Your guitar is broken

6 Jan

Years ago, I worked in a music store as an instrument repair technician. Sometimes people decide to play an instrument without bothering to learn how it’s built, and that was often where myself or another repair technician would come in. Inspired by Anna’s bookstore post, I bring you a few of my favorite moments from that job.

It started like so many other cases.
“I played a show just a couple days ago, but when I took it out of the case today, no sound was coming out of my amp. So I tried it in a friend’s amp, and nothing there either. I don’t know what’s wrong with it.”
I put a hand on the repair bench. “Let’s open it up.”
By my best guess, the man was in his 40’s. He had chin-length brown hair speckled with grey. He lovingly picked up his guitar case and opened it on the bench, revealing a beautiful American Stratocaster electric guitar. I figured he must play a lot.
I lifted the guitar up gently, turning it over in my hands. “Did you try another cord?”
“Tried that too, no luck.”
I nodded. “How about the battery.”
He shook his head. “I forgot about the nine volt.”
“Worth a shot, I’ve forgotten about it before too.” I set it down on the bench in front of me, and picked up a screwdriver. Many electric guitars and basses have a small battery case on the body, containing a nine volt battery. If the nine volt dies, the guitar won’t broadcast any sound. I unscrewed the case and replaced the battery, then plugged it into the repair shop’s amp. I flicked it on and strummed a G major chord. Nothing.
“Well, it looks like it’s not something simple. Let me get your name and information on a repair ticket, and I should have time to get to it within the next couple days.”
He nodded in acquiescence, I gave him a ticket to fill out, and he left. Early afternoon the next day, I’d made it through my backlog, and his Strat was next in line. When an electric guitar makes no sound, and it’s neither the fault of the amplifier, chord, or battery, the pickups are the next likely culprit. As soon as I’d unstrung his guitar and opened the pickups up, it became extremely apparent what the problem was. I called the customer up.
“Hi there, this is Claire from the music repair shop. I’m calling about your guitar.”
“Great, is it done?”
“Not quite. I’m afraid it’s going to be an expensive fix.”
I heard a sigh on the other end of the line. “What’s wrong with it?”
“By any chance, did you leave your guitar in your car yesterday?”
“Well…” He hesitated. “I was pretty tired after my gig, and yeah I did. Um. How can you tell?”
At this point in the conversation, I had to actively restrain myself to keep from laughing. “Inside a guitar pickup, the wires are known as ‘wax potted’. Basically they’re set in wax. I’d say it was…what, 95 degrees yesterday? Your pickups are melted.”
“Tell me you’re fucking with me.”
“Wish I was. Come on down to the shop again any time today or tomorrow, and I’ll help you choose a new set to install. Unfortunately, pickups of this quality are not cheap. I have a few on hand, or depending on what kind of tone you like we can order some.”
I heard a groan on the other end of the line. “Be there in an hour.” Click.

“The mouthpiece is stuck in my son’s trumpet.” The man and his son appeared to be wealthy. The father wore a nice business suit, and his young son was in the uniform of a local private school. The father wasted no time, opening up the instrument case on the repair bench. It was a nice trumpet, certainly beyond the quality of what most twelve-year-olds play.
I smiled at him. “No worries, Sir. This won’t take long to fix at all, I can do it for you right now.” It was true; removing a stuck mouthpiece from a brass instrument is an extremely simple operation. It takes one tool, applying a small amount of leverage to the horn that pulls the mouthpiece right out, damaging nothing in the process.
He frowned at me. “I know that. This is not the first time this has happened. And I’ll have you know, we purchased this instrument here. If it’s defective, I fully intend to get a refund or a replacement. What would cause the mouthpiece to stick repeatedly like this?”
I unstuck the mouthpiece with a light pop, putting both trumpet and mouthpiece back in the case. “To be honest with you, about 99% of the time it’s because the instrument was dropped.”
It was immediately apparent that this was the wrong thing to say. “My son would NEVER drop his instrument.” The father turned a vivid shade of angry red.
In the meantime, his son was happily meandering around the shop, paying not a bit of attention to the conversation. He was engrossed in looking at the tools and instruments that hung from the walls. I turned to him. “Dear, did you drop your trumpet?”
He paused momentarily, nodding at me. “Yeah.”
I smiled at the father. “You can pay at the front counter.”
He slammed the case closed, and left.

The music store I worked at was in a college town, and our clientele was frequently drawn from the student population.
A young man came in wearing the clothes of a 90’s skater kid. “Do you give student discounts?”
I shook my head. “Not on repairs. 10% off on strings, though.”
“I got a guitar awhile back, and I think something’s wrong with it.”
“Bring it in, I’ll take a look.”
He left, coming back in a few minutes later carrying the guitar by the neck, no case. My jaw nearly hit the floor when I saw the instrument.
Different kinds of guitars use different strings. Electric guitars use thin nickel or steel strings, acoustic guitars use slightly thicker bronze strings, and classical guitars use nylon strings. It’s because of tension. Different guitars are meant to withhold different amounts of tension between the nut and the bridge, and part of this is dependent on the strings.
He had a classical guitar, meant to use nylon strings, the lightest amount of tension possible. Classical guitars are easy on your fingers and hands, requiring light pressure in order to create soft and beautiful sounds.
The only problem was that he’d strung it with electric guitar strings, and rather than the body of the guitar being flat it was now shaped like a bowl, curving into a near U shape. I was baffled. I’d never seen anything like it before, and couldn’t understand how it hadn’t simply snapped in half yet.
He set it down on the bench. It wobbled back and forth. “Can you fix it?”
I pressed my hands to my mouth, staring at it in horror a moment before I dropped my palms to my sides. “Your guitar is broken.”
“Well, yeah.” He smiled. “That’s why I brought it here.”
“No, I mean, it’s broken, broken. You may as well throw it in the garbage.”
He frowned in confusion. “You can’t fix it?”
“No.” I shook my head. “I really can’t. It’s broken.”
“Do you think there’s anyone else in the area that could fix it?”
At this point I lost all semblance of tact. “I’ll be frank. Santa Claus couldn’t fix it. Your guitar is trash.”
He picked it up. “Damn. You’re sure?”
“I’m very sure. Your guitar is broken.”
“Wow.” He shook his head. “Bummer.”


3 Responses to “Your guitar is broken”

  1. Bika January 6, 2011 at 12:20 am #

    I found myself making that same expression of horror when I read the last one. Holy crap!

  2. Becca January 8, 2011 at 1:14 am #

    So funny that normal attitudes of all of this damn town, come out in your one post miss:

    “That couldn’t happen to me, I only did it once”
    “It couldn’t be my (or my kids) fault, must be yours”

    laughed and laughed. Thanks


  1. Tweets that mention Your guitar is broken « Seven Deadly Divas -- - January 6, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Claire. Claire said: RT @beckymew: My friend @hammaryn knows the perils of customer service. @7 … […]

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