Organ Maintenance

 See also this article on tracing and curing air leaks        Is your crank at the right height?     

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These comprehensive instructions are intended for owners of small roll-playing organs.  They were written by Hal O'Rourke, the American agent for Josef Raffin, and cover every aspect of organ maintenance. Although written for Raffin organs, the instructions are relevant to almost all roll playing organs where the roll is not contained in a pressure box.  The majority of the instructions are also relevant to keyless book-playing organs.

These instructions are designed for those owners who have little or no knowledge of organ tuning and maintenance, but who want to keep their organs in tip-top playing condition. Inexperienced owners should read through the instructions carefully before messing about with the organ, and do not attempt any adjustments unless you feel confident to do so.

Maintenance and Adjustment
The most common fault on all keyless organs is bad note repetition. This is usually caused by the tiny bleed holes in the mechanism getting gradually clogged up with dust. Because the deterioration is gradual it frequently goes unnoticed by the owner, but is usually painfully obvious to anybody else listening to the organ. The problem can easily be corrected by unscrewing the bleed screws very slightly, to expand the holes back to their correct size. If a note fails to play at the proper time or stays on continuously when it is not supposed to be playing, that problem also could be due to improper bleed screw adjustment. The Raffin test roll supplied with the organ is not suitable for accurate regulation of the bleed screws. This is because the repetition section of the roll is far too slow to provide a useful test of the organ's state of adjustment. A proper test roll will allow the organ to be cranked at the usual playing speed, allowing the adjustments to be made at the normal air pressure. I highly recommend the action test rolls available from Melvyn Wright. They provide two repetition speed tests, and give the organ a much better 'work out', and very accurate regulation is possible.

If the organ is not playing properly, check the following before performing any adjustments: If notes play when they shouldn't, be sure you have a tight seal between the paper roll and the tracker bar. Make sure the grooved roller is riding on the paper and doing it's job. If notes don't play when they should, be sure the holes in the paper align correctly with the holes in the tracker bar.

Locating the Bleed Screws
On 20 note organs (both pipe organs and reed organs) the adjusting screws are under the front half (not normally opened part) of the hinged top. Remove the four wood screws and remove the entire top. Use the correct size screwdriver or you will damage the wood. You can now see the top of the valve chest and the adjusting screws numbered to correspond with the notation on the test roll.

On 31 note organs you can see the bleed screws by looking down into the organ from the normal playing position. Some can be adjusted fairly easily with a long screwdriver, while others require completely removing the top. The screw marked D stands for 'Dirigent', and controls the optional conductor figure if applicable. I should also mention that the tracker bar on the 31 note organ contains 32 holes. The first hole, which I refer to as hole number zero, controls this optional feature. Melvyn Wright's test roll has a sequence to test this valve.

Adjusting the Bleed Screws - General Rules
If a note does not play, or some of the repetitions miss playing when cranking the test roll, turn the screw in (clockwise). If a note plays all the time, or fails to stop abruptly when the tracker hole is closed, turn the screw out (anti-clockwise). A half turn is a BIG adjustment. Normally only a quarter or eighth turn is required. I always remember where I started so I can return the screw to the original position if the adjusting does not seem to be having any effect. This usually means that you are adjusting the wrong bleed screw! If you are sure that you are adjusting the correct bleed screw for the note being played, and you need more than a minor adjustment, start from scratch as follows:

1. Back the screw out two complete turns or until the note will not play at all.
2. Place the continuous play (sustain) portion of the test roll sequence for that note over the tracker bar and disengage the roll transport so the roll will not move when you crank.
3. While cranking, slowly turn the screw in until the note starts playing. Stop turning the screw immediately when the note plays.
4. Turn the screw in an additional three quarter turn. Test the valve by playing the repetition sequence and make final adjustments if required using the general rules above.

Valve Cleaning and Adjustment
If the bleed screw adjustment doesn't correct the problem, check to be sure that the valves are operating freely. Take off the false front of the organ and look inside below the melody pipes and above the bellows. You will be able to see the bottom of the valve stems poking through holes in the alignment board. If you push up gently on the valve stem it should move freely a small fraction of an inch and fall back to rest freely. Occasionally, dust on the top of the alignment board gets into the tiny hole in the board and causes the valve to stick or operate sluggishly. A vacuum cleaner with a crevice tool almost always takes care of this problem. It's not a bad idea to vacuum this area occasionally as preventative maintenance, but be very careful not to touch or damage the valve stems. You can easily do more harm than good. 

Oiling the Crankshaft (Reed organs only)
I have noticed that some of the new organs that I deliver are much harder to crank than mine. I recall that mine got somewhat easier to crank as it got 'broken-in', and it's logical that it should as the bellows leather 'finds' its permanent folds. The crankshaft is supported at two points. The point near the crank handle is a ball bearing which for practical purposes will last longer than the organ and only needs an occasional very light oiling. The other bearing is a wooden pillow block which requires periodic oiling. Use three or four drops of light machine oil (3-in-1) every couple of months or before you play for a long period. The felt under the block is to catch any excess. I carry a small can of oil and a few paper towels in my cart and you won't be sorry if you do the same.  When you crank there should be absolutely no up and down or side movement in the crankshaft at the pillow block bearing. There is a good deal of up and down pressure placed on the crankshaft by the bellows and it will be very apparent if the block is too loose.

Adjusting and Oiling the Connecting Rod(s)
Your organ will have one or two wooden connecting rods that connect the crankshaft to the bellows pump. The wood is split so it will form around the shaft and is secured with two wood screws. These should be adjusted so they just hold the rod firmly and there is no extra motion or slack when turning. Do not tighten them too much or there will be excessive wear. If the crankshaft feels hot after you have been playing, the screws are either too tight or the bearing needs oiling. Occasionally, put one or two drops of 3-in-1 oil in the crack in the top of the rod and let it run down into the bearing surfaces for lubrication. There are access holes covered with a round brass disk on the side of the organ so you can adjust and oil the bottom bearing when necessary without dismantling the organ. The bottom bearings require much less oiling than the top because there is very little movement at this connection.

See the next section on Organ Tuning
See also this article on tracing and curing air leaks 

Hal O'Rourke

Action Test Rolls and Tuning Books
A proper test roll is essential for keeping the bleed screws in your organ adjusted correctly. My test rolls contain 2 repetition speed tests, alignment and tempo checks, sustain, response and pipe balance checks, a wind supply test, and also an octave tuning section. They come complete with instructions, spool and box (spool extra on JS Busker test roll).  Test books are also available for most keyless book-playing organs.  Please contact me for details.

Electronic Tuning Meter - £19.90
Keep your organ in perfect tune with this full-feature, low-cost digital tuning meter. This pocket-sized unit runs from a PP3 battery, and has a built-in microphone for picking up the sound of the pipes. As each note is played, the pitch of the pipe (C,D,F#,etc.) is indicated on the display. Three LEDs indicate whether the pipe is sharp, flat, or exactly in tune. There are 12 calibration settings to cater for all pitches between the range A=436 and A=445. Supplied with instructions, and 4 pages of general notes on how to use the device for tuning small street and fair organs. (Battery not supplied).  Order one now

Electronic tuner

Model CA-30 shown (now replaced by CA-1 (white)

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