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MMD > Archives > October 1997 > 1997.10.21 > 10Prev  Next

Player Piano Restoration Prices
By John A. Tuttle

Hi All (Please disregard the previous article [Digest 971019]),

Following the thread on pricing of player work, one of the things we have
yet to mention is the Guarantee and what it includes.  Prudent pricing
should always include some amount of money for call-backs.

I should say straight away that 90% of the call-backs I get (and there
are about 10 a year) are directly related to operator error.  In my
younger days, I took these call-backs very seriously and jumped into my
car as fast as I could and rushed to the customers home only to find they
didn't fully understand something I had said.  With years of experience,
I was able to determine most errors over the phone and 'solve the
problem' (which really didn't exist) without ever leaving home.

One quick example.  Customer says, "There's a sound like grinding gears
when I shift the Play/Rewind lever".  Whoa!  That sounds serious! WRONG!
Come to find out, the customer was trying to shift the lever from REWIND
to PLAY during Rewind! OUCH!! Solution...  Re-Educate the
Customer...time, twenty minutes.

But on to the topic.  One of the reasons that I am fussy about what does
and what doesn't constitute a complete restoration is that I give a
minimum one-year unconditional guarantee and I'll fix anything that fails
to work properly.  The only exception to that Guarantee is if there has
been abuse.  So what constitutes abuse? Abuse is not always so obvious.

One example.  Customer says, "We had a party last night and this morning
the player doesn't sound right." Upon inspection (yes, I drove there), I
noticed an extreme amount of felt dust on the dampers which had come from
the hammers.  Since the player had been done just two months earlier and
the hammers had been reshaped, I was aghast to see that a lot of the
hammers had 3/4 in.  grooves in them and some were down to the wood (What
an awful about honky-tonk).  (What to do? What to say?) I
asked the owner to demonstrate how he pumped the unit (it wasn't
electrified... no need).  He got on that bench, grabbed on with both
hands and peddled very short, very hard strokes.  I could see as the
peddles locked-up but he kept trying to force them harder (he was a big
man).  The player was blastingly loud.  I stopped him and sat down.  I
pumped with one foot rather slowly and with full extension of the pedal
stroke.  The player sounded plenty loud.  The basic problem was that he
was sitting so close to the unit that he couldn't take a full stroke
comfortably.  But the damage caused by the extremely hard playing for two
months and the one last loud party had taken it's toll on the hammers.

Was I responsible for replacing those hammers under the terms of my
guarantee? I didn't think so... and thankfully, neither did the customer.
Oh, he had the hammers replaced (and I gave him a break) and he had me do
some custom work to help prevent abuse in the future.  I installed a
vacuum gauge right into the spoolbox, like a tachometer, complete with
"Red-Line" which I set at 35 inches of water vacuum as read at the
wind chest.  He loved it...thought it was just way too cool! Was it a
call-back, Yes! Was I glad I drove bet!

My point is this, when I don't do a complete restoration (or as I term
it, a major repair), I make certain there is no misunderstanding that my
guarantee only covers the things I've actually rebuilt or repaired.  And
there is no shortcutting the fact that this opens a whole new gray area
between you and the owner which can get sticky every so often.  Do I
advocate doing a complete restoration or nothing.  No! Totally opposite.
When a customer says to me, "I want it rebuilt", I start at the top with
the "completely restored price" but most often end up at "just working".
I understand these "just working" people very well and they are one
mainstay of my business.  Periodically, they will call back to take the
next step and I'll usually give them the same price I originally quoted
(I'm only obligated to give the same price for 6 months, which is part of
my oral guarantee) and I've waited for five years in some cases.  So, I,
for one, appreciate and depend, to a degree, on the "just working" people
because they improve short-term cash flow.

Naturally, there is the other side of the coin, like when a glue joint
fails and a jack comes loose on a 75 year old wippen that wasn't replaced
and that note quits.  Is it covered?  Yes! And I'll drive there and fix
it for free.  Cost.. 2 hrs.  Will I be just a little more aggressive with
the jacks on the next action I recondition? Probably, but I'm pretty
aggressive already.  In other words, I try to get them to fail by holding
the wippen and pushing the top of the jack from side to side.  Did I have
to do the repair for free? Technically, no, I didn't rebuild it.
However, to a degree I was partially paid for the visit because I
considered the possibility of a call-back in the original price.

As Roger says, "...I am a beginner.  I'll let you know in 12 months time
whether or not I am still in business!"

I have no doubt you'll still be around! You have to maintain your
guarantee.  ;-)

As a closing side note, one of the reasons I joined the MMD was my hope
that I could discover more about what was going on in the player piano
field.  Pricing work and determining values were my primary concerns
because the cost of complete restoration had surpassed the fair-market
value some years earlier.  I was afraid I was pricing myself out of
existence.  This, however, proved to be a false concern.  The fact is,
quality sells even if that quality is only specific to a particular part
of the instrument.  An honest customer will always qualify the condition
of their unit when asked about it if they fully understand what they're
buying in the first place.  This is, unfortunately, not always the case
when they sell it.  But that's a whole other article whose title should
go something like, "What to say when confronted with a new owner who was
told that you 'rebuilt the unit' just fifteen years ago and it works
poorly and upon checking your records you find that you only repaired it
so it was 'just working'".  In a case like that, I usually feel like
saying, "WOW... pretty good repair job!", but I don't.

The thread winds on........

Musically Flexible,
John A. Tuttle (

(Message sent Tue 21 Oct 1997, 18:04:28 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Piano, Player, Prices, Restoration

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