Guitar technician

 3 February 2011

"Deptford John" Armitage has worked as a guitar technician for a variety of big-name music acts. He spoke to Creative Choices about his career in music, and why he enjoys working backstage.

Working in music

"I'm a guitar technician. I also run a guitar repair business as well. My job is to look after all the instruments and to maintain them.

"I'll tell you why I do what I do: I love it. I love guitars. I love travel. I love the experiences."

"I keep them clean, keep them working, repair any problems with them, look after the amplifiers, the cables, the pedals and usually the radio systems as well when we go on tour.

"Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Spice Girls, Take That, George Michael, Black Crows, Manic Street Preachers, the Verve, Natalie Imbruglia, Annie Lennox... hundreds and hundreds of bands."

Becoming a music technician

"Students can benefit with vocational training. You can do all kinds of courses that the colleges have for electronics. Anything working with wood is good for guitars as well, because a lot of the principle of the instrument is about wood. Same for violins, cellos, all stringed instruments are made from wood.

"There's a lot of stuff you can get off the internet that shows you how to repair stuff. There's videos of people on the internet repairing stuff, blowing themselves up - what not to do. All the manuals for everything are available for free on the internet.

"You can learn to play guitar, which teaches you an awful lot more about the instrument itself. You don't have to want to be Eric Clapton. Just to be able to play it, to get a tune out of it, you'll know whether it works properly or not."

The benefits of a backstage career

"There are a lot of jobs available, especially in the touring industry and backstage side of things. There's guitar technician, drum technician, keyboard technician, stage manager, production manager, sound man, monitor man, lighting designer and operator. There's wardrobe people that travel with us. There's people called riggers that hang it all out of the roof. There are all these jobs available.

"Everyone in the music industry loves music, and that's what bonds it all together."

"It's better to be backstage, in a way, than it is to be onstage. Because if the band have a really off day, it doesn't make any difference to you. They may moan at you and say 'I couldn't hear anything', but the thing is, no one's booing you. They might be booing them, but no booing you.

"When the band go: 'We didn't make any money tonight, there's not many people.' you've made exactly the same money. So you get a steady wage, whereas theirs goes up and down according to their record sales, their t-shirt sales. So there's a lot less pressure on you."

Get started in live music events

"You should be able to get the basics in a year's course, if you turn up to every lecture. And then do a little bit of vocational learning and practice.

"Everyone in the music industry loves music, and that's what bonds it all together. People on their days off go to concerts, go and see friends working at other concerts. You get in for free as well, which is always nice. I haven't bought a ticket for anything in 20 years.

"I'll tell you why I do what I do. I love it. I love guitars, I love travel, I love meeting people. I love the money too!

"I love the experiences. I've stood at the side of the stage with the guitars at the stadium, and the entire place has been singing this band's big hit, and the hairs on your arm stand up and you think 'I'm part of this. I'm actually part of this, and I'm quite a big part of this'

"Because what he's playing better be right, because there's 70,000 people there singing along. It's gotta be right. You're part of it. And then he looks round at the end of the song and gives you a big grin, and you're like, 'I'm there!'"

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