Learning to Repair Keyboards, Synthesizers, Guitar Amps and Other Musical Equipment
There was a time when there when both brick and mortar and correspondence schools offered courses in electronic musical instrument repair. This of course predates the days of on-line learning opportunities. There are no longer any offerings of this kind. So how does one go about learning to service the equipment used by musicians the world over. People enter this profession usually from one of two directions. Either you are a musician that wants to learn the technology or you are a electronics professional or hobbyist with an interest in music. Most of us got into the business the same way. Besides a solid understanding of basic electronics this field requires a solid understand of specific electronic technologies ranging from vacuum tube technology, that is preferred by guitar players and is used in legacy instruments like the Hammond Organ, to the latest in digital signal processing technologies. Few other industries require so diverse and far ranging technical skills. Additionally a sound mechanical aptitude is required since a large percentage of shop repairs in this industry are replacing broken bits and pieces since the electronics are remarkably reliable but roadies aren't. Far more pieces of gear are dropped or slammed into a stage exit door frame than will ever fail electronically. Also the moving parts on gear are subject to wear and the electronics aren't. Finally, to be truly successful in this industry you need a fairly solid understanding of music, audio and acoustics. It really helps to understand how the equipment is used and the processes and practices that are involved in live music, and recording situations. Now nobody is expected to know everything starting out in the business but these are the elements of ultimate success. So where do you start.
The starting point of course is basic electronics. The deeper your understanding of electronic fundamentals and analysis the better you will be as a technician. There is no substitute for good circuit analysis and troubleshooting. Electronics is still taught in some high schools and many community colleges. There are also numerous trade schools that teach electronic technology. They can be very expensive but there are often student loans and other financial aid packages available. Many of the best technicians are self taught. Purchase a good book, search out the numerous tutorials on YouTube and the internet. My all time favorite book for learning electronics is, Practical Electronics for Inventors. This is a great self study book and I like to use it as a student manual. Perhaps now would be a good time to let you know that some advanced math and algebra are necessary to fully understand electronics. We are not talking Calculus or Engineering level mathematics but basic algebra and trigonometric functions are necessary. If you are a quick study it can be learned in the process of studying electronics but it you have struggled with math in the past you might want to start with some very basic algebra and trigonometry. And don't be intimidated by the those scary names.
Learning electronics is a hands on process. This means you should invest in a few tools and supplies and actually do some experiments and make some mearsurements. At some point you should build some basic electronic projects from kits. These are readily available from multiple sources. Two of my favorites are Jameco and Apogee Kits. Radio Shack also sells kits on-line and has a learning lab for learning electronics that may be of interest to some. This is by no means an exhaustive list. You should have a digital multimeter and a basic electronic toolkit that includes a soldering iron, some screwdrivers, wire cutters and strippers, and few other things. These can be acquired individually but are better bought as a kit. A little searching will find other gems that are available on the internet.
Once you have mastered the basics of electronics you need to start getting a handle on some of the more specialized technologies that are prevalent in musical applications. Here MITA can be a valuable resource. There are a variety of tutorials in our on-line members only database and hundreds of experienced technicians worldwide can answer questions in our forums. In even numbered years we hold our convention in Las Vegas where you can sign up for five days worth of classes covering the full range of technologies taught by manufacturers reps and experts in the field. You may live close to a MITA member that can offer some mentoring. MITA is the only organization that is dedicated to the exchange of this specific knowledge and we have been doing just that for over 25 years.
Other avenues to specific technologies are available. For Tube theory and guitar amp repair, three books stand out. First The RCA receiving tube manual. This long out print manual is available used from Amazon and various editions are available on-line. The 30th addition is my personal favorite. It is also available here as a massive 38Mb PDF file. Next The Tube Amp Book comes complete with two CD Roms worth of vintage tube amplifier schematics. The schematics can be a little hard to read and the primary purpose of the book is to promote Groove Tubes own products, but there is still a lot of information to be had. An even better book is A Desktop Reference of Hip Vintage Guitar Amps by Gerald Weber. This long time amp tech and onetime producer of handmade Kendrick amplifiers, shares his knowledge and experience and some personal opinions and includes a wealth of technical data including hundreds of vintage guitar amp schematics. The same author has another book All About Vacuum Tube Guitar Amplifiers that looks to be a good one but I haven't personally read it.
For vintage synthesizer technology the ultimate source for books and do it yourself projects and kits is Music From Outer Space. He has some very good on-line tutorials, kits, PC boards and projects and is vary generous in terms of what he shares with others. This makes him very deserving of community support.
For audio and acoustics I have recently found a new series on-line that is produced by Yamaha. This is geared for sound installation contractors and is in the very early stages of development but looks to have potential. Yamaha also wrote the industry handbook on sound reinforcement. It is a great primer on audio and acoustics and I recommend it to anyone in the business of music technology.
There are numerous other resources on the web for everything from Music theory and home recording techniques to advanced digital signal processing technology. The important thing is to be curious, be resourceful, and be committed to learning everything that you can. That is the quality that makes for the best technicians. They are tenacious and curious. Those of us in the industry are here mainly because we loved the technology and we loved music. This is the best way to satisfy both of those passions.