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


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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.

An organ I took out of a church a couple of years ago had written on the inside of the case, in chalk, Bodged up by **********, 19**, written by the builders I suspect.

 

Jonathan

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I have been interested to read people views about cone and slide tune pipes. I’ve come across both but still haven’t found the most ideal way, since every organ is very different and in unique environment. Can it be generalised that one is better than the other?

 

I can only speak on my own findings, but I’ve found so many damaged pipes that have been cone tuned (badly) certainly with an organ with a mixed amount of slide and cone tuning it’s always the coned pipes that needed tuning. I’ve found many stable organs that have been slide tuned, that haven’t been tuned for more than ten years (just like cone tuning) if the slide is gripping the pipe well, then yes it won’t damage or score the pipe and they are easier to tune.

 

One recent concert hall organ I tuned, had cone tuned trebles for the manual reeds. For example, the Swell Clarion 4ft had three pipes per note two at 4 and the third at 2 pitch. They were already beginning to signs of battering simply because the builder didn’t provide slides which would have made life a lot easier – the organ is only eight years old.

 

My guess really is that we can’t really generalise what’s best as it depends on the building and the organ. I’ve played many organs on the continent where cone tuning seems to be company policy with no reason, but still as good as good old slide tuning.

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Caution: Heretical Remarks

Over every other option, I favour rusty tuning slides because they don't move by themselves. When you really want them to move, this can be done with less trouble than cone-tuning. Like anyone who has wandered in old organs, I have seen several instances of damaged pipes as a result of impatient coning and however ideal some systems are supposed to be, in actual practice shortage of tuner time and discomfort have a part to play. At home, on my own instrument where nobody but me has a right to comment, I'm quite happy with pinch tuning. I'd rather pinch the top of a pipe than try coning it over. For cone-tuning to work well, you need a pretty high-percentage of tin in them and mine are often heavy on the lead and soft to the touch.

 

I admit that a well-made rank cone-tuned carefully looks good and a smart rank with gleaming tuning slides also looks nice. The major thing, to my mind, is that fluework is re-tuned as little as possible. I don't mind a little resonance between departments. You want mathematically perfect tuning, look no further than a Hammond organ - in the end absolute purity of this kind sounds (to me) artificial.

 

I have a CD in my collection of Roger Fisher playing the David Wells rebuild at St.John's Ranmoor, Sheffield. Both David and Roger are known to be perfectionists in their way and the result to my ears is very disappointing because this instrument (on the recording) sounds exactly like an electronic because of the 'unreal' purity of it all. You can't tell me that the many famous baroque organs we all admire were ever totally pure in their tuning - unheated churches, vast multi-rank mixtures, divisions at widely differing heights all make for natural differences and beats all over the show. What you get is the equivalent of a large string orchestra: various subtly different versions of the same note and the wonderful warmth and resonance that comes from this.

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Guest Roffensis
Caution: Heretical Remarks

Over every other option, I favour rusty tuning slides because they don't move by themselves. When you really want them to move, this can be done with less trouble than cone-tuning. Like anyone who has wandered in old organs, I have seen several instances of damaged pipes as a result of impatient coning and however ideal some systems are supposed to be, in actual practice shortage of tuner time and discomfort have a part to play. At home, on my own instrument where nobody but me has a right to comment, I'm quite happy with pinch tuning. I'd rather pinch the top of a pipe than try coning it over. For cone-tuning to work well, you need a pretty high-percentage of tin in them and mine are often heavy on the lead and soft to the touch.

 

I admit that a well-made rank cone-tuned carefully looks good and a smart rank with gleaming tuning slides also looks nice. The major thing, to my mind, is that fluework is re-tuned as little as possible. I don't mind a little resonance between departments. You want mathematically perfect tuning, look no further than a Hammond organ - in the end absolute purity of this kind sounds (to me) artificial.

 

I have a CD in my collection of Roger Fisher playing the David Wells rebuild at St.John's Ranmoor, Sheffield. Both David and Roger are known to be perfectionists in their way and the result to my ears is very disappointing because this instrument (on the recording) sounds exactly like an electronic because of the 'unreal' purity of it all. You can't tell me that the many famous baroque organs we all admire were ever totally pure in their tuning - unheated churches, vast multi-rank mixtures, divisions at widely differing heights all make for natural differences and beats all over the show. What you get is the equivalent of a large string orchestra: various subtly different versions of the same note and the wonderful warmth and resonance that comes from this.

 

 

And all this before we get into the very important issue of which bearings to tune to? Do we use "round the clock" for a Willis? Do we use "Willis" bearings for everything we tune as standard?

 

R

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At the risk of showing my ignorance, I should like to know what "Willis" bearings are - I presume they are some form of 'unequal' temperament.

 

With regard to CYNIC'S preference for hardly ever touching the fluework and his delight in having beating ranks between departments in imitation of an orchestra I must say he must be an easy customer to please. I always check the bearings and the tuning between departments on each visit and "correct" any erring pipework. Perhaps I have been wasting my time and the customers money for over the past thirty eight years? I hope not. I have always taken the view that the job of tuner on a visit (after sorting out problems) is to go through all the pipework and ensure it is as 'in tune' as possible. Obviously on some jobs much more attention is required due to temperature, humidity, dirt, general condition of soundboards and a host of other factors.

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Perhaps I have been wasting my time and the customers money for over the past thirty eight years? I hope not. I have always taken the view that the job of tuner on a visit (after sorting out problems) is to go through all the pipework and ensure it is as 'in tune' as possible. Obviously on some jobs much more attention is required due to temperature, humidity, dirt, general condition of soundboards and a host of other factors.

That's what I prefer, both as an organist and a tuner. I remember Sandy Edmonstone apologising to me a few years ago for the tuning state of the organ at Perth Cathedral, which he looks after. I had applied (and was offered but did not take up) the post of Director of Music. He was most apologetic, but to my ears, which I think are pretty good, it sounded perfect. I think he must be a perfectionist too. It was a lovely organ too, after the work he had done.

 

Jonathan

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You can't tell me that the many famous baroque organs we all admire were ever totally pure in their tuning - unheated churches, vast multi-rank mixtures, divisions at widely differing heights all make for natural differences and beats all over the show.

 

Playing and maintaining a 16 m high instrument in an unheated cathedral (currently 4 degrees Celsius), I have to disagree. The *absence* of heating gives quite homogeneous structures of airflow. Our blowers are located in the tower, and because of the natural temperature there, there is no problem with a difference to the nave, because there is no difference (since the blower chamber has only a very small window which could cause warming by sunlight). Problems with warm air gathering at the top of the vaults, heating up and detuning the Kronwerk, occur only lightly during Dec. 24, when we have those congregations of several hundred people, but not on the other winter days. I agree that historic organs were not pure because of technical reasons, e. g. the vast number of ranks in early baroque mixtures ("Mixtur 6-10fach") and much more problems with leakage in those times. But regarding temperature and tuning, I would always favour the unheated church.

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Caution: Heretical Remarks

 

I admit that a well-made rank cone-tuned carefully looks good and a smart rank with gleaming tuning slides also looks nice. The major thing, to my mind, is that fluework is re-tuned as little as possible. I don't mind a little resonance between departments. You want mathematically perfect tuning, look no further than a Hammond organ - in the end absolute purity of this kind sounds (to me) artificial.

 

Hi

 

A tone-wheel Hammond is never in tune - the limits of the mechanical gearing in the generators sees to that - it's an approximation to equal temperament. The same applied, for different reasons, to many of the first generation of electroinc organs to use one master oscillator to drive the generating system.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Hi

 

A tone-wheel Hammond is never in tune - the limits of the mechanical gearing in the generators sees to that - it's an approximation to equal temperament. The same applied, for different reasons, to many of the first generation of electroinc organs to use one master oscillator to drive the generating system.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

 

Dear Tony,

I understand what you mean, and I'm sure you are right - I was referring to all notes being perfectly tune as played in octaves and from manual to manual etc. they are, aren't they? My comments seem to have been taken to mean that I prefer out-of-tuneness to things being in decent order. Not so, I just don't think the world has come to an end if departments are very slightly adrift on some days, it all adds to the richness of the effect - for me, of course.

 

 

I still maintain that decently tuned fluework ought to be able to stay 'in' from one tuner's visit to another. the less it is messed with the better, surely? I have known (and been responsible for) large instruments where it is a rare matter to have to re-tune anything but reeds. Surely I am not alone in this experience.

 

P.

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I have known (and been responsible for) large instruments where it is a rare matter to have to re-tune anything but reeds. Surely I am not alone in this experience.

 

P.

 

No, you're absolutely not alone. The less you touch things the better.

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Guest Roffensis

I recall hearing of one organ where the slides had been glued onto the pipes, allen bolts put through the larger pipes and slides, and tongues soldered onto shallots!!! Apparently the church did not wish to pay for regualr tuning visits! :P

 

R

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I agree that it would be better if pipework was not touched. That is fine if you are happy for an instrument to be not finely in tune in the flue department. I recently read in an organ builder's web site that at the most he would only recommend a tuning visit to an organ every two or three years. It is hard to believe this and I can only think he must have some remarkable organs on his books, all of which must be in tip top condition. Possibly on very small jobs you could get away with it, but on large, comprehensive instruments this would not be acceptable (to many ears). Perhaps my customers and I expect perfection. Very few of the large number of organs in my care would be ok with just the reeds "touching up' on a visit even though many people may not notice.

 

I have sometimes gone to organ recitals where the fluework is adrift and I find myself concentrating on this and not able to enjoy the music. For this reason I seldom go to recitals anymore.

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