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I'm in the beginning stages of looking for LA. I have attended classes for both Handi Quilter and APQS. I would really like to find out more about Nolting and A1. Anyone have any experience with these machines? How is the Customer service and the ease of fixing issues? Any input would be appreciated.

C.

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The most valuble thing I did while looking for a longarm was to ask my guru of a sewing machine service guy " If you were buying a longarm for yourself, what brand would it be?" Now this guy isn't jus

C:  If I were buying a new machine it would be an Innova.  That being said, I'd be pretty happy with an APQS, A-1, Gammill, Nolting, or Prodigy.  There are things I like about each, and things I don't

I'm going to chime in for a moment.  I'm totally partial to APQS.  Our machines are easy to use and have few problems you can't fix yourself.  Customer service is exceptional and second to none.  I've

The most valuble thing I did while looking for a longarm was to ask my guru of a sewing machine service guy " If you were buying a longarm for yourself, what brand would it be?" Now this guy isn't just a neighborhood repair guy. He services commercial quilting machines, sergers, sewing machines etc. all over the region, in addition to domestic machines. Anyway, his response was, in priority order: 1. APQS, 2. Innova. I asked why he put APQS above Innova and he said. "Service. APQS has all of the service points within handy access. They make it easy. And besides, APQS never breaks down." He went on to say that Innova is a really good machine, also, but that they had not yet figured out how to make service easy. I especially liked his "APQS never breaks down" comment. Although I respect Handi Quilter and A1, also on my original list of candidates, they did not appear on my service guy's list anywhere. Of course, as equally important as brand, is customer service. My experience with APQS has been delightful. They have stayed with me on the phone for as long as I needed, texting pictures, and taking all the time I needed to be sure I understood what they were talking about. All of my issues have been user-misunderstandings, or "how do I square my leaders" and stuff like that. Nothing to do with the machine itself. Oh, and my dealer is always available to me via phone for help or ideas. You are buying your dealer as well as the brand of longarm. You want a good one.

 

Good luck with your search. I know you will select the brand and model that is just right for you.

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C:  Sharon's comments should be helpful.  I've not had personal experience with either the A-1, or the Nolting.  However, I was a member of Nolting's users group, and everyone there seemed quite happy with their service.  Similarly, one of our Guild members recently (a couple years ago) bought an A-1.  She had a problem with it which they finally solved by replacing the entire head.  She's not the easiest person to deal with, so solving her problem to her satisfaction probably speaks well of their service.  You haven't asked about Gammill, but I do have first hand experience with them.  I replaced the needle bar on my Classic, and one of their service folks walked me through the process over the phone.  I felt the experience was pretty positive.  I think all three (A-1, Nolting, and Gammill) are relatively easy to repair.  They all are industrial machines and require very little repair.  (Except for replacing the needle bar on the Gammill - and that was my choice, I wanted the lighter aluminum one, not an item that had worn out,- it's required no repairs)

 

APQS's service and support is outstanding.  If service ends up being the determining factor, APQS should be your choice.  Jim

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Sharon, I only know of 2 mechanics for long arms in my area (within an hours drive). One is a Handi Quilter dealer and the other a Tin Lizzie dealer, so I am not all that certain that I would get a fair assement on machine qualities. I live on the boarder of TN, KY and VA, so there are no dealers close by to go try out machines. I am hoping next year to go to Des Moines so I can try out all of them. I am wanting to go into business, there is a need here for a quilter. Is it true that there are some manufacturers who void the warranty if it is used for commercial purposes?

Service is what I have been most leary of. Thanks for your advice.

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Jim, my current quilter live 3 hours away from me. She has a Gammill Premier and loves it. She told me the service in our area was not very good so she took her head to mididdle VA to have it serviced there. She said if she had to do over she would have got a 24" machine, so she could do 13" pantos. Looking at Gammill's site the Vision2.0 18" actually seems reasonable price for features. Then I have also heard the 2.0 has had a lot of bugs.

I have followed your posts (Sharon's too) and you seems very knowledgable. Is the Gammill finicky with threads? Is it hard to time? Do you have to be a techy person to work on it? What is the hardest thing to work on it, and what is the most common thing that needs to be tweaked? There is no advise that will fall on deaf ears. I need all the help I can get.

Thanks for your time.

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Helen, I have been looking at used LA's for the last 3 years on many different sites. Do I go through a dealer that offers a 1 year warranty? Do I go through an individual. My biggest fear is buying someone else's problem child. If a machine has not been used for a while, wouldn't it be prone to seize up? Are there warning signs to look for in a machine? Lots of people say it runs great, almost new, etc, and I think.....if it is so great, why are you getting rid of it? ANy amount of money is too much money if you are getting something that doesn't work well.

Any advise on what to look for or questions to ask are appreciated. Thank you for your help.

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Iquiltit, you have had many machines. Can I ask why you have had so many? I would really like to have a "One and Done" machine. Something that I could upgrade later with computer if I decide to (right now, I could really care less).

Everyone's input has really opened my eyes to things I have not thought of before. Thank you so much.

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It's hard to give advice about one machine or another because everyone has their own preferences. What I like, may not suit someone else. I'm just glad I'm not buying now because there are so many to choose from.

When I got my Gammill Premier back in 1997, there were no stitch regulators and no-one even had extended bases or small guides. I chose my Gammill for the size, the price, and the style of the table. That last one was very important at that time because I wanted to use Gammill's long guide for custom work and their table was the only one where I could rearrange the bars so I wasn't stitching down in a valley. I had never used a one of these machines and only seen one up close before I bought mine. I thought, how hard can it be, it's only a sewing machine on wheels. It was drop shipped because there was no dealer near by. My husband and a friend put it together and I started to sew. There were no classes and no videos by teachers at that time either. We all taught ourselves.

I have never had a problem I couldn't fix and have never once thought I needed to send it away for service. The first time I had to time it, I was nervous and watched a video for help several times before starting but now I can do it much more easily. (I know some people who have never needed to time their machines.) Yes, the screws are a bit awkward to get to and if bending is difficult for you or you have very poor eyesight, that's an important consideration. Like I said, though, it was a very basic machine so no electronics, display screens or computer parts to go wrong. It's a different story these days.

Since then I have added an after market stitch regulator and then the IntelliQuilter computer. The computer cost twice what the original machine cost! I am still happy with my smaller stitching space but that's because I work at the front doing mostly custom work.

You've been looking for several years, so you should know what you want your machine to do but if not, first make a list of all the must have capabilities of the machine and include on that list any size limitations you might have. Don't forget to consider the table and wheel system - those are both important features. If, for example, an hydraulic lift is really important that will immediately narrow your search. Don't worry about the computer yet, but just know that IntelliQuilter can go on whatever machine you get

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Helen,

I haven't been looking too hard until just last few months. I have only begin making quilt tops 3 1/2 years ago. Saw my first long arm machine when I picked up my first quilt from the quilter. I was memorized. I knew I wanted one. Didn't know where to begin. I saw a Gammill at the first quilt fest 3 yrs ago. It was the biggest, fanciest thing. The lady asked if I quilter. When she saw my curiosity she told me if I wanted to quilt I needed that one. 32,000! I was so shocked I decided I was going to learn to quilt on a home machine. I got a Janome 3160QDC, as I didn't want computer. Love it. Saw a Lennie at the following year show. Loved it but didn't pull the trigger. Looked at HQ. I didnt think Gammill an option. I was told by other companies that Gammill is a great company but you are paying for a name, not the quality. When I read reviews, everybody says their product is the greatest. No one has any comments about what they don't like. Which makes it confusing. After all, if they were all so great, why would there be so many used ones??

I have been told a stitch length regulator is a must. I would like to do pantos. That is where the market is here. I want to do front work on my own quilts. (I have close to 20 waiting to be quilted).

I didn't even know one can do ruler work on a LA or domestic until last week. Lol

How long will a LA last? Should I avoid early to mid 90's? You mention hydraulic lift. I think that is one thing that intrigues me about A1. I cannot find any personal reviews on them.

If you were to buy a new one, would you stay with Gammill? Would you but Vision 2.0? What size is you harp? Is get the biggest frame and machine you can fit in your space really true?

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All I know about tables is that I want 12 foot. Wheel system? I am not educated on that. Could you share some of your knowledge on that? I did not know regulators and Intelliquilter could be added later. That's brilliant!

Thank you so much for letting me pick your brain. Very helpful.

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Any machine from one of the companies that's been around for a while will last you indefintiely. APQS, Gammill, Nolting, Innova, A-1, Handiquilter - I really think choosing between any one of those is hard. These are all heavy duty industrial machines. I don't think you need to worry about buying second hand APQS machines. Most people sell because they either just don't like quilting, they've decided to retire or just can't handle the machine physically anymore. I would guess that very few are actually bad machines. If you are worried then go to the machine manufacturers sites - they often sell reconditioned machines which can be quite a bit cheaper, and since they've been gone over by the company, you know they'll be good.

Machines from the early to mid nineties might be really good mechanically but chances are they aren't going to have a regulator, unless the owner added IntelliStitch, which is the regulator I have. Many of us used unregulated machines for a long time but the regulator is a bonus and definitely helps beginners get up and in business faster. I would definitely test drive an older machine like that before buying. There might be worn parts that need replacing.

I used to install IntelliStitch regulators but I'm not sure how many they still do. Since most machines now come with a regulator, that retrofit business isn't needed as much. It is a good regulator, however, so if you come across a machine with IntelliStitch that you love after trying it out, don't worry about buying it. The company also makes IntelliQuilter so they are still around and will support IntelliStitch.

My Premier has an 18" throat/harp but in reality that means I can't quilt more than about 11" safely. It might be possible to do a bit more on a small APQS because they have a different take up bar system. I've only found the limited space to be a problem once or twice. My table is 12'long simply because I didn't have a room big enough to take anything longer. I have never wanted a bigger table. I never turned a quilt away because it was too big for my machine.

There are several different wheel systems out there. APQS has a couple and so does Gammill. I'm sure there's information about them on their web sites. Some wheels ride horizontally, some vertically.

Really the best way to decide is to go to either one of the MQX shows or to MQS or another big show and try out the machines. You might find yourself in love with a machine you've never considered before. MQX is holding its midwest show in October, in Springfield Illinois. I don't know where you're located, but that show might be worth going to. Since it's more heavily weighted to machine quilting, you're going to find lots of machine vendors there.

I'm not sure which machine I would choose if I was shopping now. I know immediately of one I wouldn't choose simply because I don't like its table. I do like my regulator and Nolting is the only manufacturer to use it on their machines, so that would put them at the top of my list. I also recently tried out the brand new and really expensive Bernina and quite liked that. However, my little Premier keeps going and there's no need for me to change it, especially since these days I'm retired from quilting for customers and only work on my own things.

I haven't used any Gammill with Vision long enough to have an opinion about it.

Has this only confused you more? I hope not!

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C:  If I were buying a new machine it would be an Innova.  That being said, I'd be pretty happy with an APQS, A-1, Gammill, Nolting, or Prodigy.  There are things I like about each, and things I don't like.  I have an APQS Ult 2 ca. 1997, and a 2000 Gammill Classic.  Both were unregulated machines when I got them.  Helen and her husband Tony came to my house and studio in early 2011 and installed Intellistitch regulators on both.  The Intellistich regulator is great, and I'm happy with both.  The only thing I've had to do with them is replace a couple handle switches.

 

You might ask why I say Innova, and there are a few things unique about them that I like.  First the head turns on the Innova, so it can be removed from the table without removing the take-up roller.  I think maybe the Prodigy's head might also turn.  I also like the Lightning digital stitch regulator.  I like the table configuration as well, but I'm not quite so sure about the wheels.  I don't much like the "erector set" look of the table frame but that just cosmetic.  Now I must confess I've only removed the head of my Ult 2 from the table a couple of times, and never on my Gammill, so maybe the turning head feature really isn't a real winner.  I don't know about their service, but I've been told the machines are quite problem free.

 

APQS.  I don't like their horizontal wheel system.  It seems unnecessarily  complicated.  They've improved it somewhat by using linear bearings on the rails in their Bliss system.  But it is expensive.  I like their 4 roller system table.  I don't really like the batting access system (or more precisely lack of).  Their roller configuration accommodates it to some degree.  Also on models other than the Millie, there seems to be little adjustment capabilities on the rollers and rails.  What I DO like is their customer support and service.  It's absolutely great.

 

Gammill:  While their tables are well engineered and robust, the batting access system is a joke.  I don' think it was designed with how we quilt today in mind.  It could be improved, and made simpler by going to a 4 roller system like APQS.  The Gammill is strong and dependable.  I've heard people refer to them as the Mercedes of quilt machines. But I'd classify them more as the Peterbuilts of quilt machines.  

 

The A-1 is a nice machine, maybe the perfect size.  The table is very well built, but like the Gammill it's a 3 roller system which requires more adjustment, and adjustment mechanisms that wouldn't be necessary with a 4 roller system like the APQS, Innova or Prodigy.  Maybe it's the most user considerate table of all the makes.  I don't know much about their service though.  It's probably good, but pretty dependent on their MO headquarter.

 

The Nolting Pros are good machines.  They use Intellistitch regulators on this line, and the I/S is great.  Their tables are well made, but not nearly as refined as the A-1.  I think their service is probably quite good.  They've made pretty much the same machine/table system for quite some time, so they've had a long time to work out any issues, and I think it's pretty sound.

 

The Prodigy is a nice looking machine.  They have a very nice user friendly table.  Nice manual lift system (it can be power if you'd like).  The one thing holding the Prodigy back as far as I'm concerned, is their rigidly sticking to the L bobbin system.

 

I personally wouldn't consider any other manufacturer.  All the machines I've referenced are industrial quality machines built to last decades.  While I don't know first hand about support, I think all is pretty good.  I can't say that for some of the other machines out there.

 

Size is an interesting issue.  It probably has more to do with how and what you quilt than anything else.  I personally wouldn't want a machine that wouldn't sew at least 14 inches front to back.  Seventeen would probably be better.  You have to look at individual machine set ups to see what a machine can actually do.  Some smaller measured machines will actually sew a bigger field than other "larger" machines.  It has to do with the roller configuration and the "harp" shape of the machine.

 

You can feel pretty secure buying a used model of any of these machines.  If there's something wrong with the machine when you get it, it can be repaired and put back into excellent service, but probably there will be nothing wrong to begin with.  These machines don't break.  Pick a price point, and buy with confidence. 

 

This is my personal opinion.  I'm not promoting one machine over any other.  What I've said reflects the experience I've had, how I personally quilt, and my own personal likes and dislikes.  I'd probably be happy with any of them.  Jim

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Thank you very much. These are the things I needed to hear.

Helen, I looked online for Intellistitch Regulator. Offered only in a few states, mainly the South West. So I guess in Tennessee it's not an option?

On the older used machines they come with wood top tables with metal legs. Can you buy new frames? Is an old frame ie. Ultimate II frame a good one?

Thank you all very much for your input.

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I'm going to chime in for a moment.  I'm totally partial to APQS.  Our machines are easy to use and have few problems you can't fix yourself.  Customer service is exceptional and second to none.  I've called one of the company reps on a weekend and we troubleshot the problem over the phone, yes I held the phone up to the running machine.  She knew what the problem was and I had parts by Monday.  If you can't reach a rep, someone on this forum can usually talk you through a resolution.  Used APQS machines sold through the company are completely checked out and refurbished/updated with grease etc.  They also come with a warranty.  You can trust most used machines sold by the owner.  Like Helen stated, machines are sold due the things she mentioned, other's trade-up to newer models with more features or throat space.  APQS machines devaluate very slowly and last forever, as long as you maintain them.  We can tell you what we love about our machines but you really need to "test drive" them to know exactly what you want.  Any APQS quilter in you neighborhood will usually invite you over for a test run.  I think you're on your way,  asking questions like you have here is smart.  Have fun on your adventure, hope to see your quilts here in the near future.

 

PS:  What other company lets you be a member of their forum, no matter what machine you own?  Need I profess again, CUSTOMER SERVICE!!!!! 

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When you go to a show to check out machines be sure to take a mechanically minded person with you, (hubby or good friend).  They will notice things that you don't and will have other perspectives to consider, then decide what is important to you.  When I was looking hubby was with me.  I had him try the different machines as well as I did.  He noticed the vibration of some over less vibration of others.  He can hear the growl or smooth sounds of the motor, etc.  Don't let a tall salesperson sell you something too tall for a short person, etc.

 

Good luck.

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C:  There's nothing wrong with the wooden tables.  In some respects they're better than the metal frame ones.  There is however some difference with the 3 roller, roller racks on the wooden table machines.  Not quite as convenient as the newer 4 roller set ups.  My table is a wooden one that I rebuilt the roller rack system for.  I wouldn't trade it for a newer metal one.   I did the entire modification myself, but I could have taken it to a welding shop and had them do it for me.  Not all that involved.  Jim

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I would not be without motorized advance! I quilt a ton,,,well, let's just say lots of large quilts and mostly custom quilting.  If I had to manually lock and unlock wheels and levers to advance or back up a quilt on the frame it would be a real pain.  I've thought the hydraulic lift would be a nice feature but for me the motorized advance is worth it's weight in gold.  I have an APQS Millennium.  The only other model I would consider would be the innova because it seems their field of vision, being able to see greater quilting area behind the hopping foot, is greater than on the millie.  I have to agree with JMErickson's comments about the horizontal wheels.  I've worn out several bearings.  My husband says that the weight of the machine is born mainly along the wheels that run the length of the table and those bearings should be in a vertical position to bear the weight without wearing out instead of horizontal. If you might eventually quilt for the public, I would invest some money and rent some time on different machines to find out which fits you best.  There will be a learning curve to longarm quilting.  It is true that when quilting you tend to work directly in front of you, but there are times when stitching out big circles that I need the whole 24 inches of the larger head and do some quilting further away from my body, otherwise I would be having to advance and back up the quilt more frequently on the frame.    I also have the 14 foot frame and have filled it completely with some large quilts.  Good luck with your search.

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So here's a quirky question. I was told that the In nova design was a knockoff of the Pennywinkle. Could it be true? Looking at Innova's site, It looks the same! I would think if that was false P. Would get sued be ordered to stop selling. I looked at Pennywinkle 24 and liked it, but no stitch regulator. Hubby liked the simplicity of it.

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Looks like Pennywinkle appeared on the market in the early 2000's - maybe 2002.  Innova - made by ABM - has been in business since 1947 and is one of the larger long arm quilting machine manufacturers.  I'd never heard of Pennywinkle until the post today.   Each year it seems there are more and more smaller companies making quilting machines.  As has been mentioned before, get to the quilt shows and try all the machines to see which ones fit you best.

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If I remember right from my research when I was looking at getting a machine....Innova makes those huge commercial machines and later started making home use longarms...I think I linked to this on the Innova website....it was interesting looking at all the kinds and uses of those commercial machine.   Lin

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I just bought a used INNOVA and LOVE LOVE LOVE it!  It has lightning stitch and is a dream to use.  It was used, but still under warranty, which was a bonus.  The Innova dealer in Tampa, FL was very helpful - but I didn't really ask a lot of questions.  I transported the machine from VA Beach and put it together myself.  I was intimidated at first, but stitching away now!  Had not heard of INNOVA until I went to the Jacksonville Quilt Fest last year.  It just felt 'so right' in my hands and even my son and daughter-in-law commented on how nice the stitching looked compared to some of the other brands.  You really need to test them out to see which one feels right for you.   Good luck!

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C:  I think you're confusing Pennywinkle with Prodigy.  The Innova and the Prodigy do look similar.  However, I'm sure ABM designed their own machine.  As large as ABM is, and as long a manufacturing history as they have, I don't think they would need to, nor chose to "knock off" someone else's design.  The Chinese are the ones known for that.  If you look out on the internet, you'll find at least one Chinese made look alike.  Jim  BTW, from what I hear, the Prodigy is a good machine.  I especially like the user friendliness of their table. 

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If any of you or someone you know has a Pennywinkle/Sunshine 16 and is having the horrible tension issues that go back 5 years from what I can tell I HAVE THE FIX!!! The parts needed could be sitting right there in the room with them if they have an old sewing machine. Takes 20 minutes to fix. I've had mine 3 weeks and figured out what was wrong. That was Tuesday June 28th, It's now July 3rd and I have fixed 2 more machines and confirmed my fix works. If anyone could use my help I'd be thrilled to tell you. No cost, no Gimmicks Just let me know

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