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Thread: Considering Going Into Instrument Repair & Restoration

  1. #1

    Considering Going Into Instrument Repair & Restoration

    I am curious if there's anyone here who is in the musical instrument repair & restoration line, technicians repairing instruments as a career.

    I am seriously considering exploring this line, though I guess I am a little scared of making such a drastic switch in career & I'm not even sure if I'd be suitable for this job.

    I'm currently 28 (young but not that young anymore I guess), been working for around 4+ years now? I graduated with a degree in Psychology, always imagined I'd get my masters in clinical and go into research, therapy or even lecturing. However, as life has it, I ended up being an office admin for the past 4 years, maintaining the office, operation processes, pantry and office supplies etc. I was hoping I would eventually branch out into more Psychology-related work in the same company.

    But my manager has been steering me towards an IT support (or even IT solutions) field, as they've noticed my knack with troubleshooting hardware & software, on top of being a little "creative" in fixing & repairing stuff around the office. Of course, the IT field isn't as simple as just doing IT support, assisting your colleagues with slow computers or infected systems, being able to provide IT-related solutions like infrastructures, application designing etc, are all unique fields of their own that you'd need to go deep into, which is a whole different field that my background in Psychology.

    That said, I've gotten an epiphany, of sorts. I've always known that I love troubleshooting problems (which, I guess, was why I love Psychology and counseling too), working with my hands, dismantling and putting back something together (mostly laptops and computers right now, but I generally love dismantling stuff and figuring out how they work), and of course, I love music (though, only background I have in music was my years of playing the Euphonium in school and on my own after I graduate, I do not have in-depth knowledge of music theory aside from the basics).

    If I were to choose between reading a textbook or a journal on some IT-related stuff, like the cloud infrastructure or database systems, and a textbook on how a clarinet is made & how to repair it, I think I would probably have more fun with the latter? But it's a niche field, I have a stable job right now and it is terrifying thinking about switching career and starting from zero. I happen to know the owner of a Yamaha certified repair center in my city (the only center, mind you. The other 5 certified repair centers are in other states around the country). I guess I can try to contact him and see if he'd be willing to get an apprentice.

    But yeah, I don't know. I guess I'd like to hear what other music instrument technicians have to say about their experience and how they get into it... and maybe if I'm even a suitable candidate. I guess the fact that I have no formal education in music kind of makes me think I'm a bad candidate for this. I gave up on pursuing music in my tertiary as it felt like I would not be able to catch up in terms of knowledge or skills, so any music related career has always been seen as an "exclusive" thing to me, for prodigies and what not.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Location
    West Palm Beach, FL
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    3,189
    I have no personal experience with this, but it’s a respected trade for sure. It can be pretty physical at times when repairing brass - especially tubas. A band director in our area went to school for it several years ago... somewhere in MN I believe. He got tired of teaching music so started doing repair. Making a living would depend a lot on the demand in the area you live. The summer months can be really busy when many instruments come in from area schools.

    See NAPBIRT for more info:
    http://www.napbirt.org/4DCGI/cms/rev...ment&DocID=38&

    Hopefully others will post.
    Rick Floyd
    Miraphone 5050 - Warburton Brandon Jones sig mpc
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    Doug Elliott - 102 rim; I-cup; I-9 shank


    "Always play with a good tone, never louder than lovely, never softer than supported." - author unknown.
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  3. #3
    The repair school is in Red Wing MN and it is well respected. The coarse work, a lot of it is hands on, takes a year or more. You can check out the website using a Google Search. Paying for school and living in Red Wing is like going to College. It is costly. I hope you have the reserves to cover this expense. You might check with your certified Yamaha repair place near you to see if they are in need of help and thus get some experience in the repair business before you jump into it. I suggest you have plan. Like how are you going to pay for school, can you take the year and do it, where would you set up shop after school, what is the market for repair in that area, can you afford the lean years while you build your business are all questions you need to have considered. Is there a small shop that is run by an older person who wants to retire? Maybe you can work out a deal where you learn for a while and then take over the business after a while. I don't know this, but maybe Red Wing has a placement service after you graduate.
    Wessex BR140
    Bunch of Eb tubas

  4. #4
    Thank you both for the inputs! The NAPBIRT has quite a lot of good info!

    Unfortunately, I am located in Malaysia (South East Asia), so I will be pretty much stuck here if I go into this field. Yamaha has a technical school in Japan (Nearest school that offers repair courses?). Which as opus37 said, will cost as much as a college degree probably. iT is definitely not something I can consider right now, apprenticeship seems to be the best option for now, though I have yet to work out if it's possible to learn it part-time while still keeping my current job for me to build my savings up.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2017
    Location
    Sacramento, CA area
    Posts
    154
    Christiane, read this article. https://www.careersinmusic.com/instr...r-restoration/ It is written, at least in part, by someone who works in instrument repair. A technician based in the US, so the workplace may be a bit different than what you would find in Malaysia. But he talks about the personality characteristics of someone in his field and what a day's work is like. Maybe it can provide you with some of the personal insight you seek. The, "Am I even a suitable candidate?" type questions.

    I looked into this myself a little while ago. From what I understand, you do not have to have much formal "musical training". You do not need to know Mozart, from Schubert, from Yoyo Ma. You do not have to have an in-depth knowledge of music theory, such as what is and how to play a diminished seventh. It would help to have a passing familiarity with how to play several different instruments, so you can check on whether the attempted fix is having the desired result or not. Some technicians learn by working around a shop where repairs are performed and learning on the job. So it absolutely could not hurt to contact the shop owner in your city and see if you could make a deal with them. Offer to work for them part time and have him/her show you stuff during the quieter times. Revisit after six months and see if it is worth it for each of you to continue.

    Be creative and try to find ways to test to see if you can make the idea a reality, or if actually repairing a clarinet is as fun for you as it sounds. Yes, changing careers is a big step and scary. But it does not have to happen all at once if you can find an opportunity and convince the powers that be that you are serious. No one won a marathon on their first day of running. So don't worry about not knowing all about it before going in. Look before you leap, but then try and see!

    - Sara
    Baritone - 3 Valve, Compensating, JinBao JBBR1240

  6. #6
    Odd, I thought I posted something here yesterday, but seems like it disappeared.

    Figured I should give an update.

    Thank you everyone for the inputs!

    I've finally mustered the courage to meet the technician about this. Short answer, he wasn't hiring because the current workshop is a little small. He told me to check back with him mid of 2019 or late 2019 again, after they move to a bigger place. He might consider taking me in then.

    Apparently there are many who are interested in going into instrument repair. He mentioned that there were many who contacted him too. Must be hard being one of the only ones who has any kind of certification and experience in our country.

    He did share with me how he got into this line in the first place, he joined Yamaha right out of high school, through his band coach's recommendation, worked as a general worker delivering pianos etc, while learning how to repair instruments when he get the chance. Apparently Yamaha has been rather... stingy, so to speak. He only get the chance to learn when customers send in their instruments for repair.

    Found out Yamaha doesn't really bring in a lot of wind instruments since the demand is low (because of the price). But he is swarmed with repair work currently. I texted him after the meeting, offering to help out over the weekends if they need more hands, but no response from him. So I am not sure if he's keen on having me on board.

    He did say that the course by Yamaha in Japan is rather strict, and they mostly only accept Yamaha employees from outside of Japan. My only way to learn outside of an apprenticeship is to go to the states or some other European country. But I definitely do not have enough funds for such venture.

    I could consider Singapore though, there's an instrument repair shop over there, but not too sure if it'd be easy to get a working visa and what not.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Location
    Central North Carolina
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    2,017
    I admire your courage in pursuing this, and your insight into your own likes, goals, and potential enjoyments and rewards. It's definitely not too late. When I was 35 I walked out of a tenured professorship in Philosophy at a private university into ... well ... over time, something very different. I don't even remotely regret it. My wife did something similar. My daughter (age 36) just left her teaching career for work in business and is very happy. So go for it. From what you say about yourself, I'm sure that you can be an excellent repair technician.

    You really do need some training -- and actually, a kind of apprenticeship. This is tough because most people run small (usually one-person) shops and can't afford to pay an apprentice. One thing you might consider is biting the bullet, keeping your current job, and putting all the effort you can in to "after hours" work/training/education. You might even offer to work part-time for a local technician for no payment if he/she will train you as part of the work. (I did something like that in getting ready to leave my university job, but since I was going in the direction of computer science, pay wasn't a problem!) Think of it as paying for training with your work.

    You need training in both the technical aspects of instrument repair specifically, and also in broader areas such as tool use, machining, soldering/brazing, etc. You used to be able to get that in community college, but it's become almost impossible (except for welding) because they've all dumped their manual trades departments in favor of "computer classes" and computer controlled technology.

    You CAN do it, but it won't be quick, and there may be several years of transition where you need to continue to support yourself in your more traditional job while gaining those skills (which include business skills, since you probably will end up running your own repair business and maybe contracting services to music stores, schools, etc.) Another consideration is that if you want to set up your own shop you'll need thousands (probably tens of thousands) of dollars worth of tools, including very specialized tools. Moving in this direction takes a lot of faith and courage. But if you want to go there, you should go for it. One step at a time.

    I'd also suggest you post your goals and hopes on Tubenet and ask for advice there. There are a number of very good independent repair people who read that on a daily basis. Or shoot an email to Dan Schultz (http://www.thevillagetinker.com/), and ask him for his advice. He moved from being an engineer to being a repair tech some years ago, and he's a really nice guy.
    Gary Merrill
    Wessex EEb Bass tuba (Denis Wick 3XL)
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    1947 Olds "Standard" trombone (Olds #3)

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    Leadwood, MO
    Posts
    539
    Wish you well with this endeavor. Would reach out to the Tuba Tinker as Gary mentions but would also contact Dan Oberloh and Lee Stofer who are both respected repairmen. Best wishes!
    John 3:16

    Yamaha YSL-630 Trombone
    Conn 15I Euphonium
    Mack Brass Euphonium
    Conn Victor 5H Trombone
    Yamaha 354 Trombone
    Mack Brass 200S BBb Tuba

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