Did you ever envision yourself running your own business?
“Never in a million years.”
How did you get into the instrument repair business?
“I actually started off wanting to be a music teacher. And being huge into the local music community, I’ve been in bands and everything. With community bands, all the local music teachers are in those. I was walking with a couple of the local music teachers to one of the practices and we were talking about what we were going to do when the local repairman decides to retire. They looked at me (knowing I wanted to be a music teacher) and said, ‘You don’t want to be a music teacher.’ So I said ‘I’ll think about it. I figured, a whole bunch of different problems with all sorts of different instruments — how can I ever get bored?”
What special training did you receive?
“It was nine months at Renton Technical College in their band instrument repair technology course. There are only three schools in the nation that have such a course.”
What did that entail?
“The specific course I went to teaches the main five band instruments: flute, saxophone, clarinet, trumpet and trombone. They teach about the common problems with them — how to replace a pad, unstick a slide and fix a valve — how to diagnose what’s wrong with it.”
What’s the experience been like so far?
“It’s been interesting. There’s been ups and there’s been downs. The community has been hugely supportive. Taking over a shop versus starting from the ground up; that was huge, more than I could ever ask for. It was just huge, I already had the clientele. Roger Thompson (the former owner) had been in business for 40 years and retired at the age of 70. He had a huge clientele. I still have people, after being here a year and a half, coming in and saying ‘You’re not Roger.’”
What was the first instrument you repaired as owner?
“It was a Gibson (guitar). I don’t remember which model, but it was a nice one. It was a five-figure Gibson, I know that much. It was in for a pickup installation and fret replacements.”
What are the most common repairs that come to your shop?
“It’s not so much a repair, but people bringing in their guitars to be professionally restrung, because I do a bit more than just restringing. I shine up the frets as well as condition the fingerboard and the bridge. I oil them with bore oil and do a little more than just putting new strings on.”
How much does that cost?
“Ballpark for that is about $15.”
Does that include strings?
“Yes, unless you want to go for a string upgrade with Elixir Strings, which do last a lot longer because they have a Nanoweb or Polyweb coating.”
Do you have a forte or specialty?
“What I personally like to work on, and what people say that I do wonders with, are flutes. People love my flute and brass work. I also really love working on brass, there’s just something about moving metal around. Flutes are my big forte.”
Any repairs you’re particularly proud of?
“One was for Astoria’s new music director. He brought his horn in and it had a very stuck slide. It was actually bent to the point to where I couldn’t repair it, so I had to do some rather interesting things for it. I had to actually make a slide for it since I couldn’t just order a new one. I had to get a little ‘ingenuitive’ with it and make it work how trombone slides work. That’s actually been my favorite.”
Do you play instruments yourself?
“I play saxophone mainly. I’ve been playing 12 years now. Flute is my self-proclaimed secondary instrument. String instruments I still have yet to get a grasp on. I know enough to make sure they work.”
What are the most common mistakes people make in regard to maintaining instruments?
“Something that people commonly forget about is keeping in mind the moisture and humidity, particularly with wooden instruments. Wooden instruments are what I consider living instruments. They’re constantly moving and shifting and with the humidity they will often crack. Another common mistake people make is leaving their strings full tension when they’re traveling which causes their (guitar) necks to warp. Also with new band students, putting music inside their instrument cases, which causes keys, valves and slides to bend.”
What instruments require the most maintenance? The least?
“The easiest to maintain are probably trumpets and trombones, just because you give them a bath once a month and bring them in to get chemically cleaned once a year. They’ll run for eternity if you keep them clean. As far as most difficult to maintain, it’s probably wooden instruments because you can’t prevent cracks. It’s not, ‘How do I stop cracks?’ It’s ‘When will it crack?’ It will crack at some point.”
What instruments do you recommend to beginners?
“If you’re looking for brass instruments, I would say try trumpet or trombone. If you’re looking to just start out, buzz on the mouthpiece, you’ll know which one feels better for you. For woodwind, you can go with either flute or saxophone. Saxophone is easiest to learn because the fingerings the same upper octave as well as the lower octave.”
Any unusual instruments that you wish were more common?
“Me being a saxophone person, I’ve looked into weird saxophones. There’s what’s called a contrabass saxophone. It’s a 6-foot tall saxophone. It’s ridiculous. I wish it was more common — there are only 60 in the world. The theremin is a pretty cool one, but now with technology, there are theremins on iPads. It’s kind of tough to get those unusual instruments back in the world.”