Repairs. Do you do it? Should you do it?

So this is an article I’ve been meaning to touch base on for a while. The topic in question? When is it appropriate to hire a tech, and when is it ok to attempt the work yourself? The short answer, always to the first and rarely to the second. But that’s not much of an article, so let’s dive in and get into the nitty gritty of it.

Now everyone has a job in life. An area of focus, a set of skills that they have learned. Now this area of your life is something you typically expect to get paid for, unless it’s truly a hobby, but let’s be honest even then you’d like to get some cash for doing it. Most of us are also inclined to hire people with particular skill sets for particular jobs. IE you’d hire a carpenter to build you a house instead of building your own, a mechanic to fix your car. So why is it when it comes to tech, maintenance, and repair work everyone is suddenly an expert in the field and yields the work to themselves?

Now the internet is a wonderful source of knowledge and one can learn just about anything if you spend the time to research it, and I suggest everyone reads up. I’ve learned plenty of new skills by spending a few hours or more reading up on a subject. I’ve also ruined some of my things and/or projects getting there. I think everyone can and should learn at least some of the parts that go into a “jack of all trades” skill set. The main problem here is, if it’s not your primary skill set, most people are inclined to do 1 of 2 things, or both. Not learn enough or rush the job through completion. Both of which can be potentially dangerous in the repair world.

So when should you hire a tech?

There’s a couple rules of thumb I use when wondering if I should do the repair myself (and I’m typically the one being called by others). Does it use electricity? If it does, then maybe I shouldn’t be working on it, at least if I’m not 100% certain I’ve done my homework. Especially if tubes or large capacitors are involved. Now I’ve shocked myself a couple times, and I’m sure I will a few more times in my life. But let me tell you, you never forget one. So if the thought of electricity scares you (it should), or the terms capacitor, resistor, diode, transistor, or volt meter do not resonate clearly in your brain. Call a tech. You pay them to know what they’re doing, and at times you pay them at a premium to do it right and do it in a timely manner. The other rule, can I cause irreversible damage? Again, if the answer isn’t a resounding yes I know what I’m doing, and I will not cause that damage, I don’t do the work. Not because it terrifies me to attempt such work, but because it will be far cheaper for me to pay someone than for me to attempt it, mess it up, and have to pay them more to fix what I did. A lesson most people learn after the first attempt. I can honestly say though, I wish a lot more people would learn it without trying first. But hey, I’ll take the extra money, so will most techs I know.

So when should you do the repair yourself?

This, I think, can be summed up into 2 simple questions. First, can I use a soldering iron? Second, can I read a schematic and understand everything I’m looking at? If you answered no to either question. Stop right now, call a tech. If you answered yes to both questions, well let’s take it a step further. Now this might seem a little ridiculous, but it’s been a good gauge for me to judge my worker’s skills; can you solder a mic cable (6 complete connections, trimmed, prepped, completed) in under 5 minutes and have it look amazing? In under 10 minutes? The mic cable being the most basic of soldering skills I teach. If you can’t conquer that task, then again, stop what you’re doing, call a tech. So you can do all those things? Then maybe you’re ready to tackle that repair yourself. If you’re going to go down that road, make sure you have any and all tools necessary. Don’t “bubble gum and bra strap” it, no tech will talk nicely to you after finding that.

I’m not claiming any of that is the end all, be all, and I know plenty of people who repair their own gear with success. I also know plenty who try and fail. All I can try to instill is this, if you can’t fix it in a timely factory grade manner; then it might be a better idea to call a tech. They will come equipped with knowledge, a proper set of tools, and experience – hopefully, if you called the right one.

The last thing I will say, which might get me in trouble, is that I believe the days of the $100/hr tech are gone. Same with the studio engineer, the model has changed. I don’t know many engineers or studio owners who rely on it as their sole source of income and I don’t know many techs that do either. So the thought of fearing to call a tech because of what the bill may be needs to be squashed. Studio budgets are down, studio rates are down, tech rates are down. It’s just the era we live in.

So hire a tech for repairs, or don’t. But I can almost guarantee we’ll all be happier if you just called one from the start.