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Took on repair work for non-profit.


Nick Allen
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So I've just taken on a repair guy position for a non-profit youth orchestra. Mostly just cutting and setting soundposts, closing seams/cracks, planing fingerboards and the like.

I'd like to call my self new to violin making, but I have been repairing guitars for a number of years, and worked in a shop doing the same thing.

I've never forayed into restoration or anything like that, but I know the basics of simple repair work. I'm not familiar with varnish touch up just yet, and can't do a neck reset/pegbox graft or a soundpost patch. It's all stuff I can certainly learn to competency, but currently lack the skills to pull off well.

It's going to be paid work presumably, and there seems to be quite a bit of it coming my way.

My question is, is have I bitten off more than I can chew? I'm assuming that they are going to me because of the nature of non-profit, being always tight budgeted.

Also I have no idea what to charge for certain jobs. I know that that is a difficult subject to discuss, but any insight would be appreciated and go a long way.

Thanks.

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This sounds to me like a golden opportunity for you to get paid modestly while you gain experience and hone your repair skills. I can easily understand your trepidation snd angst before starting this job, but just do it Nick, one step at a time. I also think you will be doing them a favor by performing these repairs at a much lower price than others woukd be willing to do them for. Go for it.

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I repair student string instruments for public schools.  When I started, the school district had a large backlog of instruments needing repairs, but could not afford the prices of violin shops in the area (along the lines of kcstrings that Mat sent).  My prices are about the same as Mat's, except for removing and closing violin tops for major crack repair and cleating ($80 for violins).  String prices are beyond my control, but schools can get them for cheaper if they take the time.  Some student instruments are well made, e.g., the old German ones that the district has had for years --- these are a pleasure to repair "by the book", so to speak (e.g., book by Weisshar and Shipman, Strad's Best of Trade Secrets,websites such as Triangle Strings).  Then there are the new, lacquered, cheap instruments, with pegs unaligned, painted fingerboards, splintery wood, sounding like tin cans.   I grit my teeth and do the best I can for the sake of the kids.  The danger for you is developing bad habits and repair short-cuts because doing it "by the book" will take you too much time that your boss (or you) can't afford.  You can find repair techniques on this Pegbox forum, especially if you can post photos of the problem.  Best wishes, good luck, and welcome to the trenches!

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It's going to be paid work presumably, and there seems to be quite a bit of it coming my way.

My question is, is have I bitten off more than I can chew? I'm assuming that they are going to me because of the nature of non-profit, being always tight budgeted.

 

Bitten off more than you can chew?

Most likely not - in particular, with the many school district repairs coming your way.

And, with someone fairly well business minded or oriented, make up a form that the people that are using you (clients) need to fill out and sign being very specific - also today, when every phone is also a digital camera, take some photographs of the instrument that can be used to back up any claims that you might want to make regarding the repair(s) under consideration.

Not a very large effort needs to be taken in this regard. But photos ALWAYS help.

I have, upon rare occasion, run into some unbelievable problem customers, individuals mostly - but rarely are there going to be problems with properly done school instrument repairs.

In particular, with the teachers that simply want the instruments put back in proper working order.

 

I'd say that the most common problem dealing with used public or used school instruments, has to do with the "looks" or with the finish on the violins (and cellos etc.) where various scratches and disfigurements have accumulated that don't necessarily effect the play-ability of the instruments.

 

Many times there are initials or other intentional marks put on the instruments. Then there are the rough handling problems common to many years of use, by various different students.

 

Teachers seem to understand that 'aesthetic' concerns are really of a secondary consideration when it comes to play-ability concerns and issues.

After all - most parents with a child starting out in the "strings program" buy something that is, first off, affordable - so - when working on a violin that was in the $100 - to - lets say, $300 dollar range new, (for a violin, case and bow) there isn't going to be a healthy margin for in there for any costly repairs.

 And such merchandise is very commonplace.

Work on them, but keep in mind that there's no way to make a sows ear into a silk purse with repairs.

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Thanks for all of the wonderful advise guys. I truly truly appreciate all of your wisdom.

My GF got me thinking about something. I'm planning on going to flea markets and Craigslist and the like looking for old crappy German/Eastern European turn of the century fiddles that can be had for virtually nothing and essentially "flipping" them. If I encounter a school violin that is FUBAR, I may offer to not repair the school instrument and buy it a few months of life but instead, offer these flipped violins for sale at a very fair price, that is, something comparable to the cost of repairs of the school instrument.

Does that sound ludicrous? Or could it possibly be something that can work for both parties?

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Does that sound ludicrous? Or could it possibly be something that can work for both parties?

 

Anything CAN work.

 

Usually what is needed is simply to find fiddles that play well, and look presentable.

 

If you've followed Maestronet for long - you will have recognized that decent fiddles can come from virtually anywhere, and the various posters may post anything - any quality violin - with many questions about worth and value. And some violins are set up to many 'normal' to 'very odd' standards as well, you just have to have enough experience to determine by looking and playing them what is what.

 

Experience in this area is not really all that widespread.  Most of the general public has no idea really, what to look for. (and why)

 

I'd suggest going to a reputable dealer, and looking over their stock of violins and becoming familiar with the offerings and the various prices. It doesn't take long to recognize higher quality - in both the cheaper and more expensive instruments

 

What good is, and what crummy and cheap is, what one may do to a violin for profit - and what you can ask for any violin - which I always determine by playing, looking, and listening...

IF you can take an decent old fiddle and give it a great tone then - and set up the s.p. and the bridge and strings correctly, what more could you ask for?

Many of these quality properties of instruments can be found by merely looking.

Me - well, I've always got to play it, also.

That's my final evaluation. I've seen too many great sounding violins that have had an amateur or even a rough appearance.

 

So - I am always more interested in the tone and playability than anything else.

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 I've seen too many great sounding violins that have had an amateur or even a rough appearance.

 

So - I am always more interested in the tone and playability than anything else.

 

And playability is my main selling point.

 

The makers name is almost coincidental.

Only for collect-ability's sake does the name make much of a difference to me.

Certain names will sell for much more cash - almost entirely independent of the tone/plabability.

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Thanks for all of the wonderful advise guys. I truly truly appreciate all of your wisdom.

My GF got me thinking about something. I'm planning on going to flea markets and Craigslist and the like looking for old crappy German/Eastern European turn of the century fiddles that can be had for virtually nothing and essentially "flipping" them. If I encounter a school violin that is FUBAR, I may offer to not repair the school instrument and buy it a few months of life but instead, offer these flipped violins for sale at a very fair price, that is, something comparable to the cost of repairs of the school instrument.

Does that sound ludicrous? Or could it possibly be something that can work for both parties?

 

None of it sounds ludicrous to me, but how will it sound to a high-school administrator (you'll probably be dealing with the same sort of mentality)?  They may class you with calling the plumber, or the air-conditioning guy.  You're just starting this, and if you have "ideas", it could frighten them, and make them decide that you are either crooked or "attitudinal".  Wait until you've been doing this for a year or so, and know what you are dealing with, before you innovate anything.  :)

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Thanks for all of the wonderful advise guys. I truly truly appreciate all of your wisdom.

My GF got me thinking about something. I'm planning on going to flea markets and Craigslist and the like looking for old crappy German/Eastern European turn of the century fiddles that can be had for virtually nothing and essentially "flipping" them. If I encounter a school violin that is FUBAR, I may offer to not repair the school instrument and buy it a few months of life but instead, offer these flipped violins for sale at a very fair price, that is, something comparable to the cost of repairs of the school instrument.

Does that sound ludicrous? Or could it possibly be something that can work for both parties?

 

I've got nothing against GFs but sometimes they seem to try to test us...

 

"old crappy German/Eastern European turn of the century fiddles that can be had for virtually nothing"

 

How bad do you imagine the school instruments are, and how easy do you think it would be to get the "old crappy" fiddles you describe to approach them, if it is even possible?  You wouldn't be working on crap -- quality is a concern to school districts and they shop carefully and bidders compete.  And don't you forget to do decent work.  I never heard of anybody "flipping" violins.  Just late night TV shows with suckers trying to flip houses to other suckers.

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I have been working on student, school, and non-profit bows for a few years. 

 

Communication is key. Your contact may be a string player, it may be a wind player, it may be someone who is not a musician, and/or they may have multiple people they need to coordinate repairs and repair budgets with who fall into any of those categories. Being able to explain what you can do for them in terms that everyone will understand is important. Including a brief description of each repair as well as common reasons for those repairs along with my price list was a large part of that.

 

What you are repairing: Depending on the age, size, budget, and target student for the program, this can vary sometimes quite dramatically. Many new programs aimed at beginning students are purchasing violin outfits often from China. If they are part of a school board or affiliated with an educational institution, a registered non-profit, or a large organization, they likely are seeing much better pricing than you would walking in off the street to a shop. Economy of scale. At that point, the whole outfit of violin, bow, case, shoulder rest, rosin, etc. will have a replacement cost that whoever looks after the budget will be very much aware of. If an outfit costs $100 and an instrument needs $101 in repairs, they are replacing instead of repairing. Sometimes that number is even lower than replacement cost, as $80 in repair gets you a repaired violin, but $20 more gets you another bow, case, shoulder rest, and rosin, most of which would cost that much or more separately. The equation shifts a bit if they have more expensive instruments, but almost every decision is a budget decision first. 

 

When budget enters the equation, there are likely some repairs that you are not going to perform as a result. You might stop at anything that requires taking the top off, you might do exclusively bridges, pegs, nuts, and open seams, or you might have a different set of criteria. After I had developed a rapport with a music program I was working with, I occasionally took on interesting repairs that would usually be cost prohibitive for them to have repaired, but things that do not come through my workshop very often. Head splines where in that category for a while. I had studied them and completed two with a teacher but wanted to do a few more before I offered that service on professional bows, so I did a couple for a school which helped me feel confident in them. The school had bows repaired they were going to replace, and I was paid (less than I now charge to professional clients) to practice a repair. 

 

As far as biting off more than you can chew, this can absolutely snowball quickly. Especially if you start doing work they like at prices they like, and there are other similar programs in your area. While they may have a backlog of instruments in need of repair, you also need to set realistic expectations with them. Chances are they have some instruments that are a higher priority than others to be repaired which you can get to first, and if they have been just collecting an instrument graveyard for years now, they have made it work without those instruments this long so another week isn't going to kill them. Repair work tends to come in waves, so be prepared for a big dump at the end of their season that they will expect ready to go for the beginning of their next season, but also smaller ones before and after any travelling they do, new terms, when they reinventory instruments, when their budget for the next year starts, holidays/school breaks, etc. If you are just one guy and you have a day job doing something else or another reason for limited time in your workshop, be up front with them. Saying "No, I cannot have 50 violins ready to go for next month, but I can have xx ready" and delivering on that is far better business than saying you can do it and not being able to follow through, or over working yourself and setting the precedent that that type of work load is something you are capable and comfortable with. 

 

I agree that 

 

 

old crappy German/Eastern European turn of the century fiddles that can be had for virtually nothing and essentially "flipping" them.

 

is horrible marketing, but 

 

If I encounter a school violin that is FUBAR, I may offer to not repair the school instrument and buy it a few months of life but instead, offer these flipped violins for sale at a very fair price, that is, something comparable to the cost of repairs of the school instrument.

 

could be a mutually beneficial arrangement, but may not be financially viable. If said violin needs a new setup of adjusting/replacing the pegs, nut, bridge, and soundpost as well as a set of strings, what will that amount of materials and labour cost you? Chances are the bow (if there is one) will also require at least a rehair, and if there is or is not a case, shoulder rest, rosin, those are all the things they expect in a violin outfit. The numbers might work out, but that depends on the cost of what they typically put in the hands of their students. 

 

This can be great for them while also helping you develop your knowledge, skills, confidence, speed, and business, or it can bury you in a pile of student violins you would rather light on fire than spend another minute working on. Good communication is key, and then see where that takes you. 

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So I've just taken on a repair guy position for a non-profit youth orchestra. Mostly just cutting and setting soundposts, closing seams/cracks, planing fingerboards and the like.

I'd like to call my self new to violin making, but I have been repairing guitars for a number of years, and worked in a shop doing the same thing.

I've never forayed into restoration or anything like that, but I know the basics of simple repair work. I'm not familiar with varnish touch up just yet, and can't do a neck reset/pegbox graft or a soundpost patch. It's all stuff I can certainly learn to competency, but currently lack the skills to pull off well.

It's going to be paid work presumably, and there seems to be quite a bit of it coming my way.

My question is, is have I bitten off more than I can chew? I'm assuming that they are going to me because of the nature of non-profit, being always tight budgeted.

Also I have no idea what to charge for certain jobs. I know that that is a difficult subject to discuss, but any insight would be appreciated and go a long way.

Thanks.

 

Just want to say : Mad respect no matter what the outcome is, I do the same for young guitar players locally, may all  the karma in the universe come your way

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Thanks for all of the wonderful advise guys. I truly truly appreciate all of your wisdom.

My GF got me thinking about something. I'm planning on going to flea markets and Craigslist and the like looking for old crappy German/Eastern European turn of the century fiddles that can be had for virtually nothing and essentially "flipping" them. If I encounter a school violin that is FUBAR, I may offer to not repair the school instrument and buy it a few months of life but instead, offer these flipped violins for sale at a very fair price, that is, something comparable to the cost of repairs of the school instrument.

Does that sound ludicrous? Or could it possibly be something that can work for both parties?

I have found good results with trolling all the antique stores and flea markets...with best luck in antique shops.  Often I find what appear to be junk but are in fact essentially sound dutzendarbeit  from the 17 & 1800's... Once well repaired and adjusted, these sell nicely with the selling point being the age and the potential for a good story to go with it.... and BTW, I never pay what is asked ... usually I can bargain the cost down to half of what is asked.... some of these Bohemian violins can be had for 25- 50$

 

Good luck! ... Mat

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Wait until you've been doing this for a year or so, and know what you are dealing with, before you innovate anything.  :)

Doesn't hurt to accumulate a small fleet of fixed-up fiddles ready to go, that you won't lose sleep over loaning out when customers bring their instruments in for fixing.

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