String of tuba thefts amplifies instrument insurance issues

By Posted : 12/15/2011

tubaTubas have never been the hottest instrument in the band. The sexy saxophone or brash trumpet, sure, but never the ungainly tuba.

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But that may be changing, at least in some parts of California. This bellowing anchor of the horn section has attracted thieves in the Los Angeles area recently as a spate of tuba thefts has hit local high schools. The Los Angeles Times reports that South Gate High School, Centennial High School in Compton and Huntington Park High School were targeted, disrupting the bands that rely on the big brass.

Ruben Gonzalez Jr., a music teacher at South Gate High School, told the Times that the band room was broken into and ripped apart. "All they took were tubas," he said, pointing out that an upright concert tuba and a marching-band tuba (a silver sousaphone) were taken. Together, they were worth about $13,000.

Centennial High School had even larger losses — eight sousaphones were stolen. Huntington Park High School's last tuba recently went missing, said band instructor Fernando Almader, who added that a silver Jupiter tuba was taken earlier in the school year.

Campus officials and local police aren't sure who's responsible but, according to the Times, a tuba theory has emerged: Mexican "banda" music, which counts on tubas for its signature polka-flavored sound, has become something of a craze in Southern California, creating a black market for the instruments. Tubas, even used ones, can fetch anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 and more, according to the Times report.

Homeowner insurance floaters have the oompah you need for instrument coverage

While we certainly hope the schools in the Golden State are able to recoup their losses, what should you do to protect yourself if your tuba or any other musical instrument is stolen or damaged?

First off, keep in mind that many homeowners insurance policies limit coverage for valuables to $1,000 to $2,000, says Lynne McChristian, a spokesperson for the Florida wing of the Insurance Information Institute (III). So, if you're fortunate enough to own an original Les Paul guitar or a sax once owned by Charlie Parker, you'll need to buy additional insurance for full coverage.

"It's the same with highly valued items like artwork or jewelry," McChristian says. "You'll want broader protection if you have an expensive instrument and want to make sure it will be replaced."

She explains that you can do this by opting for an endorsement, or "floater," for a particular instrument. Endorsements have no deductibles and often provide broader coverage. Purchasing additional insurance for valuables is known as "scheduling" the items.

Appraisal recommended for sufficient insurance coverage

The initial step, McChristian says, is to check your policy to determine how much coverage it already provides for valuables. Then, talk to your agent about whether you need to buy an endorsement.

To get the right coverage, McChristian says, you'll need a professional appraisal. Reimbursement for the instrument if it's stolen, lost or damaged will depend on the appraisal amount. The cost of endorsements depends on the instrument's value, where you store it, where you live and the individual insurance company, she says.

Note to professionals: Ask about specialty coverage

Professional musicians also need to evaluate their homeowner policy endorsements because not every firm covers the instruments of those who play for pay according to Heritage Insurance Services Inc., one of the insurers providing specialized coverage for pros.

If you opt to add an endorsement that covers your instrument on your homeowners insurance, you're likely to see the following statement on many of the forms: "You agree not to perform with these instruments for pay unless specifically provided under this policy."

This typically means you and your agent need to specify in the scheduled personal property endorsement that you use your instrument professionally.

A separate, individualized policy like those offered by Heritage may be a good idea, says McChristian. "That could be a way to go," she says. "You might want to look into it if you want to guarantee you're fully protected under any circumstance."

The Anderson Group, MusicPro Insurance and Clarion Associates Inc. also offer policies that cater to musicians who play professionally.


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