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Organ Tuning, Is it really necessary?

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  • Organ Tuning, Is it really necessary?

    A little background first.

    We have a quite poorly maintained and not excellent sounding Pipe Organ in our Church. Twice a year it seems to be tradition an Organ Tuner is brought in to tune the organ.

    The heating in the church is turned on once a week for Sunday service, it never gets warm in the winter and the Organ is in a fairly closed in space with no heating anyway. In the winter the church is very cold and damp, 30f at it's coldest, in the summer it gets warmer but still quite damp.

    The last time the organ was tuned the temperature was 40f, the temperature in the church now is approx 60f.

    I know temperature affects the tuning, but apart from temperature does the Organ actually go out of tune. It seems to me we are spending a significant amount of money tuning the Organ, for what I can see is little benefit where we would be better off spending the money on getting some of the leathers replaced which have perished and fixing the Open Diapason on the great which is pneumatic and has completely stopped working.

    We are operating on a very limited budget, we have a tiny congregation, a falling down church and rely on volunteers for everything, even the priest is retired and takes the services on a Sunday for no fee.

    Church Organ: Monk & Gunther 13 Rank Pipe Rank
    Home Organs: Technics SX-GA1, Technics SX-GX7

  • #2
    The organ goes out of tune due to the expanding and contraction of the pipe material. I understand that you are in a difficult place trying to figure out where the money would be best spent.
    You might want to consider touch up the tuning yourself and ask for donations to help with the organ repair. I have helped a number of small churches like yours over the years by enlisting their help to releather chest and regulators. Just a thought.

    Where are you located?



    • #3
      I believe that flue pipes and reed pipes tend to go out of tune to each other with changes in temperature, but within the flues, they tune up & down together with temperature, whereas reeds tend to be affected by temperature less. So a pipe organ of all flues would tend to stay in tune with itself or the same for all reeds. Tuning brings the two types of pipes back into tune with each other.

      If the heating and AC are adjusted to maintain a consistent temperature, less tuning will be needed. You have to weigh the cost of temperature control against tuning costs.

      It is a shame that the organ is in such a state of disrepair, though.


      • #4
        I have been organist at two churches that had elderly organs with mechanical problems. In both case, the church had service contracts that included twice-yearly tuning. However, in reality the organ tuning was very stable and did not need to be touched up. However, the other service the organs needed were considered outside the scope of the contracts, so every six months the service companies (two different states, two different companies) would provide a report that essentially said "organ tuned, needs to be rebuilt." In both cases, I recommended for the service contracts to be terminated and for the church to start an organ fund. In one case, the church did ultimately rebuild the organ; in the other, the church replaced the pipe organ with a used Baldwin that looked good (3 manuals), but that sounded as electronic as you could be stuck with.

        Bottom line is that in my opinion, a pipe organ reaches a point that you are wasting money with a service contract that merely provides periodic tuning. This is especially true if the organ tuning is stable.


        • #5
          Our organs get tuned once a year, usually several weeks after the end of the heating season, but sometimes the tuner doesn't come until August. Some stops keep their pitch nicely, some others (like the flutes) need to be tuned, but, as my husband likes to joke, I'm the only one in the congregation who actively hears the difference.


          • #6


            • #7
              Piperdane makes an excellent point about maintaining a temperature range. What many people do not realize is that after a building has been at a set temperature for a number of days, not only is the ambient air temperature at that setting, but it permeates all of the solid material. Not only does the HVAC system have to bring the ambient air to a desired temperature, it takes a while for the solid surfaces to come to that temperature. This is why it is actually cheaper to keep a range of about 10 degrees farenheit in a room. When we did this in our home, our utility bills for heat and air actually went down. This seems counter-intuitive to many people. What they do not realize is that by trying to save energy costs by not running the heat or air and then try to bring the room up to temperature costs more.

              If a church is not used during the week, at the very least, the temperature should be set a day in advance to the desired temperature. Also this is the temperature that the organ should be tuned at.
              Last edited by voet; 05-15-2018, 05:58 AM.

              My home organ: Content M5800 as a midi controller for Hauptwerk


              • #8
                The organ should be tuned periodically...how frequently should be decided by the consensus of your service provider and the persons respsonsible for the physical upkeep of your facilities.

                I have clients that get between one and four tunings per calendar year, as they prefer.

                The organ really needs to be tuned at the temperature at which it will be used. It is also advisable that the temperature swing not be greater than 10 degrees F from the "unoccupied" times then warm the building to the temperature that is necessary for relative comfort for the congregants (68 - 70 degrees F). The mass of the building (that is the walls ceiling and floor) will acclimate to the most prevalent temperature, so if the building goes totally unheated in the winter and the cold penetrates the structure (which includes the pews, by the way), the church will NEVER feel comfortable, and the organ will probably never sound 'in tune'.

                Truth is that if the building is kept at a 'cooler' temperature - say, 10 degrees below the in-use temperature - it will cost less to warm the building to a comfortable temperature, and in the long run the church will spend less money overall in heating costs.

                Pipe organs DO go 'out of tune', primarily because at the ambient temperature, air becomes more (or less) dense as the temperature rises (or falls). There is minor expansion/contraction of the pipe metal, but this is really insignificant compared to air density's effect on the tuning. Humidity can also affect the tuning, but to a lesser extent. Reed ranks and Flue ranks (flue ranks being whistles - your diapasons, flutes and strings) change pitch at different rates, and the smaller pipes (top end of the 8' stops and mid-range and above pipes of the 4' stops and pretty much all of the higher pitch stops at 2' or above) are more radically affected by temperature shift (so, the higher the speaking pitch of a given pipe, the more it will change pitch with temperature change).

                Most of my clients get two tunings per year...once in the lead-up to Christmas (heating season) and once in late May/early June (air conditioning season) after the heat or AC has been running a few weeks. After a few careful tunings, the organ starts to become stable and will "lock in" with itself, requiring less tuning time to keep the organ in good voice. Keep in mind that sometimes mechanical issues can cause tuning problems as well, and this is another reason to have the service provider twice a year...to be made aware of problems that are beginning to develop and to head them off (or to allow time to financially prepare for more expensive repair work that may exceed the limits of cost in your service agreement).

                Hope this helps.

                Rick in VA