NMC Spotlight: Electronics Technician John Leimseider

The National Music Centre’s Electronics Technician, John Leimseider, or as many call him, JL, has a wide variety unique experience with instruments that most technicians would never dream of working on in their lifetime.

“All the instruments that are vintage classics now, I was doing them under warranty,” he says.

“In the first year of Prophet 5s I did 140 of them. Most people won’t get the chance to do 100 of them in their lives.

“If you get to do that in a year you either get good at it or you should find another living.”

JL did get good at it in the late 70s which led him to ditch being a full time musician on the road for the much better paying life of maintaining and restoring instruments.

“I’ve been playing in bands since I was a teenager,” he chuckles. “I was always the one in the band that was fixing the broken amps.”

After being a technician in L.A and getting all the experience he could get, JL came to Calgary in 2002 on a two-year contract at the National Music Centre, which soon turned into a full-time position.

“They kept finding interesting things for me to do here,” he laughs.

“It’s a never-ending job because all of the old stuff (in the collection) is constantly in need of repair and maintenance.”

Lining up with Canada’s 150th birthday, JL will have officially been working at NMC for 15 years.

Besides maintaining NMC’s vast collection available to the Artists in Residence, JL is working on TONTO, the polyphone and the electronic sackbut currently.

One of the instruments he’s working extensively on before it goes back to the Museum of Science and Technology in Toronto is the polyphone.

When JL started working on the polyphone, the instrument didn’t work at all; now, over half the incredibly unique instrument is playable.

As an instrument that was never evolved or developed further, several of the broken parts didn’t have replacements or documentation detailing what was needed to fix them.

That’s when JL and his team got creative and created the parts with a photocopier and some overhead projector film.

“This was made in 1970 and basically has fibre optiks to light the bulb in the back of the key, and there are little veins in the back that do the volume,” he explains.

“A bunch of them were crumpled and one was missing, so we took one that was good and photocopied it into an overhead projector film and then cut them out.”

Despite his ground-breaking work on the polyphone, JL is itching to get back to TONTO.

“When this was available I kinda freaked out,” he says. “I heard about it on a Thursday and the Tuesday after I was in New York checking it out.”

JL has been working on TONTO for the past three years, but says its possible that restoration could be finished within the next year and a half.

One of the reasons that NMC was able to beat out the Smithsonian for the TONTO is because of its living collection philosophy.

“One of the things about NMC is we can provide the legacy and environment for it,” he explains.

“Most museums don’t treat electronic instruments seriously as far as them being used. Some people have them on display but they never get plugged in ever again.

“Some people think it’s very irresponsible to use TONTO; I think it would be sinful not to use TONTO.”

Despite NMC being a great fit for JL and his philosophy about instruments, there’s just one thing they don’t see eye-to-eye on.

“I understand the need for meetings, but I’d rather be fixing stuff,” he laughs.

Although most of his time is spent fixing instruments, JL still plays in a Beatles cover band in his spare time.

As a successful technician, he also has many celebrity clients including the Nine Inch Nails and Lenny Kravitz.

“I just got back from working for Lenny Kravitz at his studio in the Bahamas,” he says.

“The freezing cold week about four weeks ago that was brutal here; it was beautiful in the Bahamas.”

JL’s work will continue to be prominent in the future, and he explains why technicians like him will always be necessary.

“Bands are not easy on their instruments,” he says. “Usually the concern is more about playing them.

“Things will get built better and better but that doesn’t mean people are going to treat them better and better.”

Miriam Johnston

Miriam Johnston

I am a third-year Communications Student from Calgary, Alberta as well as a piano teacher. I enjoy writing stories about interesting events. I have many hobbies including learning various languages and drawing. @MLJournalist