Instrument Repair and Your Career Path

by Haley Zaremba

Instrument repair offers a complementary and fulfilling career path with excellent job security for musicians who are interested in pairing their passion for music with their technical talents. 

Since many technicians make their own schedules, instrument repair can be an excellent and flexible option for those who want to pursue a career in performance, production, teaching, etc. alongside their repair work.  This article will help you: 

  • Gain insights for getting started on this career path
  • Understand how technician work can complement other careers in music
  • Learn about the benefits and challenges of the trade
  • Decide whether instrument repair work is right for you

What does an instrument repair technician do?

According to the National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technicians (NAPBIRT), “A repair tech is a problem-solver, mechanic, acoustician, plumber, musician, bodyworker, innovator, painter, jeweler, tool and die maker, electroplater, counselor, buffer, chemist, designer, carpenter, and machine tool operator all in one.” In other words, technicians are experts in nearly all aspects of instrument repair and maintenance for one or more instruments. They are also customer service representatives who work closely with clients to help them understand and care for their instruments. 

Location, location, location

A technician’s role is highly dependent on where and how they work. Some technicians work for a specific company or organization that needs a technician on staff. Some work in the field, driving to client locations (particularly in the case of piano technicians). Still others work on the road as a touring technician, which frequently requires a broad but intimate familiarity with a variety of different instruments.  For most technicians, this huge variety of tasks and disciplines is one of the biggest perks of the job. “As a field service technician your environment changes day to day—new homes, venues, studios, and new pianos! Every piano is different, and every job is different,” says Peter White of PianoTechLA in Los Angeles. “One day you may just be tuning, the next you may be replacing or refurbishing parts on your bench, or voicing to shape the tone…the list goes on. It’s fun to meet new customers—piano people & musicians in general tend to be pretty interesting!”

What background does a repair technician need?

Instrument repair technicians come from a wide variety of backgrounds, as musical performers or from a mechanical or engineering discipline. While an ear for music and a proficiency in playing instruments is important, being an excellent musician does not automatically translate to being an excellent repair technician or tuner.  “Though there is some overlap, the skills required in piano service are largely different than those required in music performance or composition; a musician’s ear is not necessarily the same ear used by a piano technician,” says White. But no matter what background you may come from, “the fundamental goal of all techs is the same,” he continues, “to make an instrument sing, and to pave the way for beautiful music.”

While musicianship does not translate directly to being a good instrument repair technician, many technicians report that their competency as performers is of utmost importance to their work in instrument repair. Most technicians are skilled players themselves; it gives them an intimate knowledge of and familiarity with the instruments they are repairing.  “As a specialist in woodwind instrument repair, I believe that my capacity to play each of the woodwinds at a high level is an important element in the quality of repair work that I offer,” says Greg LaLiberte of GregLaLiberteStudios in Boulder, Colorado. “I know how each of the woodwinds should play best, how they should feel under one’s fingers, how the keys and pads should sound when gently pressed, the particular response each of the woodwinds should have when played.”

Learning the trade as an apprentice

There are many different pathways for starting a career in instrument repair, and all require rigorous training.  One option is to find a mentor already working in the field and train under them through an apprenticeship. This is a great option if you can find a mentor with enough time and motivation to train an apprentice.  This is easier said than done. Most technicians have packed schedules and may lack the time and energy to be a proficient mentor. The apprenticeship approach can be especially difficult if you don’t already have a solid contact in the field. 

If you are interested in an apprenticeship, experienced technicians say that the keys to finding a mentor are motivation and willingness to work hard, as well as persistence in demonstrating these traits to the person you want to train under. Mentors will not want to take on an apprenticeship (a lengthy and involved process) unless they are certain that you are dedicated to learning and mastering the trade and are willing to put in the time required to do so. 

University programs, trade schools, and online

Due to the challenges associated with finding an apprenticeship, going to a trade school or a university program specializing in instrument repair tech can be a more accessible pathway for becoming a technician. This is an excellent way to get your foot in the door, make important industry contacts, and get lots of hands-on experience with different instruments. There are a growing number of accredited university programs teaching this trade, such as the Piano Technology masters programs at Florida State University’s College of Music and Oberlin Conservatory. For students looking for a broader instrumental focus, Berklee College of Music offers a minor in Instrument Repair that includes brass, woodwind, and keyboard instruments.

In addition to formal training, there is a wealth of knowledge and do-it-yourself instructional repair videos on the internet. While these can be excellent tools to support your trade as you continue to develop professionally, experienced technicians warn that these are not a good substitute for a more formal and complete education through school or an apprenticeship with a master technician. There’s simply no substitute to learning in the classroom or in a shop with an instrument in your hands and an expert over your shoulder. More importantly, it’s very hard to know who online is credible and who is not. There are undoubtedly a great many helpful and well-informed videos and online repositories of information that can help an amateur repair their instrument, but becoming a professional technician requires years of hands-on experience and instruction. Furthermore, it is crucial to “learn the craft in a way that adheres to industry accepted standards,” according to Brandon Godman, violin technician and luthier at The Violin Shop in Nashville, Tennessee. 

Building your career

There are many ways to kick-start a career in instrument repair or piano technology.  One great way to get your foot in the door is by starting work in a rental department of an instrument shop. In this role, you learn to clean and prepare instruments for the next season, and get lots of hands-on experience with basic repair work that can lead directly to higher-level technician work. 

For piano technicians, John Cavanaugh, director of the MFA program in Piano Technology at Oberlin Conservatory, recommends starting off as a tuner for a piano dealer. In this role, you can meet many new piano owners and players who will need technician services in the future. Maintaining these contacts can be an excellent way to build a client base for an independent practice.  “Other ways to become successful are to work in academia taking care of piano collections, or to hire on with a reputable piano rebuilding company,” Cavanaugh adds.

What makes a great technician? 

A great technician must be patient, persistent, and enjoy solving puzzles. This career path is a particularly good match for those who enjoy working with their hands, gain satisfaction from a job well done, and have a mechanical sensibility, regardless of background. All of the technicians interviewed for this article emphasized the importance of curiosity and a drive to solve complex problems with no obvious solution. The challenge – and the reward – of instrument repair is that every problem is different, and even the most seasoned technicians are sometimes stumped. 

“What makes a great instrument repair person?” muses LaLiberte. “Smarts. An aptitude for how mechanical things function. A joy and curiosity in solving puzzles, a love for working through problems. Having an abundance of patience. Having the desire and fortitude to see a project, even one that seems impossible, through to its completion. A perfectionist. But one that knows when something has arrived at the goal.”

Benefits of being a technician

Those who have enjoyed long and successful careers in instrument repair say that they find their job extremely fulfilling. While there are some very tedious elements to the job—especially when fiddling with the same tiny parts for hours or days at a time, or meticulously tuning the 230 strings of a grand piano—the payoff can be immense. “The feeling of bringing a piano back to life and working with a player to dial it in to their taste is so satisfying after all the tedious work,” says White. “I love that the work bridges both the mechanical and the artistic—you get to play engineer and artist all in the same work.”

“I love that the work bridges both the mechanical and the artistic—you get to play engineer and artist all in the same work.” – Peter White

Multi-career options

Many musicians love combining performance with technician work, as the two careers complement each other in various ways. Working with musicians helps technicians stay active, engaged, and connected in their local music scenes. By the same token, being an active performer in a city’s scene helps technicians find new clients.

Furthermore, being a technician can provide a highly flexible schedule that allows you to pursue other music-related careers such as performance, production, or teaching alongside a thriving instrument repair practice. This is particularly true for self-employed technicians.  As Godman describes, “I am still heavily involved with playing. I am lucky to be around some of the best players in my field through my shops, and I get to be around, work on and study instruments and bows all day long. I feel I’ve made no sacrifices to either side, but have found an organic way to make a living doing what I love. I would venture to say a lot of colleagues in the trade feel the same way, regardless of what their background is.” 

Instrument repair is also a great complement and/or alternative to a career in performance or production because of its relatively high level of job security. Talented technicians are highly in-demand and frequently have more prospective clients than they can take on. As such, the trade can be quite lucrative, and part-time technicians who pursue multiple careers in music report that the bulk of their income comes from their repair work. LaLiberte says his schedule is so packed that clients have to book months in advance, and that this experience isn’t uncommon. “I often hear there is a shortage of repair techs in various places,” he describes. “If one is a talented and reliable repair person, I believe an enterprising individual could practically choose a city, set up a shop, put word out to the local schools, community ensembles, and musicians, put up a website, and quickly develop a business.”


Finally, being a technician can open amazing doors all over the world. There is a high level of demand for technicians anywhere that instruments are played. Which is to say, everywhere! Oberlin’s Cavanaugh, for example, has had extensive experience working with musicians and training technicians in South Africa, where the piano culture is thriving but there is a shortage of technicians.  There are also many underserved communities that rely on the support of technicians to keep music alive and within reach. In these contexts, technicians are not just skilled workers, but are providing an essential and philanthropic cultural service. In this way, being a technician can be an extremely rewarding way to support yourself while also giving back to communities around you. 

“If one is a talented and reliable repair person, I believe an enterprising individual could practically choose a city, set up a shop, put word out to the local schools, community ensembles, and musicians, put up a website, and quickly develop a business.” – Greg LaLiberte


Haley Zaremba is a writer and researcher and frequent contributor to, with an MFA in Food Studies from American University of Rome and a BA in Media Studies from University of San Francisco. Her writing ranges from music and culture to energy and the environment.

Resources in this article


National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technicians (NAPBIRT)

PianoTechLA Piano Technicians Guild 

The Last Repair Shop

The Violin Shop

Photo Credits

Top: Students at Oberlin Conservatory’s Piano Technology Program
Credit: Oberlin Conservatory
Bottom: Tshepiso Ledwaba, graduate of Oberlin’s Piano Technology Program and head technician at UNISA Piano Repair Centre in South Africa
Credit: UNISA


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *