In 2006, my grown daughter saw that I logged 105 hours during one week of rental season. She said, “You have to find another way to make a living.” Can you relate? I changed my career path at age 50, going from 30 years of being a repair technician and retailer to becoming an Accredited Senior Appraiser – Musical Instruments, who is certified by an appraisal society and university, and who is IRS-qualified.

Many people are closing their businesses, retiring early or dealing with bankruptcy. We have so many knowledgeable people in the music products community who would be great in this profession. Musicians and family members who are donating instruments, settling an insurance claim or dividing assets in a divorce should be able to ascertain the value of instruments accurately, with sustainable documentation.

Opportunity is knocking at your door. We need some of you to walk through that door and embrace this calling, rather than leave the MI industry. Fair warning, though: Being a certified appraiser doesn’t mean writing a couple of sentences on a sheet of paper for a fast $50. This is a profession. Instruments must be physically inspected, measured and photographed, with real documentation to establish accurate value. So, if you are selling serious instruments, and your customers own more than $5,000 worth of them, then keep on reading. This is for real—not for reality TV entertainment.

Interesting And Fun

There’s nothing like walking into someone’s “Vault of Musical Treasures.” Although I’m under a privacy regulation policy, I have permission to mention that I’ve worked on appraisals related to Aretha Franklin, Irving Berlin, Elvis Presley, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, NAMM’s Museum of Making Music and Thomas Edison. My work sometimes connects me with technicians and stores around the country, and I have flown to 21 states. Travel expenses are paid for by the client. The store sends me the information, and then I get to be Sherlock Holmes, unraveling mysteries.


There are three main appraisal societies, the American Society of Appraisers, the International Society of Appraisers and the Appraisers Association of America, which offer courses. They are designed for working people, and they’re available via a variety of means: online, audiocassette, webinar, and in conference and campus settings. Some programs have a university partnership, and prospective appraisers can attend classes on weekends, every few months, over a two-year period. For the less patient, three-week, summer-session crash courses are available.


You pay for your membership to an appraisal society, as well as for classes. All together, your education can cost $3,000 to $5,500. Compare that to paying for an advanced college degree, though, and you’ll realize it’s a good value. (I made it back with my first court appraisal.) You also have to assemble a small tool kit for inspections. Other than that, you need Internet access to research values of what has sold in the past, although most of my sources are from our industry.


We have unique knowledge, for which the legal community is willing to pay. Eventually, we are paid at almost the rate of attorneys, given that our job entails accountability, record keeping, ethics and the storage of reports. Whether we are highly degreed or not, we are educated professionals.

As educated professionals, appraisers must recognize that their time is valuable. We cannot charge by a percentage of the value, as that would be considered a source of bias. Instead, we charge by how much time the project takes. And remember: You don’t have to take every assignment.


In general, you’ll need two years’ experience in setting values for musical instruments, as well as a bachelor of arts degree. However, experience can count to replace a BA. Over the past 20 years, if 10 percent of your time has been dedicated to setting values, that would be equivalent to two years’ experience. You’ll also want two professional recommendations that attest to your expertise and ethics. To ensure your expertise level is high, stick with what you know best.

You must also have computer skills, including working with photo programs and spreadsheets. You must have the ability to write in a clear, concise way, ensuring that someone who has no instrument knowledge can understand how you assessed the product’s value. You need to know how to search, as you’ll be working with past sales catalogs, price lists, reference books and industry reports. (You will be citing all your sources.) Just saying, “I think it’s worth between $6,500 and $8,000” will not fly with the IRS.

When you have been certified, you will be able to write high-level reports. After two years, you become an accredited member, at which time you’ll be listed on the appraisal society’s Web site. That’s when you’ll see a huge increase in referrals. To get there, though, you have to start now.

Last Thoughts

You can be independent or you can work for an insurance company, auction house or government entity. I most want to encourage instrument technicians, who’ll have a leg up on the inspection part. But, even if you aren’t a tech, you can partner with one for inspections. Then, you can take it from there.

Another thing: Privacy is huge. You’re dealing with people who are handling a loved one’s instruments, a top celebrity’s tour gear and other very high end items. A certified appraiser must be discreet and respect confidentiality agreements.

Joe Lamond, President and CEO of NAMM, shares the vision of more MI professionals embracing certified appraisals. He said, “The wealth of knowledge and experience of our retail members is a recognized asset in the community. I suspect that adding certified musical instrument appraisal services alongside rental, repair and teaching offerings would enhance the competitive advantage of the independent community music store, as well as increase its ability to thrive in this rapidly changing retail environment.”

If more music products professionals don’t do this, then people who appraise gems, jewelry, furniture and wine glasses will continue to appraise musical instruments. And what do they know about music products?

No…this is our job.

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