This year Chuck and Jim Schmidt will celebrate nearly a combined century of experience fixing band instruments. Their expertise in repairing reed and brass instruments brings work to their S. Halvorson St. shop from all across the nation and beyond.
Twenty-five years ago this week, on Dec. 29, 1986, Jim and Chuck Schmidt held an open house to celebrate their move to a new quarters on S. Halvorson St. Redwood Band Instrument and Repair had found a new home. “I started my 49th year repairing instruments on the first of December,” said Jim. How did he get started repairing band instruments? “That’s a good question,” Jim said. “I needed a job, and started. Chuck graduated from RFHS in 1958 and worked construction for a few years, while Jim graduated in 1962. “I was raised on a farm and tried to join the Air Force, but had bad knees, so I took what I could get,” Jim said. Although Chuck graduated a few years earlier, he joined the instrument repair business after Jim, in 1965. The brothers started at Tony Zimmerman Repair, based out of an old hatchery on the southeast side of town. Ironically, neither of the Schmidt brothers ever took band in high school. Learning to repair band instruments isn’t a quick affair. “It takes many years,” said Jim. “There are so many different steps to this process, you can’t learn much in a year. It might take 10 years to produce a finished project that’s acceptable.” The firm only works on woodwinds and brass instruments, no guitars or strings. The brothers divide up the tasks, depending on who does what better. Jim handles most of the reeds, while Chuck does most of the brass repairs. “We have a guy who tests all our reed instruments for us, but if a brass is put together well it will play. It’s more of a mechanical process — just valves,” said Jim. The technology for fixing instruments hasn’t changed much in 100 years. “Ninety-nine percent of what we do is hand labor. The tools haven’t changed much. There’s nothing magic about it. It’s just hard work,” said Jim. When the Gazette visited the Schmidts last week, they were finishing up several tubas that looked brand new. It was one of 15 horns they’ve repaired this month. “We pounded out the dents and chemically flushed it out, and put some new valves in,” said Jim. “A complete overhaul costs $2,000, but a new tuba costs $8,000.” The brothers prefer working on smaller instruments — give them a piccalo over a tuba any day. “We hate tubas; they’re so big and awkward. We get the stuff no one else wants to do,” said Jim. “There are more repair men now, and the stuff they don’t want to handle, they’ll send to us.” Most of the Schmidts’ clients are music stores, although they sometimes deal directly with customers. Recent clients include the Iowa Hawkeyes marching band, and a high school in Duluth. “We have customers from Florida to Seattle, from California to Cape Cod,”?said Jim. “We just got a horn in from a teacher in Guam.” Most of the changes have been customer-based. “The economy has changed everything,”?said Jim. “Schools don’t have so much money — we always used to be six months behind, but now we’re able to stay current.” “Lots of schools have consolidated, or had marching bands. Now they don’t. When they have to make cuts, they cut the arts,” said Chuck. In addition to musical instruments, Redwood Band Instrument and Repair fixes all sorts of brass and wood work for churches and antique collectors. “”We’ve repaired crucifixes, candleabras, brass beds, teapots, and chandeliers,” said Chuck. “One antique collector goes to Europe and brings back brass antiques for us to fix up,”?said Jim. “One of the biggest pieces we’ve ever done is a great big eagle three feet across made of solid brass,”?said Chuck. “It took two of us to hold it up and refinish it.” “I give us two more years,” said Jim. “I’m 67, and Chuck is 71, so this is a good part-time job.” “It’s not a job someone can just walk in and do,” said Chuck. “It takes a number of years to learn, even if you go to school for it.” After nearly 50 years in business together, do Chuck and Jim still get along? “We stand each other,” Chuck said. “We’re lucky we can work together, then go fishing together,” said Jim.