|Musical Instrument Repair Frequently Asked Questions|
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|1. How often should I bring my instrument in to have it checked?|
|2. Will you clean my instrument?|
|3. Will you fix my instrument? My teacher says it needs a repad.|
|4. My child will be starting to learn to play an instrument in the Fall and my cousin is willing to lend us an instrument that his child used to play. Will you check it out?|
|5. I can find instruments much cheaper on E-Bay than they are through my local school rental program. Should I buy one through E-Bay?|
|6. I understand that I shouldn't buy really cheap "no-name" instruments from E-Bay, but I can find similar brands and models which my school rental program offers on-line at other retailers for much less money. Should I buy an instrument that way?|
|7. My local dealer has inexpensive imported instruments in addition to the major brands. Should I save money by buying one of the inexpensive imported instruments?|
|8. A part has broken off my instrument. Can you weld it back on for me?|
|9. How long will it take to get my instrument fixed?|
|10. What is the difference between a "minor" repair and a "major" repair?|
|11. Should I consider buying a used instrument? Won't it potentially have lots of problems?|
|12. Will you use my mouthpiece to be sure my instrument works? (yuck!)|
|13. Are all oriental import instruments bad?|
|14. I've just bought this instrument. Did I get a good deal?|
|1. How often should I bring my instrument in to have it checked? (back to question 1)|
ANSWER: There is no set frequency with which an instrument needs to be checked. Some repair shops offer annual "checkups" (for a fee, of course) but I prefer to leave such things up to the musician -- if the instrument isn't working well, if the notes don't have good tone, if the joints of an instrument don't go together properly, if it makes more mechanical noise than it has in the past, if there are obvious flaws such as chipped/broken corks or torn or missing pads, then it should be worked on. In other words, my philosophy is: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
|2. Will you clean my instrument? (back to question 2)|
ANSWER: My usual reply to this question is "Can you show me the dirt? The phrase "clean my instrument" is a very unclear concept. Cleaning usually involves removing dirt and dust, and much of the time musical instruments don't build up such things. But people persist in thinking that if for some reason their tone isn't what they would like, or if they are having a problem playing certain notes, especially if they can't see anything obviously broken, the instrument must have some dirt interfering with proper operations. It would be far better simply to contact a repair technician and describe the problems and let the technician decide on the proper repairs. If there is any build up of dirt or dust on an instrument, most of the time the musician can take care of it by carefully using a q-tip or a pipe-cleaner. If the musician doesn't feel comfortable doing that, then certainly bring it to a repair technician. We are here to take care of all your instrumental problems.
|3. Will you fix my instrument? My teacher says it needs a repad. (back to question 3)|
ANSWER: Telling a student that their woodwind instrument needs a repad is something which many music teachers do without really knowing if that is in fact the case. In my career of over 30 years repairing instruments, the vast majority of the times people have brought me instruments with such instructions from the teacher, it has turned out that all the instrument really needed was a playing condition repair where some pads and or some key corks were replaced and the instrument was put into proper adjustment. A "repad" is a fixed repair where all the pads, all the key corks, all neck corks or tenon corks (depending on the instrument) are replaced, and the instrument is returned working like a brand new instrument. Repads are much more expensive than playing-condition repairs, and quite often with instruments which are under 10 years old, repads simply aren't needed, especially with student instruments. The negative aspects of having teachers tell the students such things as "your flute needs a repad" are that an expensive repair may be done when it isn't really needed, and if the technician explains things properly and demonstrates why a repad isn't necessary, the students' and parents' trust in the music teacher may be shaken. I always try to defuse the situation by explaining that most music teachers don't have the time to give an instrument a thorough examination, and they know that by saying "get it repadded" that it will be brought to a technician who will do the proper thing. Sometimes, when a teacher says an instrument needs a single pad or a key cork, the parent may try to do the repair and the instrument remains nonfunctional. By saying "repad" the teacher ensures that a trained technician looks at it and repairs it.
|4. My child will be starting to learn to play an instrument in the Fall and my cousin is willing to lend us an instrument that his child used to play. Will you check it out? (back to question 4)|
ANSWER: This is a very good idea, since otherwise nobody who really knows how to play the instrument will have had a chance to be sure it will be working properly before the child begins to play it. An instrument which isn't working its best is very frustrating for a student, and quite often a student will quit because he/she feels they aren't meant to play that instrument because they're having a much harder time to play the instrument than their friends are having playing theirs. Which is unfortunate because the child may have had great success if they had just been playing an instrument which was working better.
|5. I can find instruments much cheaper on E-Bay than they are through my local school rental program. Should I buy one through E-Bay? (back to question 5)|
ANSWER: Most of the time the answer is an unqualified "NO! NO! NO!" The inexpensive instruments available through E-Bay are most of the time poorly made and present several grave problems to a young beginner: 1) the instrument won't play very well, even when it is in perfect shape; 2) the instrument will go out of adjustment or break much more easily than the better-built, more expensive instruments through the school rental program; 3) if anything is broken beyond being able to rebuild it, or simply gets lost, it will be impossible to replace it, since these inexpensive instruments are made in huge factories, usually in Korea or Taiwan or China or India, where many different designs are manufactured and there is no supply chain for repair or replacement parts. So if something gets broken or lost, what was originally an inexpensive instrument doubles in price when an entire new instrument needs to be purchased.
|6. I understand that I shouldn't buy really cheap "no-name" instruments from E-Bay, but I can find similar brands and models which my school rental program offers on-line at other retailers for much less money. Should I buy an instrument that way? (back to question 6)|
ANSWER: That's a harder question to answer. If you buy or rent your instrument locally you ensure the continued existence of your local music store so that you will be able to buy music and accessories and supplies and even a better instrument eventually when your child reaches an advanced playing level. However, if it costs a lot more, you have to determine if the price is worth it. Sometimes you can contact your local store and say "I've found it cheaper on-line, can you match that price?" The local store may be willing to do that in order to make the sale and keep a customer happy, or they may not be able to do that because their net price is higher than on-line dealers who buy in such huge quantities that they get better discounts which is how they are able to keep their prices lower. Remember also that your local store either has a repair technician on the premises so your repair problems are handled quickly, or they have a local repair technician who picks up repairs at the store and repairs them at their shop and returns them to the store, also more quickly than shipping an instrument back to the on-line dealer for repair. And if the local music store goes out of business, that repair technician may have to go out of business also due to the lack of that store's business. In the end, customers need to weigh the pros and cons and do what makes the most sense for them.
|7. My local dealer has inexpensive imported instruments in addition to the major brands. Should I save money by buying one of the inexpensive imported instruments? (back to question 7)|
ANSWER: As with anything, you get what you pay for. Since many people understand cars better than instruments I often pose the same question about cars: Would you buy a cheap import whose name you've never heard of and which doesn't have a clear path for repair or replacement parts? Remember the "Yugo" automobile? That would be the quality instrument you would be buying. My advice is always to buy the better-built, more expensive instrument whose company has a proven track record of quality and support. I have asked local dealers who not only carry the major brands but also carry the inexpensive imports and their answers are all similar: Somebody's selling these so I may as well make the money rather than some on-line faceless entity, and I always try to talk the people into the major brands and only sell the imports when they refuse to buy the major brands. One even told me "I tell them they're buying an instrument that's not very good." The musical instrument marketplace has changed a lot in the past few years, and it is very much a case of "buyer beware." When in doubt, try to contact a local repair person and ask about the reliability of the instrument in question as well as the availability of repair or replacement parts, and also if possible contact the school instrumental music teacher and ask for their opinion as well.
|8. A part has broken off my instrument. Can you weld it back on for me? (back to question 8)|
ANSWER: It can be reattached for you, but the process isn't welding -- it is soldering. Welding requires too much heat, soldering is done at much lower temperatures which won't harm the instrument beyond possibly discoloring the lacquer (this happens mostly on older instruments).
|9. How long will it take to get my instrument fixed? (back to question 9)|
ANSWER: The amount of time necessary to complete a repair varies greatly, depending on several factors:
|10. What is the difference between a "minor" repair and a "major" repair? (back to question 10)|
ANSWER: Minor repairs are repairs where only a small amount of work is needed, such as (but not limited to) replacing some tenon corks on a clarinet, or a neck cork on a saxophone, or a couple of pads and/or key corks on a woodwind instrument, or freeing a stuck tuning slide or removing some minor dents or repairing valve action or resoldering a brace or two on a brass instrument. Major repairs are full repads on woodwinds, overhauls on woodwinds or brass instruments, replacement of larger parts of instruments, rebuilding woodwind keys, among other repairs. The cost of major repairs is significantly higher, as is the necessary time the instrument will be in the repair shop.
|11. Should I consider buying a used instrument? Won't it potentially have lots of problems? (back to question 11)|
ANSWER: Buying a used instrument can be a wonderful way to save money or it can be a nightmare. One problem with buying used instruments through e-bay is that there is no way to verify the seller's description until you actually are holding the instrument. One person's "in good shape" may well be another person's "looks great but plays horribly" and often there is no recourse to getting one's money back. Buying used instruments through a local music store is fine, especially if one can get a "money back" guarantee should the instrument not be acceptable to the student's teacher. There are also numerous want-ad magazines around the country where great bargains can be found. In buying a used instrument it is best if you can bring the instrument to a repair technician before finalizing the purchase or get a written guarantee that you can get your money back if a repair technician doesn't give the instrument a clean "bill of health." I am willing to check out people's potential used instrument purchases for a nominal fee, and am happy to provide pre-sales assistance if a person wishes to
contact me via e-mail. I won't be able to offer advice relative to the condition and whether the purchase should be made or not, but I am happy to offer advice as to whether a particular brand/model is worth considering and whether I feel the price is reasonable or not. For advice on the condition of the instrument, it would have to be seen by a technician in person. If the person who will be playing the instrument is able to try it out, often that can point up problems, but many times such problems may simply be a missing pad or key cork on a woodwind or a missing water-key cork on a brass instrument or the valves not being in the casings properly or a trombone slide simply needing to be cleaned and properly lubricated or other minor repair. But on-the-spot playing of the instrument can be a great first step -- not the final word, however, because what can seem to be a minor problem to a non-technician might actually be a major problem which would be best left unpurchased. Brass instruments are much easier than woodwinds to check out by non-technicians because brass instruments have fewer moving parts but even with brass instruments, a trained technician can spot potential trouble areas which the non-technician could easily miss.
Once a used instrument has been checked out and approved by a technician, there is not reason not to purchase it and save a lot of money.
|12. Will you use my mouthpiece to be sure my instrument works? (yuck!) (back to question 12)|
ANSWER: I keep my own mouthpieces for trying out instruments to be sure they work. Several reasons are:
|13. Are all oriental import instruments bad? (back to question 13)|
ANSWER: No, some are very well built and play with great tone and very good intonation. Cannonball instruments, for example, are all solidly built and play wonderfully. So it is important not to overlook any instrument simply because of the country or region where it was made. Far more important are the actual construction of the instrument and the easy availability of repair and replacement parts. When in doubt, ask a local technician about such things before buying the instrument.
|14. I've just bought this instrument. Did I get a good deal? (back to question 14)|
ANSWER: Please don't ever ask this question. If you've already made the purchase it won't help if the technician says "No, you got robbed" and it won't make a difference if the technician says "Yes, you got a great deal." Asking for validation of a decision already made does nobody any good. Ask instead something along these lines: "I've just purchased this instrument -- should I keep it or should I try to get my money back, or if that's not possible, should I sell it and buy something else?" or ask "I've just purchased this instrument -- how much would it cost to put it into great playing shape?" If nothing will help the technician will tell you. If nothing is needed because it already plays well, then the technician will tell you.
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