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Thread: Organ tuning

  1. #11
    pp Pianissimo voet's Avatar
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    I once assumed a new position that had a beautiful E. M. Skinner organ. I noticed that the beating of the celeste on the Swell division was uneven. Different notes beat at different rates. This really bugged me, so when the tuner came I mentioned it to him. The mystery was solved when he pointed out that whoever tuned the organ last set the beating on the C side differently than the C# side!
    Bill

    My home organ: Content M5800

  2. #12
    ppp Pianississmo Castanea's Avatar
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    A couple more thoughts about the differences between organ and piano tuning: Unlike a piano, you don't want to set a fresh temperament every time you tune the organ. If it is all right, leave it alone. Likewise, you don't want to be adjusting the pitch of every pipe on the instrument, not unless you have to. Unless the instrument has been neglected, the majority of the pipes will be already in tune.

    Be sure that the heating/air conditioning is settled into whatever conditions are present when the organ is played. Piano strings change pitch based on humidity causing the soundboard to expand/contract; organ flue pipes change pitch based on air temperature. In organ chambers with poor ventilation, it might take a long time after the heat is turned up (or down) for everything to equalize.

    Just as piano strings can have false beats, organ pipes might not speak cleanly, making them hard to tune. Sometimes it is dirt or dust, dead bugs, etc. inside the pipe, sometimes there are other causes. You might be able to fix it easily, maybe not. Also an old slider chest (such as our instrument has, over 100 years old) might have air leaks that can confuse the tuning. This is not easily fixed and in many cases you will just have to live with it, barring funds for major renovation, though sometimes a professional can find ways to fix some of it.

    As others have mentioned here, piano strings don't care where you are standing/sitting, or what is beside them. Organ flue pipes can be quite particular about such things. I find the wider-scaled flutes more susceptible to your hand being too close the top of the pipe or the mouth, or whether you are standing close by, or what direction the pipe is turned, or being drawn into the pitch another stop is playing. On our instrument, the Great 4' Octave is the reference rank and works fine for everything except the 4' Flute that is right beside it on the chest. The flute pipes can be way off pitch and if the octave is playing, you'd never know it. I tune that rank to the 8' Principal, which is safely distant.

    Reed pipes are a whole different thing; for them, the pitch is mostly controlled by the vibrating length of the reed tongue, which is adjusted by moving the tuning wire up/down. The resonator pipe rarely needs adjustment in normal tuning. Dirt or corrosion on the tongue might cause problems with the speech. If you go in and play an organ in a cold room during the week, the reeds will sound out of tune with the flue pipes because the temperature is way off from when the organ was last tuned. If this is the case (all of the reeds at a different pitch from the flues), double check the room temperature and how long the heat/AC have been on.

    I am not a real organ tuner; I used to tune pianos professionally, and do minor tuning on the church instrument I play and minor repairs on the mechanical action, if it is clear what is broken/out of adjustment/etc. If it is not clear, or I don't know how to do it, I call a professional. In some ways, organs are easier to tune than pianos, in some ways more difficult. Mixtures, for example.

    One thing that is the same for piano and organ work: careful observation, listening, and patience are essential.

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