Finding A Quality Luthier

Fede Caceres Luthier El Cabure Bass Bridge

Q: How does one go about finding a quality luthier for the bass? We all have heard, “I know this guy…” Yet, how do you know if they are “your guy” too? I can do complete basic set-ups on my own instruments: truss adjustments, bridge/saddle adjustments, intonation, and other general maintenance, etc. Yet when I need ding repairs, potential fretwork and or fingerboard work, electronic installations/removals…how does one know where to go, or whom to go to for high quality no-nonsense?

A: I’ve long wished that there was some kind of online database listing luthier (and amp repair) services, by location, and with reviews but I’ve yet to find such a resource (if anyone knows of anything like this, tell us in the comments!).

The only way to really know if an instrument repair person in your town is trustworthy is by using them and crossing your fingers.

Other than that, it often comes down to word of mouth or doing some investigative work online, picking the one that feels right and, again, crossing your fingers.

One thing many musicians don’t necessarily think of is to actually contact the builder of your instrument. Even if it is a major brand bass, bought off the wall at a music store, the manufacturer will almost always have a list of trusted repair and service shops available (and often you can just find them listed, by state, on their website). If you have a custom instrument or one built by a smaller company, even if you didn’t buy through them directly, they will still be more than happy to point you in a good direction.

Additionally, if you really want to ensure that it’s done right, you may even be able to send the instrument to them directly and get the work done by the people who built your instrument in the first place. At the very least, they can point you in the right direction and even provide original OEM parts, if necessary.

It’s never a bad idea to ask other local musicians who they use and what kind of results they’ve had. You can also do some searching online and I’d encourage you to scour reviews and comments left, even on social media pages. People are more likely to review things when they go poorly (statistically), so it shouldn’t be hard to find any horror stories out there but, hopefully, there will be even more praises on the page when you find the right place (and don’t let a few scathing reviews skew your opinion if everyone else raves in the positive. There’s always someone who hates something. I’ve been known to read through dozens of pages of comments and reviews until I feel like I have a good idea of what to expect from the work).

I think it also well worth the time and energy to learn to do as much of your own work as possible. It’s cheaper, it can save your butt on the road when something happens in the middle of nowhere, and it’s pretty satisfying. You mentioned that you already do much oy our own work, so it sounds like you’re of the same mindset. The only work I’ve ever farmed out is fretboard stuff (and I’ve never sanded out a ding. I think they add character, personally… I love the look and feel of a well-used instrument). Even with the electronics and pickups. A few bucks for some low-cost supplies and a few internet searches can save you quite a bit of money when replacing pots, wires, and even swapping out pickups, etc..

I wish I had a solid answer for you but, as with most things, it really depends on where you are and what’s available to you. Do some solid investigative work (including talking to the manufacturer, if necessary) and take the leap. It’s just wood and a bit of electronic knowledge, so many things can even be done by a good woodworker or craftsman, depending on what it is, of course. I’ve had general contractor buddies help me with instrument repairs before with great results!

Best of luck out there!

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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