By Mike Vaccaro, Eastman Artist
Instrument Repair

Before getting into this edition of "Mike's Musings", I want to announce that I will be giving a lecture at the MENC meeting in January..

The subjects I will be discussing are:

  • How To Improve Your Woodwind Section and
  • Aftermarket Woodwind Products.  

The session will be held during NAMM show weekend on Saturday January 21, 2017 at the Hyatt Hotel in the Pacific Room at 2:10 PM. That’s in Anaheim at the corner of Chapman and Harbor Blvd.

Mike Vaccaro is available as a Lecturer on the following subjects as well. Contact Mike here for more information.

  • How to Improve Your Woodwind Section - for educators
  • Let Mike Vaccaro Coach Your Woodwind Section
  • Performing and Related Music Businesses Opportunities
  • Available Aftermarket Products for Woodwind Instruments
  • Private Woodwind Lessons

Instrument Repair

Reasons For Repair

Now, the big question. Is your repairperson a good friend of yours?  If not, they should be. They are someone you are likely going to see several times a year, and they must be someone you like and can trust. Some repairpersons like to work alone and have you leave your instrument, while others like the company of having you there, if it is only a few hours of work. If they are a friend of yours, they are more likely to take you in with an emergency fix , even if they are busy. That is very helpful if something fails on your instrument hours before a concert.

Some repair folks will only work on what you ask them to fix, and in that case, you should stay while they are doing the work if it does not take long. Also, after that one thing gets fixed, you may find other things that need to be repaired. Always have your tenon joints checked, as a good seal at the joints really helps the performance of your instrument.

If you have a repair that needs from 1-4 hours, you may want to stay, for several reasons. You get to know your repair person by talking to them about musical and non-musical subjects. You also get to watch them work, and learn about some things you can do on your own in an emergency. My father always said if you want to learn how to do something, watch an expert doing it. Yet another reason to watch, is that you may find an interest in this process, as a potential part-time or a full-time job, especially if you have an affinity for mechanical subjects.

The music business is shrinking, due to the synthesizer’s growth in media (television, film, computer games and Broadway shows, etc.), and DJ’s, are encroaching on the live music business, as well as for atmosphere music.  People complain that the successful Pop acts are charging too much money and Symphony Orchestras seem to be struggling too. With the shrinking business, and more great musicians graduating from college every year, there are still plenty of people playing music for fun and at a high performance level, and teaching even more young virtuosos to excel. This leaves plenty of room for a repairperson in one of the parts of the music business that is still booming. This is especially true of areas of the country where every school has a band but there are few repair shops.

An overhaul requires the repair person to keep your instrument, so they can completely strip it and, if wood, treat the wood, and if metal, take out any dents. They also adjust the tone holes to make sure they are flat so the pads will seat better.

my picture
Rheuben Allen designer, manufacturer and repairman

It is important to see a repairperson on a regular basis, even if it is only once a year. Be aware that your instrument may have gradually acquired problems that you have adjusted to without realizing it. You may not understand why you are not playing as well as you can, when it is just an adjustment problem.

You want to make your instrument play consistently well. I find that any time there is a radical change in weather, my instruments act up a little. Instruments like a little moisture and, some people even carry moisture gauges in their case. Too much moisture can cause puffing of the pads and joints, and too little moisture can cause the pads to dry up and shrink. In either case, something radical has effected your instrument. If the instrument is still playing great, wait until your yearly check-up. However, If you notice a little difficulty in playing, get it to your repair person immediately. That is not something you want to get used to and forget to deal with.

Paul Rabinov at the repair bench
Paul Rabinov at The Repair Bench

You may be squeaking more than you want. It might be hard to get low notes, or you may find your horn hard to blow. You may see a ripped pad or a loose tenon cork, which may drive the pitch sharp. Time to go to the repair shop.

If you're having difficulty with notes not speaking, it could be you or
it could be the instrument.
Don’t blame yourself! Have the instrument checked.

Even most new artist-quality instruments made on a production line need improvement by a repair person. Intonation is improved by undercutting tone holes or other techniques. Spring tensions are adjusted so evey note presses the same. The keys are adjusted so they feel the way you prefer to have them. Some skin pads might be changed to cork. Aftermarket items like mouthpieces, ligatures, barrels and bells may be changed out, and are a very important element of achieving easy playing habits.

Don Trimble - Orange County Woodwind Expert

Where to Find a Repair Person

Most large music stores have a repair shop. These shops repair all the instruments those vendors sell. Many have one repairperson that does everything, or if they are big enough and can afford it, they may have a repairperson for each family of instruments.

my picture
Mike Vaccaro Eastman Artist

There are other repair shops that specialize in a family of instruments. Woodwinds, for example. These people usually can play well enough, and sometimes great, on each instrument to test out their work and make sure the instrument is playing well, and that what was planned for improvement got repaired successfully.

Then there is the one instrument family specialist. Let’s use flute as an example.  As you would expect they are more advanced in play testing an instrument and know the idiosyncrasies of each brand of flute. They are more aware of different materials to repair with, and may have taken a certification class in Strobinger Pads, or other in depth workshops that a general repair person does not have time to pursue.

Where can you find a repair shop? Large music stores, specialty music stores, general repair shops, specialty repair shops, garage repair shops, or the manufacturer of your instrument. In any of these places you can find a very competent or even great repair artist and in any of these places you can find a very mediocre or inadequate repair person.

You can find repair shops in the telephone book, the internet, from your school teacher, from journals (for example the Flute Journal), other musicians you play with, or from your private teacher. If you are looking for a high-end repair person you can always call someone from the local symphony orchestra, or other professional group. Most players find their repair person by word of mouth, and develop an opinion on the quality of work after they have their own instrument worked on.

It is important to take the physical appearance or manner of the repairperson out of the formula when evaluating your repair job. A bedside manner is nice but a perfectly performing instrument is nicer. If you can find both you have hit a home run. There are a lot of home runs to be hit especially in larger cities. In a smaller city you may have to send your instrument out by mail to get repaired. This is not ideal, however sometimes necessary. Do not hesitate to take or send your instrument to the best repair shop you know, as there is nothing more important that an instrument that does what it is supposed to do. This cuts down on practice time and improves the overall beauty of sound and ease of playing.

Also, always treat your repairperson with respect. Don’t tell them how to do their work. If you can tell them that, you should do the work yourself. If, when they hand back the instrument to you, fully-repaired, and it still doesn't feel right, politely ask them to reevaluate the problem. Work with them!

Remember that the more interest you show in your instrument, the more interest the repairperson is likely to show in their work.

Please email any questions here.

Some Quotes From My Diary

No one may succeed in life without saving money
There is no exception to this rule and one may not escape it
        …… Napolean Hill


An aim in life is the only thing worth finding
And it is not to be found in foreign lands but in the heart itself.
……… Robert Lewis Stevenson


No matter what you think It’s going to be,
It’s going to be something different.
…….Jack Reidling

Success is largely a matter of tactful and
harmonious negotiation with other people

Be a student of style
The final outcome should be “your style”
…Jim Rohn

Be a good listener – give extra
attention to a voice of importance
……Jim Rohn

Just our usual friendly reminder...
I sell custom -made mouthpieces, and clarinet barrels and bells, clarinets, and of course my CD’s for more information please contact Mike.

Previous ezines can be located: here.
Videos can be found here.

I would like to encourage you to purchase my new CD, Latin Love. You may purchase the CD as separate tracks, or as a complete CD, on all the standard sites, such as Amazon,
iTunes, CD Baby etc.

You may also purchase the CD and others, from my website.

Please help me empty my garage!


Accompanying me are the finest musicians in the Los Angeles area, and they all have a chance to stretch out on some fantastic solos.


Be happy with where you are at while you are trying to get to where you want to be.

Until the next Mike's Musings, here's wishing you all the best!

And, just for YOU...