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Musical instruments are a source of entertainment and recreation for millions of people. Maintaining these instruments so they perform properly is the job of musical instrument repairers and tuners. The occupation includes piano tuners and repairers (often called piano technicians); pipe-organ tuners and repairers; and brass, woodwind, percussion, or string instrument repairers.
Piano tuners adjust piano strings to the proper pitch. A string's pitch is the frequency at which it vibratesand produces soundwhen it is struck by one of the piano's wooden hammers. Tuners first adjust the pitch of the "A" string. Striking the key, the tuner compares the string's pitch with that of a tuning fork. Using a tuning hammer (also called a tuning lever or wrench), the tuner turns a steel pin to tighten or loosen the string until its pitch matches that of the tuning fork. The pitch of each of the other strings is set in relation to the "A" string. The standard 88-key piano has 230 strings and can be tuned in about an hour and a half.
A piano has thousands of wooden, steel, iron, ivory, and felt parts which can be plagued by an assortment of problems. It is the task of piano repairers to locate and correct these problems. In addition to repair work, piano repairers may also tune pianos.
To diagnose problems, repairers talk with customers before partially dismantling a piano to inspect its parts. Repairers may realign moving parts, replace old or worn ones, or completely rebuild pianos. Repairers use common handtools as well as special ones, such as regulating, repining, and restringing tools.
Some piano tuners service pianos that have built-in computers that control humidity, assist in recording, or allow the piano to operate as an automatic player-piano. Piano repair work will increasingly require some knowledge of electronics, as sales of sophisticated pianos increase, and people decide to upgrade their older pianos.
Pipe-organ repairers tune, repair, and install organs that make music by forcing air through flue pipes or reed pipes. (Repairers who service electronic organs are included in the statement on electronic home entertainment equipment repairers elsewhere in the Handbook.) The flue pipe sounds when a current of air strikes a metal lip in the side of the pipe. The reed pipe sounds when a current of air vibrates a brass reed inside the pipe.
To tune an organ, repairers first match the pitch of the "A" pipes with that of a tuning fork. The pitch of other pipes is set by comparing it to that of the "A" pipes. To tune a flue pipe, repairers move the metal slide that increases or decreases the pipe's "speaking length." To tune a reed pipe, the tuner alters the length of the brass reed. Most organs have hundreds of pipes, so often a day or more is needed to completely tune an organ.
Pipe-organ repairers locate problems, repair or replace worn parts, and clean pipes. Repairers also assemble organs on site in churches and auditoriums, following manufacturer's blueprints. They use hand and power tools to install and connect the air chest, blowers, air ducts, pipes, and other components. They may work in teams or be assisted by helpers. Depending on the size of the organ, a job may take several weeks or even months.
Violin repairers adjust and repair bowed instruments, such as violins, violas, and cellos, using a variety of handtools. They find defects by inspecting and playing instruments. They remove cracked or broken sections, repair or replace defective parts, and restring instruments. They also fill in scratches with putty, sand rough spots, and apply paint or varnish.
Guitar repairers inspect and play the instrument to determine defects. They replace levels using handtools, and fit wood or metal parts. They reassemble and string guitars.
Brass and woodwind instruments include trumpets, cornets, French horns, trombones, tubas, clarinets, flutes, saxophones, oboes, and bassoons. Brass and wind instrument repairers clean, adjust, and repair these instruments. They move mechanical parts or play scales to find defects. They may unscrew and remove rod pins, keys, and pistons, and remove soldered parts using gas torches. They repair dents in metal instruments using mallets or burnishing tools. They fill cracks in wood instruments by inserting pinning wire and covering them with filler. Repairers also inspect instrument keys and replace worn pads and corks.
Percussion instrument repairers work on drums, cymbals, and xylophones. In order to repair a drum, they remove drum tension rod screws and rods by hand or by using a drum key. They cut new drumheads from animal skin, stretch the skin over rimhoops and tuck it around and under the hoop using hand tucking tools. To prevent a crack in a cymbal, gong or similar instrument from advancing repairers may operate a drill press or hand power drill to drill holes at the inside edge of the crack. Another technique they may use involves cutting out sections around the cracks using shears or grinding wheels. They also replace the bars and wheels of xylophones.
Although they may suffer small cuts and bruises, the work of musical instrument repairers and tuners is relatively safe. Most brass, woodwind, percussion, and string instrument repairers work in repair shops or music stores. Piano and organ repairers and tuners usually work on instruments in homes, schools, and churches and may spend several hours a day driving. Salaried repairers and tuners work out of a shop or store; the self-employed generally work out of their homes.
Musical instrument repairers and tuners held about 9,702 jobs in 1994. Most worked on pianos. About two-thirds were self-employed. Eight of 10 wage and salary repairers and tuners worked in music stores, and most of the rest worked in repair shops or for musical instrument manufacturers.
For musical instrument repairer and tuner jobs, employers prefer people with post high school training in music repair technology. Some musical instrument repairers and tuners learn their trade on the job as apprentices or assistants, but employers willing to provide on-the-job training are difficult to find. A few music stores, large repair shops, and self-employed repairers and tuners hire inexperienced people as trainees to learn how to tune and repair instruments under the supervision of experienced workers. Trainees may sell instruments, clean up, and do other routine work. Usually 2 to 5 years of training and practice are needed to become fully qualified.
A small number of technical schools and colleges offer courses in piano technology or brass, woodwind, string, and electronic musical instrument repair. A few music repair schools offer 1- or 2-year courses. There are also home-study (correspondence school) courses in piano technology. Graduates of these courses generally refine their skills by working for a time with an experienced tuner or technician.
Music courses help develop the student's ear for tonal quality. The ability to play an instrument is helpful. Knowledge of woodworking is useful for repairing instruments made of wood.
Repairers and tuners need good hearing, mechanical aptitude, and manual dexterity. For those dealing directly with customers, a neat appearance and a pleasant, cooperative manner are important.
Musical instrument repairers keep up with developments in their fields by studying trade magazines and manufacturers' service manuals. The Piano Technicians Guild helps its members improve their skills through training conducted at local chapter meetings and at regional and national seminars. Guild members also can take a series of tests to earn the title Registered Piano Technician. The National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technicians offers similar programs, scholarships, and a trade publication. Its members specialize in the repair of woodwind, brass, string and percussion instruments. Repairers and technicians who work for large dealers, repair shops, or manufacturers can advance to supervisory positions or go into business for themselves.
Musical instrument repairer and tuner jobs are expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2005. Replacement needs will provide the most job opportunities as many repairers and tuners near retirement age. Nonetheless, due to its small size the number of openings due to both growth and replacement needs is very low relative to other occupations. Because training is difficult to getthere are only a few schools that offer training programs and few experienced workers are willing to take on apprenticesopportunities for those who do get training should be excellent.
Several competing factors are expected to influence the demand for musical instrument repairers and tuners. Although the number of people employed as musicians will increase, the number of students of all ages playing musical instruments is expected to grow slowly. Yet, consumers should continue to buy more expensive instruments, so they should be willing to spend more on tuning and repairs to protect their value.
According to the limited information available, repairers and tuners employed full-time by retail music stores averaged about $26,550 in 1994. Repairers and tuners who worked full-time plus supervised at least one other technician averaged $34,250.
Musical instrument repairers need mechanical aptitude and manual dexterity. Electronic home entertainment equipment repairers, vending machine servicers and repairers, home appliance and power tool repairers, and computer and office machine repairers all require similar talents.
Details about job opportunities may be available from local music instrument dealers and repair shops.
For general information about piano technicians and a list of schools offering courses in piano technology, write to:
Piano Technicians Guild, 3930 Washington St., Kansas City, MO 64111-2963.
For general information on musical instrument repair, write to:
National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technicians (NAPBIRT), P.O. Box 51, Normal, IL 61761.
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