Musical Instrument Maker/Repairer

The Job and What's Involved

Musical instrument makers/repairers build, repair or renovate musical instruments.

Most specialise in one instrument family such as string, brass, percussion, keyboard or woodwind instruments, or individual instruments such as the guitar or violin.

Their skill in producing and maintaining instruments with a high quality of sound ensures a great many people get pleasure from playing or listening to music.

Their job can include:

Building a new musical instrument. This requires great accuracy and precision as any minute variation in shape can make a big difference to the sound of the finished instrument.

Repairing an instrument damaged in an accident, eg repairing cracks in a violin, removing dents from a French horn or replacing damaged parts of an instrument.

Renovating an instrument to top-quality condition. This may be because of an instrument's age, general wear and tear caused by long-term use, or because of lack of use for some time.

Instrument makers/repairers use specialist tools and equipment for cutting, bending, shaping and jointing instruments, and polishing wood and metal surfaces.

Different materials and techniques are used according to the type and age of instruments. Lathes, planes and other traditional tools are used when working with wood or metal; fibreglass, plastic and electronic components are used on more modern instruments such as electric guitars and electronic keyboards. Instrument makers/repairers may also fit electronic units such as guitar pickups or other amplification aids.

Musical instrument makers/repairers usually work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Many are self-employed or work for small businesses, so hours may vary according to the number of orders and client deadlines. Evening and weekend work may be required during busy periods. Part-time work may be available.

Work is carried out indoors, in small workshops or factories. It can involve long periods of sitting and/or standing. Large instruments, such as organs or grand pianos, may be repaired away from the workshop in venues such as church or concert halls.

Adhesives, polishes, varnishes and other materials are used, and need to be stored safely and correctly. There may also be sawdust or metal filings in the working environment. The job may not be suitable for people with certain allergies.

A driving licence may be useful for location work, transporting instruments and equipment, and visiting clients.

The usual starting salary for a musical instrument maker/repairer may be up to £15,000 a year. Many instrument makers/repairers are self-employed so earn set or negotiated fees per job.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Musical instrument makers/repairers work throughout the UK, although more work is available in highly populated areas. The National Association of Musical Instrument Repairers (NAMIR) has around 200 members in the UK, Europe and Australia.

Jobs may be available in small musical instrument repair factories or in repair workshops attached to music retailers. There can be strong competition for what is a small number of jobs.

Vacancies may be advertised in local and national newspapers, specialist journals or by word of mouth.

Education and Training

It is necessary to gain specialist musical instrument making/repairing skills and qualifications. The ability to play a musical instrument is also useful, but not essential.

Specific qualifications include the ASET Certificate in Classical Musical Instrument Technology at Levels 2 and 3, and the City & Guilds course in Musical Instrument Making & Repair at Level 3. ASET and City & Guilds can provide details of centres providing these courses.

London Metropolitan University offers a Foundation Degree and Degree in Musical Instruments. A minimum of two A levels/three H grades or equivalent are required for the degree course, and one A level/two H grades for the Foundation degree.

Merton College, London, offers the ASET Certificate and other courses in guitar, violin, woodwind and brass instrument making and repair. These are available on a part-time basis.

The School of Musical Instrument Making, Restoration and Repair at Newark & Sherwood College offers instrument making and repair courses, covering classical guitar, piano, violin and woodwind instruments.

The Trevor Head: Training in Musical Instrument Making and Repair School runs musical instrument repair courses in brass and woodwind instruments, guitar and violin.

West Dean College also runs short courses in making musical instruments, including early woodwind, keyboard and stringed instruments, guitar and violin.

Candidates should contact individual universities and colleges for specific entry requirements.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Degree courses usually last three years, Foundation degree courses two years. Courses in this subject include considerable practical work as well as theory, assessment and examinations.

New musical instrument makers/repairers in a small factory or workshop normally receive on-the-job training from experienced staff.

The Cambridge Woodwind Makers are a registered charity and run a centre that has been developed especially to encourage a younger generation of instrument makers to emerge. They offer repair and maintenance courses where you can learn to repair and maintain instruments; either your own or others.

The Institute of Musical Instrument Technology runs a membership scheme, open to student and qualified instrument makers/repairers. They maintain a register of professional people, hold educational meetings and produce a members' newsletter.

The British Violin Making Association and NAMIR also have membership schemes and provide members' forums to share good practice and practical advice.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A musical instrument maker/repairer should:

  • Have a good knowledge of traditional and modern musical instruments.
  • Be very skilled at working with their hands.
  • Be able to produce accurate, detailed and precise work.
  • Have a good ear for pitch and quality of sound.
  • Be patient, with good concentration skills.
  • Be able to trace and solve problems.
  • Have good personal communication skills.
  • Be prepared to keep up to date with new techniques.
  • Have knowledge of electronics if working on modern instruments.
  • Have the business skills required for self-employment or running a small business.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion opportunities are limited. There may be possibilities for promotion to senior maker/repairer or supervisor in some small factories or workshops.

Self-employed musical instrument makers/repairers progress by gaining a good reputation and through word of mouth recommendations from their clients. Some move into lecturing or teaching.

Get Further Information

British Violin Making Association (BVMA),
The Secretary, 7 Widcombe Parade,
Bath BA2 4JT
Tel: 01225 337734

City & Guilds, 5-6 Giltspur Street, London EC1A 9DE
Tel: 0844 543 0033

Institute of Musical Instrument Technology,
Northfield House, 11 Kendal Avenue South,
Sanderstead, Croydon, Surrey CR2 0QR
Tel: 020 8660 1719

London Metropolitan University,
Admissions Office, 166-220 Holloway Road,
London N7 8DB
Tel: 020 7133 4200

National Association of Musical
Instrument Repairers (NAMIR)
Tel: 01303 269062

The School of Musical Instrument Making,
Restoration and Repair, Newark &
Sherwood College, Friary Road,
Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire NG24 1PB
Tel: 01636 680680

Trevor Head: Training in Musical Instrument
Making and Repair School
Tel: 07971 083 089

West Dean College, West Dean,
Chichester, West Sussex PO18 0QZ
Tel: 01243 811301

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