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View Full Version : Building the Custom Ukulele: What if the Customer Doesn't Like it?



sequoia
10-18-2016, 05:29 PM
I've only built one custom uke before and I did not enjoy the experience. Now, I find myself in the position of building another custom uke (against my better judegement). However, the potential buyer asks a simple question: What if I don't like the final product?

Good question. How do you luthiers who build custom instruments deal with this? The client wants some rather eccentric ideas that might make an instrument less, let us say, sales worthy? It might not be accepted because it doesn't sound "warm" enough. What should the contractual agreement be here?

hawaii 50
10-18-2016, 06:09 PM
I've only built one custom uke before and I did not enjoy the experience. Now, I find myself in the position of building another custom uke (against my better judegement). However, the potential buyer asks a simple question: What if I don't like the final product?

Good question. How do you luthiers who build custom instruments deal with this? The client wants some rather eccentric ideas that might make an instrument less, let us say, sales worthy? It might not be accepted because it doesn't sound "warm" enough. What should the contractual agreement be here?



if the customer does not like it...he should be able to return it....you can try to fix what he does not like...fit and finish wise...but if the customer does not like the tone....that should be on the builder.....IMO

the builder should know what he is doing but the customer must do his homework too.....builder should have a policy in place on returns
btw sometimes the builder has to say no on the build if he not comfortable....

my 2 cents

Patrick Madsen
10-18-2016, 07:17 PM
I was a hi fire potter for many years with my brother. Custom orders can be a PITA. We were always leery of those asking right away about not liking the end result;it was usually those that had eccentric requests. If it was customized to the point where we couldn't resell it and it was made to their specs with no defects; we'd take it back minus the deposit. If it could be resold, no problem.

It's always a good idea to require a healthy deposit on anything custom made. It keeps those who have ridiculous, off the cuff ideas from ordering whilly Nilly. It takes confidence to know if you want to tackle a project or not. Being able to say no saves you and the buyer a lot of headaches.

sequoia
10-18-2016, 07:48 PM
Thanks for the good advice. I hear you. If the customer doesn't like the sound, return no questions asked absolutely. I totally agree. I just have the feeling that they won't like any sound because they don't understand what ukulele sound they want to begin with. (Guitar player by way). I think no would be the best way to go here. I just need to think of a way to say it nicely. How about this: So sorry. It's not you, it's me.

Michael Smith
10-18-2016, 08:49 PM
This is where screening your customer is vital. A good customer won't reject your hard work and good product unless there really is something wrong with it. And if it there is they will let you fix it.

On the other hand a bad customer might try to return a product that is a fine instrument that you have inlayed I love you Jenny or some such thing that you could never resell.

I havnen't had that happen yet but it could and a small amout of that should probibley be priced in to commissioned instruments.

I also agree with those who say to get a very large deposit and you might even get additional payments before completion. I believe for most people it's easier to come up with smaller payment at the end. Thier financial circumstances could change or their interest in have a custom instrument could change. So the smaller amount they have to come up with at the end the better.

Dan Gleibitz
10-18-2016, 10:41 PM
if the customer does not like it...he should be able to return it....you can try to fix what he does not like...fit and finish wise...but if the customer does not like the tone....that should be on the builder.....IMO

Maybe I'm just the dream client, but I'm on a different page with this.

If I want a piece of work from a particular artist, I will find out what is available from that artist, and buy a piece that I like if one is available. If I choose to commission a piece of art from an artist, they're going to find out a few things about what I like and then they've got the reins. If I've chosen the right artist they'll deliver something I like. If they don't, then I didn't. I'm not going to go back to the artist and tell them how to fix it!

Same with instruments. If I choose to pay a large sum of money to somebody who doesn't know how to make a good sounding instrument, or puts the soundhole in the back or the bridge on the inside, that's on me for choosing them. Caveat emptor.

I think some buyers are just rissoles who see the person they're paying as labour for their personal creative vision. Stuff them.

Timbuck
10-18-2016, 11:07 PM
I dont do custom jobs...I worry every time I sell one that the buyer will find something wrong with it.
My Grannie used tell me .."Theers nowt as queer as folk" ;)

Michael N.
10-19-2016, 02:30 AM
Custom instruments are just that, a custom instrument. Made for one particular person. If he or she is insisting on certain aesthetic details that make it more difficult to sell you have a few choices: take it back with a full refund, take it back but with a certain proportion deducted, have a no return policy.
I ALWAYS make it clear that if they insist on something that is a little out of the ordinary, there's no return. None. I have a certain leeway with things like fretboard width, scale length, action, maybe wood choice. That's about it. Anything else and you could be setting yourself up for an instrument that no one else wants. Bad enough if you are an amateur or semi pro, terrible if you are relying on it for your weekly income.
You have to make that judgement but I will give you one piece of advice: don't make it any harder on yourself than it already is.

Pete Howlett
10-19-2016, 02:37 AM
I no longer take deposits or do custom work. I don't know if it's arrogance on my part or just that I am at a place where I can say, " This is what I can do for you... if you want such and such I suggest you go to (insert name of appropriate build)." I think you get into a real mess when you allow clients control over fundamental design processes and decisions that are yours to make. I hope they have confidence to buy me and my designs, the complete package. Custom 'inlay' is an easy one - create the design, get it approved.

coitmusic
10-19-2016, 02:56 AM
As another potter, I'd like to offer a few more thoughts on this:
In my way of thinking, there is a very big difference between a custom order and personalized order. I'm getting away from taking any orders at all, but try never to take ones for items with names or images that are specific to the customer. The risk of being stuck with them is just too great. If they want a mug in a color that I don't normally produce it in, then fine, I can always sell it someone else.

As taught by my mentor, I don't take deposits on orders, either. Here's the reasoning: if you want me to make something for you, great! I'll take down the info and how to contact you and let you know when it's ready. If you don't like it, I'll sell it someone else. I don't have to keep track of how much was paid and when or provide a refund on refusal (not very common.) It is important to note that I don't offer this up front or make it widely known. The greatest benefit to me is not having the pressure of a customer with "skin in the game" calling me up daily to ask on their order. I give an estimate on a completion date, but make it known that it may not be accurate and I will be the one to contact them when it is ready.

I'm fortunate that most of my materials are very inexpensive, so my upfront costs are low. I recognize that as the quality of the wood and hardware of a uke go up, this might not be practical advice for luthiers.

Michael N.
10-19-2016, 03:14 AM
You have to be in a good position to not have to take deposits. There aren't that many makers who are. The problem is that you get too many people who change their mind. Once they have to pay a deposit it tends to focus their mind. Anyone can 'order' an instrument if they don't have to put something down, easiest thing to do in the world, zero commitment. Take their deposit, put it into a separate account. If for some reason you can't fulfill their order, pay them back in full. It only gets a little tricky with overseas orders and money exchange fees. That's the only time it will cost you.

hoosierhiver
10-19-2016, 05:11 AM
Thanks for the good advice. I hear you. If the customer doesn't like the sound, return no questions asked absolutely. I totally agree. I just have the feeling that they won't like any sound because they don't understand what ukulele sound they want to begin with. (Guitar player by way). I think no would be the best way to go here. I just need to think of a way to say it nicely. How about this: So sorry. It's not you, it's me.

"I don't think I can meet your expectations and I don't want to waste your time."

Beau Hannam Ukuleles
10-19-2016, 05:44 AM
ASSUMING all the woodwork, finish and tone are good quality. Then there would be no reason for them to return it. However,,..

My warranty stipulates items can be returned after a trial period (This is a standard position to have).

BUT if any strange custom work is on it, then the customer has to pay for my time to change those things back to a sellable instument.

To use a outlandish example, if i had inlayed "I Love Justin Bieber" in MOP into the fretboard for them, they would have to pay me for the fingerboard replacement and extra finish work etc

A deposit is my first line of defence against 10 "can you" emails from someone.

Non refundable deposits seperate the time wasting tire kickers from those that are ready to commit to a custom instrument.

Rrgramps
10-19-2016, 05:59 AM
One good thing about a hobby is that you own it. When in a business, the customer drives it.

Those are not exclusive statements, but a fairly accurate generalization. If, for example, you are successfully selling your product but are not customer-driven, it may be because your product is excellent and you are supplying a customer niche. You don't have to take requests due to your skill set.

In fact, as seen here and perhaps experienced by a few of us, turning a customer loose on our product development can possibly put an end to that. If we are artisans of any degree, a demanding customer can stifle our creativity.

Moral of my story? Don't take request.

That's enough BS from me. (For now).

Pete Howlett
10-19-2016, 07:29 AM
Yes I am fortunate - in fact, it's taken me just 21 years to be fortunate :) And the customer doesn't drive my business, I do. It's mine and as an artisan producing 'art' objects I have complete design control. Just me... I am not going to be swept along by anyone else whims!

Kekani
10-19-2016, 10:36 AM
Not unlike Pete (btw, THANK YOU for the ROLLER!), I don't take deposits. For me, if the customer doesn't like it, I'll sell it.

I do love creating customs. Consulting with the right clients, and delivering their instruments is awesome. Doing that with the wrong client is not.

When I turn down a build, I try to match them with others that can fill their need. I used to take almost anything, from altered neck shapes, tunings, woods, radiused fretboards, etc. Not anymore. There are others that can do some of that stuff better than me, and that's ok.

printer2
10-19-2016, 12:35 PM
I recall a successful luthier say that he will make a personalized instrument but if it is rejected and it has poor resale value then he deducts an appropriate amount from the refund. If it is an easy sell then the customer gets all the money back. Maybe a consignment deal, you will try to sell the instrument for an agreed price, if it does not sell well it might be priced too high. If the customer wants to sell it himself if he think he can do a better job all the power to him. Unless the builder oversold his talents and the customer is looking for something out of line of what the builder is known for the builder should not be the one holding the bag.


At least in my mind.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
10-19-2016, 01:34 PM
Refund their money if they are not happy after the inspection period. Make sure you understand what their gripe is. It may be legit or you may have to educate them on some aspect of the instrument.

But let's back up a bit. The better advice is to never build an instrument that you couldn't easily resell. I warn my customers against highly personalized ukes for the same reason. Custom ukuleles are like baseball cards, they are traded and resold all the time and they represent a substantial investment. It's nice to know that investment is liquid if the need arises. If someone insists on you doing something very unusual, make sure make sure you've got the skills to carry it out successfully to minimize any possible disappointment. If it's an inlay with their name on it, for instance, the customer should be well familiar with and happy with your work and trust you to do a job where they will not want to return it. Know your customer and know your limitations and comfort zone. And it's OK to say no if you feel uncomfortable for any reason at all.

Nickie
10-19-2016, 01:51 PM
Chuck, I couldn't agree more. I wouldn't ever have my name as part of the décor of my uke, I'm not famous yet.

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
10-19-2016, 02:06 PM
Chuck, I couldn't agree more. I wouldn't ever have my name as part of the décor of my uke, I'm not famous yet.

If you're famous you've probably gotten your uke for free. ;)

Nickie
10-19-2016, 02:08 PM
If you're famous you've probably gotten your uke for free. ;)

Far from it, my friend, far from it.

sequoia
10-19-2016, 05:16 PM
Well the client and I had a long and fruitful discussion today. I'm going to build an instrument to my specs but to her ideology. This is the famous vegan uke. I assured them that no animals will be harmed in the building of this uke and that it is "animal friendly" in every way. This means no shell and no bone. Easy enough to do and I think it will make a fine uke. Ebony nut and saddle, stone rosette and perloid dots. The parts that irks my inner artist is the use of perloid. I hate the look and idea of perloid, but if she doesn't like the sound and I have to take it back, the first thing I will do is drill out the perloid and replace with something else. Anything but perloid.

Now as to the issue of shellac. I don't like the sound or look of acrylates or nitro so it is going to be shellac. Now as everyone knows, shellac doesn't contain bugs but is the egg casings of the insects. True, I sometimes find eggs floating in my unfiltered shellac, but bug eggs don't count. At least I don't think so. I've been talking with vegans to confirm this and apparently killing bug eggs is OK... You know, who would have thought that building ukuleles entails such questions as the sanctity of bug eggs, but there you go.

I don't mean to sound like I'm making fun of this person for their beliefs, but rather this is not something I expected to ever encounter as a design parameter. But you know what? I kinda like the challenge.

Michael N.
10-19-2016, 10:57 PM
Right, so no hide glue! I wonder why bug eggs don't count? Of course the yeast that went into making the alcohol was a living organism, killed off by the alcohol it produced itself. This debate could go on and on.
Tru oil. Made from linseed oil. Not much else in there, alkyd resin which is produced from oil as well, likely a metal drier and a perhaps a bit of a petroleum based solvent. No bugs, virtually all plant material.

Michael N.
10-20-2016, 02:24 AM
I've come across that finish before, although I've certainly not tried it. Going by the MSDS declaration it seems very much like an old fashioned pine resin oil varnish. Maybe even not that far removed from what the Cremonese were putting on their violins.
Unfortunately and not surprisingly it doesn't give us the ratio of resin to oil. That would have gone a long way to telling us how this stuff behaves. It's one of those that you would have to do a test piece or two to gauge it's properties. I can't see it being as hard as some of the modern oil varnishes, those with synthetic resins but it might be very similar to Tru oil, which isn't a bad oil varnish at all. I doubt it will affect the tone at all unless you start to plaster the stuff on.

printer2
10-20-2016, 03:55 AM
I say Tru oil. Just one less bottle of the stuff not being applied to a gun stock. ;)

Beau Hannam Ukuleles
10-20-2016, 04:25 AM
Shellac is an animal by-product, but like honey or milk, the animal isn't affected at all by it being taken away.

Use a Tusq saddle (Tusq is plastic, which is a tree by-product)- It will give a better tone then ebony.

Dots are pretty small so don't worry about the mop vs pearliod look.

Another cool thing is clay dots that the original fender guitars use to use- they have a dull matt look compared to mop or pearliod.

http://www.stewmac.com/SiteSearch/?search=clay%20dots

I just read that these stew mac clay dots are actually Corian copies. the original fender dots were real clay!

mzuch
10-20-2016, 04:52 AM
Vegans typically do not eat eggs, drink milk, or use any products derived from animals. If your customer is a strict vegan, shellac would not be acceptable.

Also,shellac is not made from egg casings; it is essentially bug spit. From Wikipedia: Shellac is scraped from the bark of the trees where the female lac bug, Kerria lacca (Order Hemiptera, Family Kerriidae), also known as Laccifer lacca, secretes it to form a tunnel-like tube as it traverses the branches of the tree. Though these tunnels are sometimes referred to as "cocoons", they are not literally cocoons in the entomological sense. The insects suck the sap of the tree and excrete "sticklac" almost constantly.

kohanmike
10-20-2016, 05:13 AM
This is one of the most interesting conversations I've seen on UU. My nephew is strictly vegan, no animal products what-so-ever. I'm going to have to ask him how bugs fit in for him.

Yankulele
10-20-2016, 05:22 AM
I recently heard an interview with husband/wife vegan chefs who run "Vedge" in Philly. They don't use honey, as bees are involved, though, when queried, they were a little thin on the ethical argument for this choice. I imagine shellac might be problematic. Isn't honey bee spit?

Nelson

hoosierhiver
10-20-2016, 05:43 AM
As a beekeeper, I've heard vegans make outrageous claims about the cruelty of beekeeping based on false information. In general vegans don't eat honey or use any animal products. Bees make propolis from tree sap, I'd imagine it isn't much different from other insect based shellac. Lastly, honey is not bee spit or bee vomit, nectar is collected and stored in a separate pouch that isn't for digestion, enzymes are added and the nectar is placed into cells to dry off the excess water before being capped off for storage.

Michael Smith
10-20-2016, 08:05 AM
[QUOTE=Beau Hannam Ukuleles;1903434]Shellac is an animal by-product, but like honey or milk, the animal isn't affected at all by it being taken away.

Yes shellac is a by product but all the bugs have not left when it is harvested so a lot of the beatles and eggs are killed in the process.

sequoia
10-20-2016, 05:03 PM
[QUOTE=Beau Hannam Ukuleles;1903434]Shellac is an animal by-product, but like honey or milk, the animal isn't affected at all by it being taken away.

Yes shellac is a by product but all the bugs have not left when it is harvested so a lot of the beatles and eggs are killed in the process.

OK. I'll grant you that insects may die during the lac harvesting process. But where does this all end? How about when the trees are cut down? For sure there are insects in the bark and in the wood that will be killed during the sawing process to say nothing of the toad that the tree fell on. The toad did not survive. Does this mean that wood is also taboo?

Kekani
10-20-2016, 09:01 PM
There's a handful of builders (or more) that have read this thread and are silently thinking to themselves, among other things, "I'm glad I know how to say 'no'", or something thereof, including, "I'm glad I can build what I want, and sell everything that I make."

A few clients have asked me to build them a Baritone. Here's a response I used that hasn't been mentioned yet, "I can't." They asked, and I did agree, that they be put on my wait list for baritones. It's a very short list, with no projected completion date. . .

Michael N.
10-20-2016, 10:22 PM
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/19/why-dont-vegans-eat-honey-google-questions
This is an article explaining about bees wax. I am no a vegan, but this answers the vegan questions about bees wax.

Carnauba wax is made from plants and is a very useful wax for wood finishes. Linseed oil and walnut oil are plant based drying oils which can be used to finish wood.
I do not think Tru Oil, which is linseed oil with chemical drying agents would qualify as vegan because the drying chemicals are toxic. As I posted before there are plant based products which are not toxic and meet some food safe standards. You can safely eat refined versions of linseed oil (aka flaxseed oil) and walnut oil, or use them to apply a finish.
So there are feasible alternative finishes which satisfy the vegan ethics.

Perhaps a useful aspect of this discussion is for wood workers to realise that in 2016 you do not have to have dangerous chemicals and poisons in your work shop for wood finishes. If you do not have a problem with bees wax, the safe finish list expands. You can set a up finishing station that is almost 100% food safe, and know that you and your employees/buddies are not risking death or needing respiratory protection to apply a good finish. Whether or not you are a vegan. Obviously there are disadvantages and costs to the finishes, like drying times, as well.

Of course there are driers in Tru oil, otherwise it would take a mighty long time for it to dry. It's the same with linseed or any other drying oil, ages to dry. These oils don't have a resin content, so it's a pretty soft finish even when they are dry.
But let's move on to the toxicity. I doubt that anyone Vegan can claim that they don't use or wear products that don't have any toxicity somewhere along their production chain, even if they aren't toxic as an end product. They frequently have to use man made products that are made with a cocktail of chemicals. In fact these products are to be found everywhere, so ubiquitous that it's virtually impossible to avoid them.
If you really want an oil varnish without driers I can easily recommend one. It's made with linseed and a resin, no driers. Much harder to apply than Tru oil. You will almost certainly need a lot of sun or you will need to build a UV drying cabinet. It takes at least 3 months to get hard, then it acts very similar to Tru oil.

Dan Gleibitz
10-21-2016, 02:53 AM
If you look at post #24 I have already found a supply of linseed based finish which has non-toxic additives

I'm not trying to be argumentative, but you might need to point to the specific product. For example, from their bathroom furniture oil:

"Contains cobalt (2+) salt. Can cause allergic reactions.

R 43 May cause sensitization by skin contact.
S 2 Keep out of the reach of children.
S 24 Avoid contact with skin.
S 37 Wear suitable gloves.
S 62 If swallowed, do not induce vomiting: seek medical advice immediately and show this container or label."

I'm having trouble imagining any drying agent with zero toxicity...

Even their food safe countertop oil has a LD50 rating somewhere above 5 grams per kilogram for mammals. LD50 is the Leathal Dose 50% rating, the point at which half of the test subjects died, if my recollections from my farm chemicals course are correct.

Heck even water is toxic if consumed in quantity (albeit a highly improbable quantity).

Michael N.
10-21-2016, 03:32 AM
You won't get three coats of an oil varnish dry in three days without a siccative. You would struggle to get one coat dry in three days. I know, I've made the stuff from scratch a number of times. The stuff needs UV to dry it and lot's of it, especially if you omit the metal salt. It can be done but there are very, very few oil varnishes made today that do not contain a drier. Those that do tend to be very specialised, for the art market or for violin makers. They also tend to be very expensive. If you want to do a test try getting a bottle of raw linseed or walnut oil and pooling it on a surface like glass. Place it in the middle of a room and see how long it takes to skin over. You'll be waiting days if not weeks. Even heat treated linseed takes days to dry.
All they are saying is that their varnish is free of lead. I can't remember the last time I read of a varnish containing lead. They've moved on to other driers, which really just means that they are less toxic than lead.

Beau Hannam Ukuleles
10-21-2016, 04:06 AM
or egg whites...oh wait....