Hi Guys, 

I have a question for professional techs out there. I recently relocated out to Los Angeles from Brooklyn, NY and have opened up a new shop here. I previously had a small shop in downtown Brooklyn that was quite successful but my landlord sold the building and I decided to move to California for some sunshine.

Well my first customer has come in and brought two guitars an SG Classic for a setup and a Heritage H535 for the same thing. The SG setup fine and he was happy with it. The heritage was brought in when he picked up his SG so I am in the middle of working on it. The neck on this guitar had a ton of relief as well as a poorly cut nut(I guess Heritage learned from Gibson how to cut their nuts). I told the customer that I'd setup the instrument and dress the nut so, the first thing I do is dress the nut and polish the slots to alleviate the pinching at the nut. Long story short I go to setup the instrument only to find out the neck has a a serious issue that needs to be corrected. When the truss rod is tightened the neck develops a a buzz on the first three frets most notably on the high e while the rest of the neck still retains some relief. On top of that the radius of the fingerboard is all over the place and no where near the 12" radius that it should be. I know that without question there is no way to setup the instrument to my satisfaction without planing the fingerboard and re-fretting it. 

So my question is, how should I go about this? The cynic in me is telling me that this guy is probably going to think that I'm new in own and either don't know what I'm doing or trying to taking him for a $300+ ride. I will have him come in so I can show him what's going on, but I generally feel that people have a lack of trust for individuals in any repair profession and really want to make a good impression with my first client.   



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 Well that seems to me you will have to tell him that you just can't make the Insturment sound and play right unless you do what you are saying and if he don't want to spend the money on it that you will understand........... Bill.

Yeah Gary, it's a tough call that doesn't get any easier unless you turn into a plumber or a used car salesman. But, having just done a major "sentence of death" to a near new master built big brand for much the same thing I found the following:

For neck work I have crenelated (notched) straight edges (Stewmac) which I thought expensive until I got them and used them - these have proven invaluable not only for build accuracy and repair but  because even a layman customer can be shown the neck condition, profile and bumps and lumps (they work for frets as well) with these tools and a good backlight. 

This gives the cutomer "ownership" of the problem by appealing to his own knowledge and power of observation and the normal response is "gees, I see that - can it be fixed?"  The stress relief alone is worth the cost of the edges.

Additionally, the manufacturer in question who is at the top of the heap, asked for a description for warranted replacement and a couple of shots of the back-lit notched  edge with a digital camera on macro was sufficient to progress the fix for the customer with no further questions. 

It's Sunday, it's a heat wave down here, I'm making sawdust on my own personal guitar build and talking Tech - nice.


How you conduct yourself when you make a mistake or are perceived to make a mistake says just as much about your professionalism as does an awesome fret job or a clean and correct neck reset.

Since you missed this during the initial consultation, I would say that you should give the owner a safe out so he doesnt feel as though you have bad intentions. Its one thing to back pedal on a work order/estimate for a neck reset after you discover that a previous tech epoxied the taylor NT neck joint together, its another to discover that a guitar needs to be refretted after you told the owner that a set up would solve the problem.

I would say something to the effect of, "gee, sorry that I missed this during the consultation but here is the problem with the guitar... And here is what needs to be done to correct it... Now, I dont feel right charging you for the nut and set up work I already did so I think you should save the money I was going to charge you for that work and put it toward the repairs the guitar really needs: refret, new nut, etc... I'm happy to do that work for you for such and such a price or you are welcome to seek a second opinion. By the way, here are some demo guitars I've refretted so you can see for yourself what sort of fretwork I do."

Demonstrate for the customer the exact nature of the problem by whatever methods you used to arrive at your diagnosis. Be prepared for any and all questions and be thorough and confident with your answers. I find that most customers are willing to spend extra money if they understand both the problem and the need for extra work to properly repair the instrument. I also make it a point to never, ever offer a cheap fix (in the sense of a subpar repair executed quickly or with improper methods or materials). I decided a long time ago that I didn't want my name attached to any repair that should have been done better than it was. 

Good luck!

Hi guys, 

Thanks for the replies. You know I was kicking myself for not adjusting the neck while he was there as it would have shown him that there was something wrong immediately. I just never expected a problem like this on a basically brand new guitar from heritage. And the thought of charging him anything for the work I've done so far never crossed my mind. Don't think I have the balls for that one!

Thanks for your thoughts.

Hi Gary.

I hope that it all turns out well for you.  We've all made similar 'oversights'.

You state that it's "basically brand new guitar from heritage".  If he's the original owner, Heritage should cover that defect under their warranty.  Just an option to consider.

I am referring more & more customers to the mfgr for gross defects on instruments that are still "under warranty".  The ultimate benefit to this is that the mfgrs get to see the shabby work they do and hopefully correct it on the production line.  I know....dream on (;  Plus, the mfgr has to eat the cost. But that's a subject worthy of a separate discussion.

Heritage has had its ups & downs, just like any other manufacturer.  At one point, they were ghost builders for FMIC for their US made Gretsch electrics. QC got so bad that FMIC/Gretsch cancelled the contract & moved the production of those instruments to Japan (Fugi-Gen).  That was a few years ago.  Their current stuff appears to be OK.

Best of luck with growing your relocated business,

Paul (-:

I have a bit of a different point of view regarding these matters which seem to happen from time to time no matter how hard we try to evaluate the instrument when it's coming in the door...

To me discovering once one is well into the repair that there are other issues has nothing to do with honesty, integrity, etc.  But, nonetheless how we handle same, what we do once we know more is all about honesty, integrity, and fairness.

We all try to do our very best and most of all create real value for our very valued clients.  However I am going to maintain that it's impossible to know what other issues that we may encounter until we are well into the repair depending on the "scope" of the repair too.

For example how many times have we set the action low as requested only to find out later that our client has a Robin Hood fetish... and tends to pull the strings 4" out from the guitar and then release them...  Is it possible to ask the client to play us a tune when taking the instrument in?  Sure, and if I have any suspicions that the client is ham handed I do just that.

One of the two places that I do repairs is not my own business and the stuff is taken in by sales people... who simply write up the woes as described by the owner.  I feel like the guys on the NPR show Car Talk some days....  Just today I started working on a guitar that came in for a set-up, was evaluated by the sales staff, and when I entered the picture I called the client and advised them that the thing also needs a new bridge, the plate capped, a fret dress (should have been a refret), new nut, new saddle, and then a proper set-up.  Bit of a difference from the $70 initially quoted and now the $450 price tag that I sought approval on and received...

Am I dishonest to let the client know that the thing had many other issues that create limitations that a simple set-up would not address?  Hell no in my view, my honesty and professional opinion was welcomed by this client.  And this is my point - we fix sick instruments and it should be expected that other issues may be encountered that may not be obvious at the time that the instrument was taken in.  Truss rods are a good example of this too, sometimes they work, sometimes they don't, sometimes they fracture the back of the neck, sometimes then have no impact at all where we wish but move exponentially in other places.  How can we know until we attempt to set the thing where we need it and this setting may be also a function of other work that we are doing too such as adjusting action, cutting nut slots, working with saddle height, etc.

When I see my doc for a check-up and during this check-up where all I may want is some blood pressure medication it comes to light that I am far sicker does the doc then indicate that my treatment for the greater illness is free or discounted because at the time that I made the appointment no one examined me first?  How about the car mechanic that detects a cracked oil pan when we are in for a quick oil change - do they eat the price of the repair?

I'm all for discounting work, giving breaks to clients because they are vets, seniors, kids, students, or because it's Tuesday....  Most of the work that I did the entire month of December in my own repair business was handed back to the clients free of charge with a very sincere "Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas" from me.  They had no idea that I was going to do this....

Am I responsible for how Heritage or Gibson or Fender or Martin cuts corners or lets a pig with lipstick on it leave the factory - hell no!!

To me this is time for empathy with the client, honest, direct, and accurate assessments, and an action plan that may include cutting them some slack on the price but never because something that I may not have been able to know in advance in the real world of a busy shop, limited time, and or others who are not trained assessing the instrument.

Part of providing real value for my clients is being honest as well, as honest as I know how to be.  My professional opinion would not be worth much if I assumed responsibility for every thing that is wrong with a gutiar or any instrument when I have no prior experience with the instrument, the client, etc.

If it were me I would professionally explain that the neck, frets suck and then provide the solution indicating that it needs the frets pulled, the board leveled, and a refret and THEN, and only then is it in a position to be set-up.  I understand that this may mean setting it up twice and in my shop that would be on me, the second set-up that is.  But my new quote would be for a proper refret and a quality set-up once the limiting factors of the fret plane are resolved.

You didn't build the thing and you didn't select it for purchase either so as such why would you ever be responsible for the cost of fixing the guitar?

Sometimes honesty includes bad news... so long as you are accurate in your assessment once you had time to evaluate the issues AND provide a suggested solution and course of action that is all you can do in my view.  My experience as a prior poster indicated is rarely have I had anyone not accept my evaluation, quote, and provide the additional authorization to proceed.  Most of the time they welcome the possibility that other issues with the thing may now be resolved as well...

I'll bet California is a bit of a change for you too.... ;)  I lived there for a couple of years and loved some of it and hated other parts of the left coast. 

Anyway You will know what to do I am sure.


Thanks for the reply. I feel the same way. I've encountered this before but I got a bit nervous because making a good impression on my first client that happens to have work at one of the recording software companies was a priority. 

I just gave him a call and told him what was going on. I contacted heritage and they told me that the warranty only applies to the new owner and he had bought it used. He ended up thanking me for being hones and said to go ahead with it. 

It turned out great and I'm still trying to figure out what caused this irregularity because it was strange. There was a good 3/64" drop off behind the 2nd fret. I suspect that the last tech to set it up put in the extra relief as that was the only way to make the first fret playable. 

One last thing. Why do these companies insist upon scraping the binding around the frets so haphazardly and finishing over poorly cut nuts?

California is a change but so far so good. We'll see how business goes. 


You are very welcome Gary and good-going on the resolution as well!  That's been my experience when we find the scope of the repair to be expanding letting the client know truthfully what is happening usually is no surprise to them.

As to why do some manufactures do shotty work.... it's been my experience that this is often the result of a designated responsibility that is not accompanied by a requisite level of authority provided to the workers.

And then there is the Friday evening thing too...;)  But hey, make all the junk that they want because some of us are all too happy to fix em up properly when brought to us!  Lately I have been doing a lot of set-ups on brand new instruments....

All true in every respect. Keep your customer informed and take responsibility only for your screw-ups, which requires you to be honest with yourself as well.

By the way Gary, welcome to Cali. I've been here since '79. Are you opening a "brick and mortar" in LA?

Hi Gary,

I am moving down to L.A. end of the month. Where is your shop? I'd like to check it out!

send me a message here or on my website,



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