NYC luthier for semi-major repairs

September 6, 2016 at 09:43 AM · I've been to a couple NYC luthiers, but never for anything more than setup tweaks. I'm now looking for someone to do some more involved work - fixing or replacement of a warped neck and varnish repair - and I'm wondering where to go. One issue: it's not an "important" instrument, and I'd like to go to someone who will give the same care and attention to this instrument as they would to one costing tens of thousands of dollars (or more). It's not an important instrument in any objective sense, but it's important to me.

I'm wondering if anyone can recommend someone in NYC whom they would trust with this kind of work. If anyone has any idea what it should cost (ballpark) to repair/replace a warped neck and fix the varnish, that would also be great information to have as I search for someone to do this work. The varnish repairs would be to a few areas on the top that have minor scratches, plus a small area where varnish got damaged by glue that dripped when an open seam was repaired previously.

It's hard to figure out whom to trust. Several luthiers I've met in NYC will look at my violin and tell me that the last guy who worked on it was basically a total hack, or that the instrument is not worth what I paid for it. So I'm seeking advice here before choosing someone to do this work.

Replies (14)

September 6, 2016 at 10:44 AM · Hi Meg, I hope someone here will recommend a good luthier to repair your violin.

As far as the top luthiers are concerned, try to understand their side too, violin restoration is a difficult thing, it takes years to develop and envolve many skills, so it may be reasonable that top restorers will decline working on some instruments. Other professionals in other areas will think in the same way. Just my two cents.

September 6, 2016 at 04:56 PM · I was in the Beares shop in London, and Mr Beare was explaining to a young violinist that if he worked on his backup violin he would have less time to repair a violin "such as your better one". He then recommended a less prestigeous luthier. Honest and considerate, I think.

September 6, 2016 at 05:02 PM · Perhaps the several luthiers you have already spoken to were telling the truth. It may not be what you want to hear but that doesn't make it any less true.

September 6, 2016 at 05:27 PM · You've got a Jay Haide, don't you? You'll probably end up using someone who routinely works with student instruments; you're not going to persuade a top restorer to take it on.

By the way, don't mess with the varnish unless you really need to. It can be French-polished but it's better to just live with the little dings, as far as I know.

What kind of incompetent leaves glue on the varnish when closing an open seam, though?

September 6, 2016 at 05:40 PM · Adrian, I would welcome exactly that sort of recommendation from a luthier here! In fact, that would be perfect: a trustworthy, less prestigious luthier who has the time to take good care of a "lesser" instrument.

Brian, it's not so much what I do and don't want to hear - it doesn't bother me that some people don't think my violin is worth much. I'm not selling it, and I like it just fine. The issue is that I've gotten contradictory advice/feedback from different luthiers. I'm not experienced enough to know whom I should trust. When the matter at hand is soundpost placement, it's not so big a problem if one luthier's work isn't considered great. But fixing a warped neck is the biggest repair I've ever needed, which is why I'm nervous. I had a bad experience in the past (the open seam repair I mentioned that damaged the varnish), so I'm trying not to repeat that.

September 6, 2016 at 06:03 PM · Lydia, I didn't know that repairs to varnish aren't recommended. Do you think a French polish could help the glue damage? There's actually a spot where it's down to the bare wood. It kind of looks like someone (not me!) tried to flick away the glue, but took off the varnish in the process.

September 6, 2016 at 07:05 PM · HI Meg, Here are two luthiers I have used in NYC, both seem very ethical and are pleasant to deal with: Matthais Lehner 212-580-2158 and Christopher Thorpe 646-531-6233 It is a busy time of year so if they are too booked to help you, they can recommend someone who can. The neck repair sounds expensive (I have never had anything like that done so don't know) so you might want to get more than one quote.

September 6, 2016 at 09:06 PM · WHAT IS A WARPED NECK? I've been around violins all my life and I've never seen anything I would describe that way - so I'm curious.

September 7, 2016 at 03:18 AM · I'm hoping (for sake of curiosity, sorry) op doesn't just mean that the fingerboard is warped and the whole neck is. Physics doesn't seem to add up there if the neck is made of maple...

September 7, 2016 at 12:28 PM · The warp is not something that I can easily see, and I might never have known existed if it hadn't been discovered by a luthier. A while back, I had it looked at, and it wasn't even until he got around to measuring the string height off the fingerboard that he discovered it. What he told me is that if the maple used to make the neck is still green and/or the ebony used to make the fingerboard isn't dense enough, the tension of the strings can pull the head forward. This is what he thinks happened. He offered three potential fixes: 1) a "quick and dirty" one, which I went with, to re-shape the nut and bridge to compensate, 2) re-planing the fingerboard to compensate, or 3) pulling the neck and fingerboard back into the proper position.

As I said, I went with the "quick and dirty" fix. But I always figured I'd get around to doing one of the more permanent solutions. For one thing, I'm afraid to use anything but the lowest-tension strings for fear of making the problem worse.

As Alice suggests above, I will probably get a couple of quotes, because this might be rather expensive. My theory is that it's probably worth it if it's less than the cost of a decent new violin. But I have no clue what this might cost.

September 7, 2016 at 03:47 PM · So it's not a warped neck, it's a sagged neck and fingerboard, right? Or not? Is Lydia correct, and you have a Jay Haide? How old is it? If sagged neck, there's an effective repair often called a "New York lift," which would fall into your option #3, and pull the neck and fingerboard back into position. It shouldn't be too expensive. (?)

September 7, 2016 at 04:32 PM · Just 2 cents worth here.

If it is a violin and the maker/company is still alive/around, and the problem is a warped neck (which IMO is a manufacturing defect).

Then I think it should be fixed for free, if not get another instrument, because it's might just warp again.

For perspective, David Burgess posts on here, and somehow I think if you had one of his instruments and it had this problem, it would get fixed in a hurry and he wouldn't be asking for more money. The reality is that you would never have the problem with one of his instruments because it would be made correctly with the right materials so the issue does not come up. Choice of materials and proper construction are things that are obvious to a good maker, but not so apparent to most players when buying a finished instrument.

If you bought it at a dealer, trade up - the dealer can make the repair and you can get a better instrument with your repair money.

I still think you should contact either the dealer you got it from or the manufacturer. A violin neck should not warp, and if it does, it should be fixed or replaced IMO for free.

It's a hard call to make an expensive repair on an inexpensive instrument. In general, it's not done because it's not worth it.

There's a lot of repairs that people pay for on violins, and they can totally be worth doing and paying for, but a manufacturing defect on a new instrument is not something that I think the buyer should pay for.

If you do get work done on the instrument, make sure you get a full disclosure on what can happen - including changes to the sound. Anything neck projection related can change angles and tension across the top and have a substantial impact on the sound.

September 8, 2016 at 01:01 AM · Just my two cents in terms of objective value. There's the saying in real estate that, "you don't build a nice house in a bad neighborhood". Same concept applies. Doing $300 in repairs to a student instrument will not add $300 of value to it.

I faced a similar issue with my fingerboard/ pegbox and decided to purchase an instrument of quality that was set up properly/built well already and wouldn't have issues, instead of paying $250 to get a $160 violin to where it should be.

September 8, 2016 at 02:15 PM · This has given me a lot to think about. I think I'll seek the advice of the luthiers mentioned and go from there.

As for the value of doing repairs on a student violin, I understand that the money invested won't increase its value, just as investing in repairs on a Honda Accord will not turn it into a Mercedes S-Class. But the alternative to repairs on my student instrument unrepaired student instrument. A meaningful upgrade isn't going to be feasible in the next few years, if ever. But investing a few hundred dollars is feasible. If the estimate goes well above $500, that will give me pause, but up until that point, I think it's a good investment to ensure that my decent (but unspectacular) violin is in as good working condition as possible.

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