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Having made a living for many years as an instrument maker I have always had a pretty clear idea of how my instruments should be made. I have pretty much stuck with what I was taught as an apprentice and the result has been quite a few instruments most  of which have made their way to orchestras and professional performers around the world. I also had some experience in restoration of valuable instruments and found to a large degree they were built and set up following the same principles I used as a maker. I am now doing much more general repair than previously and am often seeing instruments which diverge from what I have been taught and considered correct. These issues include neck lengths and angles I consider sub-optimal, bass bars set in odd places which may be of varying lengths, exceedingly thick or thin plates etc. On instruments which I own I have the option to "correct" these issues for better or worse but on clients instruments I may find myself trying to make something work which my experience tells me can not come out as well as it could. Some times I am surprised by how well something comes out, usually in the case of some maker who had worked out some coherent system which differs from mine. If this appears to be the case I am quite conservative and will avoid any changes until I am sure there was not some system which I don't yet understand. Other times I am forced by either the customers preferences or economic considerations to leave an instrument with problems or deficits in their performance capabilities which I think could be fixed if circumstances allowed. I am currently working on a violin which has a bass bar which ends almost 6cm from the upper edge while the lower end almost touches the lining. I cannot imagine this is the best set up but was only asked to repair several cracks and have no idea how the instrument sounded because it wasn't playable when it came in. How do others deal with this kind of situation?

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If it's my instrument, I do whatever I want with it.  With these, I tend to spend more time and care on instruments that I like more or that I think are more promising.

I tell customers that there are certain things that need to be done to make their instruments playable, but often there are other things that I consider optional.  I explain that these things might improve the playability or sound or perhaps just the appearance.  I give them several options, each with its own price, and let them decide what they want and what they can afford.    I don't often open customers' instruments, but I explain that the options could depend on what I find inside.  I am reluctant to do anything that might change the sound of instruments belonging to sophisticated players.

Using the example of your mis-placed bass bar, I think I would say that it doesn't look right to me, and here's what I would charge to replace it, but I really don't know how replacement might affect the sound.  I don't pay much attention to neck length, because I think that players adjust to whatever it is automatically.  And I usually only worry about the neck angle if the fingerboard projection is so low or so high that fitting a bridge would be difficult.

I suspect that I generally deal with lower quality instruments and less accomplished players than you do.

 

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My policy is to not modify anything original to the instrument not related to setup, but given the option do everything I can from a setup standpoint to make the instrument work the best it’s able to.  For example, touching graduations is an absolute no 99% of the time, but I won’t hesitate to rebar or reset a neck.  In some cases I’ll add stiffening cleats if nothing else works, but I’ve only resorted to that a few times, and made sure they would be very easily reversible.  I don’t have much in the way of standard numbers I feel like I have to hit for much of anything, which helps getting instruments to function right, although that’s resulted in a few shops berating customers of mine for now having for example a 195mm stop length or 27.0mm projection.  Whatever the case, none of us truly know best in any situation, so resisting modifying instruments to what numbers we think are best is generally a bit deluded at best. 

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I'm a potential customer. I'd appreciate Brads approach. But it is important to ask if the client was satisfied before, because sometimes people just like the unusual, and it would be terrible to "improve" a beloved, if odd, characteristic out of the instrument. Also absolutely mention that you can not guarantee that it will be better.

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12 hours ago, jacobsaunders said:

I have always found it a bit presumptious to talk of a repair “philosophy”, a bit like wearing a white coat:). I would suggest that it is more the realisation, that one is of this world to repair instruments, and not to “improve” them

Exactly. 

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I was hoping you would comment on this Jacob. The issue for me is that some times I have to deal with a client telling me the instrument doesn't sound or play as well as they had hoped and I am left with the feeling that I could have made it better had I dealt with what I felt was "wrong". Do you and Advocatus have ways to make every instrument sound and play well regardless of construction? I am not just being smart here. That is a real question.

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56 minutes ago, nathan slobodkin said:

I was hoping you would comment on this Jacob. The issue for me is that some times I have to deal with a client telling me the instrument doesn't sound or play as well as they had hoped and I am left with the feeling that I could have made it better had I dealt with what I felt was "wrong". Do you and Advocatus have ways to make every instrument sound and play well regardless of construction? I am not just being smart here. That is a real question.

I endeavour to not repair instruments for third persons unless I can’t help it. Also an assignment from a third person expecting a particular tonal result seems a bit of a suicide mission

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It really comes down to managing expectations properly. If there is something awry with the instrument, I consider it part of my responsibility to explain it to the customer. Whether or not the issue is addressed by changing anything is at the discretion of the owner. Doing work without approval could have serious repercussions, so I strongly advise against it.

Having an in-depth conversation with the customer and providing documentation of the problem or at least a detailed explanation are crucial, especially as the value of the instrument reaches considerable heights.

If the customer isn’t comfortable with making the changes you propose, be clear about the potential issues with sound or functionality. If the instrument needs something you consider controversial in order to perform well, it may be better to pass on the project. Choose projects in which you can be confident. Getting into questionable ones can damage your reputation. 

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1 hour ago, Michael Darnton said:

I was taught to try to leave any job that would potentially permanently change an instrument from what the owner bought and loves into something else to the period between owners, if possible.

Please elaborate on the second part of your statement, starting with "into something else..."

I agree 100% with the first part but am not sure how to interpret the second.

If the instrument doesn't "work" for a (potential) buyer, why that buyer just move on to some other instrument?  Why would a buyer (other than people involved in the trade) consider possessing an instrument that doesn't "work" or requires permanent change?

Not trying to be a wise guy, just genuinely puzzled.

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3 hours ago, jacobsaunders said:

...an assignment from a third person expecting a particular tonal result seems a bit of a suicide mission

I like that way of putting it.

I once heard Hans Nebel put it this way:  If you do an alteration for a customer who is hoping that it will result in a tonal improvement, there are three possible outcomes:

1.  The tone is improved.  The customer is happy.

2.  The tone is worsened.  The customer is unhappy.

3.  The tone is unchanged.  The customer is unhappy, because he or she has gotten nothing for his or her money.

So, Hans said, the chances are two out of three that you will have an unhappy customer.

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Thanks for letting me vent. In general I agree with the feedback I am getting. Yes, I tell my clients when I see something I think is wrong with their instrument. No, I would never even think of doing any work not discussed with the client, agreed to and paid for. No, I never tell a client that I can guarantee a particular tonal result from any procedure. None the less I feel a certain responsibility to the instruments themselves as well as to the client and it bothers me to see instruments which are being neglected and musicians, especially students, who are handicapping themselves playing an instrument which is not performing up to the level it might. Since I have no colleagues within about a hundred miles I have trouble turning people away even when I would rather not get involved due to either the client or the project being difficult. I guess under the circumstances I just have to let this stuff go. 

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10 hours ago, Brad Dorsey said:

1.  The tone is improved.  The customer is happy.

2.  The tone is worsened.  The customer is unhappy.

3.  The tone is unchanged.  The customer is unhappy, because he or she has gotten nothing for his or her money.

4. The tone is improved. The customer is unhappy because he or she preferred the original tone.

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@Hempel

The possible scenarios I can envision:

Owned: You are faced with a violin that the customer loves, but you know that it could be improved to meet more universal standards. You might think so, and the whole world might agree, but the customer brought in a violin they love for some minor work and in the course of doing more or less the violin that goes out, though better by universal acclaim is now hated by the owner. The correct thing to do is keep it working the way the person who has to use it wants it, fixing the problem they wanted fixed, not changing it into something that they hate because it fails some standard you have set for the violins passing through your shop.

Being sold (implied: by a dealer): You can leave the violin as it is, as the current/previous owner loved it, but the objective is to get it sold, and there's only one person in a million--the current/previous owner--who would buy it and he wants/wanted to sell it. The correct way to get it sold is to make it so that it appeals to the largest possible sector of the market so that it finds a home quickly rather than going unsold for years waiting for a new second one-in-a-million owner.

You bring up what appears to be a third situation, selling without dealer intervention (I say that because in my world a sensible dealer would make the violin work, as above, not leave it hopelessly unsaleable). I guess the seller in your case has a problem: selling a violin he likes that no one else "recognizes the value of, stupid them". That's why there are dealers: to navigate that problem efficiently and emotionally.

I am also aware that dealers exist who simply must possess every available violin on the market, happy to warehouse them on a back shelf, unshown, just to keep the competition from having them, or using them to prove that the thing they really want to sell is the best. That's a problem for the sellers, isn't it, and another example where keeping an instrument as is (objectively bad by most standards) doesn't work for the owner/seller and why to find a proactive dealer to help move things along.

Does that answer your question? (I'm not sure I got it.) It appears to me that you were viewing the situation from the buyer's viewpoint, not the owner/sellers, and this thread is about the owner vs possible repairs, not how to buy a violiin.

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On 4/1/2022 at 10:59 AM, nathan slobodkin said:

How do others deal with this kind of situation?

For me, there are no straight answers to this question. It depends on the instrument on the owner and what is at risk. 

As a professional I feel obliged at least to make my point clear to a client, and this also when I know that my view might be 180 degrees different from my clients view. (Sometimes I wished for this situation that I had studied at least one semester of psychology) However, because in most cases it is about the taste of sound, I am well aware that my taste might not be identical with my clients taste. So, working in the interest of a client is to understand what they want and not what I want. 
 

Technically I am willing to do anything for a client if I know that is reversible. So if a client asks me to do something irreversible I usually hand out a big warning of ‘sorry, I take no guarantee that it works.’ 
 

 

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I have one philosophy when repairing anything, be it a violin, a guitar, a watch, a house, a car or a boat, well really just about anything, it is a broad spectrum ideology that relies on mechanical sympathy, carefully selected words, before during and after, and generally patience, but it really covers everything in 4 words, it is all you need ..." don't f**^ it up", that could be the object or the "relationship" with your customer...I think the real secret sauce is knowing when to say no to something/someone...Some people and things can not be fixed, or perhaps more that I would prefer someone else take a stab at it, know your limitations, particularly related to being a babysitter,psychologist,mind reader and shaman 

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