Independent Music Playing for Keeps

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, Apr. 1, 2013 12:00 am  

Ohio native Phillip Duerr was a music major playing saxophone and clarinet, but he didn’t want to be a band teacher and didn’t think he could cut it as a performance major.

So he spent a year in Wisconsin learning the craft of musical instrument repair and found his career repairing the instruments used by band students and professional performers all over Arkansas.

In 1976, with his training certificate fresh in hand, Duerr went to work in the repair shop at Bean Music Co. in Little Rock. He bought the repair business from Bean in 1991, moved it to Sherwood and since then the business has slowly grown.

IMS has eight full-time employees, six in the Sherwood shop and two in a shop Duerr opened in Fayetteville in 2008. In the summers, when instruments flow in from high schools and colleges, he adds three temporary helpers.

“I’m never going to get rich, but I’m making a living in this business,” he said.

And he’s not making a living alone. Four of his employees have been with him for years and even decades. Mike Brush and George Anderson have worked with Duerr since the old Bean Music days. 

“We repair anything you’d find in a high school band or anything you’d find in an orchestra,” Duerr said. “If it’s a woodwind, the pads wear out. Brass instruments need dent work and a lot of maintenance and cleaning.”

The technicians have different specialties — brasses, woodwinds, stringed instruments. They do not, however, work on electronic instruments.

Opening the shop inside Saied Music Co. in Fayetteville created an entirely new “corridor” of customers for IMS, Duerr said, especially University of Arkansas bands and the northwest Arkansas school districts. 

“The school budgets up there are just incredible,” he said. The Conway and Cabot school districts are also good customers.

Professionals use IMS for repairs. Jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis needed a minor repair when he played in Little Rock, Duerr said, and later sent the instrument back for complete maintenance. “We’ve worked on Bill Clinton’s saxophone before,” he said.

In years past, any musical instrument was an investment that was well worth repairing. But in the past few years, cheaply made imports — “throwaway instruments,” Duerr calls them — have created a conundrum. 

They bend and break easily, Duerr said, but IMS can’t get parts for many of the off-brand instruments and can’t guarantee that repairs will last long enough to be worth the cost.

“There are several brands we won’t work on at all,” he said. “We can fix them, but in a week it’s not working again.”

Which brands? Duerr doesn’t name names. The industry has been scared into silence by a huge settlement paid by a Dallas music store for disparaging the quality of the First Act brand of low-priced instruments.

Duerr suggests that parents of band students stick with long-established brands and even consider used instruments if the price is right. After all, IMS can make a used instrument play like new. 

 

 

Please read our comments policy before commenting.
Search

Latest Arkansas Business Poll

Did the Fed make the right call on interest rates?