Something that our friend Paul V. said in the thread about a Guild reminded me of a topic that I've been wanting to bring up for a while now.  Thanks Paul!

It's when do you pass on a job?  Something that seems to plague us, more so in the past than currently... is the topic of clients who have basket case guitars that have clearly been abused in all manner of creative ways... and they want to drop them off for repair and then never pick them up...

I'm reminded of Quentin Tarintino's excellent film Pulp Fiction where Quentin gets upset because his friends seem to think that they can bring over and leave dead bodies in his yard/garage....

For us this was compounded by the existence of a music store on the lower floors of our building where the sales folks would take in all manner of crap, estimate completely incorrectly, and then set the client's expectation that they could get a neck reset for $2.00...

Of course I'm exaggerating but attempting to make a point and the point is that when we don't do our own triage at times, seemingly often, it's a lot more difficult to reset a client's expectation that the high action on a 70's Martin may require more than a truss rod adjustment...

So there are really two issues here, basket case guitars that require more attention and expense to bring back than their value even when fixed and/or the client's budget AND when these guitars are left and left and left for years at times but the client still wants them....  We had one that was left originally with other folks who had our shop previously over ten years ago and the client still wants it fixed....

I'm personally not adverse to passing on jobs if the value proposition is not there or the quoted price is something that the client balks at.  On rare occasion a client's attitude may cause me to ask myself if I really want to get involved with this client perhaps because of a predisposition to attempt to micro-manage on the client's part.  Or, more specifically, folks who leave guitars for years, never call to check up on them or the level if any of progress.  Seems to me to be a bad risk in the sense that one could do the work, sometimes extensive work requiring dozens or more of hours, and then never have the thing picked up and paid for.

I would appreciate learning what some of your experiences have been with the jobs that you never should have taken in.  What happened, why, have you changed your perspective as a result, etc?  Any pink elephants currently in your shops that you are concerned about?


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I passed on one just the other day.
A local music store, which has been sending work my way, called about a dreadnought needing a neck reset and crack repair(the guitar owner claimed it was a Martin, but the store owner was not sure...). I went to look.
It was not a Martin, but a rather unbranded mediocre copy, perhaps from the '80's. Yes, it needed all that work, but it had a thick poly finish, heavily built up around the neck heel. Between the likely finish damage, and the unknown neck joint(and glue!), I declined, without even giving an estimate. I felt awkward turning it down, but I have read several times(probably on this forum), to not simply quote a high price, if I didn't want to do the work. Good advice!

Hi Dave.  We decline from time to time too and lately I have been avoiding quoting high instead because in my experience some of our customers will want us to proceed even at a high price.

So I just try to be honest with everyone but when I do decline I make sure to explain why, what ever that may be, AND provide an alternative such as a referral to someone else.  Just the other day when we declined on a basket case D-18 that essentially needed to be completely rebuilt from the inside out... I provided contact info for another shop that has folks who are keen to spend a month of their lives on one project.

In one case the decline that we did resulted in the client actually appreciating the honesty and straight scoop.  He's a jeweler and has an appreciation for what it is to be asked to do something unreasonable for peanuts...

Anyway these days when we do decline we are sure to offer an alternative or two and that seems to smooth the message to a degree.

On a personal note one thing that I need to get better at... of many things that I need to improve with... is the idea of not letting my disgust show for someone who has totally abused an instrument and sees their instruments as disposable when in many cases these were quality guitars that could have lasted a lifetime.  I'm a fan of Neil Young's sentiments as expressed in the tune "This Old Guitar" were he sings about stewardship as opposed to ownership. 

"No" seems to be the most important word at times. I only give estimates after a thorough inspection. I do not try to sum up the work estimate with the customer waiting, unless it's very straight forward work like a basic part swap, etc. I usually take in the instrument and write "call with estimate" on the receipt. That way I can buy time to really research the job. I will still say no if I realize it's going to take too much time that they don't seem willing to pay - or have the patience to understand the process. This is where 'reading people' comes into play.

I make a point to know the other repair folks in my area. I do refer customers. I am a one man shop, and I have learned that I must keep that in mind at all times. I may easily over extend myself. This actually keeps me focused on making money and completing work. It also create goodwill with other repair people.

As far as people leaving instruments: I have had a few people apparently fall off the face of the earth. I have contemplated storage charges and selling instruments, but admit I have neglected any real policy. I do know there are local laws to investigate on these matters. Anyone need an old Ovation? ;)

ps. If it is valuable, I will take photos to document condition.

Yeah the word "no" is not what folks seem to wanna hear...  This is where I may offer something such as "what you could do" meaning an alternative, referral, etc.

Our shop is located in the epicenter of a bustling retail area AND where folks have been conditioned to bring their tired and sick instruments for over 50 years.  It's the "buying styles" thing in marketing speak in so much as we assumed a location that many of our clients have been to prior but when it was a different company.

So we have to do estimates on the spot and right you are Thomas I often overlook stuff and then end up fixing it anyway but am reluctant to charge since I never set the client expectation correctly when they were here.  Yesterday I took in a basket case classical and did not notice loose frets.  So I spent some time gluing down all of the frets which is scope creep by definition but something that I could have done a better job in the triage activity and avoided doing for nothing.

I'm sure that we all take care of extra stuff that may not have been discussed but in our view is key to handing the thing back safe and sound and ready to rock or what ever.  I have this very bad habit of developing a sense of for my clients and then actually liking them.... ;) which makes me want to go above and beyond.  I still don't really see anything wrong with this and instead see it as an opportunity of sorts to be able to mention upon delivery that I noticed this or that and just took care of it anyway but didn't charge you.  Folks seem to dig it and often are very grateful.  Now if I could find a way to address the opportunity cost.

Funny you ask Hesh,


I just took in a 70's Rickenbacker bass with broken truss rods that I was considering turning away.  It's a repeat customer and he REALLY REALLY wanted me to fix it.  I gave him and estimate of $630 and he said yea go ahead.  Oh boy....




I turned down a repair on a Cole Clark Dreadnought this week

It was rattling, turned out it was a face brace sensor (aluminium bar with pickup running the length of the body epoxied to the underside of the soundboard) which had come adrift

After talking to the factory repair guy about his recommended repair procedure, I decided to let them have the job and advised the owner to send it to the factory.

I was not confident of any repair lasting regardless and did not want it coming back to me.

I have said 'no' on several occasions, and actually now let my past experience be my guide. I had an incredibly finicky ass---- customer several years back, that needed a total refret on a Collings mandolin. It was a nightmare times 4, and the customer made me rethink my whole intake policy for instruments. I now will talk to customers for a while before accepting instruments, and gauge the ass---- factor. 

  The experience was that bad.

  I also know my limitations, and how amazing the work is done over at my buddy Terry's shop. I have no hesitation to send work his way.  I have flat out turned down a few ovations in the last few years also as most of you have also.

   If someone is being a total dick, I give them the phone number of a guy who lives in the Kootenays.

Yeah it sounds like one of those "be careful what you wish for" things.... ;)

At least if the compensation thing is properly addressed everyone can feel good about the transaction.  I'm shying away these days from quoting high because many of my clients go for it anyway... :(

I'll turn away work if I can't make a profit on the job because 1) a customer's personality isn't a good fit. 2) I don't think I'll do a good job with the repairs. 3) the instrument isn't a good fit: poor quality or requires too much specialized knowledge to repair.  4) a customer has unmanageable and unrealistic expectations about cost or turn-around time.

Customers who ship their guitar or drive from a few hours away to get to my shop are rarely time-wasters.  To make that kind of time and financial investment already means that they are serious about having me do the work before they even get here.  I'm much more likely to run into tire-kickers who live closer to home because it's a minimal investment on their part to get their guitar to my shop.  I meet with folks by appointment only which makes it easier to screen the customers before they drop off a guitar.  This drastically cuts down on the number of time wasters that stop by the shop.  On occasion, I have to come straight out and tell someone that I don't want to work for them and or work on their guitar.  That can be pretty awkward but it's very important that I make an honest living doing this or I can't do it at all.

On some occasions when a customer who seems more concerned about cost than anything else drops a guitar off, I have a little trick I use to soften the blow.  

A person like that is going to bring up the question of cost before I've entered all of the info into the work-order software.  I tend to quote them an exaggerated figure (around 40% more than what I think it's going to cost), silently count to three in my head, then I say "Just kidding, I don't know off the top of my head.  I'll know in a minute though".  By the time I've finished writing up the estimate and have the actual cost for them, their expectations about cost have changed, usually.

It's a whole different ball game having customers come to your home shop and I did this for several years too.  At least we have the opportunity to screen business during the initial contact via phone, Internet, etc.

Our business is in a busy retail area and many folks come into our shop just to see what we do and even frequently ask if they can watch for a while....  As such we don't get any warning, most of the time, who's coming and what they want.  So no screening anymore for us and this makes it a bit harder in my view to protect the biz from unwanted liability and whack jobs....

Nathan what work order software do you use, please?  I spent my lifetime in enterprise software including electronic commerce from the very beginning (EDI) and then workflow software when it was first invented thru commercial offerings.  As such I'm using stinkin paper.... ;) for our biz knowing as I do that rolling out software in an organization can often result in the software running us instead of us running the software.  But I'm still interested in a solution that has work flow to help us get an accurate picture of where our time needs to be spent.

I use an app for my phone and tablet called invoice2go. Easy to use, looks good and straight forward. Has saved me a lot of time since I started using it about 2 years ago.

I just discovered "The Square" which is an small, white device that plugs into your smartphone/tablet's headphone jack. WIth it you can take credit cards - Visa, Mastercard, Discovery and Amex - and pay 2.7% per item with no other fees. It immediately deposits the money into your bank account.

The tie-in to Nathan's comment is that the app allows you to put in services with descriptions and fees (or create a custom invoice one on the fly). It creates an invoice in pdf format and emails it to the client at the same time it charges his account.


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