For many professional musicians, instruments are the most valuable possessions they own. After all, those instruments are their primary tools for making a living. If their instruments are stolen or destroyed and they aren't insured, these musicians very well could be out of work -- and out of luck.
Take, for example, the Dec. 8, 2011, theft of instruments from 17-year-old fiddler Ruby Jane Smith of Austin, Texas, and her mother during a carjacking near Houston. They were robbed at gunpoint. Among the items stolen: a $40,000 custom-made violin. As of Dec. 13, only a guitar had been recovered.
It's not known whether Ruby Jane's instruments were insured.
The carjacker "got almost everything that meant anything musically to Ruby Jane," Ruby Jane's mother, JoBelle Smith, told The Dispatch in Columbus, Miss.
Protecting the investment
Professional musicians like Ruby Jane Smith often invest in instruments worth tens of thousands of dollars. Ellis Hershman, vice president of the musical instrument insurance program at Heritage Insurance Services Inc. in Pennsylvania, advises musicians to purchase insurance for any instrument worth at least $5,000.
The first step in insuring an instrument is to find a specialty insurer. Recommendations should come from a music school, an instrument maker or a professional instrument dealer.
Peter Anderson, managing member of Anderson Musical Instrument Insurance Solutions LLC in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., says a musician seeking instrument insurance must work with an insurance agent to establish a value for instruments to be covered, and agree on premiums and underwriting requirements. Instruments in the six-figure range require appraisals from experts, such as the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers or the Appraisers Association of America.
Cost of coverage
The cost of specialty insurance policies varies widely, with premiums as low as $150 to $250 a year for instruments worth less than $25,000 apiece.
On the other hand, expensive or rare instruments can be costly to repair and, therefore, costly to insure. When the neck of a harp breaks, for instance, it's generally going to cost $4,000 to $6,000 to fix, according to Anderson. Double basses also are notorious for being easily damaged, especially during travel. This is because they're so big and bulky and can crack and break easily.
Human error also is a big cause of instrument damage.
"One guy with a $20,000 instrument tumbled down the stairs with a violin in hand, destroying it," Anderson says. "Such damage can cause a major devaluation in the instrument, if it can even be repaired." Proper insurance covers both replacement and devaluation.
Many variables affect the cost of an instrument's insurance, including:
• Whether the musician travels with an instrument or ships it to and from gigs.
• What material an instrument is made of.
• Whether the musician has filed previous claims on instruments.
• How rare an instrument is.
• How an instrument is being used.
A musician's experience sometimes can influence the price of an insurance policy, Hershman says.
"If you had a 13-year-old with a $6,000 violin and a $6,000 bow, you would tend to treat it differently than you would a professional player with the same instruments, and the same value," Hershman says.
Professional musicians may be able to add coverage for their instruments onto their home insurance policies. But Mary Carfagna, a professional cellist in the Boston area, says she always insures her instruments on a separate policy.
"The rates are better than what my homeowner's policy would have charged, with lower deductibles and more comprehensive coverage," Carfagna says. Without the extra coverage, she says, "I couldn't afford to replace my instruments if any major damage should occur."
Carfagna advises musicians to update their instrument policies every couple of years. If an instrument's value increases, so should the value of the policy.
Repairing the damage
If an accident happens, the instrument's damage is evaluated with photographs and through consultations with instrument repair specialists.
"We'll also physically inspect an instrument when there's a need, utilizing other dealers and repairers to help us," Hershman says.
A damaged or stolen musical instrument can leave a musician in limbo. Experts say that if you're a musician and can't afford to replace your instrument if something were to happen to it tomorrow, you can't afford to go without insurance.