Fix (Or Clean) Anything: Musical Instruments

When your strings need tightening or your ivories need polishing, these retailers will hit all the right notes.

A treasured instrument is glued and clamped at Menzel Violins in Livingston.
A treasured instrument is glued and clamped at Menzel Violins in Livingston, where owner Mo Menzel stresses the artistry of restoration.
Photo by Michel Arnaud

It’s A Set Up at J.B. Kline & Son, Lambertville
Located at the back of an iconic retail music store where luminaries like Leon Redbone, Melissa Etheridge, Derek Trucks and John Sebastian have shopped, It’s A Set Up restores stringed instruments, including guitars, violins, violas, cellos and basses. For repair shop manager John Stein, who has restored vintage Gibson and Martin guitars worth as much as $40,000, the aim is “to make everything playable and keep them in circulation.” Check their schedule for the “Git Ready” guitar reconditioning special, which includes re-stringing, neck straightening, fret board cleaning, filing and repolishing for just $20. 609-397-7026.

Lotito Pianos, Schooleys Mountain
Tom Lotito’s piano passion began at age 16, when he repaired his first piano. After working for Steinway & Sons and other quality piano retailers, he started his own piano-tuning, refinishing and rebuilding business in 1988. Services include restringing, soundboard replacement and hammer replacement. Lotito works on such brands as Steinway, Mason & Hamlin, Baldwin and Chickering. 908-204-9100.

Menzel Violins, Livingston
Mo Menzel takes what she calls a straightforward approach to repairing fine violins, violas and cellos. “It is essentially carving, gluing, clamping and varnishing,” she says of the craft her father taught her. Actually, it’s not all that simple. “You have to be able to work with your hands,” Menzel adds. “That, and you have to have an eye.” Menzel’s artistry is reflected in her elegant retail shop, which is warmly decorated with crystal chandeliers, oriental rugs and meticulously arranged shelves of shapely string instruments. Menzel has been doing the work for 18 years, preserving not just instruments, but a dying craft. “Working with your hands has become largely lost in the U.S.,” Menzel says. “Some people can’t work with a knife; they can’t even chop vegetables.” 973-994-1083.

Princeton Violins, Kingston
Since 2002, Jarek Powichrowski and his small team of violin makers and restorers have specialized in the repair and sale of fine, antique and historical violins, violas and cellos, and their bows. The shop won’t take on instruments recently purchased elsewhere or repaired at other shops. Powichrowski, a violinist who has performed with orchestras around the world and has two solo recordings, studied violin making in Cremona, Italy. He has clients as far away as Tasmania. “Generally, we can bring any fine instrument back to life,” Powichrowski promises. 609-683-0005.

Thomson Piano Works, Dover
“I always enjoyed music and working with my hands, so it seemed like the perfect fit,” says David Thomson, who has been in the piano restoration business since 1988. Clients include theaters, universities, churches, arts organizations, professional musicians and individual owners. Tuning, cleaning and minor repairs can be performed in the home. Thomson also offers restored instruments for sale. 973-701-1177.

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