The Exacting Art of Saxophone Repair

The Exacting Art of Saxophone Repair


The next customer was Michael Johnson, who played saxophone in the house band for B.B. King’s club in Times Square before the place closed in April. Mr. Johnson also needed a once-over on his horn and, like Mr. Haffner, he needed it done immediately.

“I’m sort of used to New York being like that,” said Mr. Ritter, who is married with two grown daughters and lives in Rockland County.

He grew up in Palisades Park, N.J. and said he developed delicate mechanical skills early on by working in his father’s machine shop. He played the saxophone in school ensembles, but by college he concluded that he might not have the skills to make a living playing instruments.

“I said, ‘I know — I’ll repair them,’” he recalled.

He attended the Eastern School of Musical Instrument Repair in Union, N.J., and started out at the bustling repair shops that once proliferated along West 48th Street in Midtown, including Art Shell, Silver & Horlan, Alex Music, Manny’s and Sam Ash.

Mr. Ritter can recount endless stories about legendary jazz saxophonists whose horns he has repaired. Ask him about the estimable teeth marks gouged by Sonny Rollins into his mouthpiece after endless hours of intense practice.

Or the time he fixed Pharoah Sanders’s chipped mouthpiece and Mr. Sanders doubled Mr. Ritter’s $150 fee for the work.

The revered saxophonist Michael Brecker visited the shop constantly, seeking minute adjustments to help facilitate his stunning technique.



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