Case Study: Musical Instrument Technician - Glenn

What do you do?

I make violins and bows for professional musicians. I perform standard maintenance on both student and professional violins and bows. I restore damaged violins and sell new and used ones. I assist people who are looking to buy a violin and tell them what to look for in a good violin.

What is your background?

I have loved violins since I was a child. I took apart the first violin I ever had. After years of playing, and after graduating with a degree, I started an apprenticeship making and repairing violins. I continued to learn by doing. I now work for a violin and viola manufacturing company.

What characteristics do you need to be successful in your job?

Musical instrument builders and repairers must have patience, creativity, a desire to learn and a respect for the past. String instruments have been made the same way for centuries. Meticulous care and procedures must be followed.

If you don't respect the past, you can ruin an instrument while trying to repair or restore it. When it comes to string instruments, the old ways are always the best.

What other jobs could you do using the skills from this job?

This would depend on what kind of repairs you do. Brass instrument repairers could work in jewellery repair because they are used to working with metals. Violin makers could try making wooden furniture.

What changes will there be in the future?

As long as there are violins, violas and cellos, instrument repairers will be needed. The demand will remain constant.

The string instruments industry has not changed for about three centuries, so it's not likely that it will change drastically in the future.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?

The most challenging part of my job is making quality new parts for old masterpieces and meeting the musicians' expectations. The trick is to make a new part that looks like the original so that no one can tell that it was replaced.

Are there many opportunities to enter this career?

There are not many positions available for instrument builders or repairers. The best way to get a start in the field is to go on a recognised course and do your best on every instrument you encounter.

What do you like about your job?

I like creating objects of beauty. We get musicians in here that play the bows I make and it's marvellous to hear what they can do.

I like restoring the bows as well. I had a wonderful 'pajeot' [a violin bow] brought to me that was made in 1830. And I got to do a restoration that was really a great experience.

What do you dislike about your job?

The pay isn't that great and I don't like being indoors all day. When I look out the window, I often wish I could go out to the park for a walk.

But I think the thing that really bothers me is that I don't get to spend eight hours a day just making instruments. I have to deal with customers and make repairs.

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

You'll need to combine a strong musical background with exceptional mechanical aptitude. You need to understand how your repairs will affect the instrument and the way it sounds. As a musical instrument repairer, you'll also need to have patience.

A day in the life

9:00 am - 10:00 am

Organise the day's repairs and begin work.

10:00 - 11:00 am

Open the shop to the public. File a wood piece for a broken violin bow and display my work to a potential customer.

11:00 am - 12:30 pm

More repairs: re-hair violin bow (replace string hair on the bow).

12:30 pm - 1:30 pm

Lunch.

1:30 pm - 3:00 pm

Bow making: file and shape wood pieces (beginnings of violin bows).

3:00 - 4:00 pm

Draw designs for bows. Write measurements regarding bow's needs, length and dimensions. Begin an ivory carving from the design work.

4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Sell a bow to a customer. Help him test the bow and listen to it on various violins.

5:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Clean up. Examine the incoming repair list and set up for the next day's work. Put tools away and make sure my area is straightened up. Close shop.

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