October 2001

Organ Tuning Experiences

Back in the early days, before my adventure with player pianos and band organs started, it was reed organs that were taking up most of my free time. I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of an old gentleman who has been gone for many years, now but never forgotten. I would go to the town he resided in just to hear him tell of his experiences with instruments he had worked on. In his younger days, he was working in a piano and organ factory, and was asked if he would like to learn the piano tuning trade. His answer was to the affirmative, and after some training he was offered a position if you can call it that as a tuner for new pianos. His pay was fifty cents per piano, and if you could not keep up another person would soon have your job.

Now you have heard me talk of the good old days in past issues, but this situation does not fit that category any more than my father working for one dollar a day doing hard work in the fields during the depression. The old boy did give me some lessons on how to handle customers, which helped me out in later times dealing with people who are always right even when they are wrong.

One example was on a piano tuning job where the man sat down and played the piano after I had finished and told me one note did not sound right. His exact words were, that note did not have the right kind of a bong. I checked it, and it was tuned correctly so I just backed the string off and brought it back to the same place and asked him to try it again. He did, and told me he appreciated me changing it for him. It was my turn to smile when I left with the payment for the tuning in my pocket.

It is much easier to let the customer think he knows more than you do at times, than to start an argument. I was called back to tune this piano many times after that. One day, while sitting in the old mans shop, he was telling me how to tune a reed organ and wanted to know if I would like to learn the proper way. He told me to load up an organ and bring it to his shop when I had time, and he would tune it for me and show me how it was done. I had a station wagon at that time, and a few weeks later I removed the fancy top from a Packard reed organ so I could get in the vehicle and drove off for his place. I mentioned that I had a reed organ in the back, which I thought needed tuning, and it drew a blank on his face. He did not seem to remember any of the conversation that had taken place at the earlier date, and not wanting to embarrass him I just had a nice visit and left with the organ. I was telling a friend about this, who knew him very well, and asked him if he thought the old man was losing his memory. That was when I was told about a visit the friend he had with him at an earlier date, and was invited into the kitchen where two of the old boys friends were sitting. They were all drinking whiskey in water glasses, and I was informed that I might have gone there right after one of the water glass whiskey sessions. My friend told me you could not tell when the old boy was loaded, but sometimes he just did not remember as well. I never did tune the Packard organ.

And, so it was in the old organ shop.

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