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To Cone Tune Or Not To Cone Tune, That Is The Question.


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I am wondering what people on the board think about cone tuning. I am not thinking in terms of existing organs, but in terms of new ones. I think existing organs should generally not be tampered with, but when building a new one, what would people prefer.

 

Jonathan

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Pipes come under a huge amount of stress when being cone tuned. Whether you sharpen or flatten them, you bash hell out of them. Whilst pipes made properly, with good thick metal for the feet, initially bear up well to the stresses, in the long term they all seem to suffer either from metal fatigue or inexperienced tuners. IMHO I don't believe that coned pipes stay in tune better than slid pipes - there are far too many other factors, temperature stability (obviously), scale, voicing etc etc which all contribute. Although, I have to say, I have seen far too many pipes 'crimped' by being fitted with tuning slides which were far too tight, it is not as many as have been destroyed by cone tuning, and don't get me started on poor tip regulation!

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Pipes come under a huge amount of stress when being cone tuned. Whether you sharpen or flatten them, you bash hell out of them. Whilst pipes made properly, with good thick metal for the feet, initially bear up well to the stresses, in the long term they all seem to suffer either from metal fatigue or inexperienced tuners. IMHO I don't believe that coned pipes stay in tune better than slid pipes - there are far too many other factors, temperature stability (obviously), scale, voicing etc etc which all contribute. Although, I have to say, I have seen far too many pipes 'crimped' by being fitted with tuning slides which were far too tight, it is not as many as have been destroyed by cone tuning, and don't get me started on poor tip regulation!

 

Hi

 

One organ that I used to play regularly had cone-tuned metal pipes (it must have been a late example of cone tuning - it was a Spurden Rutt of c.1900 vintage). The metal flue work on that literally NEVER needed tuning - a clean of the mouth if a note was a little off, but that's all. It was still in tune after a 6 month period "out of use" when the church had structural problems and was closed until they could be sorted out. I've also heard of other cone-tuned pipework that stands accurately in tune for years on end. On that basis, if I was in a position to specify a new pipe organ, I'd go for cone tuning and save on the cost of tuner's time over the years!

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Pipes come under a huge amount of stress when being cone tuned.

 

If nothing happens to it, an organ won't go out of tune. I know of well-made organs which haven't been tuned (apart from the reeds) for 20 years - the Metzler in Oxford's University Church for one, and most of the output of William Drake. Apart from tickling a bit of dust out of the mouths of Mixtures, you shouldn't need to touch anything at all once it's been set. Why introduce the problem of a moving part when you don't need to?

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
If nothing happens to it, an organ won't go out of tune. I know of well-made organs which haven't been tuned (apart from the reeds) for 20 years - the Metzler in Oxford's University Church for one, and most of the output of William Drake. Apart from tickling a bit of dust out of the mouths of Mixtures, you shouldn't need to touch anything at all once it's been set. Why introduce the problem of a moving part when you don't need to?

 

Dr Richard Marlow told me when he was judging tenders for the new organ in St John's Oxford, his Metzler (at Triinity College, Cambridge) had only been flue-tuned once since it was installed. Players normally only have to go over the reeds before big events with such built instruments. I can never understand how churches in the UK have to have a tuner so often. One in my Diocesan care, has just had a Consistory Court before Christmas because the Vicar and Churchwardens cited the great cost of three or four vists a year as one of the main reasons for throwing out the rather fine 3 manual. I have yet to hear the outcome.

Best wishes,

N

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Dr Richard Marlow told me when he was judging tenders for the new organ in St John's Oxford, his Metzler (at Triinity College, Cambridge) had only been flue-tuned once since it was installed. Players normally only have to go over the reeds before big events with such built instruments. I can never understand how churches in the UK have to have a tuner so often. One in my Diocesan care, has just had a Consistory Court before Christmas because the Vicar and Churchwardens cited the great cost of three or four vists a year as one of the main reasons for throwing out the rather fine 3 manual. I have yet to hear the outcome.

Best wishes,

N

 

Possibly because they have the heating on too high. The tuner found it was 78°F at pipe level one bitterly cold day last spring. Guess what state the instrument was in!

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Possibly because they have the heating on too high. The tuner found it was 78°F at pipe level one bitterly cold day last spring. Guess what state the instrument was in!

I seem to remember when I was growing up the heating was never on in church. But to be serious, the overheating of churches and allowing them to cool down in between must play havoc with tuning slides much more than it does with cone tuned pipes.

 

My instinct would be to be in a position where minimal tuning needs t be done, i.e. the reeds only, this would ensure churches would not be able to use the argument of cost, however false, for disposing of their pipe organ, as well as ensuring the organ is always in a good state of tuning.

 

Jonathan

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Guest Geoff McMahon

I have to say that my own experience with cone tuning is that if it is done properly, it *is* more stable than slider tuning. We have a number of new organs using cone tuning and the flues need much less attention than those with slider tuning. It does have to be done carefully though. Generally, if a pipe goes out of tune, the cause is something other than the length of the pipe and usually it is better to deal with that, than simply re-tuning it.

 

Apart from anything else, the simple act of knocking the pipe on the top makes for a better seal at the tip, so variations in wind to the pipe are reduced.

 

John

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
I have to say that my own experience with cone tuning is that if it is done properly, it *is* more stable than slider tuning.

 

John

 

From the player's point of view I find that almost at freezing the Plein jeu in my village in France is quite fine and rather lively and brilliant because of it being somewhat sharp. Of course adding a Cantus firmus on a pedal Trompette is out of the question. But using reeds as in a Grands jeux is also more than acceptable. But don't mix things until the temperature becomes proper (May/June). I imagine that this also was one/another reason for the French registrational schemes so the organ could be used all year through. The opposite happens in the very heat of the summer where the flues go flat in the heat - the Trompettes again are dreary. Only tune the reeds (I humbly suggest) if it is absolutely x 3 necessary as it means a total re-tune later on when temperatures become more respectable.

In Denmark, where even the smallest of country churches seem to maintain an even temperature throughout the winter, tuning is rarely necessary other than the odd pipe of a 1/2 length reed before a concert or a service.

Therefore, I feel the gruesome habit of switching heat on and off is the root cause of larger maintenance bills for the organ. Somewhere, I have heard that maintaining a human temp all through the winter in churches costs not as much as Church Officers seem to think it might - there is a mathematical equation somewhere. Anybody out there with this to hand?

Any views from those UK places where the heat is relatively constant like Public School Chapels, Great Churches and Cathedrals and University Chapels? It would (for me, certainly) be interesting in hearing of reports and comments concerning heating/tuning/.maintenance.

Best wishes,

Nigel

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Somewhere, I have heard that maintaining a human temp all through the winter in churches costs not as much as Church Officers seem to think it might

 

I have always tried to make this point, especially where you have a lot of fabric to warm up. Even in small village churches, a low background heating all through the winter is much cheaper than a quick boost for an hour on Sundays.

 

Jonathan

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I have always tried to make this point, especially where you have a lot of fabric to warm up. Even in small village churches, a low background heating all through the winter is much cheaper than a quick boost for an hour on Sundays.

 

Jonathan

 

I would be especially interested to hear if anyone has any calculations on this matter as I am trying to convince my committees of exactly the same thing, particularly as today I have two stops unuseable due to cyphers throughout the range.

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Guest Roffensis
I am wondering what people on the board think about cone tuning. I am not thinking in terms of existing organs, but in terms of new ones. I think existing organs should generally not be tampered with, but when building a new one, what would people prefer.

 

Jonathan

 

 

A good subject. Even worse is "pinch" tuning. Nice ragged pipe tops. Lovely :angry: . Cone tuning? Never on antique pipework IMHO. Cone tuning is somewhat more stable, and there are supposedly reasons for this, including (with slide tuning) resonances in the pipe and slide, which will not be the same in both, causing shifts. The damage to pipe mouths is not inconsiderable, and generally the only thing I would ever want to be coned is the pitch pipe, or at most the bearings. I have seen the most terrible damage caused by "tuners" using cones. There are those who also argue that one can hear the differences in the two methods. At least some of this I would agree with.

 

To hear the poor pipes squeek in pain with the cone banging their little heads is a pathetic sound enough to convince all but the most hard hearted how cruel and barbaric this tuning method is, and yet some argue about boiling Lobsters. <_<

 

R

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I have to say that my own experience with cone tuning is that if it is done properly, it *is* more stable than slider tuning. We have a number of new organs using cone tuning and the flues need much less attention than those with slider tuning. It does have to be done carefully though. Generally, if a pipe goes out of tune, the cause is something other than the length of the pipe and usually it is better to deal with that, than simply re-tuning it.

 

Apart from anything else, the simple act of knocking the pipe on the top makes for a better seal at the tip, so variations in wind to the pipe are reduced.

 

John

I believe John's comment is a very important statement as to the understanding of what all organ builders should be thinking, i.e. 'that if it is done properly'!

 

The tip comment I find very interesting, and had never thought of this as an advantage of cone tuning, but clearly it must be.

 

Jonathan

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To hear the poor pipes squeek in pain with the cone banging their little heads is a pathetic sound enough to convince all but the most hard hearted how cruel and barbaric this tuning method is, and yet some argue about boiling Lobsters. <_<

 

R

 

The point being of course that you don't need to do this, 9 times out of 10. Actually, that's inaccurate; make it 10 times out of 10. All that is needed is a feather in the mouth to shift some dirt. Pipes don't change shape on their own, but sliders can move of their own accord.

 

The more you mess around with a cone tuned pipe, the weaker the top becomes and the more problems you have. People who squeeze and tear at pipe tops with their fingers deserve a lengthy spell in prison, or execution if available. Instead of bashing with something heavy as a first resort, you need to find out why this has come about; is there a lump of plaster on the languid? Move it. Is the pipe facing the right way or badly seated? Turn it and see. Is the soundboard running? Then tuning is a complete waste of time because it will be out again in an hour. Use the tuner's cheque to open a restoration account and use the discordant wailing to solicit further donations.

 

If you snip the top off an antique pipe and fit a slider, it's not an antique pipe any more. Save the money fifty times over (on the job itself, and future visits) and switch to a tuner who knows what they're doing with old material.

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Guest Roffensis
The point being of course that you don't need to do this, 9 times out of 10. All that is needed is a feather in the mouth to shift some dirt. Pipes don't change shape on their own, but sliders can move of their own accord.

 

If you snip the top off an antique pipe and fit a slider, it's not an antique pipe any more. Save the money fifty times over (on the job itself, and future visits) and switch to a tuner who knows what they're doing with old material.

 

 

Which is why there is so much debate yes. The problem is that pipe metals softens over time, and that distortion can occur even with the most gentle of treatment. One knock can ruin a pipe if wrongly applied, and so it becomes a matter of risk. In such cases one would advocate tuning a organ once and keeping it strict temperature control, but that really is a tall order for a variety of reasons. And of course there are organs that remain cone tuned, such as in at least one Cathedral I know of, where others by the same builder and period are not. That in itself throws up its own argument.

 

R

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The problem is that pipe metals softens over time...

 

Is this true, assuming proper treatment?

 

In such cases one would advocate tuning a organ once and keeping it strict temperature control, but that really is a tall order for a variety of reasons.

 

Not really at all. If you tune an organ at 65 degrees, then every time the temperature is 65 degrees it's in tune. If it's higher or lower than that, then the reeds will be in a different place. The flues however will stay in tune with each other. Unlike a piano where string tensions can slip, or slid pipes where sliders can move, once you make a pipe a certain shape and size it'll stay there and quite happily maintain the correct proportions to all its neighbours. An organ where the fluework goes out of tune is almost certainly an organ with soundboard or winding problems. Altering the pipes will never help for more than a moment or two.

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I would be interested to get an idea of how much "minor" tuning adjustments are typically possible with cone tuning, before the metal at the top of the pipe will start to crack. And also whether there is much difference in durability of high tin content compared to low tin content pipes. Are pipes with high tin content also more likely to suffer bending because of the need for more aggresive hammering of the cones - or is this balanced by their increased stiffness?

 

hmmmm.... I don't recall seeing any sable brush treatment when my organ has been tuned...hmmmmm...

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
I have always tried to make this point, especially where you have a lot of fabric to warm up. Even in small village churches, a low background heating all through the winter is much cheaper than a quick boost for an hour on Sundays.

 

Jonathan

 

Indeed. My thoughts entirely. A building that can be mostly stone seems a wonderful form of storage heater if the final temperatures in Autumn can be captured and nurtured through the winter by judicious heating programmes. Nature gives the initial warmth.

N

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Guest Roffensis

Hi David, I gather with pipe metal that apparently it does soften over time, albeit a long time, and that the composition actually moves within itself downwards. <_<

 

Wouldn't it would be good to have a TARDIS to prove this!!!

 

R

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I would be especially interested to hear if anyone has any calculations on this matter as I am trying to convince my committees of exactly the same thing, particularly as today I have two stops unuseable due to cyphers throughout the range.

 

Our church (seats 150) is heated (gas 50kW boiler with water-filled radiators) to 10degC night and day all week, and 18degC on Sundays 7am-12:00 for a 11:00 service. Obviously, the backgound heating only costs money in the winter as the thermostat does its job.

This heating regime avoids problems with condensation and damp, saving on fabric maintenance, and costs less than the previous electric heating.

Organ maintenance is not extortionate especially considering that it's 40+ years since the last rebuild. It's reasonably reliable considering that much of the action is c.1877 and the rest was a 'cost-effective' 1960's job.

I assume that allowing the organ to fall below freezing would be as bad as overheating, with moisture freezing in damp leatherwork etc. Is this the cause of 'perishing'?

Ian CK

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To get back to the subject of tuning, the matter of wind loss between sliders, upperboard and table hasn't been mentioned. With badly fitting sliders, when the humidity changes there is slightly more or less wind loss which can (in my humble experience)result in 'out of tuneness' as the pipes receive a different amount of wind.

 

In some instruments (old ones) where we have fitted slider seals or retrued sliders and table, the tuning stability has improved vastly. The combination of well fitting sliders, cone tuning and a stable temperature and humidity is the ideal. Also, a spotlessly clean environment. (!!!) without insects.

 

Regarding the damage caused by cone tuning. On several newish jobs we I look after (under 30 years old) where the pipework has a high tin content I have noticed that due to heavy 'bashing' with the cone (not my doing!) some of the pipes have started to crease at the mouth. Although such heavy coning should never have happened I wonder if the metal is too thick around the top of the pipe. Strangely, I look after quite a number of old and historic instruments with coned tuned pipes, many of which are in lovely condition, partly due, I think to minimum and careful tuning over the years. It always pains me to see bashed and carelessly tuned pipes. Having said that, 'pinched' ones at least are usually ok at the mouth and foot and can usually be straightened out quite easily.

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Having said that, 'pinched' ones at least are usually ok at the mouth and foot and can usually be straightened out quite easily.

 

Have a hunt through BIOS and IBO journals for pictures of the Buckingham Palace and Limehouse organs prior to restoration! Thousands of man hours (and pounds) taken to put that lot right.

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Guest Geoff McMahon

One of the problems in cone tuning is that old style cones are too "blunt" and do cause a large downwards pressure in tuning. Modern cones (as obtainable from, amongst others, Heuss) are much more pointed, so there is more inwards force for any given downwards pressure. This means that each knock on the pipe moves the top in further, so less force is needed.

 

Another very useful tip is to put a small film of oil in the cone. A drop of oil in the cone spread with a piece of cloth or cotton wool does the trick. This makes the cone more slippery and again reduces the downwards force for any given coning effect.

 

In coning a pipe, it becomes harder as you cone it when it is new, which is why it is important to cut it down so that it needs the minimum of coning to bring it into tune. If you have to cone it a lot, the further coning becomes ever harder, again increasing the undesirable downwards pressure on the pipe. In time (after a couple of years) the top becomes softer again (the annealing as opposed to the work hardening of initial coning) so provided you do leave enough time between tunings, the simple fact that the top becomes softer again also mitigates damage to the mouth area.

 

John

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I hesitate to contribute here as I have no practical experience in the matter, but if a colleague were to support the pipe by the body whilst it is being cone tuned would this not avoid any damage to the mouth or foot?

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I hesitate to contribute here as I have no practical experience in the matter, but if a colleague were to support the pipe by the body whilst it is being cone tuned would this not avoid any damage to the mouth or foot?

Good idea! But I see three immediate problems....

 

i, How would he support the pipe? If he held it in his hands (the best way to avoid damage to the pipe, I would think), the temperature change of the pipe would affect the tuning.

ii, In most organs, there's precious room for one tuner to work, let alone two!

iii, The cost of employing an extra 'tuner'.

 

An old Hunter at a church where I used to play several years ago was cone tuned - on the very rare occasion that the flue work needed any adjustment. Indeed, the flue work stood in tune superbly, and the reeds were the only part of the organ which needed the occasional "tickle" as the temperature changed. Several years ago the organ was partly "rebuilt" by the local firm of "Bodgit and Scarper" who - for some reason - fitted tuning slides. The first time I played it after this work, I was rather shocked. It was the first time I had ever experienced the flue work on this instrument being out of tune.

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