It is our firm belief that band instrument repair techs are the true unsung heroes of the music community. A great repair tech doesn't just keep an instrument playing well, they give a musician confidence in their tools so they can play their best music. And great repair techs spend many years tackling the trickiest repair problems to hone their skill and earn their wisdom.
We think repair techs deserve a lot more spotlight so we are starting this series of interviews with the techs who inspire us. We love hearing their stories, advice and insight and invite you to comment, like and share these profiles so more folks can appreciate the behind-the-scenes artistry of musical instrument repair.
Interview 1: Ryan Walker
Ryan Walker is a repair tech at MusicMedic.com and The Sax Pro Shop in Wilmington, North Carolina. Ryan is also a superb player and holds double Bachelor degrees in Music Performance and Music Education. He has been working as a professional repair tech for over sixteen yearsn and has worked as a band director at Montross Middle School, a store manager, a freelance musician, and a woodwind instructor at various venues. He has marched many collegiate and professional stadiums, including Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville Memorial Stadium, Clemson EverBank Field, Jacksonville Heinz Field, Pittsburgh The Superdome, and New Orleans for the 2000 NCAA national championship. Ryan has performed with the “Marching Virginians” Marching Band, Wind Ensemble, Saxophone Quartet, Clarinet Ensemble, New River Valley Symphony Orchestra/Opera Roanoke, the Baltimore-based funk band “Grilled”, the blues/bluegrass/rock band “Swinging Dick Egmond”, and the experimental Jazz Trio “Frozen Rodents.”
Key Leaves (KL): How did you start in saxophone repair? Where you work now and how long you have worked there?
Ryan Walker (RW): I started getting into repair work when I was a middle school band director. I would perform simple and quick fixes to a lot of the school’s and students’ instruments. I then worked at a music store in the D.C. area, where I further got into repair work. I worked at a place called Chantilly Music for nine years before making the move to Wilmington NC to work in the Sax ProShop at MusicMedic. I’ve been working in the Sax ProShop for seven years now.
KL: Do you have a specialty and/or special projects you are working on
RW: Besides my corny jokes and puns, I would have to say my specialty is saxophone restorations and especially engraving. We specialize in vintage and professional saxophone repairs and restorations at the Sax ProShop. We pride ourselves in the innovative modifications we perform on our clients instruments. I am also one of the few people in the country that are currently hand engraving musical instruments.
KL: What Key Leaves saxophone care products do you recommend and why?
RW: I recommend all of the Key Leaves products! These products solve an on going problem with saxophones: sticky pads. The design of these products is simple yet genius. If you have sticky pads, get some Key Leaves. Now!
KL: What do you want the world to know about your work?
RW: I’d like to think my work is doing great things for the advancement of the saxophone, from innovation modifications to elaborate finishes and engravings on saxophones.
KL: Are there common mistakes you see players making when it comes to saxophone care?
RW: The biggest mistake I see players make when it comes to the care of their instruments is lack of routine maintenance. That includes cleaning your instrument after you’re done playing and annual visits to a competent repair technician for routine maintenance. You’d be surprised how well a saxophone will play with just a little bit of maintenance on a regular basis.
KL: Is there a horror story of instrument damage or neglect that you saved from the brink?
RW: We had a saxophone come into the shop that we nicknamed Project Swamp Thing. The customer had a less than amicable divorce with his wife. One day he comes home and his Yamaha tenor sax is gone, along with his ex-wife. Fast forward twenty years later and the same customer is dredging the pond on his property and pulls up his Yamaha tenor from the depths. He decides that he’d like to have it restored so he sent it into the Sax ProShop for us to work our magic. After about 60-80 hours, we restored his saxophone to its former glory, now with a interesting story behind it.
KL: What inspires you most about your work? Is there a moment or experience you want to share?
RW: The thing that inspires me the most about what I do is the freedom of creativity that I have at my job. I come in everyday and get to do what I love. I’m given the creative license to explore and experiment with new techniques and tools. I’m always happy to share my knowledge with anyone that cares to listen. I just hope that I’m helping advance the state of saxophone repairs and design.