Ask Dave: How much will it cost to fix my horn?

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It never fails. One week into school I get a call from an over-wrought parent. “My daughter’s French horn isn’t working. She has class tomorrow and needs it. How much will it cost to fix it?”

And this year, I think I lost a customer because of my response. “Well, when your car is broken, do you call up your mechanic and ask the same question?”

The horrified parent stuttered for a few seconds and said, “Will it cost THAT much?”

“No,” I said in a reassuring and less peeved tone, “I was making a point. Just like your mechanic has to inspect your car to tell you how much it will cost to fix, I have to look at your child’s horn to give you an estimate, too.”

I think at this point in the conversation, despite my conciliatory tone and explanation, the customer realized I had made a joke of her predicament, said something about me holding the phone while she took a call, and I got disconnected. I called back twice, but no return call and no answer.

I was wrong, and I shouldn’t have let my frustration with that question get in the way of taking care of my customer. But customers should understand that there is no pat answer to this kind of question. I know nothing about the instrument, and neither does the parent. I should just have said, “You’ll have to bring it in.”

Tools, time and the trade

Many factors go into the cost for repairing an instrument: the technician’s time and training, the tools and supplies, the cost of the shop space including rent, utilities, and insurance.

Another customer brought in a trumpet under pretty much the same circumstances. He came in that evening and needed it right away. I inspected the entire instrument, and immediately figured out that a small dent in the valve casing was hanging up the valve piston.

I pulled out my casing mandrel for this model trumpet (you have to have a mandrel that’s ground to .001″ tolerance), put the trumpet on the mandrel, and tapped the dent three times with a drumstick and mallet. Done.

I reassembled the instrument, lubed it, and discussed maintenance with him. I charged him $40. He didn’t complain at all, but I did explain the charge to him: “You have to have the skills, and you have to have the tools.”

University of Horn Matters