The pipe organ in your church or institution is a sound investment that will give you many years of trouble-free service with a minimum of maintenance.
Taking care of the instrument is not nearly as much trouble as electronic organ salesmen would want you to believe. We visit our organs in a "tuning tour" circuit, twice a year on a regular basis, once in the spring after the air-conditioning is turned on, and once in the fall, just before Christmas, after the heat is on. By handling maintenance in this manner, several churches in a general area share the expense of our travel to that area, and the cost is kept under control. With the possible exception of an important concert, or some serious outside interference, the organ should not require additional work. Following the few simple suggestions below will insure that the organ is in good usable condition every time you turn it on.
Modern pipe organs, particularly those constructed in the United States, for American churches, are designed to take the temperature and humidity variations found in forced-air ventilation systems into consideration. Care has been used in the selection of materials with which the organ is constructed, and inert materials have been used where possible, to insure that expansion and contraction do not cause problems.
The air in your building is "stratified". Generally, it is cooler toward the floor, and warmer toward the ceiling. We took a great deal of care to engineer and design your organ so that it will be easy to keep in tune. Unless it was impossible to do, nearly every pipe in the organ is on the same level in the building; that is to say, the pipes are surrounded by the same air strata, so that the temperature will be essentially the same all over the organ. Even in divided organs, this aids in tuning control, if the sun does not shine directly on one side or the other.
It is not necessary, and we DO NOT recommend that you maintain the same temperature in the room at all times. Not only is it costly to do so, but it is not good for the organ, the wood in the pews and chancel furnishings, or the flooring. In most American churches, the interior of the building will dry out as winter progresses. If the building is kept heated all the time, the air in the building dries out more, and while it may not affect the working mechanism of the organ, it is possible to see the effects in the joinery of the console and organ case as joints pull apart, due to shrinkage of the wood. At some point, tuning stoppers will fall in wood pipes, and keys may warp on the console.
The opposite is true in the summer. If the air-conditioning is left on all the time, many church buildings have a tendancy to get more and more humid as the summer progresses. This causes expansion of the wood in the building, and is probably more detrimental than dryness. Repeated dosing of excessive dryness in the winter, followed by high humidity in the summer, will eventually begin to work on the woodwork in the whole organ.
Our suggestions then, are as follows:
1. Install an automatic thermostat that can be programmed by time and day, so that temperatures may be pre-selected for regular use of the building (church services, choir practice), and it will be an automatic function for the system to turn itself on and come to operating temperature ahead of the time it will be needed.
It is important that this automatic thermostat can be easily overriden for unscheduled uses of the building, such as funerals, weddings, or organ tuning visits. These events call for MANUAL turn-on of the system, but when the system is turned on manually, temperature selection must be AUTOMATIC; that is, it must go directly to the pre-selected use-of-building temperature. We call it "normal Sunday morning operating temperature." No one should attempt to adjust the temperature setting. Lockable thermostat boxes are our friends in that regard.
Please note: 2-HOUR OCCUPIED buttons are USELESS in terms of temperature selection and control for pipe organ use. No building will come to temperature and stabilize in that short a period of time. Any such control should be disconnected, and the thermostat suggested above should be installed in its place.
2. Select a "NORMAL" church-service operating temperature. In the summer, this may be as high as 74 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter it might be 68 or 70 degrees. This temperature will be that which will be automatically pre-selected by the system when it comes on for use of the building.
3. Select a "SET-BACK" temperature to which the building will revert at times when there is no activity. In the summer this could be as high as 85 degrees, and in the winter as low as 55. Neither of these set-back temperatures will harm the organ, yet they will maintain some degree of "conditioning" in the room, and may be raised or lowered fairly quickly, when the building is to be used.
4. When setting the timing with the control suggested above, it is necessary for the system to come on several hours before the building will be occupied. Usually this will be at least 4 hours, and in most cases, we recommend a 10 PM Saturday night setting for Sunday morning use. In any case, it should always be an amount of time tha will let the system cycle ON and OFF at least 3 times before the building is occupied. In this way, you can be sure that the temperature has stabilized to the "normal" setting, and is not "building up" or "down" as the service progresses.
It is important that the temperature remain CONSTANT, at the "normal" church-service setting, when the building is in use.
5. Following the service, the programmable thermostat may be set to turn the system to the "set-back" temperature automatically.
When the organ is to be tuned then, it is IMPERATIVE that the temperature come on and be set to the "normal" church-service (Sunday operating temperature) setting, well enough in advance of the organ tuner's arrival, so that the "normal" conditions are in effect when he arrives ready to work. This includes the normal amount of stabilization time, and it must stay ON until the organ tuning is completed. Most of the thermostats mentioned, have a "HOLD" feature. When the tuner is done, the thermostat can be set to "RUN PROGRAM", which will put it back in automatic control.
Once the organ is tuned, usually to a pitch referred to as A-440 at 70 degrees Fahrenheit, assuming that the temperature setting was correct when the work was done, and even though the temperature control may be turned off in the interim, the organ will come back into tune when the temperature control is turned on and allowed to stabilize.
It may take a year or more for the exact pitch of a new organ to become stable. We try to achieve what we call a "happy pitch". This is one that is based on A-440 at 70 degrees, adjusted to the actual temperature. It may, therefore, be slightly flat in the winter, and slightly sharp in the summer, and as long as the organ is within 4-5 cents (100ths of a semi-tone) we do not change the pitch from one season to another. This allows the organ to be close enough in tune with other instruments such as pianos or handbells, to use them at any time, without damaging the pipework by dramatically changing the pitch each time we tune.
For the first year or so after a new organ's installation, it may be valuable to watch the humidity in the room, to make sure it does not get excessively low or high. We would not like to see the humidity get lower than about 30% in the winter, or higher than about 60% in the summer, and as stated above, we would be more concerned if the changes from season to season were dramatic. In that case, measures would need to be taken to control the fluctuation.
Our new-organ warranty requires that we be notified in case of any mechanical or tuning problems with the organ. We feel we are the ones best qualified to make repairs on your organ, and we want to do it ourselves, if possible. If it is necessary to make emergency arrangements with an outside service person, we will be happy to do so.
Please do not hesitate to call our office at 865-475-9539, at any tme you have a problem with the organ, or a question about its operation or maintenance. We are always glad to help, and the earlier you call, the faster we can get the problem remedied.