The Big Fix

Hancock’s instrument repair skills prove valuable for students, area bands

By Emily Christensen

Twenty-one instruments in varying states of disrepair lined the hallway outside the Instrument Repair Room at Wartburg one Friday morning last fall. By Sunday night, the dents had been rolled out, pads had been replaced, valves were no longer sticking, and years of built-up gunk had been washed clean.

The “Instrument Repair Blitz,” as Dr. Craig Hancock, professor of music, coined the weekend, was part real-world experience for his students and part community service as each of the instruments belonged to the Charles City band program.

“The Wind Ensemble was in Charles City on our way to the airport for our international tour in Japan last May. We met the band and shared the stage with them at a concert that night,” Hancock said. “I saw that two of their tubas had serious damage to the bell and told the director I had the skills and tools to help him.”

This fall, Jacob Gassman, the Charles City High School band director, called Hancock and asked him if his offer still stood. Before the end of the conversation, the repair list had grown to include a bass clarinet, mellophones, a marching baritone, oboes, trumpets, a French horn, a baritone, alto saxophones, and a sousaphone.

“When you use the same instruments year after year, you have to keep them maintained, but that costs money we don’t always have,” Gassman said. “I can do some repairs on site, but I don’t always have the time or expertise. They did some great work. I couldn’t have asked for better from them.”

Hancock, who leads the Wind Ensemble, has been repairing instruments in one way or another for his entire 41-year career, though he was never formally taught the craft. Instead, he credits a father who instilled in him a thirst for knowledge and a passion for working with his hands.

“It’s just me against the dent,” he said. “I enjoy the battle.”

Even though Jared Knapp ’22, a music education major from Humboldt, has yet to take Hancock’s instrument repair course — it’s on his schedule for May Term 2020 — he’s often the go-to guy when a friend has a sticky valve or other common brass instrument issue. He’s picked up most of his knowledge from hometown friends who work in instrument repair and Hancock’s summer band camp, where high school students can take a session on basic repairs.

Then during his first year at Wartburg, Knapp received a more detailed rundown of the space which is jam packed with out-of-commission instruments, two large tubs for bathing brass instruments, a worktable for detailed work, and shelves and drawers packed with all the possible tools of the trade. Since then, Knapp has been putting in as many hours as he can since “Doc (Hancock) can’t be down here all the time.”

Though Hancock does eventually teach his college students how to roll out dents and creases, much of his focus is on what he calls “desktop repairs,” which are skills they can hone without a huge equipment or space investment. This includes everything from learning how to safely remove a sticky valve to completely disassembling an instrument so it can be thoroughly cleaned.

“The skills we are learning with Dr. Hancock can potentially save the schools where we end up working a lot of money,” said Knapp, who hopes to teach high school band. “As budgets in schools get smaller, I hope that more schools will recognize the value in these skills.”

Anna Galioto ’21, a music education and music therapy major from West Des Moines, may never end up in a classroom, but she knows there is value in the skills she has learned and was happy to share them with the Charles City band.

“This is really something I enjoy doing,” she said while meticulously laying out the valves from the French horn she was cleaning. “It’s a great refresher for what I learned in the class, and I like helping Doc out.”

Though some may think the repairs are nothing more than cosmetic — a crinkled tuba bell is never pretty — Gassman knows these repairs are going to make a world of difference in the quality of the sound his band produces.

“I’ve always equated instrument maintenance with car maintenance. If you don’t take care of them, they won’t perform as well,” Gassman said. “Some of these instruments have had the tuning slides in them stuck, so now our students will be able to not only play more in tune, but I can teach them better how to tune their own instruments. Dr. Hancock is a fantastic resource for local directors. Whenever we have an encounter with him or his band I always feel like my students are in a better position than they were before. We always leave Wartburg a little better than we were when we got there.”

Dr. Craig Hancock is always looking for used instruments in any condition. Those that can’t be played are either harvested for parts or further damaged to teach students how to do all kinds of repairs. If you have an instrument you no longer have use for, contact Hancock at

Dr. Craig Hancock and Logan Merley '20 repairing a trumpet
Dr. Craig Hancock and Logan Merley '20 repairing a trumpet