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Acquiring New Repair Projects


NCLuthierWyatt
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Hope everyone is staying safe and keeping busy. With the abundance of free time due to the corona virus lock down, I've acquired a few new repair projects. The question is, with the hyper competitive bidding of sites like ebay, the high fees on many instrument auction houses, and the endless sifting through listings of garbage German or Chinese factory instruments. How do most individual luthiers or shops go about acquiring "profitable" repair projects? I'm sure having a store front and the occasional trade in provides some source of decent instruments in need of some TLC. Any personal stories of interesting instrument acquisitions are welcome, I'm aware most traders or luthiers are not keen on idea of sharing their mystical instrument source:lol:

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You can buy things at many places to restore, but to have something which you can later make some money on is not such an easy prospect, even more so if we are talking about low/moderate value instruments.
The hardest part will be to sell them at something close to a fair retail price for their appropriate condition, because if you don't have a retail store, you are left selling them at the same sort of places you are purchasing. Places where people are looking for bargains, or not willing to risk much if buying unseen.

Anything where you have to redo old repairs is going to take much longer, and even if the repairs turn out OK, the value of the finished instrument will still be limited. So really, you need to buy the least broken things you can get, unless you enjoy working for $2.00 per hour or less.

If you are very highly skilled and experienced, this will be a huge benefit, as you will be able to work quickly and maintain a good standard.

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2 hours ago, NCLuthierWyatt said:

Hope everyone is staying safe and keeping busy. With the abundance of free time due to the corona virus lock down, I've acquired a few new repair projects. The question is, with the hyper competitive bidding of sites like ebay, the high fees on many instrument auction houses, and the endless sifting through listings of garbage German or Chinese factory instruments. How do most individual luthiers or shops go about acquiring "profitable" repair projects? I'm sure having a store front and the occasional trade in provides some source of decent instruments in need of some TLC. Any personal stories of interesting instrument acquisitions are welcome, I'm aware most traders or luthiers are not keen on idea of sharing their mystical instrument source:lol:

I think this rests entirely how your crystal ball is set. I, for one, have just heard in the news that the economy will retreat 35%, and that we will have the biggest depression in 300 years. Others have an apparently unscientific expectation that everything at some point in time will revert to being as before. One may look at historic precedents, for instance the fate of the Viennese violin makers after the first world war, who were happy to get labouring jobs, or sell gramophone records. Since business has gone down to nothing for now, the wisest thing to do will be to preserve any cash that one may have, lest one should really need it in subsequent months. I certainly have enough restoration projects to last me a couple of decades, and loading up on trashed ebay crap, which cumitavely really does cost money is the last thing I would consider.

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5 hours ago, NCLuthierWyatt said:

...How do most individual luthiers or shops go about acquiring "profitable" repair projects?...

Answering only for myself, all I can say is that it used to be much easier than it is now.  I do not have a good answer for your question.

The first time I bought a violin to fix and resell was in 1976.  From then up through the early 2000s there seemed to be a never-ending supply to be found at antique shops, yard sales, flea markets, estate auctions, music stores, violin shops and itinerant instrument peddlers.  I bought hundreds.  Some needed no repairs and could be immediately and advantageously resold to other dealers, some were fixed and sold to players, and others ended up on the pile to be dealt with later.

In the early 2000s these sources seemed to have dried up for me.  I realized that the violins that had previously turned up at my regular sources were now being sold on Ebay.  But how could I buy a violin just from pictures, without holding it my hands and closely examining it?  And how could I trust a remote seller?  I tried Ebay in 2004 and it worked for me.  For the next few years I bought more hundreds of violins.  Most were resold; some were added to the pile.  Then Ebay became overrun with new Chinese instruments, old cheap junk not worth fixing and too much competition from other buyers like me for the occasional worthwhile item that comes along.

In the old days -- before Ebay and the internet in general -- I was able to exploit inefficiencies in the violin market to my advantage.  I am no longer able to do this, so now when I want a violin to fix up I go to the pile.

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You can't even buy anything interesting on Ebay auctions these days anyway. Anything that looks interesting gets sold via some kind of offer or offline before the auction finishes.

I bought a semi interesting Mandolin from facebook market place a few months ago, but no one likes Mandolins anyway ha ha.

 

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I think a lot of this depends what your budget is.

In general, I feel like a good rule is to get things needing the least amount of work, unless they are ancient and valuable, because if you're going to do a complete job, even those "easy" things will eat up a lot of time. If you are looking other than in the fine and ancient category, your repair costs possibly will be larger than your acquisition cost, just for doing what I consider "normal" work, not fixing damage.

An example is a violin I just opened up this morning. It was purchased at auction. The neck is too narrow and too short, so it needs a graft and new board, a neck set, and new pegs. When I took off the top I found that the bottom block is split and the bar (only, fortunately) is ravaged by worms.  With a few other small things needed, my repair estimate is on the order of $3500, retail for the work. That's at the bottom end of what we usually have to do to auction instruments. This violin probably looked OK to people who saw it in the catalog or played it for five minutes at an auction viewing. Some player looking for a deal, feeling that he was being robbed by violin shops could easily have bought it, thinking he got a deal, for a while, until the block finally gave out and opened the top and/or back right up the center for some unpredictable distance. And as a shop if you're not prepared for whatever reason to do this work, which is all relatively simple, what are you going to do with the violin? 

In the lower price range any damage is going to limit what you can ultimately charge for the instrument, so you really do need to start with the best thing you can buy, not the worst that you can plug a lot of repair into and end up with the finest-restored most miserably damaged 1960 Roth on the market that no one will want because a perfect one costs the same or close to it.

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