Conversation: Tom Brucker, Hi-Fi Whisperer, Retires From The Fading Art Of Stereo Repair
The sign for Hi Tech Service on Nolensville Road, between an auto repair shop and a mattress depot, couldn’t look more low-tech if it tried. With black letters on a white cinder block building, it looks older than the flip-phone or Netscape Navigator, because it is. “We’ve been here 33 years,” says founder and proprietorTom Brucker sitting at the counter in the long building’s reception area. “The front area is the world’s smallest stereo store...and then the rest is all service.”
For decades, Brucker has been Nashville’s go-to guy to repair the gear that plays our music at home: amplifiers, turntables, loudspeakers, tape decks, CD players and beyond. On a recent visit, there were hundreds of those components on long shelves in multiple rooms and down a long spine-like hallway, standing in ranks on their sides. “We've ended up storing quite a bit of the overflow and consignment,” Brucker said. “I probably got carried away with it.”
It’s all coming to an end though. A couple of weekends ago, Hi Tech Service cleared out a lot of its homeless components in a parking lot sale, with another one to follow this Friday and Saturday. Brucker is wrapping up business and preparing to move out of his shop and formally retire at the end of May.
It’s a peculiar truth that we talk about what we listen to far more than how we listen or what we listen on. Opining on vintage audio receivers or the nuances of phono preamps tends to be a conversation stopper in general company. Not so in the cozy parlor of the ‘world’s smallest stereo store’. Up front in Hi Tech is a collection of pre-owned components for sale, from modest budget-minded pieces to audiophile high end, along with a few people at a time looking them over and comparing notes.
“It interests me to sort of match up people and stereos,” Brucker says in the conversation posted here. “It's kind of an art.” He doesn’t talk about specs and power or throw numbers at people. Instead he inquires about where the client plans to listen. What’s the room like? What kind of music do they most enjoy? What do they hope to spend? “And we look around and see what's here and sort of match something up. And it's worked pretty well…They take it home, and then they go ‘wow.’ It happens to young people when all they've heard is headphones or speakers on their phone. And it kind of turns them into seekers for old technologies.”
Brucker grew up in Ohio and attended Oberlin College. There he was drawn to the music school where he learned how to record student performances and rehearsals. Then he worked in live concert sound. Those interests drew him to Nashville in 1977, where he found work in one of several hi-fi stores operating here at the time. “I received tons of training, because back then there were good margins,” he says. “And so the manufacturers had money to spend on training the people that would be repairing the equipment. So I was either well-trained or brainwashed. I'm not sure what.”
He hung out his own shingle 33 years ago and has been that reliable guy with a reliable staff at 2934 Nolensville Pike for generations of music buffs. The departure of Hi Tech Service from the scene is a concern, says Aaron Hartley, an audio fan who works at the Country Music Association and who has a hobby of finding and refurbishing vintage audio gear. “The rise in vinyl has driven a new interest with young music lovers to buy vintage audio receivers, turntables and speakers in an effort to provide the best playback possible,” Hartley told me by email.
“As wonderful as vintage audio equipment sounds, you can bet it will need repairing at some point. With the closing of Hi Tech, people no longer have a place to drop off their audio gear when it's acting up and have it repaired. Nashville should have a repair shop, just like we have record stores to provide expensive first pressings of the records we love and value.”
“I hear the lamentations quite often," Brucker says. "And and I don't have an answer, because there there is no one established right now that that specifically focuses on stereo. One of my hopes is that there is someone who sees the vacuum and just rises up and does something.” He says he’ll run turntable clinics for the public through the Phonoluxe Records and keep working on certain high-end tape decks. He also says he’s open to assisting newcomers in the field. “It’s kind of a labor of love,” more than a wildly lucrative career he admits. “But that being said, if somebody comes in and says I really want to do this, I would love to encourage them.”