Steve Schoene is a genius, and he charges far too little for his amazing work.
~ Jeani Foster, Principal flute MSO
I have to take a moment to say a few words about woodwind technician Steve Schoene, owner of Schmitt Music in Racine, Wisconsin. For two reasons, one because he's really really good and deserves all the praise, and two because his store has virtually no web presence so I am hoping when people google "Schmitt Music Racine" or "Steve Schoene" they find this glowing review.
I've known Steve for quite some time now, probably a good 7 years at least. I was in college, fighting a sticky pad problem on my Keilwerth SX-90R black nickel alto. Sticky pads are a common problem on Keilwerths, most likely due to the large surface area of the rolled tone holes, but I exasperated the problem further using various substances including powder paper and non-stick cooking spray to solve the problem (my teacher's idea). Spoiler alert, that's bad for the pads so don't do it. I was also using a pad saver at the time, and Steve explained why those are a complete waste. Moisture isn't allowed to escape the instrument and therefore the horn isn't allowed to dry properly.
Steve patiently explained to me what the problem was with all of my pads, and that unfortunately there was no easy fix. The horn had to be completely repadded. At the time I was a poor college student (as opposed to a poor lesson teacher), and couldn't quite afford a complete overhaul, but Steve was able to repad my alto for what I could afford. It's been 7 years since, I've stopped using the pad savers, and haven't had any sticky pads.
Since then I've found myself at Schmitt Music every 6-9 months getting some instrument repaired. It's at least an hour each way from my home in Waukesha. My tenor has been adjusted several times. He fixed by baritone sax when it fell over on a gig in my first Hercules stand. He's done work on my flute and bassoon as well. Usually the work is small stuff that he can do while I wait and watch. Since I've known him, he's doubled the size of his store and turned an entire half of the store into a repair shop, just to give you an idea how business has been.
Recently, after giving my clarinet a good thrashing over the past year, I've decided to have Steve have his way with it. He may have made small adjustments when I first purchased the horn, but that's about it.
So I gave him the clarinet and said, "Do whatever you need, keep it a week or two, I'm giving you a blank check, have your way with it." To my surprise, Steve called 24 hours later to let me know the clarinet was ready to be picked up. Unfortunately, I couldn't drop everything that second, so driving down to Racine to pick up the clarinet had to wait until Friday. "That horn had problems up and down, from top to bottom there were issues, but it's all sealed up now," he told me. And another thing he told me that should make any instrumentalist stop in their tracks, "I've permanently modified a couple of your keys."
Steve added teflon to two keys, in lieu of cork. Two spots that would be metal on metal (thumb F and left pinky F/C), now have a very small, but permanent teflon rod. It never has to be replaced, and it will never wear down. The action is quick and quiet.
A few pads were replaced, key hights were adjusted along with spring tension. A few keys were missing corks, and the barrel was adjusted slightly to fit the swelling of the upper joint tenon. Some keys were also adjusted so there is no "play." Play between keys is when there is slight extra motion as you push down one key, before it engages another key or part. I can't say enough how extremely satisfied I am with my clarinet now. It plays like an absolute DREAM.
A few days later the SUPERband played an outdoor gig in Franklin, WI. I ended up sliding over to play lead and Gary ended up calling Sing, Sang, Sung. And while I can't hold a candle to Eddie Daniels' playing, reading the part felt much more manageable on the newly fixed clarinet than it had in the past.
So if you are looking for a high end woodwind tech who stands by his work, look no further than Steve Schoene, owner of Schmitt Music (262-634-5510) in Racine. Steve takes work from all over the country, including from jazz saxophonist Joel Frahm. Joel was kind enough to give his thoughts on Steve's work as well.
I have been a professional saxophonist in New York City for over 20 years, and I trust Steve Schoene's repair work as much as any top repairman working in the world today. He is patient, meticulous and thorough and I have always been completely satisfied with my horn after he has adjusted it. I would not hesitate to send any of my students or peers to him for their horn maintenance. In conclusion, his craftsmanship is only equaled by his easy-going personality, and it has always been a pleasure to work with him over the course of my career. ~ Joel Frahm