As work gets a little busier/steady I am trying to streamline my estimates and basic repairs costs. I have done considerable research and have searched many websites and asked shops around town what they're prices are but the water always seems to be quite murky when I'm staring at it. I am looking for what some of you charge for basic services and what is included in them.
IE. nut and saddle replacement... How much for each to install and does that include a setup and or what level of setup. How much for a setup? What different levels of setup do you offer and how much are they?
For example: If a new nut installation costs $50 on a guitar that has been previously set up or needs little adjustment is $50 that end price? If the guitar needs a medium setup, a little cleaning, adjust the rod, adjust the action at the bridge ect. And that price is usually say $60 do you charge $50 + $60 =$100. To make things even more specific and complicated if someone wants a new saddle and nut, the guitar is in decent shape and the price for a new saddle is $50. Obviously the saddle and nut need to be adjusted when you install them so do you only charge $50(nut)+$50(saddle)=$100 and the setup is more or less included or do you still charge a set up fee of $60 which makes the total $160.
I read a lot and I think I confuse my self sometimes.

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I don't have much right to kick in here since I don't do this for a living but Hesh's remarks struck a cord with me.

A personal observation from my time here and years both evaluating instruments for myself and watching others do the same. It's seems very common, in my opinion, for a person looking at an instrument for the first time to rush thorough an inspection, focusing on what catches their attention quickest. While I'm sure that the pro's get a lot more practice at this than someone like myself, it seems to me that the older/more experienced heads here may tend to do this initial inventory better than less experienced people do it. IF this is the case, it would follow that their estimates of time/materials/cost would be more accurate. I realize that there are certainly a lot of issue that can remain hidden until work begins that can have the potential to wreck an estimate but I can't help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, the people that struggle with clear pricing may profit from taking a look at their initial inspection process to see if they can find ways to eliminate a few more potential surprises. I say this because, as a consumer, I'm much less comfortable taking my need to a vendor with no idea of the sort of cost I'm  facing. In a case like this, given no other knowledge, I am MUCH more likely to take my business to the "published price list" vendor.   

Please don't starting throwing tomato's. I'm really, truly in awe of anyone that has the courage to make a go of earning a living at this and I certainly don't consider myself qualified to pass judgment on how any of any of you run your shops. 

Thanks Ned and your observations about customer comfort level is exactly what I was trying to convey.  We all need to know what our potential liability is and when we can't it's a source of anxiety and potential mistrust.  That's my experience anyway and as such something that I try to avoid for our customers.  

Being a "trusted source" service provider is something that has to be earned in all that we do, accurate pricing, quality work, timely completion, even going the extra mile, often... are all paths to earning that coveted designation as a trusted source.  More specifically it's all about simply doing the right thing for your clients, treating them as you would like to be treated, and never losing track of the idea that what we do must, I repeat must represent real value to the client.

Can't speak to the possibility that old farts may estimate more accurately than others but I can tell you that if you do this often enough, perhaps get burned enough too by missing something untoward and then having to address it under an estimate that didn't address the malady one has motivation to develop a penchant for doing uber complete triage WHILE the client is present.  Experience from high volume repair work has helped me beyond description and in time one simply knows the common stuff to look for that is specific to certain instruments.  70's Martins you say.... check the saddle position because some were not properly located.  Stuff such as this is what we draw from in our efforts to accurately triage an instrument.

It does happen more often than I would like that we miss things and on rare occasion have to contact the client and request authorization to address something that simply cannot and should not be eaten in the initial estimate.  It's also been my experience when this happens that so far no one has been a jerk over it and instead appreciates the honesty.  We always try to cut the client some slack anyway if this happens or, more specifically, provide a proposed solution to the newly discovered problem instead of simply dumping bad news on a client.  It's been my experience that folks appreciate our help, generally are trusting as a default position, and simply want our services to make their instrument whole again.

Dealing with clients is something that I unfortunately... know a lot about from a former life and something that I have taught as well.  In a nut shell though it all boils down to treating others as you would like to be treated.  Pretty simply.... eh.


 I would like to respectfully point out that you just gave us a price list based on the jobs rather than hours. 

My comments about how I, as a customer, feel about price lists, I didn't mention hourly charges.  I have no problem with them because I understand that everything, ultimately, comes down to that. If I came into your shop, I would be fine with an hourly rate BUT I would also be much more comfortable if I had some idea ahead of time of how many hours it may take you to do what I think needs to be done. The problem with only publishing hourly charges is that I don't know what that means in potential expenditure. 

I use a small auto shop for my car repairs that charge by the hour. They do good work and, I believe, are fair in their charges BUT I find that I avoid taking my cars to them unless I feel that I have no other choice because I cannot estimate how much time any given repair will "cost" me. I DO, however, have an idea of how long it will take ME to do the work so my estimates of the cost scares my hair white. ( I only have two kids to sell, after that I have to start cutting off limbs.) The consequence is that I only get an estimate when I have almost no choice while the reality is that they probably wouldn't charge nearly as much as I think for a given job. 

They would get more business from me IF I could make a better estimate of the cost BEFORE I show up there. As it is, I'm reduced to taking my car in and waiting for an estimate and then deciding if I have the funds available to pay for their work. They've consumed time that they don't get paid for just so I can decide if I can pay them or not and I've wasted time that I could have applied to finding a work around until I can afford them. As we run through the cycle of my relying completely on their estimates to determine if I can take my car to them, I become a less and less valuable customer to them as they consume what money I actually spend with them on estimates that don't make a dime.  Everyone loses.  

Selfish as it sounds, it's all about MY comfort with what, for most of us, is a luxury expenditure.  I think this is important because it's my expense and if I can formulate some idea of how it will impact my budget before I come to you, I can save us both time and money.  I'm not even talking about choosing a place to do my work, because I still need this even if yours is the only shop I intend to use. ( Hopefully, I can make my choice about where to go based on something other than cost.)  

I doubt that you have many clients that have "unlimited" funds available so the money we expend on your services usually means that we don't have it available to spend on other thing we may need.  If I look at your price list, based either on time estimates against an hourly rate or price per job, I can estimate what this luxury is going to take from my budget. I'm much more comfortable coming to you when I'm fairly sure I can actually afford you then I am coming to you only to find out that I'm going to have to choose between paying you or paying rent and you're less likely to put time into an estimate that produces no income.

Most auto shops have "time books" that estimate the time needed for a particular job.  They are usually biased in favor of the shop but they also provide certainty to the customer bringing a particular problem to be fixed.  Fixed price lutherie is similar.

Strict hourly billing may be more economical most of the time but the customer gets a surprise if it's a particularly nasty problem--e.g. some of the ones we see on this forum.  One repair guy I know publishes a list of standard charges for common repairs to relatively recently made Martin instruments (back to say, the 60's) but reserves the right to quote other numbers for unusual or different instruments.  Seems like a good idea--the customer gets an idea of his rates for comparison and he gets the ability to quote higher rates or negotiate straight hourly charges for the more difficult jobs on less familiar instruments.

I have always done all my work no-matter what I was building or repairing after first seeing the job at hand by what I thought it would cost and that is what the end price was even if I lost money. That way you are not going to make any one unhappy with you when its time for them to pay for the work. like wize when I am having work done I want to know what its going to cost me first. And then I will tell the man I DONT LIKE ANY SURPRISES ether...............Bill.

I understand, Benjamin. It's not the kind of thing you can put a price tag on and say that final.

All of the rambling I've been doing boils down to finding a way to make the potential client as comfortable with the cost as possible. For me, it's a given that nothing is in stone until the work is finished but I also have a much better idea of what is involved. When I'm looking for services, I just like to have a ball park idea of what it's going to cost so I can determine if it's even worth OUR time for me to bring in my problem. If I don't have the money, it's a waste of time for both of us.

Every time someone brings up the instruments that they have because someone never returned to pay for it, I can't help but wonder how many of those people knew before they left that they were going to have to scramble to come up with the cash to get their instrument back but left it for you to fix because they were uncomfortable saying they couldn't afford it.  It seems to me that every one of those you can avoid by whatever means is better for your business.

BTW, I'm not knocking how any of you run your business. I assume that what you are doing works since you are still in business and don't feel a need to change. I'm just playing consumer's advocate in a thread full of Professional Service people.  

We have an hourly rate as well but it's not something that a customer ever will see or have to deal with in attempting to calculate the extent of their ultimate bill.

Instead our hourly rate is simply an accounting tool (I hate accounting....) used in conjunction with other business metrics to for example determine a target level of productivity for a "fully loaded" Luthier.  Not speaking of a drunk Luthier but moreover one who is salaried, receives benefits, etc. vs the expectation of desired output/productivity.  Or, more simply put - how much we cost and how much we produce.

But again our hourly rate is an internal tool, a metric, a measure, a goal perhaps too at times but as for our clients they leave after dropping off their instruments and being present during a comprehensive triage and discussion about what they want addresses with a hard, written estimate, anticipated ETA (We always play Scottie in Star Trek and tell the captain it will take 2 hours when it actually will take one....;)) and hopefully the peace of mind that with our estimate the customer knows how to budget for paying for the repair.  There is another side to providing hard estimates and not doing the time and materials thing and that is some folks may wait to pick-up the completed instrument for say pay day for them.  Knowing the extent of one's liability in advance permits those who do and will to "budget" and be prepared to pay, sometimes not always, when the job is done.  None of us like to have an instrument taking up space and creating a liability for us for say an additional month because the client is broke...

Anyway I'm of the belief that everyone should always do what they wish and my comments here are to simply share what one very busy, high volume shop with multiple Luthiers does and how it works for us.

To drill down of which I really am not inclined to do anyway because again everyone should do what works for them we also have some huge variables in this discussion that do come into play.  For example one's market can be a huge variable.  Ours has tons of pro players who have day jobs in an area with perhaps the only booming economy in the state.  Unemployment is very low in our immediate area and the sorts of jobs here tend to be well-paying professional jobs in tech, industry, or academics.

Another huge variable is one's standards of workmanship.  Not something to get into here I understand in advance but what one persons calls a good job and what another person may call a good job likely can have a big impact on that hourly rate as well.  Always seems as if that very last 5% of excellence in any job may be the hardest to achieve and take the most time.

I can make a nut in under an hour too, saddle in 20 minutes or less but it is the fitting and one's personal standards for what is well fit that may be variable too.  And what about the lousy guitars with nut slots that are not uniform, perhaps a fret board coming unglued as well, or the fret board end is not straight up and down or straight across.  Some people, as evidenced by what we see coming in...., will fit to what is others will take the time to completely true up the slot, straighten the fret board end, etc.  It's all simply fitting the nut but because of this notion of personal standards one person may, justifiably in my view too, take twice as lone but be dancing to a different drum in terms of the quality of their work.  My remarks are generalizations of course and never directed at anyone specifically.

Saddle slot not absolutely true you say and we have to fit the saddle.  We won't struggle with an ill formed slot and out comes the laser guided, vacuum clamped, PC-310 powered saddle slot mill.  This takes a bit of time but saves time on the fitting since the new slot will be absolutly uniform.

At the end of the day we all strive to provide value in what we do and how we do it.  Hourly rates, fixed pricing, time and materials all have their place in my view.  For standard operating  procedures though our choice remains fixed pricing for common jobs, written estimates including accurate ETAs and anything else that we can think of to properly position and set the expectations of our clients.  It's been my experience too that the more one can shine a light on this stuff and demystify it for our prospective clients the more comfortable they will be.  

There are many other factors too that are considerations in determining price as well.  Some shops have invested in location, location, location, properly insure themselves as a client protection too, only hire people who have great experience (also something that can benefit the client), are not operating out of a garage or maintain standard business hours and do not require appointments.  Not everyone is comfortable going to someone's home, alone, to meet a stranger who repairs guitars in his/her basement....  And what about the security of the instruments in our charge?  The term bailment comes to mind.  Some shops are not only insured but have security systems as well and perhaps even a vault.  Some shops have to by law subscribe to local listings of stolen instruments and be in a position to spot one if it comes into the shop.  And there is even the issue of RH - it's getting to be crack season here - how many shops have done what ever it takes to ensure an accpetable RH level for all instruments on the premises?   All that I am mentioning here is part of what we tend to call overhead.  If we really want to ever do an apples to apples comparasson overhead is very much a determining factor in so much as most of these things ultimately benefit the clients so they are part of the enterprises value proposition.

Properly done pricing can often be a fairly unpleasant exercise to engage in....  It's where the rubber hits the road so-to-speak and where one can clearly see if their business model is viable or a long, slow, death spiral...  And again who wants to deal with the stinkin bean counters anyway...;)  Kidding of course.... sort of...

Two years ago I closed up my store and started working from home. I have the whole garage and a good portion of my basement, more tools and space than I ever did in my store. My customers don't mind making appointments, their guitars are insured and properly environmentalised. My pricing is the same because overhead has nothing to do with pricing, overhead is about volume.

Thanks John - before we started our current biz in a retail location I too did repairs by appointment and in my environmentally controlled basement shop which, by the way, was purpose built for instrument building.

It's not always easy to know what others are or were thinking but still, nonetheless not knowing their thoughts is not an indication that there is no problem in their mind with dealing with us....

One of my female clients who is a teacher and very generous with her time and money in teaching developmentally disabled kids music became a friend in time since she is a repeat client many times over now.  Not only does she get a hefty discount for two reasons, volume AND what she is attempting to do, help kids, I once asked here after we became friends if going into my basement, alone, with me being a stranger ever bothered her.  Her reply was that it most certainly did bother her and the first time she came over here she called a friend just before arriving and let it be known what my address was....

It's not an issue anymore since we are friends and now she knows beyond a doubt that I am in fact nuts but still a nice guy who is nuts.... :) but I bring it up because again we can't know how others perceive us, our offerings, our space, etc unless we specifically ask and even then some filtering may be required.

Also in my mind volume plays a role in pricing for sure but overhead does have to consider all associated costs with being in business.  Fail to do this realistically and one may not even know that they are spending more than they make...

As for what charging more or less means - I suspect that it has about as many meanings as there are clients....  Some folks are cheap, some will in fact infer that paying more gets them more, and some want everything for nothing.  Don't think that we can draw any absolutes here regarding one's pricing having some mystical and multi-layered meaning in the human mind.

I do agree that if one does great work, has invested in themselves to be able to do this, that they are entitled to charge what ever they wish.  Now what the market will bear is another question entirely and in my own experience very much variable since what we do is not key to people's survival and pretty much optional for many with their disposable income.

I completely agree with you regarding not using hourly rates and calling clients when something else is discovered that needs to be addressed.  Very often our job is to peel back the layers and discover what's up with the thing.  Often too in our experience some of the sorts of things that we discover were new to the client, they had no idea that a brace was loose, a bridge plate needed to be capped, a fret is lose, etc.

Right Hesh, you bring up a good point on discounting work. As far as charitable work goes I take an all or nothing approach. Rather than a discount I'll do some of the repairs for free and charge full price for others. It's the same with customers that bring a lot of business in, that way I can pick and choose what I want to discount. I'll do the stuff I enjoy or find easy for free and charge for the tedious stuff. It's probably a six of one thing... but it works for me. 

As far as the basement goes I try to work in the garage in the summer and meet with customers in my living room the rest of the time. The only time my customers feel nervous is when they're weaving through skateboard ramps in the driveway

Good on ya John for helping folks out!  We try to do this too and are no strangers to tearing up a bill because someone lost a job, etc.  Last week we had a client who smelled so very badly (his case too....) that we offered to do the work for free, right now, and asked him to go to lunch and come back and his ax would be ready.  Of course he had no idea that his poor hygiene was our motivation to get his smelly case and self in and out quickly but one of the beautiful things about working for yourself is that we can do most anything that we wish, within reason of course... ;)

I also like your idea about instead of discounting doing some things for free and charging for others.  Mind if I borrow this idea in the future?

I don't believe in hourly rates. After 30yrs of setups i'd like to think I do them better and faster than I did 30yrs ago. If I charged an hourly rate if be making less money than I used to.

I have no problem calling a customer up and telling them that they need fret work in addition to the work they dropped their guitar off for. An estimate isn't a contract, it's an educated guess. If the guitar needs more work I call them. 

A set up is mandatory with some jobs, nut, saddle, fret work....I don't make compromises on these things. 

I get a lot of repeat and referral business. My work has to be good and my pricing has to be *fair and consistent. 

*I charge more than some of the other shops in town because my work is better and I have more experience.

My take on customers is that they want to pay the same amount as everyone else that pays for your service. Paying less implies that the work is lower quality paying more implies that some customers are more important than others.

That's my two cents.


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