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Valenti Woodwind Repair, Alexandria near Fort Belvoir - Master Craftsman Tony Valenti's Woodwind Instrument Repair


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I have not been this motivated to write a recommendation in a long, long time, about anybody, for anything.

A few weeks ago, Matt needed to take his clarinet in because a pin had come loose. He had previously told me about a gentleman named Tony Valenti - an 'old-school, strict, severe, man' who does not suffer fools. There was a respect in Matt's voice that bordered on fear.

Me? I've seen "˜em all, so it takes an awful lot to scare me.

We pulled up to an older, perhaps 1940s house on a large lot, just off of Route 1 in south, south Alexandria, just north of Fort Belvoir. A man was leaning against a car, talking with someone who was perhaps his neighbor. When he saw Matt, he waved us into his house.

Immediately upon walking into his front door, you could see that this was someone whose entire life was dedicated to his work. His "workshop" was the living room of the house, and it had the kind of clutter that can only accumulate over a period of decades, not years. He has been doing this for a long, long time, and nobody else but him could find anything in this impossibly crowded space.

Matt described the problem he was having, and I volunteered to leave the instrument, to be picked up at another time. After shaking my hand and introducing himself, Mr. Valenti sat down and got out his hammer. "Sometimes you get lucky and these things take five minutes; sometimes you don't," he said, curtly.

After separating the pieces, he began disassembling the clarinet - a 40 year old instrument that, in its time, was probably the best mass-produced clarinet in the world (actually, it probably still is - it's a Buffet R13). You can buy better clarinets, but they're custom-made, or made in such small quantities that they can go north of $20,000. It was unnerving to see it being hammered apart so casually.

Five minutes later, he said, "it's not our lucky day."

He kept working, opening a drawer filled with dozens of tiny canisters, and finding one in particular. He emptied it on his desk, and began searching through pins, about two inches long. "There's one exact pin I'm looking for, he said." They all looked alike to me - Matt and I just looked at each other and shook our heads.

"Got it," he said, and kept working for about five more minutes. "Welp, we got lucky after all," he said.

He continued to work for another 20 or 30 minutes, before handing the section of the instrument to Matt. "How does it feel?" he asked.

After blowing it and pushing the keys, Matt asked, "Could I get it a little tighter?"

"That's why I asked," Mr. Valenti said. "I can get it as tight as you want - I prefer mine a little looser; some kids like them hard as rocks." He kept working another 10 minutes, then handed it back again. "Try it now."


(In the meantime, Matt leaned over to me and whispered, "˜Dad, make sure to pay him today, okay?') Yes, I know, Matt. :rolleyes:

Perhaps 45 minutes into it, the job was done, the instrument was reassembled, packed away, and Mr. Valenti handed it back to Matt.

"Okay!" I said. "So what's the damage?"

"Oh ... this is ... about ... eight."

"Eight dollars?"


"Okay, that's the parts - what about the labor?"

"No, that's it."

I took out a $20, and handed it to him. "Let me at least buy you a sandwich," I said, still feeling like a massive cheapskate. Pin or no pin, this was a $100 repair in this day and age. This was ridiculous.

Mr. Valenti then handed me a manila folder that he kept on top of a filing cabinet behind his desk.

"Is this for me?" I asked, figuring it was his brochures.

"Open it," he said.

I did, and there was an 8 1/2 x 11 copy of a photo of a pickup truck, smashed in an accident.

"Wow, that's awful," I said.

"Turn the page," Mr. Valenti replied.

And there it was - a copy of a newspaper article, with the name "Valenti" prominently written in the headlines.

"Oh, Mr. Valenti," I said. "I'm so sorry." I looked at him. "This was your son, wasn't it."

He nodded his head, patted Matt on the shoulder, and said "Take good care of him. You just never know."

I told him about Karen, figuring he might identify with another member of The Misery Club.

"He didn't even know what hit him," he said, looking at me. "You suffered for a long time."

"So have you," I said.

We shook hands one last time, and we went on our way.

Mr Valenti's shop is at 8808 Cooper Road, Alexandria, VA 22307. His phone numbers are (703) 780-4322 and (703) 298-5509. If I owned a woodwind, even if I was out of the DC area, I would ship it to him for repair. If you call, and a gruff-sounding man answers the phone, have no fear: he's a gentle as a lamb, as honest as the day is long, doesn't care about money, and he is dedicating his entire life - what remains of it - to his craft, and to helping others.

Don Rockwell

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