Are You Thinking About Becoming a Repair Technician?
One of the questions I’m asked most often is how one gets started in instrument repair. There is no doubt that we need more workers in this field, for both high end professional repairs and school music specialties.
How do I know if I’m suited to be a technician?
Aptitude and ability is important to prospective technicians. Successful technicians have a craftiness and curiosity that aids them well in the trade.
If you are detail oriented, love to work with your hands, don’t mind making a mess (and cleaning it up), and have a real appreciation for the instrument itself as well as the music it makes you may be well suited to be a technician.
How does one begin the process of becoming a technician?
There are typically two main paths to becoming a repairperson: trade school and apprenticeship. Most technicians enter into either trade school or apprenticeship after completing at least a bachelor’s degree in music. Obviously, competency and sensitivity on one’s instrument is imperative.
There are several trade schools that teach instrument repair. These programs vary in length and cost but are generally less than two years and very well priced. They are a great way to learn general instrument repair and basic machining techniques. They are geared toward general band instrument repair, not mastery of one specific instrument. These are typically certificate programs and with your certificate you will be easily employed by a general music shop (under a master technician’s purview.)
The other path is apprenticeship with a master technician. Many people do repair school first, then move on to apprenticeship afterward, especially if they would like to specialize in high end repair of professional instruments. The cost, length, and availability of apprenticeship varies from shop to shop.
In the last few years some master technicians have also been offering online courses in instrument repair. This seems like a great way to start out, especially if you are unsure of your suitability to the craft or if relocation is not an option for you. Some of our supplies and equipment manufacturers also offer clinics and courses. I have found that it is best to stay away from YouTube! There is a lot of sub-par repair content online and it’s difficult for the layperson to distinguish the good from the bad.
How do I approach a master technician about a potential apprenticeship?
Ideally, it is best to have a relationship with your technician before broaching the topic of an apprenticeship. Make an appointment to have your instrument repaired, show up on time, and take an interest in the repair of your own instrument. Most technicians are more likely to accept a potential apprentice if they were an easy client to work with. Shops are small and space is limited so it is important to demonstrate an easygoing personality, dedication, and gratitude for the opportunity.
Keep in mind that many technicians (myself included) don’t want to take the time to train apprentices who are not completely invested in developing their skills to a professional level. We don’t like to train people who only “moonlight” or dabble. It feels like a waste of time and energy. Dedication is key, as with all worthy endeavors.
What are the different specialties of instrument repair?
Within instrument repair there are several different specialties. Some specialize in families of instruments, such as general woodwinds or general brass instrument. Some do them all!
There are also sub-specialties of high end or student instrument repair. Both are valuable and well needed in the community! You have to know yourself and your preferences in order to find your true path. If you prefer variety and like to do several smaller projects in a day then school music repair may be ideal for you. If you like to obsess over one instrument for a full day (or several days) then professional instrument repair might be a good fit for you.
What are some of the more surprising aspects of instrument repair?
When I started out as a technician I was surprised by the brute strength that is sometimes required, even on small, fragile instruments like oboes and clarinets. I thought it would be all small, careful motions, but was surprised that sometimes the only technique is to muscle it back into conformity!
I was also surprised by how often I would be poked by springs. I assumed that this only happened to apprentices, but NOPE, it happens Every. Single. Day.
I was surprised that many of our tools and supplies are not available for sale and must be made by hand by the technician. I actually really love this!
It was also surprising how many acoustical techniques seem random and without logic, especially with conical instruments like Oboes. This is why it is imperative to study with a master craftsman for high end repair and take careful notes along the way.
Here is the takeaway:
Musical instrument repair is a path that can lead you to a corporate position, a posting in a small shop, in a university, in instrument manufacturing, and even self employment. Competent technicians are needed in the biggest cities and smallest towns, all across the world.
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