Musical Instrument Repairers and Tuners

There are approximately 6,000 musical instrument repairers and tuners working in the United States. Job outlook statistics projected over the next decade indicate work for musical instrument repairers and tuners is expected to grow at about the same rate as average for all jobs. Close to 17 percent of all musical instrument repairers and tuners are self-employed. Nearly a third graduated from high school or passed the GED, while about 60 percent attended college. Employers looks for repairers and tuners who have had technical training in music repair, preferably at the postsecondary level. A limited number of technical schools, vocational schools, and colleges offer this specialized type of program. It is not uncommon for piano tuners to study their craft through correspondence courses. Once postsecondary work is completed and a musical instrument repairer or tuner is hired, most will be paired with an experienced mentor for on-the-job training. Some repairers and tuners are hired as apprentices without postsecondary training; this is especially true when the employer knows the new hire as a musician. Within two to five years of trainee work, in which apprentices move from simple tasks to progressively more complex ones, they are generally considered to be fully qualified at their craft.

Musical instrument repairers fix cracked or dented musical instruments; replace broken keys, bridges, and other instrument components; and clean instruments by removing mildew, tarnish, and other potentially damaging materials. Most repairers focus on one of four areas: band instruments; pianos, organs and related instruments; orchestral string instruments; and guitars. Band instrument repairers include brass and wind instrument and percussion instrument repairers. Their area of expertise is reed, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. Diagnostics are made by removing rod pins, taking off keys, worn cork pads, and pistons, and unsoldering pieces that are attached. Dents are repaired using a fill or a small mallet. Tools, such as grinders, lathes, cutters, and small or precision hand tools may be used. Violin and guitar repairers fix string and band instruments. Cracks must be filled, broken pieces repaired, and finish on wood instruments made whole. These specialists must be adept at machining needed parts. Piano tuners and repairers return pianos, organs, harps, harpsichords, and accordions to the correct pitch by adjusting various strings or pipes. These artisans must have perfect pitch, as this work is done by ear and a tuning fork. With over twelve thousand parts in some pianos, repairing or restoring can be a highly complex endeavor.

Because there is a wealth of musical instruments, most repairers specialize in a particular instrument or a particular group of instruments. For example, one repairer might work on guitars, basses, cellos, violins, and other stringed instruments in the same family. Another repairer might specialize by only working on acoustic guitars.

The great proportion of musical instrument repairers and tuners are musicians themselves. At the very least, they must be able to have basic skills to play instruments they repair or tune, to determine if the job they have done is sufficient. A good ear, good arm-hand control, and excellent finger dexterity are necessary to repairers and tuners.

Repairers are given the bulk of their work from high school band and orchestra programs. Others work for schools of music or receive referrals from them. Tuners are hired by churches, schools, concert halls, funeral homes, and individuals who own a piano, harpsichord, organ, or other large instrument that must be tuned by a professional. The work environment varies considerably. Repairers who work in a shop generally have good lighting and keep the shop very well organized, as hundreds to thousands of small parts must be easily available. Repairers and tuners who work in the field might find a variety of conditions. Some homes are well lit and clean; others may be dim, crowded, or dusty. Churches and funeral homes generally provide good lighting and a clean and quiet environment. However, repairers and tuners must be prepared for a wide range of working conditions and must be able to communicate with every type of personality. This is especially true for those who own their own business.
The median yearly salary for musical instrument repairers and tuners is a little more than $33,000.