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    Musical repairs

    I never learned to play a musical instrument. Beyond my old-school Onkyo receiver, Radio Shack equalizer and Kenwood speakers, I can't play a note.

    That didn't stop me from getting a job in the 80s at a musical instrument repair shop in Memphis. What got me in the door was my understanding of computers, to the component level. Music keyboards were fully digital by that time. So I repaired a lot of DX7s and other keyboards. But I also got to repair some older analog keyboards that were tuned with a stroboscope and a drop of melted lead in the element which was filed down until the note was perfect on the scope.

    Then I learned to tune a pipe organ at a local church. This required the same stroboscope, and a ladder. Most of the problems they had were in the high notes, often wooden elements that had been patched many times over the years. I got pretty good at it because I knew a bit about wood and epoxy.

    But one day I was sent to a massive Catholic cathedral looking church in midtown. The whole back was was organ but the panel was in the balcony above the parishioner's gallery. I'm halfway through setting up when a rather hostile Nun approaches and tells me to stop what I'm doing. I introduce myself and show her the paperwork. Then she's like, "You can't tune this organ, we need a master (I was in my 20s, no long white beard or wizard's costume). So I call my boss.

    He's as pissed as he can be because this apparently happened before. So he arrives and immediately lays into her about this stupid obsession with "an old master" tuning the organ. He makes her watch as he sets the first note on the list. The scope is spinning and as he hits the key and fills the building with sound, the lines on the scope slow down to a really slow spin. He opens the panel and adjusts the valve with a wrench, turning maybe 3 degrees and the lines stop.

    He points and says "That is the note, it's perfect". Then he says, "I'm almost completely deaf from tuning these damned things all my life, I can't possibly tune it by ear, so I use the same device he's using" followed by "you do not NEED an Old Master to do this, you need someone who can go up and down a ladder all day" (me, a former sailor).

    This article really goes into the depths of a massive organ with several great examples. So if someone speaks of a problem with a dulciana, you'll know what they mean!
    http://www.pipeorgansirl.com/news/2014/7/28/tuning-organs
    Click image for larger version

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    #2
    This is very interesting to me. I come from a family of pianists, technical term I guess...or it's more like both sides of my mother's and father's families loved music and the adults and children all played the piano and the kids (my cousins) took piano lessons. Some of us turned out to be pretty good. lol I have a marvelous appreciation for the great talents, and I still play the occasional tune...but I'm surely no master.

    I have one cousin that is a sort of musician hero to me - she is 65 and about to complete her doctorate in something to do with performance piano. She teaches at a college, has students, and plays at a church in Maryland. She is so modest about herself...and when her fingers tickle the ivories you are transported. Another cousin got a master's in performance piano (I think that really is a major) at Texas Tech and she went on to become a fruit loop.

    I'm tickled when I play the Moonlight Sonata (that 3rd movement) and I make all those beautiful sounds without error. The old hymns will always be my favorite...one can doctor them up and play them just all kinds of ways...

    But back to your topic...my piano needs to be tuned and I always dread seeing it be done...I always ALWAYS expect a wire to pop or something.

    There are a couple of sticky keys, and I know all of that needs to be taken care of.

    During these years of repairing, did you discover you have perfect pitch (or close?) What your boss said about being almost completely deaf because of tuning the organs is something that never occurred to me.

    To have perfect pitch is a talent that my brother claims is useless unless you are being paid to sing (or some such) because he has it! My wonderful hero cousin (of course!) has perfect pitch. Needless to say, I wish greatly for perfect pitch. smh

    Comment


      #3
      Originally posted by Lynnbrown View Post
      This is very interesting to me. I come from a family of pianists, technical term I guess...or it's more like both sides of my mother's and father's families loved music and the adults and children all played the piano and the kids (my cousins) took piano lessons. Some of us turned out to be pretty good. lol I have a marvelous appreciation for the great talents, and I still play the occasional tune...but I'm surely no master.

      I have one cousin that is a sort of musician hero to me - she is 65 and about to complete her doctorate in something to do with performance piano. She teaches at a college, has students, and plays at a church in Maryland. She is so modest about herself...and when her fingers tickle the ivories you are transported. Another cousin got a master's in performance piano (I think that really is a major) at Texas Tech and she went on to become a fruit loop.

      I'm tickled when I play the Moonlight Sonata (that 3rd movement) and I make all those beautiful sounds without error. The old hymns will always be my favorite...one can doctor them up and play them just all kinds of ways...

      But back to your topic...my piano needs to be tuned and I always dread seeing it be done...I always ALWAYS expect a wire to pop or something.

      There are a couple of sticky keys, and I know all of that needs to be taken care of.

      During these years of repairing, did you discover you have perfect pitch (or close?) What your boss said about being almost completely deaf because of tuning the organs is something that never occurred to me.

      To have perfect pitch is a talent that my brother claims is useless unless you are being paid to sing (or some such) because he has it! My wonderful hero cousin (of course!) has perfect pitch. Needless to say, I wish greatly for perfect pitch. smh
      Perfect pitch in my case is a question I don't understand. To me an A is 440 Hz, as the scope or frequency meter would confirm. My talent comes from being a machinist. Making an adjustment in hundredths of an inch is natural for me. Also, I have tuned a couple of pianos as well, even a Steinway. Never broke a wire, but I came really close with one which became evident when they turned the air conditioning back on (we usually tuned in a warm room so the strings/wires would never sag). When the room hit 70F, the wire snapped, loudly. I never understood why some pianos had the least likely to break wires on the top row (a sound thing I guess, to avoid harmonics or resonance from the lower notes).

      So what's perfect pitch about?

      Comment


        #4
        Originally posted by WritersPanic View Post

        Perfect pitch in my case is a question I don't understand. To me an A is 440 Hz, as the scope or frequency meter would confirm. My talent comes from being a machinist. Making an adjustment in hundredths of an inch is natural for me. Also, I have tuned a couple of pianos as well, even a Steinway. Never broke a wire, but I came really close with one which became evident when they turned the air conditioning back on (we usually tuned in a warm room so the strings/wires would never sag). When the room hit 70F, the wire snapped, loudly. I never understood why some pianos had the least likely to break wires on the top row (a sound thing I guess, to avoid harmonics or resonance from the lower notes).

        So what's perfect pitch about?
        ha...its just I want to hear like that...

        If I hit a C or a high A# (A sharp)...my brother, cousin, and probably a billion other people can tell and know exactly what that note is. They can not only sing the different parts, but hear them all at the same time and individually (somehow). These people are able to hear the beauty, and can tell you which person's voice or instrument is off.

        I can sing "parts"...I'm an alto...but when I'm right beside a soprano, I somehow "lose" my part if I don't have another alto on the other side. When I hear a key hit on the piano, I know the range its in, but the only way I'd get the note right is if I guessed.

        I think its probably only a big deal to someone that doesn't have it and wants it...like me. lol

        That is amazing that you have tuned pianos and organs and use instruments alone. I really didn't know pianos could be tuned like that. I never even thought about organs being tuned, but I believe I would have been like the old nun wanting A MASTER. lol

        unless someone had already explained to me what a load of shit that is.
        Last edited by Lynnbrown; 06-21-2020, 06:41 PM. Reason: edit to add something

        Comment


        • WritersPanic
          WritersPanic commented
          Editing a comment
          I just turn the volume control up to hear all of it. My neighbors too!
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