Organ Tuning

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 These comprehensive tuning instructions are intended for owners of hand-turned organs.  They were written by Hal O'Rourke, the American agent for Josef Raffin, but are relevant to almost all hand-turned 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.

Tuning the 20-note Organ

Tuning
Even with little or no knowledge of music you can easily tune your organ yourself with the aid of an electronic tuning meter (usually called a 'Chromatic Tuner'). These meters can be purchased from most music shops, or directly from this web site.  You will not need an expensive model, but you must be sure that the musical range that the meter will measure is sufficient to cover the lowest and highest notes on the organ. Most shops sell several models designed specifically for tuning guitars and these will not work. Take your organ to the shop with you or be sure that the meter can be returned or exchanged. Following is my recommendation on how to approach tuning for the first time.

Test Rolls and the 20-note Scale
Test rolls can either be marked with the note numbers (1 to 20), or with the actual names of the musical notes (C, C#, etc.), or with both markings. Where the roll is marked with the names of the notes, the pipes may not actually be tuned to the same pitch as that marked on the roll! This is because organs are very rarely tuned to concert pitch. Therefore a note labelled C on the roll could actually be tuned to D#, and so on. An additional confusion arises because of differences in the way Germans refer to the various notes of the musical scale (the Raffin is a German organ). In particular, A# is referred to as B, and B is referred to as H!  However, unless a pipe is way out of tune you will not need to worry about any of these complications because the tuning meter will tell you the true pitch of the pipe and all you will have to do is to adjust it until the meter indicates that it is exactly in tune. Once the organ is tuned correctly, you may want to mark the true pitch of each note on the test roll, for future reference. The correct scale for the Raffin organ is shown below. Organs from other manufacturers may be tuned to a different pitch.

1-F,  2-A#,  3-C,  4-D,  5-D#,  6-E,  7-F,  8-G,  9-A,  10-A#
11-C,  12-D,  13-D#,  14-E,  15-F,  16-G,  17-A,  18-A#,  19-C,  20-D

Selecting the Pitch
Some meters will allow you to tune to small differences in pitch for each note. This is indicated by a number 440, 442, 445, etc. The pitch that you select is not particularly important, but the pitch must be consistent throughout the organ. When I approach an organ that I have never tuned, I usually play through the entire test roll and record the pitch for each note. (This is also when I check the notes to see if any bleed screws need adjustment). If only a few pipes are out of step with the majority I select the prevailing pitch and the tuning job becomes easier. When I ask Mr. Raffin how the organs should be tuned, he laughs and says that he does it by ear. I doubt that this is completely true as I have seen meters around the workshop, but I have never been able to observe organs being tuned. Most new organs that I have measured seem to be tuned to around 445.

Preparation
Completely remove the hinged top of the organ by removing the screws. Also remove the protective bottom board which is screwed to the legs from the bottom. I have often tried to do the job without removing the bottom and waste a lot of time trying to get my hands into small places and usually end up removing it anyway. It's okay to lay the organ on it's side and it only takes a minute to remove the eight screws. This also allows you to dust the board.

Tuning the BASS Pipes
The two pairs of bass pipes are in the top section under the cover of the organ which you just removed. Each bass note is doubled, which means that two pipes of different size play the same note simultaneously. Adjust the test roll so note number 1 plays and disengage the drive so the roll won't move when you crank. Plug one of the pipes with your fingers or a wad of soft cloth so it will not play. A piece of masking tape placed lightly over the mouth can also be used. Be careful not to get anything into the tiny slit where the wind escapes. It is not necessary to press the tape down over this slit, just paste it very lightly over the front of the pipe opening. Turn the crank and adjust the wooden stopper in the top of the other pipe until you have the correct note and pitch. The stopper will slide with some difficulty. Be careful not to put too much pressure on the pipe mounting points. Support the pipe with one hand and move the stopper with the other.

On the bass pipes I find that I usually do not need a tool. If I must, I use a pair of long nosed pliers with tape wrapped around the ends to pull the stopper out. Grab the stopper sideways (perpendicular to the long dimension of the pipe) at the narrow point on the stopper knob. With the pliers resting on the end of the pipe body, prise up gently being careful not to damage the pipe or knob.

To push the stopper in I prefer to use only my fingers, but if it is stubborn you can lightly tap it with a small hammer or other tool. I prefer to use one with a soft covering for obvious reasons. Usually the adjustment needed is slight and you will get the feel of how much movement is necessary with experience. It's useful if you can have someone crank while you adjust, but it is not essential.

After you have tuned the first pipe, move the masking tape and tune its mate to the same note. Finally check the tuning with both pipes playing together. A final minor adjustment is sometimes necessary. In this case I usually adjust the larger pipe.

Move the test roll to note number two and repeat the process.

Tuning the ACCOMPANIMENT Pipes
These nine single pipes are underneath and are tuned in the same way as the bass pipes. It is especially important not to put undue pressure on the mounting points because these pipes are glued in place to a flat surface. They can be broken off much more easily than the other pipes which are set into round holes on tapered feet. You will find that you can easily reach these pipes and stoppers from the back by tipping the organ forward slightly.

Tuning the MELODY Pipes
Except for very early models, all 20 note Raffin organs have nine pairs of 'doubled' melody pipes which are visible from the front of the organ. The latest models do not have two individual rows of pipes, but have one row of pipes that are actually two pipes back to back in one unit. For the purpose of this instruction I will refer to these twin pipes as if they were two rows of individual pipes.

Place a strip of masking tape completely across the openings of the front row of pipes so they will not play. Tune all of the pipes in the second row as discussed above.

Now remove the masking tape, back up the test roll to note number 12, and set the tuning meter aside. The final step is done by ear. This step is better demonstrated than explained in writing, but I will do my best. The goal is to tune each front pipe slightly sharper (higher note) than its twin. This produces the mellow wavering sound. If you tune the front pipe exactly the same as the twin the sound will be exactly the same, but slightly louder. From this point if you tap the stopper in the front pipe down while playing you will hear a wavering sound that gets faster and faster as the stopper goes further down, until the wavering stops and the pipes are simply out of tune.

You should adjust the wavering so it is pleasant. I usually try to set it about half way between the starting point (both pipes exactly the same) and the point where the wavering gets so fast you can no longer hear it. You will just have to experiment until you achieve a sound you like. Your goal is to have the speed at which the sound wavers (frequency) approximately the same for each of the 9 melody notes. This may sound confusing, but it is actually very easy to do once you get the feel of it. Once this is done the job is complete.

Tuning the 31-note Organ

Test Rolls and the 31-note Scale
There has been a good deal of incorrect information available concerning the 31-note scale. The article published in the MBSI Technical Journal some time ago was incorrect on this point. I am told that the subsequent correction published several months later was also incorrect!! Test rolls can either be marked with the note numbers (1 to 31), or with the actual names of the musical notes (C, C#, etc.), or with both markings.   The correct scale for the 31 note Raffin organ is shown below. Organs from other manufacturers may be tuned to a different pitch.  Note: The first hole in the tracker bar controls the conductor figure when attached and is not used on most organs.

1-A#,  2-C,  3-D#,  4-F,  5-G#,  6-A#,  7-C,  8-C#,  9-D,  10-D#
11-E,  12-F,  13-G,  14-G#,  15-A,  16-A#,  17-C,  18-C#,  19-D,  20-D#
21-E,  22-F,  23-F#,  24-G,  25-G#,  26-A,  27-A#,  28-C,  29-C#,  30-D,  31-D#

Tuning the BASS Pipes
There are five pairs of bass pipes in the bottom section under the organ. Each bass note is doubled, which means that two pipes of different size play the same note simultaneously.   After you have tuned the first pipe, silence it and tune it's mate to the same note. Finally check the tuning with both pipes playing together. A final minor adjustment is sometimes necessary. In this case I usually adjust the larger pipe.  Repeat the process with notes two, three, four, and five.

Tuning the ACCOMPANIMENT Pipes
These ten single pipes are in the rear part of the main section of the organ and are tuned in the same way as the bass pipes.

Tuning the MELODY Pipes
Organ models vary slightly in their melody pipe arrangement and you must first determine which of the first two ranks will be your primary as follows: If your first two ranks of pipes are nearly identical bourdon flutes, the front rank will be secondary and the rank closest to you while playing will be primary. If your front rank of pipes is significantly larger than the second rank, the front rank will be primary. If your organ has pan flute pipes as the first rank, they are primary. For the remainder of this section ignore the secondary rank. They will be tuned later. Place the test roll on note 16 and tune each of the three pipes (primary rank determined above, violin, and piccolo) to the correct note and pitch.

The violins are tuned by sliding the brass tab in or out in the slot. To pull the tab out I use a coat hanger wire with a very small hook bent on the end. Place the hook inside the pipe and pull the tab out by hooking it from the bottom. This will prevent scratching the brass by trying to grab it with a tool. It is also the easiest way I have found to adjust the large violins that are mitred and partially obstructed by the cabinet frame.

If you find that a violin pipe will not tune even with the brass tab pulled out all the way (even with the end of the pipe) you have several options. The easiest is to cover part of the top of the pipe. I have this problem on one of the violins in my organ, and I use a small piece of masking tape placed diagonally across one of the corners. I keep moving it to cover more or less of the opening until the pipe is in tune and then tear off the excess even with the pipe body. A more elegant solution is to replace the brass tab with a longer one that extends past the top of the pipe an amount roughly equal to the width of the pipe body. The sound can be adjusted by bending the tab partially over the pipe opening. If several of your violin pipes require this special treatment you have selected a pitch which is too low. Select a pitch which will allow you to tune the violins in the normal way and use that pitch for the entire organ.

Tune the piccolo pipes by removing the back access door. Early design piccolo pipes without wooden stoppers are tuned by slightly bending the metal tabs which extend over the opening at the top. Changing the angle of this bend changes the pitch. On later organs some of the piccolo pipes are glued in place to a flat surface rather than set into round holes on tapered feet. These pipes face the front of the organ. It is especially important to be careful when tuning these pipes. Do not put undue pressure on the mounting points because these pipes can be broken off rather easily. On organs with trumpet pipes the trumpet resonators must be removed so you can reach the piccolos. Remove the wood screw holding the resonator at the top and remove only the wooden resonator. It will slide easily off the base. Set them aside in order so you can get them back in the correct position. Do not get them mixed up.

Move the test roll to the next note and tune the three corresponding pipes. Repeat the process for the remainder of the notes. You will find that the numbering sequence starts in the centre of the rank and alternates outward toward both ends.

Tuning the Secondary Pipes for Celeste Effect
The final step is done by ear. This step is better demonstrated than explained in writing, but I will do my best. Rewind the test roll to note 16, the first melody note. You will now adjust each secondary pipe in relation to it's corresponding primary as follows:

The goal is to tune each secondary pipe slightly sharper (higher note) than its corresponding primary. This produces the mellow wavering sound. If you tune the secondary pipe exactly the same as the primary the sound will be exactly the same, but slightly louder. From this point if you tap the stopper in the secondary pipe down while playing you will hear a wavering sound that gets faster and faster as the stopper goes further down, until the wavering stops and the pipes are simply out of tune.

You should adjust the wavering so it is pleasant. I usually try to set it about half way between the starting point (both pipes exactly the same) and the point where the wavering gets so fast you can no longer hear it. You will just have to experiment until you achieve a sound you like. Your goal is to have the speed at which the sound wavers (frequency) approximately the same for each of the 16 melody notes. This may sound confusing, but it is actually very easy to do once you get the feel of it. Once this is done the job is complete.

Tuning the TRUMPETS (Trumpet Organ only)
There are 19 wooden trumpet pipes in the trumpet organ. Sixteen associated with the melody pipes and three extra associated with the three highest pitched accompaniment pipes. The main accompaniment pipes play all the time but the three associated trumpets are controlled by the trumpet slider. When tuning these three trumpets you must cover the associated accompaniment pipe so it will not sound. I place a towel over a long wooden ruler and slide it down in front of the accompaniment pipe. The three trumpets are placed horizontally in front of the other trumpets, and when tuning it's difficult to tell which is playing. They are arranged as follows: The top pipe is note 14, the middle pipe is note 13, and the bottom pipe is note 15.

The trumpets are tuned by moving the wire sliders. Some are difficult to reach and I use a tool consisting of a wooden dowel with a small hole the size of the wire slider drilled in the end.

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, an octave tuning section, and also a short piece of demonstration music. They are the best ones available by far.  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 (plus £2 UK P&P)
Keep your organ in perfect tune with this full-feature, low-cost digital tuning meter. This pocket-sized unit runs from two AAA batteries (supplied), 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 71 calibration settings to cater for all pitches between the range A=410 to A=480Hz. The meter also generates one octave of reference tones if you prefer to tune by listening to a reference pitch.  Supplied with instructions, and 4 pages of general notes on how to use the device for tuning small street and fair organs. Order one now

Electronic tuner

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

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