run cold. I won't say my wife approved of the refusal :P :P

If I ever see a beautiful instrument worthy of work I would take on, I think that Noykos' shop hour is the best deal in the country for the work that he is wont to do, and I'll point the client his way and go back to cleaning the cat litter!

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WW is the same way. Recently he did a gamba bridge for a friend who teaches at the university but otherwise no repairs, setup stuff, etc. He feels he did his time with that crap. Plus he would rather not throw up in his mouth when he sees the work certain other localish people do and are paid for and considered brilliant professionals for. He knows...but would rather not see it.

I can say I approve, because most people who want to have their instrument worked over do not imagine they should pay much for it. Haggling over price is not awesome, and without a storefront that's what it is. I got the stinkeye for months from someone he did an open seam and crack repair for as a favor a couple years ago. The price was a third of what it would be in a professional shop, and the person was still feeling ripped off somehow. No thanks.

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..... when he sees the work certain other localish people do and are paid for and considered brilliant professionals for. He knows...but would rather not see it.

I can say I approve, because most people who want to have their instrument worked over do not imagine they should pay much for it. Haggling over price is not awesome, and without a storefront that's what it is. I got the stinkeye for months from someone he did an open seam and crack repair for a couple years ago. And the price was a third of what it would be in a shop. No thanks.

If the others repair work is that bad he could show the customers who bring you the work the differences of ones work vs your work.  If he's convincing enough that would be better for you.  Why have inferior work done?  Is it because the workers know they can get away with it or is it that they don't know any better?

 

  And possibly, if I were in Jacoby's shoes, I would see about the "attic violin".   May need that one for something to do in the future.

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It's because they have no idea and probably don't care. Such individuals can still show up at Winfield as rock star luthiers. I imagine you have been to Winfield, maybe you just were there recently. I missed it but I know it's a lot of fun.

Duke, imagine if someone was doing $200+ bridges at a table at Winfield. Do you think that would go over well, or that any amount of precious time spent explaining would help with that? I think probably not.

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You lost me with Winfield.  It's a little early in the game for me to comment about the price of bridges.  But I do have a handful of blanks I could start cutting for my personal builds-  I can't or shouldn't be thinking 200.00+ while doing these but I'll keep it mind.  My first thought is anyone who charges that much doesn't need or want the work, he/she is not hungry enough.  That's what I think today, tommorrow is another day.

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It's just an example...Winfield? Walnut Valley? National fiddling and picking championships? I thought you lived around here. Maybe there's another Kaw Valley. Point being, even at the relatively high level of playing and competition there it's not exactly the place to pull out professional luthiery. Most of the players, even if they're really talented, would feel a bad rehair had been done if the right amount of bow hair were used, for another example. It's what they're used to. I heard the stories about the local work that made its way into the shop where my husband learned.

It is not very fun for me to admit that there isn't anywhere around here for repair/restoration skills to pay off. There is already a VSA hors concours luthier in the area, and although he keeps a low profile, there is no way those few with a great instrument wouldn't know about him (and my husband would send such work to him anyway if someone didn't know of him).

So 100% making. It's difficult...very...but when time is the problem (and there's no storefront) repairs are somewhat going to be a waste of time.

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I see now, Winfield Ks- Walnut Valley.  The Walnut is a river down there.  I did live in Wichita in the late 60's as a little kid but if I went to Winfield I wouldn't of known it back then.  I'm not too fond of fiddling.  Sorry goes out to whomever.  I came to the violin from the classical guitar/ neo classical electric guitar route.  

  If you guys can make it where you're at now as makers and repairers you may as well stay there.  I know you're due soon so I don't mean to make you feel uneasy or anything like that but I was traversing the back roads of Lawrence while they were all still gravel.  Depending on your age, which is none of my business,  I was doing so while you were in grade, junior or high school, assuming you were there then.  Not that means anything special because Mr. Richwine could say the same thing to me with the same meaning. 

  When not pressed for time a safe route to where you're at from where I'm at would be 32 w to 24w to 59 south.  I may as well hunt up my kids/grandkids while I'm doing that- it's a trip I should make weekly but I don't for some reason or another.  Yes, they are close to where you are at NT.

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Due? Congrats? I must have missed posts!  :)
 

So 100% making. It's difficult...very...but when time is the problem (and there's no storefront) repairs are somewhat going to be a waste of time.


Come check out our neck of the woods. I am sure there is potential...however, I could be wrong. I can't tell quite why we don't have more violin stuff happening...
 
I was killing some time surfing yesterday...and discovered that there's a guitar making course you can take out in the middle of nowhere!  Who knew?  I can't get bow rehaired, but I could learn to make a guitar!

http://www.timelessinstruments.com/index.html

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Thanks Rue. I'm officially one week past the due date today. Haven't mentioned it much. But I'll probably disappear soon to nurse 22 hours a day and revel in the other joys of new motherhood. Meanwhile I'm thinking about other stuff while I still can. :)

Yeah...we need to move. That's certain. I doubt I could get through the winters any further north as I'm extremely wimpy and whiny about cold temperatures. I really don't know how you do it. There are plenty of areas that could use a good luthier I'm sure but it's hard to identify the best locales without significant time/money spent on recon. Two commodities in short supply--particularly considering the new circumstances...not that I'm complaining. Newborns are fun. Ok actually they aren't. But babies are pretty great. Until they are toddlers (but that's a long way off)...anyway, duke is right, might as well stay here...

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Ah!  A Blessed Event any second now! How exciting!  If you remember, between baby bonding and maintenance moments...let us know if you had a he or a she! :)

 

As far as our cold goes...it's a dry cold...

 

We make jokes...but it's true...an extreme dry cold is easier to take than a moderate wet cold.  I was always chilled in Ontario.  Here I'm fine.  Well, unless I'm frozen solid.

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