Review: Ira B. Kraemer and Co.

This is what happened when I visited luthier Ira B. Kraemer and Co. located in Scotch Plains, New Jersey.

Visit One.

A violin had to take a visit to the luthier. I decided to have a bow rehaired while I was there.

The violin in question is my favorite violin which I fell in love with at the tender age of twelve. I decided that it had to visit a luthier because, well…

In the winter of 2010, a seam opened on my violin. I allowed a relative to persuade me that my uncle, who makes Asian wood instruments such as the er-hu (sometimes called the Chinese violin), the butterfly qin (I have no idea what it is usually called in English), etc., would be able to glue it for me properly. Unfortunately, he used superglue. Anyone who knows anything about the making of a violin will tell you that hide glue is the only glue that should be used on a seam.

At any rate, there the superglue was and there it started to warp the rib of my violin. The aforementioned warping started to distort the sound of my violin and I was getting very sad for my poor violin.

I explained the situation to Mr. Kraemer, who asked if I was certain it was superglue, because that is apparently very difficult to remove. The bow was simpler, as there was only a rehair requested.

When I received my instrument and bow back, there was still hide glue on the side of my violin. I do not know if my violin will eventually have its ribbing warp back into its proper shape. I asked him if anything could be done about it, and he said that he would not touch the ribbing. Oh, well.

Meanwhile, in contrast to the violin, my violin bow was even in a sealed plastic bag! How… how clean-looking and new! This bow handled better than it ever had before. I suppose that is what a good rehair does. So, yes, my next bow to be rehaired will be going to him.

 

Visit Two (in terms of different items to work on).

I decided that I wanted another bow rehaired. However, I wanted to be doing more than that if I was going to drive over. The opportunity came when my new cello came in. I would have put in the soundpost myself, but I keep a soundpost setter for violins and not cellos.

In went the cello and a Yita violin bow on Tuesday, July 15th, 2014. The cello was straightforward. The bow was a little more complicated. When I called around the day he requested to check on the status, the cello was ready but the bow was delayed. This was because of the ox horn frog. He considered it brittle and tight and felt that it would break sooner or later. I originally asked whether he could try rehairing with the ox horn first and then change the frog if that did not seem like it would work. After some talking on the phone, he told me that it would be $45 to put on an ebony frog and rehair. I agreed to simply replace the frog.

On Monday, July 28th, 2014, when I came in to pick up the cello and bow, the bow still had the ox horn frog. He explained that he had decided to try the original frog first and gotten it to work. All right, then, I thought. He charged $45 because it had taken extra time. The cello was straightforward. It was set-up as requested for $75. At home, I found that there was something in two places on the cello’s varnish which looked like the hide glue on my violin ribbing.

Mr. Kraemer did not give me any receipt/invoice for my instruments or the planned work at the time I brought them in, so I had to ask him for a receipt this time. (Receipts are important for tax purposes, my fellow musicians and music teachers!) He quickly wrote one out and off I went.

Now, the story might have ended here, but I was bowing at a particularly exciting portion of a Schumann sonata that Friday when… pop! Out came the plastic plug at the frog of my newly rehaired bow. I could only gape in surprise. I have never had that happen to a bow while playing. I have broken off multiple hairs in one double stop, had someone else’s bow go into my hair, and all manners of other, smaller bow-related mishaps… but not this.

I called to tell of this. Mr. Kraemer explained that he had thought the ox horn brittle and put in a plastic plug instead of a wood one as usual. I reminded him that I had told him in the last conversation to just do the frog replacement. He told me that he would charge me only for the frog replacement and not for the rehair. I apologized for being brusque at the beginning of the phone conversation; I had still been halfway in befuddlement and panic but was aware enough to realize that I would myself, in some circumstances, consider my tone a bit rude.

I brought in the bow on Friday, August 8th, and picked it up on Friday, August 22nd. On the 22nd, he told me that it would be $45. I had thought that $45 – $36 would be the price for the ebony frog since he had originally said $45 would be the charge for a new frog and rehair. I then asked for the old bow hair, thinking that I might as well have that if he was going to charge me for a second rehair, but he said he already discarded it. Okay, then I wanted a receipt, which he then wrote out for me.

I would not mind if he had said that he had to change his mind and charge the normal amount to keep things afloat, but I was greatly annoyed at the time because of the fact that he had told me something else over the phone. I was irritated enough that I asked about how to remove the hide glue on my instruments, which I had originally decided not to comment on to him. He seemed genuinely surprised that there was hide glue on the cello (Remember that the cello was only in for a set-up.). I explained that I did not know if it is hide glue but that it looked like the hide glue he left on the side of my violin. Mr. Kraemer told me to bring the cello in and he would take off whatever it was for me. I might do that if I have other work to ask him to do.

I much less annoyed now that my bow problem is solved (and it does play quite nicely!). I have since decided that Mr. Kraemer forgot what he said before and that he was not just saying things he did not mean to placate a customer.

Summary: May need to remind Ira B. Kraemer and Co. of things such as receipts and his original quotes.

Edit: A few weeks after I picked up the Yita bow from its second rehair, also the first time I used it since picking it up again, the bow hair came out… again. This time, it was the tip wedge. Also, this happened during a lesson I was giving to a young girl whose eyes almost popped out of her head seeing my bow hair suddenly drop. I was a bit tired of dealing with the matter and left it for many months while using my other bows. I did not contact Mr. Kraemer for this matter. When all my other bows needed rehairs, I could not put off visiting a luthier. I took the Yita bow to Menzel Violins in Livingston, New Jersey. Ms. Menzel said there had been no difficulties in rehairing the Yita bow when I picked it up. I do not know what happened with Mr. Kraemer and the bow, but I can say that I have had no problems with this bow since the rehair by Menzel Violins.

Further Edit: On February 3, 2017, as I look back at this post and the entire incident, I think the reason I feel particularly irritated besides all the details already given— that there were 2 ineffective rehairs and he was dishonest over the phone— is because I passed an extra $20 to him when picking up the bow the first time when he mentioned the bow had been difficult to work with. Then, the hair had come out the first time and I had to return to get it rehaired again— and he did charge me for the rehair instead of only the frog the second time despite what he said on the phone. That means I spent $45 + $45. If I count the extra $20, that was $110— plus the trips to drop off and then pick up this bow. After that, the bow hair came out a second time not in private but sort of in public, with another person present. And then I had to take another trip to another luthier and pay even more (another +$65) to make the bow usable. Because I gave more initially without being asked, it made me more annoyed when the frog popped out and then when he charged me again despite saying he would not. It is sort of like how the judge in Huckleberry Finn was more annoyed with Huck’s father than anyone else when Huck’s father proved himself very unworthy after the judge chose to try to rehabilitate him. That is a practical lesson in psychology!

One Comment

  1. As claimed, no gluing whatsoever was done on the cello brought to my shop for set up. The claimed glue residue was probably left when the instrument was either purchased or serviced previously. We are extremely careful about removing excess glue from seams when they are serviced by our shop.

    Ira Kraemer

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