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What to do when a luthier doesn't deliver?
Old 30th June 2017
  #1
Here for the gear
 

What to do when a luthier doesn't deliver?

Hi Board Members,

Has anybody here ever commissioned a luthier to build a guitar and then not had the luthier deliver on the deal? I’m Australian (currently living in Sydney). I have ordered/paid in part for a custom build from a luthier in California but he hasn’t come through on his end of the deal. Any ideas how to deal with this legally in the state of California? If you’re at all interested I’ve written a fairly detailed outline of the situation below. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

The barebones full story (If you like long stories):
Back in April 2013, during the time when I lived in East Asia, I ordered a custom guitar from a luthier who has a reputation for quality builds (but as it later became clear not for punctuality). After first contact we backed and forwarded over the specs/design for a couple of weeks. Finally, we reached an agreement (all via email mind you) and he quoted a price and an 18 month wait for completion/delivery. For me, it was/is an expensive guitar and I placed my trust in this guy based on his reputation as a world class builder. This guitar was meant to be the guitar to replace all my others so I proceeded with making the down payment at 50% of the agreed price for the build with the idea in my head that I’d be selling all my other guitars over the next year and a half. I remember the international bank transfer fees and the weak Korean won at the time really put a dent in my wallet! Ouch…but I clung to the thought of playing one of his much ballyhooed guitars...

After 12 months he advised that he was behind schedule for the due delivery period. It didn’t really phase me so much at the time but he kept presenting with more and more excuses for delays. Some of them seemed pretty understandable and I like to think I’m pretty reasonable so I just let it slide believing that it would be finished soon enough. I had other stuff on my plate too.

But as time continued to pass by with no results I started to worry about it, a lot! So I tried to get in contact with him to get some answers. The guy doesn’t really answer his telephone so it was terribly difficult to get in touch with him. Also the time difference made it really difficult. His email responses can take up to 2-3 months to arrive if at all.

As it happened, I was in the US in September 2015. I was thinking about just turning up at his workshop to see what was happening but that wasn’t necessary as I finally got to speak to him on the phone. He assured me the guitar would be ready by January 2016. I went back to Korea and sold a couple of guitars and some studio gear to prep for the upcoming final payments. He sent some pics of the instrument in progress but of course, he didn’t come through as promised.

Over the following months we would have periods of communication and I did (possibly quiet annoyingly for him) change my mind on some electronics in the build. In my defence, this was mostly because he was running so late that guitar technology was changing and moving forward in leaps and bounds.

Time rolled on and he contacted me requesting another 25% payment last October. I was feeling over a barrel but not able to 'not pay' him as I wanted the guitar finished and the finished guitar. He promptly went off the air after receiving payment again.

Since then we’ve had some heated words via email where I really lost my ****. I got his attention if nothing else. Now I pretty much have no way to contact him since he will not reply to my emails and doesn’t answer his phone. He did seem apologetic for the delays and has claimed the guitar is going ahead and represents his 'best work' but he has given me nothing concrete re: completion. I’m sure the guy has had some challenging times and all BUT the long and short of it all is that he still hasn’t delivered the guitar in late June 2017 (over 4 years) despite him having 75% of my payments in his pocket.

What should I do?

I suppose it’s weird that I’m posting this here because it’s a fairly personal issue but I’m not really sure about how to proceed with this guy. He's a human and he's a artist but he's also got a responsibility here. It’s rather embarrassing to admit I've got myself in this situation - I’m kind of clutching at any advice that may come from one of the many musicians who read this forum, especially the Americans amongst us. Also, I guess some of you might know the guy and can deduce his identity from the story. Any advice for how to deal with this situation to reach a win win outcome?

Last edited by vaultnaemsae; 30th June 2017 at 03:58 PM.. Reason: Removing city reference
Old 30th June 2017
  #2
Gear Guru
 
Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

We've learned from other, similar threads about mom and pop gear-makers that naming names doesn't help. Thanks for not doing that. It's a shame when this happens, and I really hope you can get it worked out.
Old 30th June 2017
  #3
Here for the gear
 

Hi Brent, Thanks for your reply. I'm not quite ready to go in for that internet shaming game - but I've thought about it. Just seeking solutions. The only solid idea I've got is to file a claim in the California state small claims court. Just concerned about statutes of limitation and costs of dealing with it from overseas.
Old 30th June 2017
  #4
Lives for gear
 
voodoo4u's Avatar
I don't know how the law works in California or even the rest of the US, but if it's similar to Canada, the first thing I would consider is to hire a Monterey law firm to send him a demand letter stating that you wish to have the return of your deposit based on his non compliance to the original agreement. It's a bit of a paper tiger, but some people get nervous at the thought of legal action being taken against them. The next step might be to find someone in Monterey that could represent you in small claims court.

Of course only you could be the judge as to whether it's worth throwing a little bit of good money at it to possibly get little result. And of course if that fails, I have a friend named Guido I could call for you.
Old 30th June 2017
  #5
Here for the gear
 

Voodo4u,

That's pretty much the lines I'm thinking along...The lawyer I mean...Dude with a mean stare and a big stick is a last resort. You see, we don't have so many guns in Australia
Old 28th July 2017
  #6
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pr0gr4m's Avatar
4 years? 4 Years? FOUR YEARS? ...and still no guitar?! I would lose my **** as well. You can't be faulted for that. If it took 1 more year but you got the guitar for the agreed upon price, would you be OK with that? You realize that would be 5 years (half a decade) to make the guitar. The Burj Khalifa was built in 5 years.

Here's the thing. 18 months was (we'll call it) the estimate. For a dream guitar, I would be willing to wait as long as it takes and I'd be afraid to rock the boat for fear of losing the dream guitar. If I was told 18 months and it took 2 years, I'd probably be fine with that. But at the 3 year mark, I'd be crazy. After 4 years it would become personal. You have paid him untold thousands of dollars and have nothing to show for it, no timeline for completion and no confidence that you'll ever see the guitar.

North Road Guitars' (not a plug, just a random google search result) site says that it would take a first-timer about 200 hours to make their first guitar from scratch - and that's an acoustic! With that, if your guy spent just 1 hour per week it would have been done 2 years ago. But he is an experienced Luthier so it should take him considerably less. He simply isn't doing the work...and obviously doesn't care to. 4 years = 23360 hours...and that is after subtracting 8 hours a day for sleep.

You need to figure out what you want.
Do you want your money back?
Do you want the guitar...still?
Do you want the guitar but don't want to pay the remaining 25%?
Is there something else you would consider?

Once you know what you want, then the next course of action should be easy.

I'd want to go out to a farm and find me a brown snake, stick it in a box and ship it to him...overnight!
I'd want find out if any of his excuses were true...hire a private investigator to see what he has been up to for the last 4 years and what he currently is doing.
I'd want to take some fine grit sandpaper and a belt sander to the bottom of his feet.

But I'm not insane so I never act on my first, second, third, fourth, hell, my first dozen or so impulses.

Figure out what you want, hire an attorney and let them handle the rest.

I'd would try to see if could get the guitar without paying the last 25%. For it being so long, he should definitely eat that amount. And I would want (probably couldn't get) photographic updates of the "progress" every week.

Good luck.

Last edited by pr0gr4m; 29th July 2017 at 12:24 AM..
Old 28th December 2017
  #7
Lives for gear
 
PdotDdot's Avatar
A while back I got into the Flatpick Guitar contest thing and while going to contests, festivals, workshops and stuff I met a builder who I liked. I liked one or two of his guitars. He had a different twist to building. Anyway, I came into a bit of money so decided to ask him to build what I thought might be the ultimate dreadnought. He made the guitar out of some beautiful Brazilian Rosewood (legally acquired) and he add all the accoutrements I requested like a sound hole on the upper bought near the neck and even some of the decor.

When I got the guitar I was ultra disappointed as the thing sounded like a piece of crap and the finish was horrible.

I did not have the heart to tell him how disappointed I was so I just chalked it up as an extravagant foray that did not turn out the way I had hoped and expected it would. I intend to eventually sell the guitar and will certainly lose money on it but I do hope it is worth something as the rosewood is beautiful.
Old 28th December 2017
  #8
Gear Guru
If anyone is interested there is a luthier Bill Tippin in Mass who is absolutely the best. Classy guy and beautiful instruments. I have a Collings and while no slouch as a guitar, I'd trade it in a heartbeat for a Tippin. Not cheap but he will build to specs and actually revoiced my Collings.
Old 24th January 2018
  #9
Here for the gear
 

Hi Gearslutz forumites,

I’m pleased to inform you that the luthier I posted about originally has finally delivered the guitar I had been so worried about. It took close to 5 years but it’s in my hands now. I’m very happy with the guitar and certainly can’t fault the craftsmanship or the tone/resonant quality it embodies. Honestly, I still don’t understand exactly why it took so long but the builder showed himself to be a decent fellow in our exchanges surrounding the final payments and delivery of the instrument. It was a pretty hot topic for a while there but I’m glad I can finally lay it to rest and get down to playing some music on a really fine instrument now. Thanks for all the input everybody gave along the way.

Cheers,
Luke
Old 24th January 2018
  #10
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by vaultnaemsae View Post
Hi Gearslutz forumites,

I’m pleased to inform you that the luthier I posted about originally has finally delivered the guitar I had been so worried about. It took close to 5 years but it’s in my hands now. I’m very happy with the guitar and certainly can’t fault the craftsmanship or the tone/resonant quality it embodies. Honestly, I still don’t understand exactly why it took so long but the builder showed himself to be a decent fellow in our exchanges surrounding the final payments and delivery of the instrument. It was a pretty hot topic for a while there but I’m glad I can finally lay it to rest and get down to playing some music on a really fine instrument now. Thanks for all the input everybody gave along the way.

Cheers,
Luke
I just saw this thread today. For what it is worth, I think you did everything right, which is unusual, but good. Sometimes, being unreasonably patient is the best and only thing you can do. I understand your situation was not ideal. I also understand playing a really nice guitar with the weight of the situation taken off your shoulders is a really good feeling. So, like I said, I think you did everything right.
Old 24th January 2018
  #11
Lives for gear
 

5 years.....wow. I'm antsy if it would have been 5 months.
Old 24th January 2018
  #12
Gear Guru
Hey for all of you who want a great read and to maybe get some insight of luthiers and wait time read "Clapton's Guitar" about Wayne Henderson building a guitar. Great read and very funny.....
Old 1st February 2018
  #13
Lives for gear
 

Artistically minded people who hold themselves to a very high standard can be like this, this is quite common. Their underlying goal is pure class, not hitting a deadline, and holding onesself to this standard can be quite stressful (if you're doing your absolute best, its not going to be easy it'll require pushing yourself to the limits, regardless of skill and experience), esp in combination with real life throwing things at you. It kinda is what it is when dealing with the best of the best who put quality above all else.
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