Out of the hundreds of fantastic customer interactions I’ve had in the past five years, only three stand out as negative. But the last one was that “last straw” and I’ve decided to limit my services to buying, refurbing and selling, instead of also offering customer setups, mods and repairs.
Customer From Hell
This last, awful customer experience happened just this Wednesday evening. Here’s the deal –
The customer brought a guitar he says was made by a former employee of B. C. Rich, and it was a sort of Warlock looking thing and it looked pretty good. Satin black finish with white border.
The customer proudly claimed that his guitar was worth three thousand dollars. I just sort of nodded and thought, “OK, maybe six to eight hundred if it plays as nice as it looks.”
He said he’d had it setup “many times”, but nobody had ever gotten it to play right.
The bridge was ridiculously high and the action was not. That could only mean a neck issue. Sure enough, the neck angle wasn’t right, necessitating the extreme bridge height.
I explained that, to get the best sound, his pickups, which were already “Popeyed”, would need to be raised even further to get within 1/8″ of the strings.
The customer wanted a setup and his brother, who came with him, wanted a restring on his red Epiphone SG. The restring went fine and after measuring the important things (nut slots, relief, saddle height, etc.) I saw that this guitar didn’t need a setup. The next day, I told the brother his guitar was ready and he picked it up without issue.
The setup process was going smoothly on the Warlock Thing. I found seven high frets so I leveled and crowned them, then polished all frets and cleaned and conditioned the fretboard.
He had a bit of a twist in the neck causing a bit of a backbow on high-e, so I increased relief to 0.015″ on low-E, giving me a tad over 0.005″ on hi-e.
After installing the new #12 strings, which the customer had forgotten to bring, so I’d ordered his $13 strings and had them delivered to me the next day, I noticed the bridge posts had been pulling up and angling toward the headstock. This was from before because I hadn’t started tuning the strings yet. When I did tune them, it didn’t get worse.
The extreme bridge height was giving the string tension extra leverage so that the soft wood of the guitar body couldn’t hold the posts firmly.
This was a “deal-breaker”. Playing the guitar with those strings would only make things worse sooner or later. It was just a matter of time before those bridge posts pulled completely out.
I called the customer and explained – a “proper” fix would be to reset the neck, which seemed to be beyond this customer’s financial ability, and frankly, probably beyond my technical abilities.
The next best thing would be to enlarge the bridge post holes and glue in hardwood, to better anchor the posts. But this would necessitate woodworking and painting abilities, which I also do not possess.
The customer seemed despondent and told me he’d just lost his job that very day. I felt bad for him, so I offered to epoxy the posts in at no charge, let them cure for a day or two I told him that would probably work for a short time but I doubted it would be a long-term fix. He said he would think about it and respond by text.
Scratches? Other issues???
Now you see that odd question about scratches and “no new issues”? That really raised red flags to me. Why would he ask these questions? Whatever gave him the idea that the guitar had been scratched? And what’s the deal about “no new issues”?
I mean, I’d just delivered a death notice of sorts regarding the neck problem, what “new issues” could possibly top that and why ask that after I’d just given him a blow-by-blow of the work I’d done on the guitar and the issues I’d found.
So, sure enough the customer arrives. I have him come around back to our screened lania and I’m bringing out his guitar. I keep a large patio table, chairs and guitar rack between customers and I so that the closest we can get is about eight feet.
From at least eight feet away, he exclaims that his guitar has been scratched! “Really?” “Show me where.”, I said as I held tightly on to the guitar. He demanded that I release the guitar so that he could “inspect” it.
I said I’d hold it however he liked so he could inspect it but I would not release it unless he signed a receipt for the guitar stating that it was in perfect condition, or show me where I’d scratched it and in lieu of that, he would have to wait until tomorrow so I could take photos in front of a witness so I could defend myself in court if he decided to sue. I then put the guitar back in the house.
So he goes balistic and threatens to go through me and barge into my house to get his guitar.
Well, I grew up in Compton, CA. A rather rough place. I’m a ‘Nam vet with diagnosed PTSD. And I’ve helped train amateur boxing. Oh, and I don’t take kindly to threats or being called a liar, etc. So, needless to say, at this point I’m all Mike Tyson and almost begging him to try and follow through.
So, he now rethinks and calls his wife, who he’d left waiting in his car. With the two of them screaming and me in a fighting stance, it didn’t look like there’d be a peaceful outcome. I repeated that he could have his guitar tomorrow and at this point I didn’t even care about the money. I just wanted an impartial witness when I took photos. I told them to leave and they refused.
My wife came out to try and calm things down – no dice! – so I called 911. The deputy was super nice and he became my witness that the guitar was in fine shape, appearance-wise. He also witnessed me taking the photos.
So the customer left with his guitar. And the next day began posting negative reviews about me all over the internet.
But I’d had a long talk with Jean (my wife) after the incident and we had already decided to stop taking customer service jobs.
When I began, several years ago, it felt good to help people with their guitar issues and people were referring their friends to me until it got to the point that all I had time to do was service jobs. I rarely had time to work on my own guitars or to build cigar box guitars as I’d planned.
Be careful out there on Reverb, because the customer said that’s where he’s going to sell this “wall hanger”. (“Wall hanger” is my definition, not his.) If he can’t get his three thousand dollars out of me (and he can’t), he may try to get it out of you!
Beware of Custom Guitars & Unheard of Guitar Companies!
This customer didn’t cause the fatal problem in his guitar. Well, those twelves probably didn’t help any, but still.. He probably just lacked the know-how to properly check out a guitar before buying and/or just trusted that the custom builder knew what he was doing.
Well, here’s the deal – you don’t know what you don’t know. And neither did that builder. Without the structure of a guitar building team, he apparently didn’t understand the physics of a guitar, hence the fatal mistake on the neck.
If you’re motivated to buy a custom-built guitar, please take an experienced tech with you to check it out. Might cost you fifty bucks, but it could save you so much more.
And don’t forget – even brand-new guitars need a setup!
I’d had two other negative experiences – one was a customer who claimed the headstock of his gold top Epiphone snapped off as he was playing the guitar! (I almost had to laugh at that one, but I had to give him two hundred dollars to keep him happy.)
Almost forgot to add – he sent me a photo of the break and he had already glued it! You could see the dried, thick Titebond glue around the edges. If he’d really thought I’d caused the break, why would he try to fix it himself before contacting me?
The break was the one we see commonly from when a guitar falls out of a stand.
The other one was a fellow who seemed to be “on the spectrum” and a bit mentally challenged. He’d paid a good sum to a shop in Dunedin and complained that his guitar was worse than before.
I looked at his guitar and it seemed that the only thing they’d done for him was set the relief. His guitar was buzzing on several frets. I told him to leave it with me for one day and I’d take care of it for him at no charge!
I found several high frets and low-E end was too high (like 0.100) but hi-e end was too low (like 0.025″). I didn’t have to remove the strings – just loosen them and pop off the tune-a-matic bridge, so it really didn’t take long.
The next day he came and tried the frets up and down the board and complained that they still buzzed – ALL of them! Well, it must’ve been in a frequency that I couldn’t hear! As a test, I raised the bridge so that the action was quite a bit higher than it should be.
They all still buzzed he claimed (physically impossible now!). Then he looks at the strings and claimed that two strings are reversed, and that I don’t know what I’m doing!
Now, I’ll admit that I never checked to see if the strings were in the right order, because I never removed a single string, and working for free I may have been a bit rushed. And even if two strings were reversed, the buzzing had stopped with the fret leveling and bridge adjustment. I never got to look and see if they really were reversed.
So this guy starts to lay into me about being a dumb-ass and I unceremoniously kicked him out. Result – bad reviews!
I love all my customers (well, maybe a little less love for those three!) but the fun is gone now and considering where I am in life, if it isn’t fun, why should I do it?
A big “THANK YOU” to all my customers who’ve stayed with me throughout the years I’ve enjoyed your company and appreciated your business. I’m going to keep buying and selling and refurbing, and keep writing this blog, so don’t go anywhere!