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Two Obscure Organ Builders

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Guest Barry Williams

"Once the bearings have been set..."

 

There you have it. So very few tuners are capable - or willing - to set the bearings. Tuning in octaves is relatively easy. Setting the bearings takes real skill, or a machine. (The lastest ones do not even require listening, it is all done by a meter.)

 

I have come across one (Harrison and Harrison) organ in Preston Park where the bearings on the Great Principal are twelve cone tuned pipes.

 

Barry Williams

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I recall the appalling tuning of a local three manual instrument, undertaken on sub-contract for Percy Daniel & Co Ltd. The churchwarden let the tuners in and noted that the keys were put through her door one hour and twenty minutes after - not enough time to deal with seven reeds, let alone lay a scale, which many tuners seem unable to do nowadays.

 

Barry Williams

Indeed, I had a similar experience yesterday. The tuners were booked for a full day in order to tune a large 54 s.s. three-manual. They came in the morning, and had gone by 1.45p.m. The "tuning" was really bad, with reeds and fluework left out of tune and off speech. Needless to say, a message has been left on their answerphone insisting they return.

 

I had another bad experience with another tuner at a different church a few years back. After a couple of bad tunings, I decided to meet with the tuner. I arrived at the church before 11a.m. to find that he'd already departed, having signed the tuning book. The organ was as out of tune as it had been the day before. Fortunately one of the choirmen was in the vestry as he was doing some painting in the church. I asked him if he had seen the organ tuner. He said that the organ tuner came in earlier that morning, on his own, and had unlocked the organ, played a couple of pieces, and then locked the organ and left. The choirman said that he'd considered asking him who he was, but thought it must have been a pupil of mine as he had a key to the organ. We cancelled the contract with this tuner with immediate effect.

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Guest Barry Williams

"Indeed, I had a similar experience yesterday. The tuners were booked for a full day in order to tune a large 54 s.s. three-manual. They came in the morning, and had gone by 1.45p.m. The "tuning" was really bad, with reeds and fluework left out of tune and off speech. Needless to say, a message has been left on their answerphone insisting they return."

 

It is worth speaking to the treasurer to ensure that he does not inadvertently pay the bill in the meantime. Withholding payment tends to focus errant minds in these matters.

 

Barry Williams

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"Indeed, I had a similar experience yesterday. The tuners were booked for a full day in order to tune a large 54 s.s. three-manual. They came in the morning, and had gone by 1.45p.m. The "tuning" was really bad, with reeds and fluework left out of tune and off speech. Needless to say, a message has been left on their answerphone insisting they return."

 

It is worth speaking to the treasurer to ensure that he does not inadvertently pay the bill in the meantime. Withholding payment tends to focus errant minds in these matters.

 

Barry Williams

 

Great minds think alike, Barry. Already done! :o

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I must also tell you about a tuner who went far and above the call of duty, who after trying to tune - and cure an awful buzzing noise - the Bottom B on an Open Wood. As it failed to respond to the usual adjustments, he concluded that there must be a split in the pipe. So instead of just ignoring it and hoping that it would go away, he spent an hour removing the pipe, strapping it to the top of his van (it wouldn't fit inside) and driving back to his workshop to reglue the pipe and screw it back together.

A couple of days later, he returned with the pipe, repaired, pronouncing it fit and well. The buuzzing noice had apparrently come from a loose knot in the pipe about half way down. This necessitated the complete dismantling of the pipe to get to the knot.

The pipe was refitted to the organ (a major job, in itself) and it spoke perfectly, giving a full, round tone.

 

The tuner did not charge any extra, over and above the normal routine tuning fee, for this work, as I had helped him remove the pipe!

 

I can heartily recommend him to anyone who cares to ask. He really does go the extra mile!

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Indeed, I had a similar experience yesterday. The tuners were booked for a full day in order to tune a large 54 s.s. three-manual. They came in the morning, and had gone by 1.45p.m. The "tuning" was really bad, with reeds and fluework left out of tune and off speech. Needless to say, a message has been left on their answerphone insisting they return.

 

I almost feel a bit bad about having posted this now. Having spoken with somebody who saw the organ tuners yesterday, it turns out that the organ tuner has recently had surgery and is in a lot of pain, and barely mobile. It seems that he held keys whilst his normal key-holder (a fellow organ builder) "tuned". I'm grateful for them having turned up to try and tune, albeit that they were only there for a couple of hours, but wonder if it might have been better had they just said that he was not up to it. There are now pipes out of tune and off speech which there weren't before. I can't justify the church paying them for what they did yesterday.

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Guest spottedmetal
It's a little bit the same on pianos. My tuner on his first visit just checked the bearings through, tweaked the odd string here and there, checked everything through (I was very interested to hear how adjusting one string affected the tone of the note - he took all this into account, along with the slightly sharp octaves other fascinating tricks). However, the intervention was minimal. He then fixed one or two small faults I'd pointed out and we chatted about pitches and temperaments.

 

For those of you who feel that A440 is vital for all new (and old) organs, did you know that all Steinways leave the Hamburg factory tuned to A444 and have done for many years? I learnt that most of the Steinways in concert halls in England hover around the A442 mark and it takes a lot of effort and time to bring one down to A440 and keep it stable.

 

I think the issue here are problems people are having with reeds vs flues. It was the reed tuning problem that started my looking at a toaster on which to achieve enjoyable practice - but that's another story.

 

Flues should be stable, so many of the remarks about not needing to do much to flues are valid and a wise tuner won't want to intervene too much.

 

It's finding such wisdom in a piano tuner that set me off doing the pianos myself: conventional tuners wiggle every string and this leads to instability of the pins and the strings on the aggrafs. (Anyone interested in tuning might find gems on another forum -

http://www.ptg.org/pipermail/pianotech/199...ber/022126.html )

For these reasons, I don't like resetting the bearings more than once or twice a year and the rest of the time merely touch up the unisons - one finds that two of the three strings are together and often only one of the three needs attention so thus the comment:

I was very interested to hear how adjusting one string affected the tone of the note

Steinways will often need detuning to counteract their hardness, but others need exact unison on the three strings to bring out the tone and power intended, which will be lost if one string is off.

 

By such a tuning policy over a long period, the instrument will withstand all but the heaviest and longest Liszt without coming out of tune. Similarly I let the instrument wander between 440 and 444 depending on temperature - blind insistence on 440 leads unnecesarily to instability.

 

Sorry to continue off-topic on the subject of piano tuning practice, but it may be of interest to some.

 

If you have watched a good tuner once or twice, (I watched for hours as a boy) buy a tuning hammer and a meter and you can do it yourself - and you can set an Unequal Temperament yourself without having to give your professional tuner the apoplexy of doing it.

 

Of course, setting the scale by ear is admirable, but in the real world of tuning to achieve stability, a meter helps to achieve minimum movement. There are only four things to remember:

1. let the string down slightly before you bring it up. This will move it on the aggraf or pressure bar if it's stuck, whether kinked or by rust: if it's stuck then pulling it up will only stretch it in that length and not the whole string and a snap will result. You can apply thin oil - 3in1 - on the aggraf holes to good effect

2. The bass octave may best be tuned to the 10th rather than the octave - it's a fudge whatever you do - it just has to sound nice

3. 440, 881, 1762 or so - on every octave just set the meter another hz up. Going up 440, 882, 1764 won't hurt but perhaps don't start going up until the C above A880. The piano is so inexact, it doesn't matter - the sharper just sounds brighter. If you don't want it to sound so bright don't go up quite so much. (On a bright Steinway, you may be lucky enough to be able to tune the top by ear. Many meters don't go high enough and tuning a softer instrument than a Steinway or Yamaha makes the job filthily difficult.)

4. When turning the tuning hammer, remember to turn it about the pin, not pull or push it to apply a vertical rather than a turning force.

 

I used to set the frequencies with a Sinclair Spectrum computer which is not difficult to program in basic, listen to the beat with the string but better to compare using a dual beam scope. The direction of the wave slippage would match the direction of pull on the tuning hammer. Cumbersome but neat result! Some very expensive meters have an LCD display with squares which travel left and right in just the same way as the peaks of the wave coincide and certain PC software programmes do the same. I use TLAB97 but the options are too complex for me to fully understand, so use it only as an addon to other devices.

 

Tip from an Italian concert pianist - sing a short note into the piano with the sustain pedal down to measure the quality of an instrument. The reverb time of a good piano should exceed a minute.

 

Best wishes

 

Spot

 

PS

http://www.jungleboffin.com/mp3/jong-gyung...ament/liszt.mp3 is an example of DIY tuning - this was the first concert following the switch from equal to Kellner temperament. The idea sent the 'cellist performing at that concert into apoplexy and she nearly refused to perform, but it proved excellent and both pianist and cellist have returned.

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
Tip from an Italian concert pianist - sing a short note into the piano with the sustain pedal down to measure the quality of an instrument. The reverb time of a good piano should exceed a minute.

 

But of course the note sung must be one that is as near to a tuned string as possible surely. When teaching harmonics to a student it is extraordinary to see their face when you ask them to lower a key without sounding a note (take Middle C for example), keeping it depressed while you/they play forte the different C's below it. Then start again with Middle C but play C#'s and see what happens! Then take other notes and see which harmonics have a sympathetic existence with Middle C. Suddenly to a youngster mathematics and music suddenly became fused and rather interesting. Non-musicians especially like the experimentation.

 

All the best,

Nigel

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By such a tuning policy over a long period, the instrument will withstand all but the heaviest and longest Liszt without coming out of tune. Similarly I let the instrument wander between 440 and 444 depending on temperature - blind insistence on 440 leads unnecesarily to instability.

 

Sorry to continue off-topic on the subject of piano tuning practice, but it may be of interest to some.

 

Tip from an Italian concert pianist - sing a short note into the piano with the sustain pedal down to measure the quality of an instrument. The reverb time of a good piano should exceed a minute.

Yes, we've decided to do the same - let the piano wander between 440 and 444. if it seems to settle below or go a bit too sharp, we'll do something about it but if we try to re-pitch it every time at 440 it'll be counter productive.

 

Re. organ reeds - yes - I was told to have them tuned when the heating goes on and when it goes off.

 

Woah! Just tried singing into my piano with the sustain pedal down. How weird! It even seems to pick up the vowel - I tried "si" and "zah" and got a totally different reverb...

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Guest spottedmetal
But of course the note sung must be one that is as near to a tuned string as possible surely.

Years ago I had a wise beak who was meant to be teaching physics but he taught a lot more - whenever anyone said "surely" he went into apoplexy! It meant that there was the assumption! Extraordinarily, contrary to one's intuition, in this case one doesn't need to be spot on a note at all. One can probably explain it mathematically with fourier functions, comb filters and coupled oscillators . . . it doesn't matter why in particular - it works! Do a sliding pitch and it will all be there in the reverbaration. However, get a treble to sing a pure note in and the resonance that comes back is a great pleasure.

When teaching harmonics to a student it is extraordinary to see their face when you ask them to lower a key without sounding a note (take Middle C for example), keeping it depressed while you/they play forte the different C's below it. Then start again with Middle C but play C#'s and see what happens! Then take other notes and see which harmonics have a sympathetic existence with Middle C. Suddenly to a youngster mathematics and music suddenly became fused and rather interesting. Non-musicians especially like the experimentation.

This sounds a brilliant tip! Thanks so much! Will have to go and try it . . .

 

Best wishes

 

Spot

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Guest Voix Mystique
I'd be interested to see one - as I haven't yet!

 

DW

 

David, as I remember it, the 1889 Willis at Ewell P. C., here in Surrey, built for St. Augustine, Highbury, moved to Ewell in 1975, has all Great pipework barring a fair bit of Double Diapason on the main soundboard. There were some 8' pipes in the facade, along with the 16ft., but I have a feeling the 8' pipes were dummies. I may be wrong on this, though - your records may indicate the truth of the matter. Speaking of which, NPOR says the instrument was added to in 1890, and there is some suggestion it originally had a 32' flue on the Pedal - would your records be able to clarify these matters?

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Guest Voix Mystique

Whereabouts on the South Coast is this? The tuner of the organ at my church is a good, reliable chap from the Brighton area. Please PM me, if you would like his name.

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You are quite right, Barry. Tom Robbins featured in an edition of 'That's Life' but in some ways the programme emphasised the wrong aspects of Tom's nature.

The true story would not have made for such colourful and mischievous storytelling. Miss Rantzen even playfully mispronounced Henry Willis's name (Mr Willies...)

 

Tom was certainly eccentric in some respects. He was, however, a painstaking craftsman. He had worked for Willis, spending some time under Mr Strutt in the drawing office, whom he regarded as an absolute martinette. Tom was ever frustrated at Willis's insistence on using scale rods for pipework and soundboards that were not compatible, which led to many pipes being stood off soundboards because they wouldn't fit ! For a time he also worked for Kingsgate Davidson but clearly found their work not to his taste and struck out on his own.

 

Tom and his family lived in a windmill, and he had a taste for fine old furntiure and anything generally well-made and pleasing to the eye. He cared deeply for small mechanical action organs and lavished great care and attention on them. He had some fiery comments for organs that had been badly rebuilt or modified unneccesarily. Sometimes referred to as 'top-note Tom', he was a skilful tuner, with great awareness of how 8ft stops should be carefully tempered (I didn't say 'equally'!). Tom died in 1990 and is buried in the churchyard at Kingsnorth, Kent, where he built a small single manual tracker organ, which he regarded as his best work.

 

Whatever his faults, I wouldn't like to think of him being lumped in with the likes of some already mentioned in this thread. I have the pleasure of tuning a few of the instruments formerly in his care and they are a living testament to a man of considerable ability.

 

H

I first met Tom in the early 60`s when he came to my place of work to order some printed stationery and again later when he tuned the organ that I played. If I remember correctly, his appearance on `That`s Life` was due to the time that he was taking to rebuild an organ which he had removed to his workshop and not a criticism of his ability or workmanship.

I know of two instances when Tom gave `Lecture Recitals` to raise money for necessary repairs to the organs in question. Unfortunately one of the churches employed another builder to carry out the work which baffled me at the time. A few years later I played this instrument at a funeral and had quick look in the tuning book. Tom`s last entry stated that there had been `outside interference`. All subsequent entries were by another builder who eventually rebuilt the organ. I think he must have `lost` a certain amount of work due to his eccentricities and forthright manner. He once `blew his top`, and rightly so, when he returned the key of the 1845 Walker which I play. The powers that be had, without consulting neither myself nor Tom, misguidedly installed portable gas heating to replace the terminally ill oil fired heating system. He kept this organ in good order until his premature death when the organ world lost a great `character`.

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Tuning an organ can be compared to polishing a fine table top. Regular and gently - don't take the surface back to the bare wood each time - you will never achieve a superb finish.

 

Most importantly know what and when to leave well alone.

 

FF

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Tuning an organ can be compared to polishing a fine table top. Regular and gently - don't take the surface back to the bare wood each time - you will never achieve a superb finish.

 

Most importantly know what and when to leave well alone.

 

FF

Hear, hear!

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