After his stint with Stormwind, Bernie became band-less at the age of 20, and did freelance work with various bands. From 1980 to 1982, he began fixing up old drums on his own and occasionally brought them to The Percussion Center in Fort Wayne. Percussion Center owner Neal Graham would give in-store trades for his refurbished drums, and that was his first professional experience with restoring drums.
From 1982 to 1984, he worked at the Columbus Percussion Center (now known as Columbus Pro Percussion), where he worked with store owner Jim Rupp, a notable jazz musician who occasionally played drums for Tony Bennett. During this time Bernie also worked with Bob Breithaupt, a music and percussion professor who is now Department Chair of Performance at Capital University in Columbus; Philip Shipley, who later became the principal percussionist for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra; and the legendary drum corps instructor Ray Weiner, who was with the Garfield Cadets and the Slingerland Drum Company.