“Can you give me an estimate for taking a look?”

An estimate of an estimate (?!)

I received a question about how much I charge to give a written estimate. “Mike S.” writes:

I have a tenor, alto and clarinet in the closet that haven’t been looked at in about 3 years. Would like to know if they require any work before I can use them again. The tenor and alto are old Conn’s from the 60′s and 70′s. The clarinet is a Buffet from the 50′s. Can you give me an estimate for taking a look?

A short answer

I don’t charge any diagnostic or “bench” fees to estimate repair costs. Refer to the repair page for the specifics regarding this policy. I also don’t have a minimum charge. If I change one pad, you won’t pay for a full hour’s worth of labor.

A more thorough explanation…

Some shops engage in the practice of charging a diagnostic or “bench” fee to look at the item needing repair, and then giving an estimate. This fee normally is applied toward the cost of the repairs if you choose to proceed, but is forfeited if you don’t.

An obvious consequence of this policy is that the shop normally gets to do the repair, since nobody wants to spend money and get nothing in return. It discourages shopping around for the best price. I get a lot of new business based on referrals from satisfied customers and charge a fair price for quality work. I make a living, but I don’t make a killing; the instruments get fixed and they stay fixed. And after I quote an estimate, I end up doing the repair nearly 100% of the time.

In some fields of repair (automotive, electronic), diagnostic equipment is expensive to obtain, use, and maintain. Often some disassembly of the car or electronic device is required to determine the problem. In these instances, it’s appropriate to charge the customer something. It’s hard to stay in business when you use costly equipment to provide unbillable services. We could certainly engage in a conversation about whether the amount of the fee is reasonable or excessive, however…

Diagnosing wind instruments is not very complex. Everything’s mechanical, with no electronic components. Visual examination, play-testing by either myself or the client, and the use of a leak light or feeler gauge is normally all that is required. Costs are calculated based on a function of time required plus parts needed.

While I’m not in the business of telling other shops how to conduct their business, it is my opinion that any competent wind instrument tech should be able to determine the problem(s) and estimate a cost for repairing said issues within a few minutes of receiving the instrument for examination. Whether they charge for that service or not is their prerogative, but having worked in a few shops that did charge (none of which are still in business), it quickly became clear that the main benefit to the shop is they’re almost guaranteed to get the job.

So I never charge a diagnostic or “bench” fee to estimate the price of a repair. I would need to examine the instrument(s), and then I can give you a firm quote on your repair options, their associated costs, and an estimate of turn-around time. If you’re local, we can set up an appointment to come to my workshop in Pompano Beach Lake Worth. Otherwise we can ship the instruments (insured) to each other, in which case you’d be responsible for the shipping charges.

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