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Major mechanical action problems


MusingMuso

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I can scarcely believe the problems we are having with what should be a very straightforward and normally very reliable mechanical action.

 

Great minds sometimes think alike, and when the organ tuner pondered the possibility of an earthquake, exactly the same thought had crossed my mind.....the action is all over the place; quite literally.

 

The symptoms include the following:-

 

Pedal notes cyphering when the 16ft Bordun is drawn

 

The Brustwerk keys resembling a roller-coaster visually, and some so far down, the notes will not speak properly, with many notes not coupling through properly.

 

The problems began in late February with the pedal 16ft, which required me to back off the adjustment of the leather buttons at the pedal board.....that worked, but other notes soon followed.

 

I then made the mistake of re-tuning the Brustwerk while coupled to the Hauptwerk; not realising that the action was not working correctly. The end result within a couple of days was horrific, and required a full re-tune by electronic means.

 

I think I now realise what the problem is. The church is generously heated most days, and seldom falls below 50F even in the coldest weather. Add to this the incredibly dry winds we have had from the east, combined with the extreme cold of the air, and I suspect that the wooden action components have shrunk; tightening up the action and causing the cyphers and uneven keys. It really has to be seen to be believed.....some keys are half an inch lower than others.

 

My question is this:-

 

Have any organ-builders/organists/tuners ever experienced anything like this, and particularly in the past month or two?

 

My hope is that when the rain and south westerly winds return, things may self correct. If not, it's going to be a big job to re-adjust almost every note on the organ, and even then, the adjustments may go "walkabout" unless the wood has returned to normal levels of moisture content.

 

Having known this organ for 38 years, I've never known anything like it in all that time. On Sunday morning, the organ was almost unplayable, but we managed to make a few acceptable squeaks.

 

Best,

 

MM

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I can scarcely believe the problems we are having with what should be a very straightforward and normally very reliable mechanical action.

 

I think I now realise what the problem is. The church is generously heated most days, and seldom falls below 50F even in the coldest weather. Add to this the incredibly dry winds we have had from the east, combined with the extreme cold of the air, and I suspect that the wooden action components have shrunk; tightening up the action and causing the cyphers and uneven keys. It really has to be seen to be believed.....some keys are half an inch lower than others.

 

My question is this:-

 

Have any organ-builders/organists/tuners ever experienced anything like this, and particularly in the past month or two?

 

 

 

The ARH (Atmospheric Relative Humidity) is currently depressed further than we have ever seen it I think - last week even here in the factory it struggled to reach a high of 30% and in two jobs I visited myself it was at 22% and 28% respectively.

 

Even the very-best-built instruments are suffering and you are not alone! Ciphers appearing in organs which have not ciphered in living memory.

 

Hopefully this week will bring about a fairly drastic change.

 

DW

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I hope so. In my church, the old girl (1934 Hele rebuild of an 1850s Hill/Hamlin) is pretty stable, but the humidity yesterday inside the organ was 41% - it's normally nearer 70%. No real problems other than the tuning of the Cornopean, but I even have some ciphers/sticky notes on the house organ which is direct electric action. Humidity in the house is around 40%.

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The ARH (Atmospheric Relative Humidity) is currently depressed further than we have ever seen it I think - last week even here in the factory it struggled to reach a high of 30% and in two jobs I visited myself it was at 22% and 28% respectively.

 

Even the very-best-built instruments are suffering and you are not alone! Ciphers appearing in organs which have not ciphered in living memory.

 

Hopefully this week will bring about a fairly drastic change.

 

DW

 

 

=================================

 

 

Thank you David. I think this confirms my initial diagnosis, and hopefully things will come back to normal naturally. I can never recall such a long period of almost Atacama desert conditions; cold and arid in equal measure, and it is certainly an insight into the problems of exporting instruments to different climates around the world.

 

I knew there was a very good case for carbon-fibre actions! <_<

 

Best,

 

MM

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DW will know that this is not the first time his firm has had to contend with such things at this time of year. HWIII wrote to Donald Harrison that his newish organ at Liverpool Cathedral had been banjaxed by low humidity and that athorities wanted him to replace a whole load of major items for free. He pointed out that slightly later organs without slider soundboards had been trouble-free.

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Yes indeed, and Liverpool Cathedral organis suffering just so again at the moment, according to a text message which I received after the Easter Day broadcast last week.

 

I'm in London at the moment and will have to call into the Ally Pally tomorrow morning at about 8am to endpsure that the main humidif system is running and set to the right levels - such things in Public Building ALWAYS get 'fiddled with'!

 

Such prolonged and extreme dryness following months of prolonged dampness is a killer - witness, my bees: one hive completely dead, lots of bees there and no shortage of food, but the hive is full of some sort of fungus AND two slugs! The other hive is still showing signs of life but queen-less, so I'm afraid they'll not last. The cause is the extreme weather so I'm informed by the county bee inspector.

 

So it's not just organs I'm afraid

 

DW

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I too have been encountering problems with actions/cyphering key levels all over the place etc. These are on organs which I have looked after for many years and which have given little or no trouble in the past. However, one thing which appears to be common to them all is that they are in "well heated' buildings and that the problems seem to diminish when heating is off during the week. I'm certain that Henry Willis is right about climatic conditions being to blame. It is a real pain, hard to know the best course of action and I'm fed up with it!!

My ancient Bechstein piano is also causing problems by not holding its pitch as it usually does. I suspect this is due to the same reason.

RDH

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My ancient Bechstein piano is also causing problems by not holding its pitch as it usually does. I suspect this is due to the same reason.

I have one of those too, at home in Berlin, a Bechstein grand, 2 m long. The serial number says it was made around 1890. It’s lovely and fantastically easy to play. The infamous Berlin winters take their toll, though. The tuner was shocked when the pitch, between spring and late summer, had risen for almost a semitone! He said that the wood was saturated now with humidity, but that this would change later in the year. In Berlin’s continental winters, and under the high ceilings of our c. 1900 flat, the humidity goes quickly below 30 %. Inside the flat, without the aid of a humidifier (by the aid of water basins, hanging laundry, keeping doors closed and temperature around 20°C), I try to keep it around 40 %, which is low already.

 

The tuner loves that piano, and he regularly leaves with a pained expression in his face when he finds it as violently out of tune. He says the soundboard is cracked, and that this did not do so much soundwise -- the soundboard has lost tension anyway in over a century -- but that it accelerated the loss and gain of humidity in the wood, as the coat of varnish was cracked as well.

 

Next winter, it must be a humidifier. I hope the Bechstein will survive as long.

 

BTW, at least two older organbuilders told me about saving organs over the winter, or giving them first aid in dry times, by telling the sexton’s wife to do all the laundry now and hanging it on the loft or even in the organ itself.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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It has been a dreary time for intruments. When I first had my house organ from abroad it was fine until the English humidity provoked a most odd reaction to the mechanical action. However, with some gentle adjustment everything has been trouble-free for the past 4 years. I bought an excellent humidifier for my study that gently wafts evaporated air and both organ and Steinway benefit so well from this. I believe that a good ratio is 20 degrees to that of 55/60 humidiity. It is also surprising how all furniture responds as well as the humans!

 

(It was wonderful to meet you after my concert on Wednesday, Friedrich. I hope that you enjoyed it as much as I did. It was a most exciting occasion to play three organs in one concert under one roof. I hope the other 2 organs didn't feel too lonely and un-loved! All best wishes for your work and study this year. N.)

 

All best wishes,

Nigel

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Yes indeed, and Liverpool Cathedral organis suffering just so again at the moment, according to a text message which I received after the Easter Day broadcast last week.

 

I'm in London at the moment and will have to call into the Ally Pally tomorrow morning at about 8am to endpsure that the main humidif system is running and set to the right levels - such things in Public Building ALWAYS get 'fiddled with'!

 

Such prolonged and extreme dryness following months of prolonged dampness is a killer - witness, my bees: one hive completely dead, lots of bees there and no shortage of food, but the hive is full of some sort of fungus AND two slugs! The other hive is still showing signs of life but queen-less, so I'm afraid they'll not last. The cause is the extreme weather so I'm informed by the county bee inspector.

 

So it's not just organs I'm afraid

 

DW

 

 

=========================

 

 

Interesting replies; demonstrating that the problem is obviously manifest at this time. I noted to-day, after just a little bit of rain, that the keys are slightly more even than they were last week, but still not right by any means. Ciphers had also reduced on the pedal action.

 

As David says, it isn't just organs. On a journey to Glasgow and back this week, I noted not a single leaf on a single tree, (other than a few miserable looking conifers which looked dry and dusty), and hedgerows which were just dry borders of white sticks. The grass is very short and very brown; the sheep and lambs being given animal feed.

 

To-day, I noticed a tree bursting into life with leaves sprouting everywhere, so there appears to be life after death after all.

 

Best,

 

MM

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  • 2 weeks later...

It's absolutely fascinating to note that the action-problems have almost sorted themselves out without need of major intervention. This evening, I adjusted about four leather buttons, and although the keys are not perfectly level yet, everything is now working and it looks like it is just going to be a matter of adjustment when we're certain that everything has settled down again.

 

I really wouldn't have thought it possible, and I now regret that I didn't take photographs.

 

Thanks to all for the suggestions/confirmation of the original problem.

 

Best,

 

MM

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It's absolutely fascinating to note that the action-problems have almost sorted themselves out without need of major intervention.

 

I really wouldn't have thought it possible, and I now regret that I didn't take photographs.

 

The past three weeks have seen the humidity levels rise considerably and several instruments which had been rendered totally unplayable (with their present custodians beginning to think that their organs were completely ruined!) have now returned to their 'normal' state with but a few minor regulation issues.

 

What is stranger is the apparent lack of understanding of the average person as to what atmospheric humidity actually is and why it is depressed by extreme and prolonged cold weather. And, I wonder if anyone can explain to me any possible rationale behind the idea that because it's cold outside "I need to turn the heating up" - and then the thermostat, which has been set to 65F throughout the whole of the past year, is turned up to 75F!

 

Have I missed something?

 

DW

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The past three weeks have seen the humidity levels rise considerably and several instruments which had been rendered totally unplayable (with their present custodians beginning to think that their organs were completely ruined!) have now returned to their 'normal' state with but a few minor regulation issues.

 

What is stranger is the apparent lack of understanding of the average person as to what atmospheric humidity actually is and why it is depressed by extreme and prolonged cold weather. And, I wonder if anyone can explain to me any possible rationale behind the idea that because it's cold outside "I need to turn the heating up" - and then the thermostat, which has been set to 65F throughout the whole of the past year, is turned up to 75F!

 

Have I missed something?

 

DW

 

 

==============================

 

 

I used to struggle with the way cold causes a drying effect, but when I realised that errant peas shrivel up in the bottom of freezers, the penny dropped.

 

Interesting that so many instruments have returned to normal again.

 

Best,

 

MM

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