Repair Tech Interview: John Blythe

Based out of Burlington, North Carolina, John Blythe is the South District Repair Manager for Music & Arts. He’s been a repair tech with Music & Arts for 11 years and oversees 8 repair shops and 25 repair techs.  Read about the man who may be doing the body work on your next sax repair.

You have over 30 years of instrument repair experience.  Do you remember the first moment you felt the calling to repairs?

It was in my ninth grade year. I took my alto sax apart over the weekend and tried to put it back together. I was always building models when I was a kid and was interested in how things came apart and went back together. So, it seemed like the thing to do. If my memory serves me correctly, it took me three weeks to get it all back together and playing! During my sophomore year, the local college offered a one-week repair class for directors on emergency repairs. My band director got me in the class and I was hooked after that! After graduating high school, I was fortunate enough to land a job as an apprentice under a repair tech at a local music company. I’ve continued to learn the trade attending NAPBIRT clinics, on the job training, and learning from fellow technicians for the past 36 years.

What instruments do you specialize in repairs?

I am able to repair all woodwinds brass & percussion instruments but if I have to choose a specialty, I would say saxes, as that is my primary instrument.

What qualities or skills do you look for when hiring new repair techs?

It depends on what position we are looking to fill. When hiring for a one-person-shop, we need techs with a multiple skill set to be able to repair brass, woodwind, and, at times, strings with equal efficiency. At other times, we are looking for select skills such as a tech to just preform string repair.  I look for techs that have a good work ethic, willingness to accept corrective criticism and that work well with others.

What distinguishes your team from local competition?

Our techs are school trained or have completed a comprehensive bench test. They take great pride in giving our customers a long lasting quality repair for a fair price. We stand behind the quality of our work. As our slogan says, “You play it with your heart & soul, we fix it with ours!”  This rings true in every instrument that comes across our bench.

What are the most common repairs you see from schools?

You name it, we see i.  However, one of the most frequent, and avoidable, repairs is the pulling of “stuck slides” on brass instruments.  Having the player perform regular maintenance of cleaning and lubricating the slides. This simple task would eliminate 90% of these issues and would help save school budgets.

I bet the new Director’s Fix Kit is a great solution for some of those smaller repairs.  You were instrumental in the early conception of this.  Why did you believe so strongly in the product?

There is a need for directors to have a reliable, convenience repair kit that enables them to preform quick straight forward repairs. One that helps keep the instrument in the players’ hands and not in the repair shop. In my thirty six years in the repair business, this Director’s Fix Kit has the best tooling, supplies and instruction guides to enable a novice to save time and money. Leave the more in-depth repairs to the professionals.  Check out the Director’s Fix Kit here.
Valentino Director's Combination Fix Kit 700018 Standard This unique set includes a $79.00 valued Heat Gun incentive at no additional charge. Kit includes: A stuck slide service kit, mouthpiece puller, mouthpiece shank dent tool, rotor valve restringing kit, rope leak light, spring hook, head cork stick, pad tools necessary for replacements and adjustments. Related lubricants and instructions are included. Learn More

You are known for your clinics.  In fact, you won the Dick Rush Award for outstanding clinic at the 2011 National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technician Conference.  What is the key to giving a good clinic?

Be prepared! Preparation is key to being a good repair tech. Believe in the clinic topic and understand the material. If you are giving a clinic on ”toothpaste” you bet you better know it tastes good and it cleans your teeth or your clinic may leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth!

Where can educators and other repair techs learn about upcoming Music & Arts repair clinics?

Educators can check with their local Music & Arts Service Representative as we present Emergency Repair clinics across the country for county in-service days, and at state shows (read more about the repair clinic schedule at MEA conferences and national music conferences here.) Repair technicians can find one of our upcoming clinics on “Shop Management & Layout” at the yearly NAPBIRT convention in Washington DC, April 8-11, 2016.
  • Interview by Renier Fee
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