Modern Audio Companies: Who Provides Service Info?

By Jesse Acorn

This article categorizes various modern makers of audio and musical equipment in terms of their willingness to provide service info. Such info generally includes schematics, physical diagrams, partslists, and alignment instructions, which are often compiled into a service manual. Availability of service info is especially important to modern electronics because of their comparatively high complexity and difficulty in reverse-engineering relative to vintage equipment. If a company does not make service info publicly available, their products will be harder to repair—perhaps to the point of impracticality—and one should think twice about purchasing them, in my opinion.

My list has three categories: good, mediocre, and inexcusable. "Good" companies provide service info willingly to anyone who asks, and without omissions. "Mediocre" companies either provide only the necessary info for a particular repair, or they provide service info only to technicians who are authorized or who have signed non-disclosure agreements. "Inexcusable" companies either never responded to requests, or refused to provide any info whatsoever. Note that sometimes service info can still be found even for products from "inexcusable" companies, having been leaked, or released after discontinuation.

Note that my list does not say much about the quality or ultimate repairability of a company's products. Even with info, modern devices are generally less practical to repair than vintage ones, and many repair jobs do not actually require info. I have mentioned the availability of parts from some companies, but it isn't the focus here. In my opinion, high-quality products use—wherever possible—common parts that can be sourced from third parties, and otherwise simple parts that can be easily substituted, refurbished, or re-made. Personally, there are very few modern manufacturers whose products I would consider buying, since I have little interest in the vast majority of modern equipment, and a low opinion of its general quality. Nonetheless, if you are someone who has such an interest and cares about repairability, you may benefit from my list!

I. The Good

PeaveyProvided complete service manuals every time I've asked.
YamahaProvided complete service manuals every time I've asked.
Yorkville / TraynorProvided complete service manuals every time I've asked, and parts quite inexpensively.

II. The Mediocre

BlackstarRefused to provide schematics for Artist 15. Only provides info to authorized technicians.
BognerRefused to provide schematics for Shiva 20th Anniversary, but gave service tips.
CasioOnly provides service info to authorized technicians.
FenderOnly provides amplifier info to authorized technicians, but stringed instrument service manuals are provided freely on their site.
FishmanRefused to provide schematics for Loudbox PRO-LBX-600, but gave service tips.
Focusrite / Novation / SequentialProvided service info for MiniNova and RED3, but had to sign non-disclosure agreements. Sequential provided parts for DSI Prophet 12 easily.
Gibson / StantonRefused to provide schematics for Stanton STR8-80. Only provides info to authorized technicians.
JHS PedalsGave partial schematics of relevant sections of Morning Glory V4 pedal, but only because I run a repair business.
MackieOnly provides info to authorized technicians for current products, but schematics for discontinued products are provided on their site.
Music Tribe subsidiaries:
  - Aston Microphones
  - Behringer
  - Bugera
  - CoolAudio
  - Klark Teknik
  - Lake
  - Midas
  - Tannoy
  - TC Electronic / TC Helicon
  - Turbosound
Only provides service info to authorized technicians. All of their sites except Aston and CoolAudio provide no direct contact method.
REL AcousticsRefused to provide schematics for REL R528 subwoofer, but gave service tips.
Retro InstrumentsRefused to provide schematics for Sta-Level Gold, but gave service tips.
Roland / BossOnly provides service info to authorized technicians. However, such techs have access to an archive of manuals covering nearly all products they have ever made, and a decent parts supply.

III. The Inexcusable

Apple / BeatsThey provide some service info to authorized technicians, but deserve a place in the "Inexcusable" list for doing more to undermine independent repair and encourage disposability than perhaps any other electronics company in history.
inMusic subsidiaries:
  - Akai Professional
  - Alesis
  - Denon Professional / DJ
  - ION Audio
  - M-Audio
  - Marantz Professional
  - Numark
  - Rane
Never responded to requests for Alesis GigaMix 6FX and M-Audio Axiom 61 service info. Akai sent partial schematics to a friend of mine, but only after he somehow found the email address of a helpful employee.
Mr. Black / Jack DeVille Refused to provide schematics for Buzzmaster pedal, in a patronizing and acidic way. Purposely designed the pedal to be quite difficult to reverse-engineer (4-layer board with most traces inside), thus also hard to repair.
RecordexNo service info available for 510 cassette duplicator—they don't even have it.
Red Witch PedalsNever responded to request for Medusa schematics.
Trinity AmpsRefused to provide schematics for Tube Effects Loop, wasting massive time and questioning my competence. However, schematics are provided with their point-to-point amplifier kits, which are high-quality.

If you represent a "mediocre" or "inexcusable" company and wish to have its name cleared, please start by either providing the information I've asked for, or otherwise proving that you now provide service info freely.

If you are a user or technician, I would like to know if you've had good experience with "mediocre" or "inexcusable" companies. It is also possible for a "good" company to turn rotten (like Roland—they were good until around 2019), so if you've had a bad experience with one of them, please let me know as well. I would also be interested in additions to the list, but require proof, such as an email thread.

Some may think that I am being unreasonable by expecting companies to share such sensitive and precious (or even dangerous!!) info. I have several rebuttals. Firstly, I believe that service info should be provided by default with the purchase of an electronic device. This is not a revolutionary idea, having once been the status quo—before the 1980s, schematics were often included in owner's manuals, or pasted right inside of things. Nowadays, they are virtually never found outside of a service manual (and sometimes not even there), and such manuals are rarely available to anyone but in-house or "authorized" technicians, if they exist at all. It is usually much easier to find service info for a piece of equipment made before the 1980s than for things made within the last 20 years. Things are vastly more disposable now, and this is ultimately bad for everyone, but especially for users.

As well, I don't believe that the existence of "authorized service" is a legitimate excuse for failing to provide info, firstly because I've seen many examples of horribly botched "authorized" repairs, and secondly because it tends to exist for a short time only—typically less than 10 years from the product's introduction. If the company stops providing repairs or dissolves entirely, the product should remain repairable, or else it is junk, in my opinion.

"Protecting intellectual property" is another lame excuse, since reverse-engineering is always possible for those who care enough to copy a design, and those people are not repair technicians. Besides, most modern audio gear is either a clone or slight variation of something vintage (but typically without equal build quality), or does something that is not unique, and which is thus easy to re-engineer from scratch. In my opinion, competition should be on the basis of genuine innovation and physical quality, which includes repairability. New things should only be bought if they are actually better than the old ones, rather than because the old ones require replacement due to artificially short life. If modern companies offered things that were seriously well-made and perpetually repairable like vintage equipment, then not only would I buy them, but I would pay the necessarily high price. As things stand, I just keep the vintage stuff and build my own to the old standard, not wishing to buy modern disposable things no matter how cheap they are.

Lastly, as for the "dangers" of providing service info, there is no real argument here, both in terms of the company and the user. A person with hardly a clue about electronics is unlikely to attempt a repair even if given service info. Yet, if such a person makes a repair attempt, having the info can only help things go smoother, thereby reducing danger. A manufacturer is not responsible for how the info it provides is used, just like the author of a book on kitchen knife designs wouldn't be liable if someone accidentally cuts themselves, so there is no "danger" to them. Also, who knows... perhaps having the info available will inspire the person to learn a little more and increase their skill, like what I experienced as a kid when working on a 1950s Webcor tape recorder with its schematic pasted right inside. But if someone does that, then eventually, they might start fixing everything they own, and then they wouldn't buy the next even shorter-lived batch of disposable junk! What a nightmare that would be...

If you notice any errors or have additional information that you would like to add, please contact me!

First Published: 02/21/2023