Maintenance is often referred to colloquially as “tuning.” While much of what goes on during a visit involves tuning an organ’s pipes, we feel maintenance is a better term, as it more accurately describes an overall approach to the health of a client’s instrument. We encourage clients to keep notes of problems, as that usually helps us diagnose any issue more quickly and, thus, saves them money. We pay attention to leather condition on reservoirs, leaning pipework etc. when we take over the care of an organ, alerting our clients to conditions that might need to be addressed quickly — and also letting them know that something, although not exactly correct or desirable, can wait to be rectified.
We normally schedule two maintenance visits a year. The first is in the late fall, beginning around the middle of November; this (almost always!) ensures that the heating system has been running for several weeks at least, and the chambers (if applicable, and especially with exterior walls) have had a chance to settle into their “winter” environment. The second visit occurs in the early spring, as close to Easter as practicable. With most of our clients, this visit usually involves simply tuning the reeds, as the heat is normally still on at this point in the year, and the tuning from before Christmas has held for the flues. Several of our clients have us make “special” visits, such as before the annual Memorial Day concert, or late-June in a church without air conditioning.
When we are first engaged by a church, our initial maintenance visit, including a through-tuning in most cases, can often take more time than subsequent trips, due to addressing mechanical issues as well as bringing the entire organ into better tune. We find that, as we care for an instrument, the temperament tends to stay better over time, and fewer pipes need to be addressed — one example of where “less is more.” This is especially true of the several cone-tuned instruments that have been in our care for some time.
One thing that’s important for potential clients to understand is that the church must be at Sunday service temperature when we are tuning. This is not for our comfort, but simply due to the physical phenomenon that an organ’s tuning goes sharp when the pipes warm, and flat when they cool (in general terms). Put simply, tuning an organ when it’s 64° in the church, and then turning the heat up to 70° for Sunday morning, is a waste of our time and the church’s money. We request that clients set the thermostat at the appropriate temperature at least several hours before our scheduled arrival, to give the temperature a chance to stabilize; this is especially important with organs in large or deep chambers.
We normally mail invoices to clients in the week following a visit. These invoices have a detailed record of what was done, how much time is being charged both for travel and on-site, and any problems or potential problems that were encountered.