How to deal with tech assements/repairs?
« on: October 23, 2009, 07:53:54 AM »
Hi Guys,

Just looking for some input/advise/help.

As many of you know I closed my studio down last month and have been making a living (if you can call it that) this month from doing tech jobs, mainly servicing amps, pedals and the like. 90% of the time I am able to to completely diagnosis and fix the problems... but there are times I can't or it is beyond the realm of knowledge/control (i.e digital devices/proprietary parts etc).

Case in point... Today I had a client bring me a digital pedal. I checked out all the voltages, followed it from the DC/AC jack thought the didoes/recifiers and IC's, all the voltages checked out fine... that took an hour, to disassemble the pedal, take the readings, do some basic trouble shooting and write up a report.

So while my diagonis did not lead to a fix it did enable the Line 6 agents to make an assement based on my report that the problem doesn't lie in the PSU where 90% of the problems do and they may well just replace the whole PCB as they won't expend the time tracing down the problem on the digital domain (it is all SMD).

Now my question is how do you deal with that? I feel bad charging since I didn't repair the unit, but I did give an evaluation and write up on the process I followed and then stopped because they was little more I could do at the point, which took time.

In the end I charged the client half my hourly bench time to be compensated for the hour + I worked on the pedal.

Just wondering how those that do this for a living deal with these issues? I often get phone calls from guys saying X or Y is broken, how much to fix it? It is hard to make that assessment without SEEING the unit, and then what, do you charge for an initial assessment, because it still take time, even if you don't fix it.

Would love any thoughts or input on the issue.


Matt Allison

We are not going to start thinking of ways to get an octopus to commit a crime, cause that just has failure written all over it – Earl J Hickey


Re: How to deal with tech assements/repairs?
« Reply #1 on: October 23, 2009, 08:19:56 AM »
I have this same problem, It is another reason I have not quit my day job.
A minimum diagnostic type charge is pretty standard I think. And if service/repair goes over a stated amount than you would get permission and give cost quote before performing repair.
With gear that may not make sense to repair or is beyond your ability, having a fee to look diagnose will make it somewhat worthwhile to determine if it is an easy fix and retain business. I don't think you would want to appear unsure of your ability when presented with digital/SMD gear (like I do). I would make the fee double what my time is worth and cut it in half if I felt guilty about not being able to finish... FWIW I am not a businessman during the daytime either. If this is your primary income, other costs need to be factored.
"really fine players do not use stomp boxes or master volume, they match the amp to the room and turn it up to 11.  Stevie Ray, BB King, Albert King, Duane Allman, Dicky Betts, Louis Armstrong"


Re: How to deal with tech assements/repairs?
« Reply #2 on: October 23, 2009, 10:12:06 AM »
I remember years ago taking a carvin quad x guitar preamp to a guy who specialised in valve amps. He was unable to fix it since the unit wasn't really a valve device at all. It was ostensibly a computer effect box with a bunch of 12ax7's running at non plate voltages just to give it a bit of colour. It was the early 90's of course!

He wanted his money for taking the time to look at it and determining he couldn't fix it. Being someone who avoids confrontation I paid him and left but felt totally ripped off. I had been separated from $120 and still had a preamp that wouldn't work. I was in the same position I was in before
I went to the store but I was poorer.  I never went back again for any of my other proper valve amp repairs and sought alternative repairers. He lost repeat business from me without even realising. I dont say this to be a sore loser, just trying to demonstrate that whilst disapointment wasn't shown outwardly, potential repeat business was lost and how many other people may have done the same thing?

Now with a few years of life  experience and a modest understanding of electronics, I can understand why he couldn't rectify what was really a requisite new daughterboard PCB issue, and having made projects here I understand the time and work that goes into electronic work. That being said I still can't help but feel that the experience didn't benefit the repairer at all, however I understand his predicament and yours Matta. It did take him his time to find what was going on.

My feeling is that there is no real answer but you can consider the following which I think is very valid -  There is no way to measure lost business, and just because you do the ground work for free doesn't mean people will keep coming back with other gear. I can concede that you may end up constantly doing freebies for nothing. My feeling is that if the original repair guy had told me up front that it may be beyond his scope and if that transpired to be the case he would still charge me, i may have elected to go for his review of my preamp anyway.

Because he didn't say anything in the beginning I felt burnt and let down. So my thinking is that communication is the real key here. If you can make the customer understand and appreciate what you have to go through and how much work you have to do just to see if you can fix it, they may be more happy to pay half or most of your cost.  Let them understand the depth of work you have to do!
« Last Edit: October 23, 2009, 12:00:38 PM by deuce42 »


Re: How to deal with tech assements/repairs?
« Reply #3 on: October 23, 2009, 11:33:57 AM »
+1.. You need to make an assessment on the spot as to whether you believe you can fix it or not... and ask the customer if he wants to pay you some hourly rate for your time, even if you don't.

I suspect most customers would not want to pay a garage for working on their car if they couldn't fix it... While i suspect some of that happens too..

I would be inclined to not charge for repairs I couldn't complete, and perhaps charge a little more to cover my time. Look at this from your customer's perspective... The customer is always right, even when he's wrong. I also appreciate that modern technology involves a lot of subassemblies that are very difficult to troubleshoot without a deep understanding of the design.

The good news for such repairs is you know the circuit did work once (as compared to debugging new designs that could be wrong)... so all you need to do is find out what changed... With so many flash programmed parts, if that is what's broken, you have no way of fixing it yourself.

It's nice to be nice....


Re: How to deal with tech assements/repairs?
« Reply #4 on: October 23, 2009, 12:38:53 PM »

Thanks for your thoughts and input, it is encouraging, and I fully understand the customers feelings and as you say they are always right and I pride myself on being a relational person and my business is build on that personable factor.

Thankfully in this case I had prepped the client. He called saying the pedal was as dead as a door nail and I explained that I work on old valve amps and solidstate through hole electronics and I'm not set-up or inclined to work on DSP/Digital or SMD devices and have 2 other techs that I recommend in this case, and they inturn refer valve stuff to me. The said DSP tech has never SEEN a valve let alone worked on a valve amp!  I shared I could look at it for him and if the problem was power supply related, which more often than not it is, I could repair it, but I couldn't promise anything.

After all was said and done he brought it in and I shared I went as far as I could (he sat in while I did all the work) and gave him a written synopsis to provide the agents who recommend he come see me, even though they know I don't work on DSP/Digital stuff and asked him to decide if he wanted to pay me just a portion of the bench time and he paid me more than I had suggested, 50% and I feel he left happy so it was a win-win but it still brought things into light for me.

As John shared you have to have to almost make an assessment on the spot and decide if it is something you feel you can assist with... but even then you need some kind of buffer, and it all comes down to communication and the way I think I will proceed is to impose a MAX hour to look at a piece of gear and discern if it is repairable by myself and preface any client interaction by sharing that my hourly bench-time is X and if they want me to assess the situation and I CAN'T repair it that I will them charge 50% of my hourly rate and let the decide what to do.

I once had a client bring in an ART PRO VLA and apparently it worked because the VU meter lights came on but he wasn't getting any sound and he assured me that it must be something small as nothing had happened to it. He brought it in I took it apart to find EVERY lytic cap had exploded and the entire PCB was covered in electrolyte... It then came out he had a power surge rip through his neighbourhood and that is when it stopped working... all started to make sense...

I shared it REALLY wasn't worth fixing as desoldering 50+ caps with a recap on  board wasn't cost effective consider the value of the gear, and then we wouldn't know what other damage was done to the rest of the circuit... he ended up giving me what was left of it for my time in explaining it all to him and I reused the case to rack my personal pair of 1272's...still have the blown up oozing PCB in my workshop as a memento.

Jobs like that you just can't make an assessment on without seeing it first, which makes it very hard, but yes, certain things I just need to say no to and I know are beyond my level of expertise.

Thanks again guys, it is always helpful to bounce these things off of like minded folk.


Matt Allison

We are not going to start thinking of ways to get an octopus to commit a crime, cause that just has failure written all over it – Earl J Hickey


Re: How to deal with tech assements/repairs?
« Reply #5 on: October 23, 2009, 01:40:58 PM »

Pretty much all been said but briefly any professional work including giving advice is chargable. After all that is how we make our living. I do not mind inspecting an equipment free of charge as long as the client is a regular, but I learned to respond to questions like " my amp crackles, what do you think" from cheap-skate brigades, with  a reply " it's probably broken".


Re: How to deal with tech assements/repairs?
« Reply #6 on: October 23, 2009, 03:50:51 PM »
I always tell people I will look at their unit for one hour and either fix it in that time, or I will figure out what I see as the issue and give them an estimate of what it would cost for me to fix.  If I can't fix it, i just charge them for the one hour.  Then everyone knows the minimum they may be paying.  I am also selective about what I'm willing to look at.  I don't really even touch digital stuff, and generally try and talk people with old solid-state devices out of bringing them to me.  That said, even with people understanding all that I wrote above, I never have anyone have a problem with paying me for an hour-even if I can't fix it.

Joel Laviolette

Rattletree   |
The Rattletree School of Marimba |


Re: How to deal with tech assements/repairs?
« Reply #7 on: October 23, 2009, 04:52:10 PM »
I find it much easier to do this.  look the unit over for free takes about an hour or so. From their you can come up with a game plan and course of action. If it can be fixed charge them... If not  let them know what's up. In the long run you get more repeat customers that way.

You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is.


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