Advice and links about maintaining pipe organs and replacing them
Pipe organs are often the most valuable single asset (by far) in a church building in terms of the cost of initial installation. PCCs therefore need to think very carefully about their maintenance and preservation. Many instruments have given excellent service for over 100 years and, with suitable ongoing care, they should continue to provide full and effective service for many years, and quite possibly for centuries into the future
Suitable organ builders
PCCs should always use a suitable, professional organ builder for both routine tuning/maintenance and any additional work. The DAC can provide the names of a range of suitable organ builders on request. For organs of historic or artistic significance, the organ builder should be accredited to the Institute of British Organ Building (IBO), link below.
Care of pipe organs
The delicate internal workings of pipe organs (including woodwork, metalwork and leatherwork) are highly susceptible to changes to temperature and humidity. Active management by PCCs of these environmental factors can be done at low cost and will help to prevent expensive problems from developing. The ideal, as with all internal church fabric, is to minimise changes in temperature and humidity, and to avoid excesses. New church heating systems can have a significant impact on organs (particuarly if they provide short, intermittent bursts of heat) so the PCC should take the advice of their organ builder. It's often possible to install equipment inside an organ chamber to regularise the humidity and temperature separately from the rest of the church.
Dust can also have a devastating effect on organ mechanisms and pipework. PCCs should therefore consult the organ builder before undertaking any significant building works in the church - your organ builder will be able to install suitable protective sheeting whilst the building works are in progress. Another significant danger to organs is leaking roofs which might go undetected for some time if out of sight inside an organ chamber - so the chamber should be inspected regularly and any problems addressed very quickly.
Where a church is blessed with an original instrument by a reputable builder, the PCC should think very carefully indeed about any proposal to alter its pipework, console, internal mechanisms or blowing plant. Such alterations can seriously compromise the delicate tonal balance of an original instrument and often impede the instrument's effectiveness in worship.
This is normally a complex and expensive issue and PCCs need to consider very carefully the costs in both the short term and, very importantly, over the long term. Advice is available Churchcare.
The following bodies have helped fund organ repairs and relocations:
- Heritage Lottery Fund - have funded a number of repairs and relocations of historic organs
- The Historic Cheshire Churches Preservation Trust have funded organ repairs
- Churchcare - provide direct grants
- The British Institute of Organ Studies have produced a Guide to grants for funding work on historic pipe organs.
Further funding advice is available from Churchcare.
VAT for repairs to organs can be reclaimed under the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme.
Detailed advice is available about whether or not any particular works will require a faculty - please see Section C (covering musical instruments) of the guidance on Minor Works.
The DAC appreciates that PCCs (and even many parish organists) have a limited understanding of the technical issues. The Diocesan Advisers on pipe organs and electronic organs are therefore available to provide advice on particular schemes - please contact the DAC Secretary in the first instance. Further information is available in Towards the Conservation of Historic Organs and Historic Organ Conservation both published by Church House Publishing for the Church Buildings Council (CBC) and available from the Church House Bookshop.
- Churchcare - general guidance on organ maintenance and the issues PCCs need to consider when considering whether to replace an organ (including issues related to digital alternatives to pipe organs)
- Institute of British Organ Building - offers guidance and an accreditation scheme for organ building firms
- The British Institute of Organ Studies offers specialist advice on preservation of organs and sources of funding for organs of historic importance. It also operates a Historic Organ Certificate scheme which aims to protect instruments of artistic or historic importance.
- The National Pipe Organ Register aims to document the specification of all organs in the United Kingdom. Do ensure that the specification of your organ is included on this register - you can also have photographs added to the record.
- The Association of Independent Organ Advisers can provide detailed, expert advice to parishes on how to undertake major scheme sof repair to their pipe organ.