Chapter N, wherein an experienced organ builder levels with Joshua

I spoke with the owner and founder of the organ builders that maintain our church organ.  He and I had a good long talk about why I want an organ in my house and what I want to do with it.  Here are some things we came up with:

  • My voicing ideas are solid and would play many a baroque and classical piece very well.
  • My pipe designs are rudimentary but accurate and should sound pretty nice if I can get them all voiced properly.
  • My “coupling tracker” idea (of which I didn’t share details – only a rough outline since I’d like to patent it if it works) sounds interesting but only for very small instruments before the mechanical complexity gets out of hand.
  • In all truth, I really don’t want to build a 17 rank, 33 stop organ myself.

That last bit made me very sad because I though it was exactly what I wanted to do.  It turns out that making the parts by hand wouldn’t save any money at all and would in fact be much more expensive than buying them – especially pipes, consoles, windchests, and controllers.  The tools and materials needed to construct the parts would far exceed the price of used parts.

I then asked, “But why then do organs cost so much if I can get a used console for $300, and used pipework and windchests for under $2000?”  The wise old organbuild said:  “Labor.”  His team can install a large organ in 3 days.  Their time is not cheap.  That’s where I’d be saving money.  He also gave me some other tips:

  1. Trade my viola for a regal.  Not much call for a 4′ string in the Swell division.  Tons of uses for a strong 4′ chorus reed.
  2. Trade my Pedal lieblich rank for an 8′ trumpet.  An 8′ trumpet in Swell with a 16′ Pedal extension would be ideal but I can’t imagine any house I’d be living in would have 16′ ceilings.
  3. Ditch the 16′ stopped diapason and 32′ resultant.  One resultant is enough and a stopped diapason sounds terrible, especially when there’s already a 16′ bourdon available.
  4. Buy a used 2-manual electronic console and modify it rather than building one from scratch.  All my neat toy ideas sound fun and whimsical but are easy to fit into a used console.
  5. Reinforce the floors.  The organ will weigh 8,500lbs.  And with the size and weight requirements, it will need to be a chamber organ (i.e. have an entire room dedicated to the pipework and windways).
  6. Lighted drawknobs are cool but 40mm, 4lb drawknob solenoids are $23 each.  12mm, 0.75lb drawknob solenoids are only $3.50 each.  Buy those, unscrew the stock knobs and use those to make a mold in which to cast custom transparent knobs out of acrylic resin.
  7. Buy an organ controller with builtin combination action.  Trying to reengineer direct electric combination action isn’t worth the headache.
  8. There is no way to save money on windchest action.  Tracker is cheaper but unification is impossible.  Direct Electromechanical action is next cheapest but pallet solenoids are $7 each an I will need around 950 of them.  There is no way around this.  He would strongly recommend electropneumatic action (which is what we have in the church organ) because the pipes speak more promptly, more evenly, and with a more pleasant attack than with tracker or direct electromechanical action.  However, electropneumatic action will triple or quadruple the price.  So I won’t be doing that.
  9. Use an electromechanical expression system instead of a direct mechanical system – a high torque servo motor can be far more responsive to subtle changes in pedal position than several hundred feet of bicycle cable can.
  10. Buy a reliable used or refurbished blower.  With the reeds requiring 7″ wind pressure, I’ll need a larger blower than I’d planned for with only flue pipes.  I shouldn’t be afraid to use a 240V blower and put it in the basement and have it run off the dryer outlets as long as I have a good air filter on the intake.  240V blowers are more stable and more energy efficient than 115V blowers anyway.  And they last longer and are about the same price as I’d pay for three smaller 115V blowers.

All told, he would expect me to pay $17,000 for the parts if I were to buy the organ today.  However, he recommends collecting the parts over a period of years and assembling the organ piecemeal.  Snap up used parts as they come around so I get the best prices on stuff.  Except the solenoids – those will have to be purchased new or refurbished from an organ supplier since used solenoids are usually in dire need of overhaul.

On the flip side, the tiny 4 rank organ I designed for the apartment sounds like a perfect place to try out my coupling tracker design.  He’d still recommend buying the console and pipes, though, as there’s no way I can build them cheaper than I can buy them used.  He even gave me some scales to work with – the 16′ bourdon will use a lieblichgedeckt pipe design, for example, to soften the voice.


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