Fixing saxophones, crafting brass trinkets are Perry Ritter's specialties

A percussion instrument greets all those entering Perry Ritter Woodwind Repair on 47th Street Friday and every day. The gong hung on the door alerts the shop's namesake to the arrival of visitors over the din of his tools.

"Hello," Perry Ritter said, answering the phone. "Repairs."

Ritter, 59, grew up in a machine shop. He's also always loved music.

"I could play almost all the instruments but not really well," he said.

So when Ritter graduated high school in Palisades Park, New Jersey, he chose to enter the saxophone-repair trade to stay close to the art, tinkering with instruments in the array of music stores that used to dot 48th Street.

"I think I probably worked for everybody there," Ritter said.

More than 30 years ago, Ritter started working for himself, and today finds himself the most sought-after—and one of the few remaining—sax repairmen in the city, mending and tuning for artists both amateur and celebrated.

"Chris Potter, Michael Brecker used to be a customer, Lenny Pickett from Saturday Night Live," Ritter said, listing his clients.

Ritter admitted business has slowed.

"There is something nice about working with your hands," he said. "I've gotten really used to that."

To occupy his time on days when no one disturbs that hanging gong, Ritter now fashions planes and dragons, lighthouses, mobiles and other contraptions entirely from spare saxophone parts, mostly brass, that he hoards and sorts for the American instrument companies as they go out of business.

"The little parts are interesting because you can use them for all kinds of things," he said.

In a menagerie of soldered metal, Ritter works alone, constructing his creations, offering instruments tune-ups and occasionally agreeing to more involved rebuilds.

"We had to build a low-A facilitator on it," Ritter said, holding up a sax. "It didn't have one."

And every once in a while, when he thinks no one's listening, this musician-turned-technician will still pick up a sax and play.