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So you wanna be a repair tech


Striving to play the changes in a melodic way.
Staff member
"As you can probably discern, I’m a big proponent of apprenticeships and not so enthusiastic about the repair schools. I was trained in an apprenticeship but I’ve visited a repair school and have met techs trained in repair schools. In my experience, the apprenticeship is the way to go if you can find one."

So you wanna be a repair tech

I'm on the fence about the decision to go to school vs. OJT. But then, I'm sooo not a repair tech type; I don't have the patience to do that kind of work.
I never went to a trade school I was apprenticed and helped by various repair people, shop owners, etc.

Also, once you get to know people you can swap ideas and assistance around. That's a good way of learning too. I've received quite a number of questions from good materials to clean fungus off of clarinets to different methods to fix cracked joints from newbies to shops that have been in business for years.

There's also several specific repair people groups out there too to join.

If you plan on repairing any band / orchestra instrument then the trade school is really the way to go unless you get really lucky at a full capable shop apprentice.

In my area there are some very specific shops. A flute specific shop (only flutes / piccolos) and a string shop (mostly violins).

So there are several directions one can go .. specializing in a specific instrument (which normally the workers are very very good at that instrument themselves) or more generalist.

Of course, finding a job after that is another matter as many music shops in the area have gone away in the last several years.
I'd favor more "apprenticeship" and a little less "school."

As I've mentioned, I'm not a musical instrument tech, I'm a computer tech. There's one big, ugly truth regarding "going to school" to be a computer tech: the schooling is not going to tell you how to be a tech. It does give you tools and knowledge to be a computer programmer and how to use some software, but fixing things? Nope.

In the article, it says that if you go to an instrument repair school, "... [Y]ou have to complete a normal associates degree program that includes math, English, and anything else a normal community college would require you to do to graduate." Not that college-level knowledge of these subjects is a bad thing, mind you. However, look at it this way: at a state university I attended, I had to take Calculus for the BS program in computer science. That'd be excellent stuff to know if I was deigning computer chips. It doesn't help at all for fixing a virus.

However, I do think that some folks would benefit from more English (insert your language here), math, etc. I can form a complete sentence and I can tell you if the change you give me is right.
Even the best repair schools only have enough time with each graduating class to cover the basics of padding, key adjustment, dent and body work, soldering, regulation etc. For a young person just out of high school with no bench experience at all, these schools can provide a good foundation to further learning.

One of the first things I became aware of as an apprentice was the vast difference between knowing how to do something and being able to actually do it. So much of woodwind repair especially is developing a "feel" for the materials you are working with. You can watch a sax pad being installed and it looks quite easy, but knowing what thickness of pad to use, how much shellac to apply, how long to heat the key cup, etc. takes trial and error over a long period to get it right every time. When something doesn't come out right, it takes experience to know what step or steps before that step were not properly carried out that are coming back to haunt you.

In my situation, I got to practice on store rental return instruments before being thrown into the world of customer repair which at the time felt demeaning, but in retrospect was a good way to raise my skill level without making any expensive mistakes for the shop to cover.
Some of the most inane and shoddy work I've ever seen came from the "local" repair school.

Fortunately most of the local competition went there. Unfortunately I was the second stop for some of my better clients. The nonsense I see from the local school programs is almost unimaginable and quite depressing. Some of it I outright refuse to work on, it is not in my or their best interests.
I would caution judging any school by a small sampling of its graduates. Some students excel and some do not given the same classroom instruction and training. If it can be proven that all students appear to be lacking in one or more specific areas of the discipline, that is a different matter altogether.

Over the years I had a few students who transferred to other schools that I prayed that they wouldn't sign up for band in the new school or if they did, they wouldn't tell anyone I was their teacher. :emoji_rage:
Is it the stringed instruments repair program that concerns you or is it the woodwind and brass repair programs as well?
"I'm on the fence about the decision to go to school vs. OJT. But then, I'm sooo not a repair tech type; I don't have the patience to do that kind of work.

First of all instrument repairs fall in the category of very simplistic mechanical repairs.

A trade school is good if you have no background in mechanical work, example a friend of mine here in Australia, was a lawyer by trade for 30 yrs, he had no real background in mechanics, he flew to america and did the allied repair course, he now runs and owns his own business.

I have spent my life doing mechanical repairs, I did a mechanical apprenticeship, when I chose to do instrument repairs, it was simplistic to say the least. In my locality there are 6 musical instrument repairers who are local competitors, one of them has done a musical instrument trade course (UK), 5 are ex mechanical backgrounds.

If you have a realistic background in mechanics and have maybe done an apprenticeship in something like, aviation, automotive etc, then dont waste your time doing a course, common sense will get you through, if you have never really experienced any mechanical background (worked in an office your whole life) then a course will be of great asset to your growth in this field.

For some reason, vBulletin is putting some posts from this thread in the moderation queue. I dunno why. Just wanted to mention that there might be a delay from you posting in here and other folks actually seeing your post. Sorry 'bout that!

On topic, one of our new members is mentioned on this page. Looks like some repair tech and/or apprenticeship positions, US-wide.
First of all instrument repairs fall in the category of very simplistic mechanical repairs.

I hope you don't mean that what musical instrument repair techs do is very simple. That would be an insult to the hundreds of craftsmen, artisans, and luthiers who have worked a lifetime to rise to the top of their professions.

It is true that there are different levels of repair. At the entry level of the trade there is the basic play condition repair done to student instruments to get them through the next school year. At the other end of the spectrum there is the nuanced highly skilled work done on professional players instruments by those craftsmen who most often play the instrument at that level themselves. Then there is everything in between that is a ladder for those who strive to learn more and improve to take their skills to the next level.

I would agree that to posess a "mechanical aptitude" is an advantage---especially for learning brass and woodwind repair. However, there are many more factors that are equally important to working in this fascinating and challenging trade.
Gandalfe, so people cannot mis-construe what my comments mean.

This is difficult in nature in a mechanical sense, a sax is not, this is why the average person with some mechanical capability can do sax repairs from home with simple tools.

To repair these you would have to do a mechanical apprenticeship to start with, you are working with tolerances of less than 0.001" and also accomodating for heat expansion and effects of barometric pressure at altitude.

A sax, your working with a hinge tube with a rod inside with a big soft leather pad hanging on the end, soft is in comparison to a hard surface like a valve in a cylinder head.
This is difficult in nature in a mechanical sense, a sax is not, this is why the average person with some mechanical capability can do sax repairs from home with simple tools.
Yes and no.

I think it's possible to come from a mechanical background of some kind and eventually go on to repairing musical instruments, but I also think you need to have at least a bit of knowledge of the instrument(s) you're planning to repair. It's great to know that tab A fits into slot B, but you should know why and what the combination of tab A and slot B does or, considering we're talking repairs, what they're supposed to do. Additionally, how can you tell if you've fixed an intonation problem with a note if you don't have the foggiest how to play the instrument? That's why I get a sax repaired by a sax repairman and a jet engine repaired by a jet engine mechanic.
I actually see Simso's point, I think. If you have mechanical background, and the passion to become a great sax mechanic, you can do it. I would say an apprenticeship would make it a lot easier.

That said, I tend to go to the best tech I can. They tend to be school trained and have been at it a long, long time. Saxes are so tricky because no two repairs are the same. And the tech that hands the instrument back without suggesting a play/check by the owner might be forcing the customer to make a return trip.
Yes and no..

Agreed, you need to be able to play an instrument to be able to repair it, the only exception clause would be if you had someone that could test play it for you and articulate well what problems they were having or finding

Gandalfe, you nailed my point, if you come from a mechanical background then you possibly would not gain much from an accredited woodwind / brasswind course, you could learn easily on the go.

P.S pete, I am a woodwind/brasswind/string repairman. But before this I apprenticed in a mechanical background, so Im self taught in repairs. My mechanical background was of course a jet engine mechanic.:wink:
However, it would have been funnier if you said you're a rocket scientist :p.

(I have an acquaintance who is a rocket scientist. She said that she got tired of the phrase, "It's not exactly rocket science!" really quickly.)

I've actually not gone to many instrument repair techs. I went to two based on word-of-mouth and two based on, "They're close and I need something easy/cheap done." If I didn't know of a tech in my area, I'd probably hit the National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technicians website to look for a tech close to me and then hit the Better Business Bureau (or your local equivalent) that's close to me. While I know that neither guarantee me a good tech, the combination does make the probability of finding good tech much higher.

Looking over the application form at NAPBRIT, I do see multiple entries asking about schooling, apprenticeship and how many years of experience you have. FWIW, I finally finished my BS degree in IT two years ago. However, I've worked on computers professionally for 25 years. The experience and my professional certifications have always outweighed the degree in the jobs I've had.

Oh. Experience doesn't even guarantee good: several years ago, I worked with a person that was with my company for six-ish years. She had no computer-industry certs and no degree in an IT-related field. She wasn't exactly a good tech and the other techs and I tried very, very hard not to give her any tickets for even moderately complex computer problems. Why? It was much easier for one of our good techs to fix the initial problem than to fix the problems introduced by Not Exactly a Good Tech.
Oddly enough one of my customers *was* a rocket scientist. He couldn't figure it out.

When I was in college my roommates were physics/astronomy majors ... one's sister actually works(ed) at NASA ... they were all good musicians. And my dad was an air force F4 engine mechanic, who later retired from Ford in a position where he had to fix anything that broke in the factory.

Mechanically you have to be curious to inspect and figure out how the mechanics of an instrument works, then have the aptitude to improve your work.

Learning the basics from a trade school or an apprenticeship is one thing. Working after the fact to learn more about what you are doing in another.

Such as experimenting on raising and lower a pad and seeing how it affects action, intonation, etc in a controlled environment. Using different materials and understanding the differences in all aspects. Also one's ability to play the instrument in a variety of "genres" and playing styles, and having a good enough ear to hear any minute differences.

The passion is the driving factor to always improve and learn.
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