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Thread: GENERAL (Netherlands): Strange repair-shop experience

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2016
    The Netherlands

    GENERAL (Netherlands): Strange repair-shop experience

    Just brought my old Mahillon to the shop to ask about repairs. The experience was a little strange imho, and I was wondering/interested if any of you guys have had similar experiences with repair shops and your thoughts about it.

    At first, I should say I didn't go directly to the repair-shop I used to go, which used to be very good. Unfortunately, when the old guy died about 15 years ago, it was taken over by a larger firm with several shops in The Netherlands. Their HQ is close to my home, so I went there for advice.

    It already started when I came in with my horn in its case. The man at the desk somehow didn't know how to handle the situation, so he went to get the owner. I don't know what he said to him, but when the owner came, he looked at my case and said: "No no, that is not a horn. That is a Baritone or Alto horn, maybe." I said it might even be a Saxhorn (in fact I know it is according to the Museum of Musical Instruments in Brussels, which is founded by the son of Charles-Borromée Mahillon, the maker of my instrument and which has many Mahillon instruments in their collection, including a similar one as my instrument, so I think they know what they are talking about) but he just said: "No I don't think so, let's open the case and see who is right." And when I opened the case, he said: "Yes, you see, a baritone. It's definately not a horn." (At that point, I was already biting my tongue not to say "I said SAXhorn, do you even know what you are talking about?" not to mention what the musem had told me....)

    Then he immediately said they wouldn't service it, because it was not worth it. I found that strange, because I believe that is up to me to decide. He then told me again it's not worth it, because it's too old and probably older pitch, so not compatible in ensemble with modern instruments. I said I just wanted to play it for fun and don't intend to play it in ensembles (actually I might, because I know it is modern pitch, but I didn't want to get into an argument at this point). Then he said they could do it if I really wanted to, so I said I did.
    He then proceeded to write up the service-ticket. The he said again: "But you do understand it's not worth it, do you? So you don't throw it back to us afterwards..." I said "Yes, I do understand, but I just want it to play fine, with new corks etc. and the valves moving smoothly, so I can play it for fun."

    In the end, I found this experience very strange. I would understand it when they would have politely adviced against servicing my horn, but just bluntly say "no, it's not worth it" is beyond me. Again, it's up to me to decide what to do with my own instrument, isn't it? If it's worth it to me, a paying customer, it should be worth it to them as well, whatever the condition of the instrument.

    The fact is that I know this man is not personally going to service my horn, otherwise I would not have left it there...

    I am probably overreacting, but still interested what your thoughts are on this.

  2. #2
    Yes, the whole thing is very unsettling. From the lack of knowledge about your instrument to their apparent unwillingness to service it wouldn't have sat well with me. I, personally, probably wouldn't have left the instrument with them. I do wish you the best of luck and hope the outcome is satisfactory.
    Steve Petrangelo
    Lake Havasu Symphonic Winds (trombone)
    Lake Havasu Regional Orchestra (trumpet/treasurer)

  3. #3
    As I read your story I was guessing what the reason was for their behavior, and some later statements confirmed. In the benefit-of-the-doubt realm, I wonder if the shop has been burned once or twice.

    Unanticipated damage while the shop has it.
    First, older instruments are more likely to break during normal repair-shop handling. The brass can get brittle and inflexible with age, solder joints can become less strong, and there can even be some internal "red rot" that doesn't show up outside but that might cause a problem when they start to work on it.

    So if you ask them to flush it, various kinds of trouble could arise. Replacing corks and felts should be safe enough, though, but perhaps they anticipated needing to do some cleaning of the valve casings in the process, which might involve more risk.

    Expectations of the customer.
    Some customers can sound very reasonable about their expectations, but may surprise the shop when they see the bill and test the horn. My oldest horn is an 1895 tenor horn. The valves leak a lot, and consequently the horn plays a bit "loose." If I asked them to do felts and corks, it would probably help a little because of alignment, and it would make the valve action quieter, but it certainly would not make a significant difference in how the horn plays. In my case I would not expect any more than quieter valves, but not all customers would understand going in that only a very expensive restoration is going to give me a real difference, and even if I did that I might be surprised to learn that the horn just doesn't play all that well at its best.

    It's possible that a customer or two experienced the disappointment and refused to pay the bill. The shop could keep the horn, but would probably not make out well trying to sell it (and stand behind it).

    So there are a couple excuses that might have been in their minds. I DO agree with your thought, that they could have politely warned you and explained why. And the first part of the story about the "horn" make me think they have a little too high an opinion of their shop. But maybe someone was having a bad day!
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams Artist (Adams E3)
    Alliance Mouthpiece (DC3)
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  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2016
    The Netherlands
    Thanks Dave, that sounds like a reasonable eplanation to why they wouldn't want to service an old horn, but then the guy should have said it was too risky, not that it was not worth it. Also, I actually did not ask for more than new corks and maybe cleaning and aligning of the valves (which should come naturally with new corks), but the guy didn't really seem to listen. The horn does play very nice (at least I think so) except the valves (especially the 2nd one) stick sometimes and the corks are crumbling. I actually am kind of scared now that something will happen to it....

    And I DO agree with you on the last part, just what I was thinking

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