Musical instrument repairer

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Emma Potter runs her own workshop with her business partner. She repairs and makes guitars and also sells secondhand and vintage guitars in the attached retail shop.

What does your job involve?

I serve customers, repair guitars and sell the instruments. The types of repairs necessary can be very wide-ranging, since instruments made from wood can develop lots of problems. Guitars are affected by temperature and humidity, and need regular servicing. I may need to make adjustments to the set up of the guitar, as it will be difficult to play if the strings are too high or low. On a daily basis, I also need to ensure that the shop is clean, tidy and well maintained, complying with all health and safety regulations.

What repairs are made to a guitar?

Sometimes, the guitar neck has moved forward and I need to remove the neck and change the angle. If a guitar has been dropped, quite substantial repairs may be necessary if the neck or body has been badly damaged. This can involve gluing parts back together and sometimes adding reinforcements.

Restoring old guitars is also part of the work, and it is important to find replacement parts that are in keeping with the instrument's age. Making the guitar look as if it has never been repaired is the aim.

Do you use specialist tools and equipment?

I use traditional hand tools such as sharp chisels and planes, as well as a band saw for cutting large pieces of wood. I always wear a mask for the repair work.

Do you work alone?

I work closely with my business partner, and we take it in turns to work in the shop and the workshop. I spend a great deal of time with customers, in order to establish the necessary guitar repairs.

What are your working hours?

The shop is open six days a week including every weekend. I start work at 10am and work until at least 6pm, although I often work during the evenings if I need to finish a job.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Guitars are very personal to the owner, and there is great satisfaction in knowing you have done your best. I am also getting paid for something that I enjoy!

What personal qualities do you need?

Patience is the most important quality, and if you make a mistake, you have to be prepared to do the work again. Dealing with customers also requires tact and diplomacy.

What attracted you to the job?

I have always been interested in music, playing the flute, piano and guitar. I took a degree in music, after which my careers adviser suggested getting involved in making the instruments I played as well. Although I had never touched a piece of wood before, the idea appealed.

What challenges do you face?

It is important to keep up with changes in the industry, such as new methods of guitar construction, new technology and electronics. Some electronic components can be difficult and time-consuming to repair. When you are establishing your own business the pay can be very low to start with.

Emma's route

  • Highers (A levels in England).
  • BMus Degree in Music.
  • National Certificate (NC) Stringed Instrument Repair.
  • Higher National Certificate and Diploma in Music Instrument Technology.
  • Shop assistant, followed by supervisor in guitar repair shop.
  • Self-employed guitar maker and repairer.

Emma's tips

  • Try to get a job in an instrument repair shop, even if part-time, to help you find out if you are suited to this career.
  • Take every opportunity to improve your skills and to develop your knowledge of the business.

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Salary information

  • There are no set salary scales for this work.
  • Self-employment and part-time work is common, and the pay can be low whilst establishing a reputation.
  • Part-time makers/repairers might earn between £4,000 and £10,000.
  • This could rise to between £15,000 and £20,000 for fulltime workers.
  • Well-known makers and repairers could earn around £30,000.

Getting in

Full training is essential. Formal academic qualifications are not always needed for the initial training courses. Practical ability and an interest in the work are essential. Courses include:

  • City and Guilds Certificate in Instrument Making and Repair
  • SQA National Certificate and Higher National Certificate in Stringed Instrument Repair and Making.
  • BTEC National Diploma, Higher National Diploma and degree courses in Musical Instrument Technology.
  • Some specialist colleges offer courses in musical instrument

Modified: 16 June 2013

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