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Pipe Organ Maintenance

Posted on April 8, 2016 by Bill Skubik in Maintenance

How to Maintain a Church Pipe Organ

Pipe organs are more than just an instrument in a church; they are part of a church, which is why they are considered legacy instruments. For generation after generation, many pipe organs become a church’s identity, uniting congregations in song and prayer for many years. Take the organ at St. Pierre des Chartreux in Toulouse France, which was originally built for the convent of Les Jacobins back in 1683! Of course, it saw its share of renovations, but the heart and soul of the instrument remains.

Though your church pipe organ may not last as long the one in France, with proper maintenance and regular tunings your congregation will enjoy its music for a very long time.

How often should you replace the parts of a pipe organ?

To get a better idea of how often you need replacements on a pipe organ, it’s best to break the instrument down to its components. The frame, casework, and chests are made of leather and wood while the pipes consist of tin, zinc, and lead. Unless they are physically damaged, the tubes will last a long time; centuries even, while the leather should be replaced every 60 years. Further, replacing the leather won’t break the bank since it’s not a large part of the instrument.

As you may know, church pipe organs are quite the investment (ranging anywhere from $30,000 to millions), but they are built to last and not too expensive to maintain.

For best results, have your pipe organ tuned twice a year

If your congregation politely places cotton in their ears when the organ starts to play, then it’s probably time to call a professional pip organ tuner. What makes a church organ get out of tune? Usually, a drastic change in the weather such as spring and winter, though a professional may suggest otherwise based on your location. Given the shift in weather and the importance of the dates, many churches have their organs tuned up before Christmas and before Easter.

Pipe organs are so sensitive to temperature that many tuners will ask that the room reach an average ambient air temperature before they show up to work on the pipes. You won’t want to turn on the air just before they arrive, as it often takes a few hours for a room to reach an even temperature. Why does this matter? If you want your church pipe organ to be in tune, then the ambient air temperature in the room during use must be the same as the temperature in which it was tuned.

Three things to do before the pipe organ maintenance arrives

1. Write a list of any problems or concerns you’re having with the pipe organ. This way the maintenance people can get right to work and save you time and money.

2. Schedule a maintenance time for your church pipe organ during a quiet time slot. Most maintenance companies empathize with the busy schedule of churches, so talk to them beforehand to get an idea of how quiet they need the room to be.

3. Make sure all parts and pieces of the pipe organ are accessible to the maintenance people.
The cost of maintaining a pipe organ

As mentioned before, most parts of a church pipe organ last for centuries if used properly. As for the sound, you’ll want to have the pipe organ tuned twice a year. Depending on the size and age of your instrument, pricing will vary, though it’s usually an hourly rate of around $100 per hour. How many hours will it take? Most people agree that for every six stop in your organ, it will take an hour to tune and perform maintenance.


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