Look at the saxophone in the photo. What do you see? The technician sees the same, but is most likely asking questions:
Band Instruments - Precision and Performance
- What is the problem with this instrument? What are the symptoms?
- Are there leaks? If so, where?
- What is the brand? How old is it? What is the condition of the pads, corks, and felts?
- Is the mechanism regulated and vented properly? Is the touch too heavy or too light?
- Are the keys binding? Are the hinge rods or screws rusty? Is the body bent or twisted? Is a post pushed into the body? Are the tone holes damaged in any way?
- What is a realistic repair for an instrument of this age, condition, and quality?
- What does this player need to know and be doing to make this instrument perform at its best for the longest amount of time?
A band instrument is an acoustical and mechanical marvel. Its performance is dependent on the manufacturer realizing each design precise to a thousandth of an inch simultaneously building in the sturdiness to withstand daily use by young musicians. To achieve accuracy and durability, all musical instruments, student level to pro, are a remarkable melding of advanced manufacturing techniques and the hand skills of artisans coupled with the integration of traditional and modern materials.
Why Repair Musical Instruments?
"I enjoy seeing the smile on the face of a client, beginner or professional, when a properly adjusted instrument is placed in their hands and they realize that playing music can once again be fun".
- Ken Skitch
"Our profession allows us, as band instrument repair techs, to take an active role in another musician's professional growth."
- Jaime Hamner
"I repair musical instruments for the craftsmanship, love and the self satisfaction of seeing my work come to life. This life is seen in others more gifted than me to the child who never knew they could play an instrument so well."
- Michael Durocher
"I love the satisfaction I get from knowing some little 5th grader will have a decent chance of learning the instrument and having fun in band. Too, I love bringing old and neglected instruments back to life."
- Toby Nelson
"Instrument repair is metal-smithing, science, and music - all things I like, and the challenge of a new problem everyday."
- Brett Gustafson
"Because I can help people to enjoy playing their horn rather than get frustrated with an instrument that doesn't play properly. I'm happy when my customers are happy."
- Jennifer Nicoletti
"The most enjoyable aspect of repair is the interaction with fellow musicians."
- Daryl Hickman
"There is nothing like the look on the face of a young musician playing through a piece of music that they had trouble with before you repaired their instrument".
- Bill Mathews
The repair tech helps ensure a musician's success from practice session to stage. Because music instruments are precision equipment, the smallest bump or ding often renders an instrument unplayable or worse: unreliable. This makes the repair technician invaluable to
every musician, student to pro. A good technician supports music and music education through his/her skills and advice. It is a craft where subtlety, touch and a keen eye are prime tools of the trade. Those best at repairing band instruments consider themselves students; they never stop learning.
What Repair Technicians Do
A repair tech is a problem-solver, mechanic, acoustician, plumber, musician, body worker, innovator, painter, jeweler, tool & die maker, electroplater, counselor, buffer, chemist, designer, carpenter and machine tool operator all in one. A tech will have to employ brute force at times and a feather touch other times.
Repairing band instruments requires a large number of interdependent skills each requiring a high degree of development. Too, intimate knowledge of how instruments function acoustically and mechanically is continually fostered through learning and experience.
Common tasks technicians perform include:
- replacing worn pads and key corks
- soft soldering broken braces and posts
- silver-brazing broken keys
- removing dents
- straightening bent parts and keys
- repairing/adjusting valves and casings
- aligning and fitting moving parts
- regulating and adjusting intricate and complex key mechanisms
- restoring worn parts
- replacing damaged parts beyond repair
Some repair techs focus solely on student-level instruments while others cater to advancing students and professionals, offering modifications and services to customize each instrument to meet individual needs.
Where Technicians Get Their Tools and Supplies
The bulk of our tools & supplies come from vendors specializing in supporting band instrument repair. Many tools are specialized to the trade and instrument specific. These tools are augmented by tools from hardware and automotive supply stores as well as jewelry repair and machine tool suppliers.
Most shops incorporate bench motors, drill presses, sanders and grinders into their repair processes. More and more shops are utilizing metal lathes as well.
What It Takes To Be a Technician
Most technicians will cite a love of music and a fascination with music instruments as prime motivators for entering the craft. For success, this must be supported by a strong desire to learn and a reasonable level of mechanical aptitude. In addition, the technician must continually develop diagnostic skills, problem-solving skills, hand skills, and learn to use the tools of trade (hand and machine tools) acutely and accurately. Technicians must be able to play-test the instruments they repair to uncover any hidden problems mechanically and acoustically. They must understand the intricate relationships that exist among all the parts of a music instrument and carry that knowledge to the repair bench. The smallest task impacts instrument performance. Technicians must communicate with and relate to their customers well to understand their needs and desires.
Demand for Technicians
NAPBIRT surveys have indicated that there is a shortage of trained, competent band instrument repair technicians. This shortage will increase as many older technicians enter their retirement years. Demand for technicians is high, with many stores and repair shops soliciting their repair positions very aggressively to ensure stability and quality from their repair facilities.
Training Options - Apprenticeship and Repair Schools
The two paths to becoming a band instrument repair technician are apprenticeships and formal schooling. Both have their advantages depending on the temperament and desires of the student. Whichever path you choose, be keenly aware that your learning only begins with your apprenticeship or time in repair school. At times learning repair is an ego-bruising experience. Your persistence is critical to your success.
Apprenticeship is best described as hands-on training with a mentor. The training occurs in a repair shop and is weaved into the repair shop's regular workload. The training is often less formal than that found at repair schools and is suited to those requiring the less structured approach and slower pace that apprenticeship affords. Many successful technicians have been, and continue to be, apprentice trained. Many apprentices specialize in one or two instruments, this specialization resulting in speed and profitability.
Repair Schools - Training for Entry-Level Employment
At repair schools the curriculum and learning are highly structured and the pace is rigorous, this in order to train technicians within their one or two year time-frames. Like apprenticeship, the training is hands-on but is augmented by formal demonstration and discussion of process and theory. Student learning and skill attainment are assessed and grades are assigned. The training at repair schools can be intense - the pace is fast for learning such a skill-dependent craft. Most repair schools encourage graduates to learn how to repair all instruments, graduating as a generalist. Specialization can then be pursued in the field.
Repair schools work to train with current tools and techniques and continually improve instruction and learning, most employing advisory committees to ensure that the training offered is valid and of quality. Advisory committees are made up of experienced repair technicians from outside the school as well as manufacturer representatives.
Repair school marks only the beginning of a lifetime journey of learning. Repair schools train to "entry-level." This means that a graduate should be able to repair nearly any common problem but at significantly slower speed than the experienced technician. Because of this, it is common to refer to repair school graduates as "advanced apprentices." Most employers recognize the complexity involved when learning repair and of the need to continue your training at the job site: The many variables to consider with each instrument crossing your bench means that time on task, with much repetition, is necessary to develop your problem-solving and decision-making skills along with your physical skills.
Increasingly, employers are recognizing that fair salary and benefit packages are a must in our increasingly-competitive environment. High productivity and quality are generally well-rewarded in our craft.
There are four schools dedicated to training technicians in North America, each varying in format, time required for completion and delivery methods. Diplomas (1-year) or Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees (2-year) are offered depending on the school and program plan.
Choosing a School
All repair schools document their teaching and learning processes in the form of curriculum and syllabi. All strive for the same outcome: Successful band instrument repair technicians. Differences lie in facilities, the teaching and learning environment, the pace, the interaction among instructor's and students, the size of each program and the number and type of repairs required for completion. Other differences include housing, student support services, and access to financial aid, tool requirements and the communities surrounding the schools. Some students seek strictly a 9-month diploma so they can get to work as soon as possible, while others seek a 2-year AAS degree, gaining a bit more time to learn and augment their skills with transferable general education courses.
Find the school that is best for you by asking area technicians which path may be best for you. Also visit the schools you are interested in attending - you will know which is right for you when you experience the environment for yourself.
Repair Schools in North America
Minnesota State College Southeast
308 Pioneer Rd.
Red Wing, MN 55066
Phone: 651.385.6300 or 800.657.4849
Western Iowa Tech Community College
4647 Stone Ave.
Sioux City, IA 51102
Phone: 712.274.6400 in Iowa or Toll Free: 800.352.4649
Mark Schmedinghoff, Instructor: email@example.com
Band Instrument Repair Program
Renton Technical College
3000 NE 4th St.
Renton, WA 98056
Phone: 425.235.2453 Telephone
Fax: 425.235.7832 Fax
Jessica Ganska, Instructor: firstname.lastname@example.org
Badger State Repair School
204 W Centralia Street
Elkhorn, WI 53121