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Author Topic: Repair tech as a career?  (Read 14211 times)
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Sue
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« on: Nov 28, 2010, 05:37PM »

This question is for all you repair techs. Recently I've been thinking that my youngest, a H.S. sophomore, would probably make a good instrument repairman. He likes working with his hands, is quick to pick things up, and is very careful and meticulous. His 1st career choice is auto mechanics - strong interest in vintage cars - but weak math skills and a dislike for modern, high tech machinery. I don't see this working out.
He has switched from trombone to tuba/bass trombone this year, and has begun bringing home a steady stream of school-owned brass instruments that have not been touched in years to clean and get into playing condition. There are probably 8-10 tubas in "his" room (as he refers to the tuba room at school) and some may date back to the 50's. He wants to get each one playable, then pick out the best one to use for concert band. BTW, he is more interested in the mechanical aspect than the playing aspect - if he actually PRACTICED them as much as he tinkered with them, we could be looking at conservatories!
For you guys doing it - would you choose the same career path again? What schools would you suggest,and how long is the program? Any other helpful suggestions would be appreciated!
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« Reply #1 on: Nov 28, 2010, 05:47PM »

I believe Mike Corrigan attended Redwing.  It would be my choice along an apprenticeship as a way to learn the craft. 

http://redwingmusicrepair.org/
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« Reply #2 on: Nov 28, 2010, 05:53PM »

There have been a couple of threads on Repair as a career.  If you use the Search function you should find a few threads here.

There are a couple of schools that offer a major in musical instrument repair, but the one most of the repairmen I know is Minnesota College Southeast Technical (used to be called Red Wing College) in Minnesota.

There are others as well; I hope our Tech group will chime in with some others.

He's still going to have to work on the math skills though.  You need some algebra and geometry.  To use some of the newer design tools he'll need some experience with CAD.

Good luck to him, and if he has any questions about fixing all those tubas, post them here and we have some people who have the answers.
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« Reply #3 on: Nov 28, 2010, 05:58PM »

I'm not in the field, but I know people that are...

There are a handful of schools that offer programs in instrument repair. I play in a band with one young man who just finished up the program at Minnesota State College Southeast Technical College (aka "Red Wing"). I haven't heard any complaints from him other than the fact that the teachers kept having to toss him out at the end of the day so they could go home (he'd have probably stayed there all night if they'd let him). He recently got a job at Kanstul.

Here's the NAPBIRT (National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technicians, Inc.) page on schools:
http://www.napbirt.org/mc/page.do?sitePageId=57220&orgId=napbirt

My first suggestion would be to see if he can get a summer job working in a repair shop. Give him a taste of doing the work in a real-world (i.e., "time is money") environment. If he apprentices in the right shop, he can learn what he needs without having to go someplace like Red Wing (which can be expensive).
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« Reply #4 on: Nov 28, 2010, 05:59PM »

I enjoy working on trombones... tubas, trumpets and horns some...WWinds, not so much.  That's just me.

I've found that all mechanical skills transfer to repair.  Welding, guns, wood working...it all adds together.

The grind of a music store/general mechanic might not be his deal...but maybe a high end hot rod or speciality repair place might.

My take on repair folks is that playing DOES enhance you abilities.  Everyone drives a car so that's not a big job qualifier.  So sticking with playing would be a good thing, even if he's not shooting for a conservatory.

Once you reach a level of income, then the question is what do I really need?  Some folks say that teachers are under payed, others say that they are payed too much for the hours and days worked....not an argument I want to get into, but your son needs to ask himself the question.

Feel free to PM  or better yet have your son do it.


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« Reply #5 on: Nov 28, 2010, 06:02PM »

you might check out Western Iowa Tech in Sioux City Iowa

http://www.witcc.edu/programs/

http://www.witcc.edu/programs/program.cfm?id=26&CFID=14735145&CFTOKEN=32948516

http://www.witcc.edu/programs/program.cfm?id=87&CFID=14735145&CFTOKEN=32948516
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« Reply #6 on: Nov 28, 2010, 06:34PM »

I'm not a repair tech myself, but having worked for the Shires company and attended a lot of workshops as an exhibitor, I know a lot of instrument techs and I can say that your son sounds like a perfect candidate. And if his school is giving him access to all those old tubas to work on, he's getting a big head start just by having the freedom to experiment.

He will probably pick up the math skills he needs, and learn to appreciate the high tech machinery available to instrument makers and repairmen, when he finds the need for them.
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« Reply #7 on: Nov 28, 2010, 09:37PM »

Hi All,

Not to be a devil's advocate, but this is not generally a high wage job.  There is tremendous amounts of skill acquisition and hard work to make a modicum of income.  Automotive trades are barely any better.  A master auto tech can have 100K worth of tooling, a well equipped instrument repair shop can easily be that much as well, but what we take home is pretty maxed out at about 30.00 an hour.  And that is if everything is going great, which most cases it is not.

The logistics of being a repair tech are difficult at best.  Leaving any repair school you are simply an educated apprentice.  As an apprentice you need to find a store that will allow you to practice your trade, hopefully with a master tech to get advice from.  Some people are very adept at repair, these naturals are rare, not that your son is not one already or could not be one given the opportunity.

The same amount of time in another skilled worker profession would yeild higher income levels.  An electrician would be a good alternative.  Repair techs in major urban areas bill out anywhere from 45-90 dollars an hour.  As much as 60% goes to the shop for expenses etc... Sometimes techs are salaried, I used to be salaried with mandatory overtime, much better now..

There are no summer vacations for many of us.

Housing prices and cost of living in your area can determine if instrument repair can be a sustainable income source.  I can not afford a house in my area, until my wife gets a better job.  I could work my rear off and never have enough to buy a reasonable house without her income.

Living where there are well supported marching band programs and low cost of living can make a huge difference.  This situation will determine along with the ability to put out horns in a reasonable amount of time can change the viability of being a tech.

Thought you should know about some of the detractions of being a tech.  That being said, I enjoy my work.  I really enjoy custom work and fabrication but that is not the majority of my work.  Fixing rental stock is the majority of my work and that is tedious work.  Many techs burn out at about 7 years of work.

There are the worst aspects of being a repair tech. 

Don't be discouraged for you son, just be informed.  There are many more people out there doing fine as repair techs.  It can be a very rewarding career.  It can also be repetitive and dull at times trying to repair that stubborn piccolo, sax or trombone slide.

I 100% agree with JohnL in that your son should test drive this career in a shop as a helper during the busy summer season.  It will be a good learning experience and really inform him as to whether or not he is suited to working that lifestyle.

Benn
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« Reply #8 on: Nov 28, 2010, 11:46PM »

Housing prices and cost of living in your area can determine if instrument repair can be a sustainable income source.  I can not afford a house in my area, until my wife gets a better job.  I could work my rear off and never have enough to buy a reasonable house without her income.
Same here, she's my sugar mama.

Short of a few technicians who have the reputation to charge whatever they want, the income is low.

People understand how a car can need hundreds of dollars for repair, but many don't understand the same thing with instruments.

Also, if you end up being hired by a retail store, your department's profitability is often undermined adding warranties to high profit margin sales products.  Repair contracts get made in hopes of selling schools instruments instead of making a decent profit repairing them.

The stress and workload are relatively high.  I've heard about a study naming musical instrument repair as one of the least stressful jobs oot there and if you're a guy working out of your basement it may well be.  If you've got a storefront with sales, rentals, and repairs then I have yet to meet a full time tech who'd say that it is a peaceful relaxing job.  No summer vacation and likely not much money for a winter one either.

Physically your body takes a beating doing this job.  I've had back problems, shoulder problems, and some hearing loss.  I've got a friend who is now repairing in the G. Seattle Area who had to take a year off to heal after developing a wrist injury.  I have a friend who quit and hopped on a plane to go back home to the west coast overnight because she couldn't handle the stress.  Not to mention germs, bugs, and mould.

My most aggravating experience I had as a repair tech was in one of my first years as an apprentice (lackey) where I was doing cleanings.  When I went home one night after a 17 hour day, I had a remarkably vivid dream where I fully disassembled, cleaned, oiled, reassembled and polished 4 Yamaha YEP 201 euphoniums.  There was nothing exciting, no other repairs, not even a worn out cork or felt.  4 euphs, cleaned, step by step.  This was supposed to be my dream.

That being said, I've had wonderful experiences as well.  I do like my work but it took awhile to be able to like it.

I'd also suggest Keyano College in Ft. MacMurray Alberta, Canada.  There is a good amount of business classes mixed in with getting your certification and diploma.

Definitely become a summer lackey.  Sugar Mama, optional.
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« Reply #9 on: Nov 29, 2010, 09:15AM »

A career as a Band Instrument Technician is generally not the best one to choose from a long list of options.  It is one to choose because it is who you are.  I have no doubt that I could have a more financially rewarding career in another industry, but I've been pretty happy for the last 22 years working in this field (including 7 years in customization/manufacturing at the Greenhoe shop).
It is a career that can be pursued on many levels, and taken as far as you want to go if you put your all into it.  The principle requirements are mechanical aptitude and an inquisitive nature.  Musical aptitude is a strong plus.  The ability 'play well with others', follow instruction, and to receive criticism constructively is especially beneficial in the learning stages, when there will be a lot of correction going on.  Later on, it will be important in communicating well with customers, in order to provide the service that best meets their needs.
I couldn't do a lot of the things I do without a good understanding of mathematics (especially trig), but many technicians are quite successful without ever giving a thought to such things.  That difference is largely determined by whether you are content to repair an instrument to the level it was built to, or want to improve some fundamental element in its design.  The repair programs taught is schools don't require anything beyond basic arithmetic (including dealing with fractions).  The programs require 1 or 2 years to complete, depending on which one you choose.  The learning continues for a lifetime.
The NAPBIRT site previously linked has a lot of information on it, in addition to a list of schools that teach instrument repair.  Do check it out.
I would be happy to discuss things further. Feel free to contact me directly if I can be of any assistance.

Brian Russell
brian@russellwinds.com
www.russellwinds.com
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« Reply #10 on: Nov 30, 2010, 08:05AM »

Thanks for all the replies - more than i could have hoped for. I appreciate hearing the "bad" along with the good. I think it is something that he will consider, and as several of you pointed out math skills are useful, even required. It may motivate him in that area. Sounds like there is quite a bit of $ to lay out in advance, with schooling/training and tools.
If he were to apprentice, go to school, and perhaps apprentice awhile longer, he would still probably have to start out in a retail store that services rentals and school equipment. But if he proves to be especially skillful, he could move on to interesting modifications and even design.
I still need to show HIM this thread - our schedules have dovetailed lately.
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« Reply #11 on: Dec 01, 2010, 03:26PM »

That sounds great!
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« Reply #12 on: Dec 01, 2010, 04:11PM »

Hi All,

Not to be a devil's advocate, but this is not generally a high wage job.  There is tremendous amounts of skill acquisition and hard work to make a modicum of income.  Automotive trades are barely any better.  A master auto tech can have 100K worth of tooling, a well equipped instrument repair shop can easily be that much as well, but what we take home is pretty maxed out at about 30.00 an hour.  And that is if everything is going great, which most cases it is not.Benn
(Snipped a bit)

Oh great, Benn!!!

Now you tell me!

hehe

Eric


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« Reply #13 on: Dec 02, 2010, 07:32AM »

Here's another source of information about learning instrument repair: http://ciomit.com/
Dan Parker runs a musical instrument repair school in Colorado, and offers web-based instruction.  I mention this for informational purposes only. I am not familiar enough with his program to give an endorsement.  Personally, I find it hard to imagine that I would have been able to learn the fundamentals of instrument repair remotely.  It's just too tactile.  Different people have different learning styles, though, and it must work for some...

Brian Russell
www.russellwinds.org


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« Reply #14 on: Dec 08, 2010, 08:02PM »

In my experience, the same passion that goes into repair (design, building) of musical instruments is the same one that drives those that perform (compose, teach, et al): a desire to share their artistic expression with a larger audience.

I think we should use the same test for every vocation we set our sights on, but ESPECIALLY in the arts and allied arts industries:

Only do it if you cannot see yourself doing something else.

If he wants to do this dearly, he will - there will be no stopping him. And chances are, he will be HAPPY and SUCCESFUL regardless of income or lifestyle.
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« Reply #15 on: Dec 16, 2010, 01:25PM »

I agree with the whole "passion" thing, there are a lot of competent brass techs, but for a horn I really care about, I want a guy like Corrigan doing the work, a guy I can trust to know the difference between a competent job and a great job, and who aspires to greatness.

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« Reply #16 on: Mar 09, 2011, 06:58AM »

I am a technician, and I attended Renton Tech in WA state to study.  I also apprenticed at a couple music shops before going to school.  That being said, I am also a musician, and I hold a degree in Jazz performance.  In my opinion, you have to be a musician to be a tech, all the best techs I can think of, are also fine players.  If your son has a passion for fixing tubas, that's great.  I agree with the other posters that it is all about the passion.  You have to love what you do.  I have met a few "techs" that are only techs because they can't find enough gigs to pay the bills, or can't find teaching jobs.  They are just doing it because they can't do what they want.  These techs (I'm sure with exceptions somewhere) are generally not the best.  So, I guess my advice is, if your son does want to be a tech, to stop tinkering with the tubas in school and start practicing them.  And then find a clarinet and a trumpet and a trombone and start practicing them too.  It is really hard to find work as a tech when you don't fix (and playtest) everything.  And then, for the tinkering, maybe there is a local music shop that would take him on as an apprentice, so he can start learning how to clean and adjust the instruments properly.    Just my 2 cents. -Sean
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« Reply #17 on: Sep 12, 2012, 09:52AM »

In the summer time, repair shops may be looking for some extra help doing cleanings. That is a good foot in the door. and You can really see what the job is all about. The best thing to do is apprentice with a repairman or two. The more information you get from different sources, the better. I learned from 2 old school guys before going to shires to work and learning a lot more from some of the masters up there. now, building new horns for shires is nice, but ive taken a lot of that skill and precision learned at shires over to the repair shop and do much better work then when i started cleaning horns in the summer 10 years ago.

I'd say you definitely need another source of income too though. its very tough to scrape by learning and working for someone in repairs. I play gigs and DJ on top of working at shires days, and repairs here and there nights and weekends.
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« Reply #18 on: Nov 22, 2014, 06:54AM »

I am almost 74 and just starting to get into repair of trombones. I know some techs that I have talked at different shops say that trombones are the hardest thing to work, but as far as I can see they should be one of the easiest. But the fact is if that is his choice ... I would suggest as others to go to a good school and learn from someone that knows what they are doing. I have purchased 4 books on repair and there is very little information in them about repairing trombones other than straightening the slide, which I feel most of that is common practical sense. If he is planning on working on all instruments, be prepared to spend big dollars for the tools. I have have spent over 5 grand so far for the basic tools and could probably spend that much more just for trombones.

But on the other hand .... I haven't seen many young techs around ... so it could be that in future we will all find it had to find a local tech.

Garry-
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« Reply #19 on: Apr 17, 2015, 06:44PM »

Has he ever considered being a machinist...good ones are in short supply and he'll be able to build/create just about any horn repair tool he would like to have/create!  I've put maybe a dozen horns into working condition.  I'm not all that great at it and it takes me a really long time to do the simplest repair so hats off to you pros, but I understand where your son is coming from...it's a lot of fun to see something work again after someone has given up on it.  Tons of trades to choose from....Instrument repair, machinist, auto repair etc. I try to encourage my kids to try many things and eventually something will stick (at least that's the plan).  Everyone has their (sometimes hidden) talent...you just have to find it and make it your passion.

Good luck on the search!
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