There are repair guys — the ones who toil away at Sam Ash and Guitar Center — and then there's Fil Pate. Raised in the mountains near Asheville, N.C., Pate is a renaissance man whose main gig is fixing instruments for Music Showcase in Brandon, but who sidelines as a musician, a promoter, a luthier, a passionate advocate for original music and a father to a 6-year-old daughter.
"People retire in Florida and everybody has something in their attic from somewhere around the world, and they end up here." I'm sitting with Pate in a studio at Music Showcase, an instrument retailer with classrooms, performance areas, studios and a sizable repair shop. Music Showcase fixes just about anything, but Pate sticks to string instruments, which includes the usual assortment of guitars, plus plenty of old fiddles, banjos, mandolins and zithers. "A lot of zithers come in," he says.
You're not alone if you have no clue what a zither is (basically a big harp with lots of individually tuned strings), but instruments are Pate's life and it's his job to know. On a recent visit to the workshop, I saw six guitars, a cello, a stand-up bass and an 8-string mandolin waiting to be repaired. "That's one week," he says. "A lot of the repair aspect and being good at the workload is doing more than one instrument at once. You've got four or five going and by the end of the day they're all done. If not, you're just sitting there waiting on glue to dry."
Pate followed his family south seven years ago. After going to school to learn the instrument repair trade, he fell into the local music scene. He's a member of a number of bands, including Pickford Sundries, Shane Meade & The Sound, the Rich Whiteley Trio, and of course, Friends of Fil, his three-piece jazz-fusion trio that performs old standards and music he writes himself.
"I play quite a bit," he says with sincere understatement, "and I also book and promote. Original music is sort of what I deal with." Pate is friends with guitar ace Bobby Lee Rodgers, with whom he has played and studied (Rodgers used to teach at Berklee School of Music), and he repairs the instruments of many of his fellow players, including Rodgers and Rich Whiteley, for whom he properly set up guitars that Whiteley himself built. Even if a guy creates his own guitar, he still needs someone to keep it humming.
"Repairs are sometimes overlooked. A lot of the pros have good instruments, but they need tweaking from time to time," Pate says. "You've got to take it to somebody, and there's only a few good guitar repairmen in this town at all."
Fil Pate is definitely at the top of that list.