What qualifies someone to work on instruments - Feb 2002
Even if your instrument care is meticulous, you will probably need of a repair person sometime. Your violin will need a new bridge, pegs or sound post. Seams will open. Your guitar will need new frets or a neck reset. When the need arises, you'll have to trust someone to work on your instrument. The choice is not trivial, as the quality of the work can permanently affect the playablity, tone & value of an instrument.
In the U.S., instrument building, repair & restoration do not require certification or licensing. Therefore, anyone can hang out a shingle to do instrument repair. Intelligent, conscientious people can develop considerable repair skills through self-teaching if they have guidance from experienced repair people. However, doing so requires discipline to seek out information & mentors; to practice techniques & develop professional-level abilities BEFORE working on others' instruments. Formal course-work and/or apprenticeship under a master repair person greatly facilitates acquisition of effective & appropriate repair & restoration techniques.
And, because expertise in one area does not guarantee expertise in all areas, good repair persons consult with specialists on approaches for particular tasks sometimes making referrals or subcontracting specialty work. For example, restoration of an historically important violin requires specialized knowledge of woods, varnishes & construction methods from specific schools of building. Inappropriate treatment of a repair (even if the repair is well executed in terms of making the instrument playable) can ruin it's collectible/historical worth. Like a good doctor, a credible repair person will assess his or her qualifications for the work, & refer to specialists as necessary.
If you are receiving this newsletter, you probably know that Meadowood offers repair services. We hope that you're familiar with our knowledge, skill, experience & specialties. If you are not, we hope that you will become familiar with them. And, whether you are considering Meadowood or another shop, we strongly encourage you to learn about the repair person's knowledge, skill, experience, specializations & willingness to refer. Asking the following questions will get information that will help you to select a qualified repair person:
Where & with whom did the repair person take formal training and/or apprentice for building, repair and/or restoration? Several colleges offer instrument repair courses taught by master builders & restorers. Some of the courses offer continuing education credits, others are part of instrument building & repair degrees that are available in a few American schools & many European schools.
Does the repair person have certification for service & repair of a particular instrument family or brand? If a repair person has authorization from a manufacturer for warrantee work the repair person has met the manufacturer's standards for experience & quality of work. Manufacturers of high-quality, reputable instruments have high standards. However, don't automatically assume that a repair person with authorization to do warrantee work on one kind of instrument has skill at others ask.
What steps does the repair require & why? You should understand reasons for& benefits of repairs on your instruments. A good repair person can explain.