Musical fix: Instrument repairmen share years of knowledge, funny stories
Instrument repairmen share years of knowledge, funny stories
Cars have run over trumpets. Woodwinds have fallen through the bleachers. Once, the Batmobile got stuck in the bell of a tuba.
From routine maintenance, such as replacing worn down key pads, to significant damage, musical instruments sometimes need a place to go for experienced care no matter the instrument or its owner’s age.
And the three men tasked with fixing the bulk of western Colorado and a portion of eastern Utah’s musical instruments — John Kite, Greg Karly and Seth Strickland — are ready for whatever is ahead, particularly with the start of a new school year.
“We have the tools, knowledge and equipment to do it,” Karly said.
The trio of repairmen at Roper Music, 136 N. Fifth St., has a combined 37 years fixing primarily brass and woodwind instruments from musicians in Moab, Gunnison, Steamboat Springs, Eagle-Vail and everywhere in between.
Kite, 75, owns 26 years of that combined experience. He can fix pretty much everything because, after that much time in band instrument repair, he has seen pretty much everything.
In fact, Kite’s expertise and willingness to teach instrument repair enabled Roper Music to bring Strickland aboard nearly six years ago.
Strickland, now 30, was a history major at Mesa State College when the opportunity to “get paid to learn a trade” presented itself. He apprenticed with Kite, becoming the primary brass repairman at Roper Music.
Hands-on experience was the primary way all three men learned their trade and all three are musicians.
Strickland is a saxophonist and plays the electric bass with Flat Top Reed.
Kite, a clarinet player in the Grand Junction Centennial Band, works primarily on clarinets.
Karly, 60, is the Western Colorado Jazz Orchestra music director, conductor and trombone player and is a former member of the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra. He works on flutes and saxophones.
Karly joined Roper Music in 2008 after retiring from a 31-year career as a District 51 band director in Fruita schools.
Although each repairman has certain instruments he’s primarily responsible for, all three matriculated to instrument repair for similar reasons: the challenge and creativity of the work.
“Quite honestly, I enjoy the mechanical aspect of this,” Strickland said. “I’ve been taking things apart and putting them back together since I found out what a screwdriver was.”
“There are challenges and problems to solve,” Kite said.
“You never get two the same,” Karly added. “There’s a ton of creativity.”
In fact, the most common kind of excuse they get for a problem is: “It was like that when I opened the case.” (Broken in two? The bell crushed?)
The men have seen a wide variety of damage in every sort of band instrument. (And for professional reasons, they won’t name the school that damages the most instruments, i.e., they won’t throw a school under the bus. Although, interestingly enough, sometimes instruments are thrown under a bus or another moving vehicle and end up at Roper Music.)
For a flute and clarinet, the worst damage the men have seen is the instruments completely broken in half. They were able to fix both.
For a trumpet, Strickland successfully remolded a horn run over by a car. Kite still has pictures of that trumpet on his cell phone.
The men have seen a French horn with a pencil stuck in the leadpipe — the part of the instrument’s tube where the mouthpiece is inserted — for what presumably was a long period of time because the pencil had actually softened and warped into the actual instrument. That horn was fixed, too.
Sadly, the men said, one student brought in a saxophone flattened by a car. They couldn’t fix it.
Through the years, they have pulled, in no particular order, the following from the bells of tubas or sousaphones: a feather plume, the aforementioned Batmobile, sheet music and a Rapala fishing lure.
The feather plume and fishing lure hang on the office wall, along with rows of instrument cases, small tools that resemble something from a dentist’s office, much larger tools and, to show the lightheartedness and humor of the trio, two round “tuit” signs.
“We’ll get a round ‘tuit,’” they said and laughed. Get it?
Typically the men, who often wear plaid-patterned shirts because they mask stains best, take about one week to fix an instrument, depending on the damage, which can be very minimal to, as Strickland once encountered, “basically a build-your-own-tuba set.”
No matter what they are working on down in their basement office, Roper Music owner and president John Handley is thankful for the work they do.
After all, he first joined Roper Music in 1983 as a repairman.
“There is a big shortage of repair people,” Handley said. “The easiest way to become a repair person is to find a shop with someone willing to share knowledge.”