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Old 04-11-2021, 12:03 PM
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Default How often to “touch base” with a luthier regarding a custom build?

This is a purely hypothetical situation, but say you placed a custom build, and the luthier gives you a time frame. That time frame comes and goes; the luthier says her/she is working on your instrument but it will be late. What would be considered the protocol for “touching base” with the luthier regarding your build. Once a month? Once every two months? Every six months?

Let’s then take the hypothetical one step further. The luthier gives you a time frame and then blows past it. You contact the luthier regularly, let’s say once every two to three months and he or she consistently says they are working on the instrument, but you are now six months plus past the original delivery date. What should you do? And please note, I am not talking about a situation that is a completely understandable reason for the build to be late, such as the builder was ill (or a member of his/her family was ill), supply issues with wood, shop fire or flood, or any other unforeseen issues that are completely beyond the builder’s control. The build is just late by six months or more, and all you have are vague promises.

Note, this is hypothetical situation. I don’t have a custom guitar in the works, and I am not looking to out a builder. I am considering a custom build, and planning for a worst case scenario.
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Old 04-11-2021, 01:15 PM
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This is a very tricky question, and the answer is just as tricky. IMO, that answer would be: just enough to not be a 'pain in the rear'.

I'm going through this right now with Dale Fairbanks. Once I spoke with him, he let me know why things had slowed down and he gave me a very clear reason for the delay. I had requested a feature on the guitar that he doesn't normally do (an arm bevel) and he was not happy with the way that it was coming out. He needed time away from the project to puzzle it through. Then add this into the mix: the shop made a big move and expansion last year, is going great guns cranking out Iris guitars, and has hired on several new employees, and you begin to realize that it's a delicate juggling act. If your shop is growing (as The Fairbanks, Iris, Circle Strings and Allied Lutherie combined shop is), the time available for planning and thinking decreases as you have to keep up with the day-to-day juggling.

My advice is, be patient and keep communicating. Not every luthier can do their work full time, and sometimes, other parts of their life get in the way. The project can only proceed so quickly, and if you want something truly special, you may just have to wait.

So keep nudging; think about sending an additional check during the build, along with a box of cookies or some nice bourbon . It's pretty amazing when you think that we have the wherewithal to have a custom instrument built just for us. It's a real privilege and blessing; I treat it as such. For me, it's not just a financial transaction. There's a little bit of a luthier's soul that's captured in every guitar.

best,

Rick

PS - as far as the timing goes, there's a lot of trust involved. If you trust the luthier (which I do) you are likely willing to give him\her the benefit of the doubt. If you go into a relationship without that trust, however, you may have to be more insistent. Each case is different and each circumstance is different.
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Last edited by srick; 04-11-2021 at 01:41 PM.
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Old 04-11-2021, 01:30 PM
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Most luthiers understand the anxiety and unreasonable expectations that can occur when building a custom guitar, especially if the customer is one they've not worked with before, or worse, the customer has never ordered a custom guitar before. They tend to offer pics and updates as the build goes along, and when you are "on the bench" they expect a certain desire to keep in touch. But once decisions are made and a time frame established, they are craftspeople as much as they can be artists, and that informal contract is an important one that both sides should expect to be met. Beyond that, when finish is curing or another build is on their bench, its not reasonable to bug them too much. They have work to do -
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Old 04-11-2021, 01:49 PM
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You can look for the worst case scenario. I can tell you that I have had many custom builds and just the opposite is true. The luthiers have been very communicative, most of the time starting to the day of when they told me they would start and not only that, completely keeping me up to date with pictures and progress reports. Not once have I had to reach out and ask them what is going on.
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Old 04-11-2021, 02:40 PM
Jeff Mc Jeff Mc is offline
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I have 8 guitars from people who you would consider custom builders, but only one is a custom guitar for me. My only advice would be to know what you want and choose your luthier carefully. Advice from people on this forum and its participating luthiers would be a good start. I think your second situation in particular would be highly unusual.

My one custom order was delivered several months late. At this point, I don't even remember the reason. I think it was finishing scheduling problems. It was promised before Thanksgiving and was delivered sometime after the first of the year. He was very apologetic; it was not that big of a deal to me. I may have emailed him every 2 or 3 weeks for an update. (I already owned 2 of his guitars so was not concerned).

I would add that there are some luthiers who love the communication process and some do not. A couple of my non-custom luthiers who I know pretty well were not all that enthusiastic about the constant phone calls and request for photos. Conversely, another said that if he pretty much expected to hear from his clients at least weekly. It would be good to find a luthier who is line with the amount of contact that you expect.

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Old 04-11-2021, 03:28 PM
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Not all customers are interested in close communication, some prefer to spec the guitar, and then pay for it on delivery. Most of my customers talk to me between 4 and 10 times before the build stars, and then we talk, text, or email virtually every day during the build itself. I encourage this from the beginning (once the retainer comes in) as the more of the customer’s “DNA” is in the guitar the better their bond with it.
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Old 04-11-2021, 04:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by posternutbag View Post
This is a purely hypothetical situation, but say you placed a custom build, and the luthier gives you a time frame. That time frame comes and goes; the luthier says her/she is working on your instrument but it will be late. What would be considered the protocol for “touching base” with the luthier regarding your build. Once a month? Once every two months? Every six months?

Let’s then take the hypothetical one step further. The luthier gives you a time frame and then blows past it. You contact the luthier regularly, let’s say once every two to three months and he or she consistently says they are working on the instrument, but you are now six months plus past the original delivery date. What should you do?
Be patient, and recognize that if you wanted the guitar sooner, you could have ordered it last year, and instead be agonizing over the first ding in the finish.
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Old 04-11-2021, 04:37 PM
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I like this:

"think about sending an additional check during the build, along with a box of cookies or some nice bourbon . It's pretty amazing when you think that we have the wherewithal to have a custom instrument built just for us. It's a real privilege and blessing; I treat it as such. For me, it's not just a financial transaction. There's a little bit of a luthier's soul that's captured in every guitar."

Hard to argue with homemade cookies and fine bourbon!

Good things take time. Great guitars may occasionally require some extra time too!

Enjoy the process AND THE GUITAR

Paul
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Old 04-11-2021, 04:48 PM
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I have actually gone through the build process before. I had Walter Johnson of “June” mandolins and guitars build a custom mandolin based on one I played in Nashville. Although the mandolin was “late” by a couple of weeks (and, to be clear, I use parentheses because I don’t consider 2-3 weeks of delay late, that is just the vagaries associated with a hand built instrument); I was never concerned one iota about delivery.

But, I wonder, what would I do if it had been very late, and if there had been no evidence of progress? Walter was awesome about keeping me up to date with the build; the delay had to do with curing the finish during a very wet and humid period in South Carolina (and if you know anything about SC, you know it is wet and humid). What if I never received updates and pictures of the build as it progressed?

I think from a personal perspective, custom builds and the processes associated with a custom are just not for me. There is very little I cannot get, “off the rack” so to speak, but just to clarify my intentions, I have been considering having a custom hardtail Strat style electric built because it’s something Fender only offers as either a MIM Robert Cray Strat or a Custom Shop RC Strat, so that’s why I am thinking about this and why all the handwringing and teeth gnashing.
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Old 04-11-2021, 08:43 PM
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I have a hard tail strat with a 1 3/4 nut made by Tom Tsouris in Providence RI. It’s all high end components and the price was quite reasonable. If you PM me I’ll put you in touch.
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Old 04-12-2021, 05:31 AM
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I had Walter Johnson of “June” mandolins and guitars

I just looked, he's not far from me...

-Mike
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Old 04-12-2021, 06:27 AM
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Patience, grasshopper.

I commissioned my first instrument in 1976, with a total of ten custom builds from nine different luthiers – so far.

From that very first commission, I just assumed that 'luthier time' is not measured by the clock or calendar, and always took my luthier's projected completion dates with a big grain of salt. After all, I'm asking for something hand-made from an individual who also has a life. And things happen.

I would usually add a few weeks to come up with a date I EXPECTED my instrument to be completed, and was always either close or pleasantly surprised if it was finished earlier. I've never had an instrument delayed by a period I considered unreasonable because I made sure I got to know the builder I was dealing with. Each builder's personality is unique, and I adjusted my expectations accordingly.

I've also always appreciated the exquisite torture of anticipation to be a big part of the fun of having an instrument custom-built.

If you're having a luthier build you an instrument you hope will become your life-long musical partner, let me ask you: Do you really want them to hurry?

Last edited by jmagill; 04-12-2021 at 12:00 PM.
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Old 04-12-2021, 07:24 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by posternutbag View Post
I have been considering having a custom hardtail Strat style electric built because it’s something Fender only offers as either a MIM Robert Cray Strat or a Custom Shop RC Strat, so that’s why I am thinking about this and why all the handwringing and teeth gnashing.
There are some MIJ ones out there, not a ton of them, but they do exist. I have one.
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Old 04-12-2021, 07:38 AM
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My advice is that you have an agreement with the luthier to at the very least review in detail the final build specification you both agreed to at the time the luthier commences the build. I've had the experience where a commission of mine had an error due to an honest mixup that was not caught until the final build pictures were sent to me. My options were either to accept the guitar with the error or start over and we chose the latter. Stuff happens and I was not upset but I wish when I would have insisted on that build spec review as the build commenced.
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Old 04-12-2021, 07:43 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hubcapsc View Post
I had Walter Johnson of “June” mandolins and guitars

I just looked, he's not far from me...

-Mike
I have been to his shop twice. I have owned two of his mandolins and played two more. They were all great. However, I think he is planning on moving to Virginia, and I am not sure what effect that has on his business, since he is a one person operation.
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