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Minimalist organ -- the simplest, cheapest, smallest thing one could get by with?

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  • Minimalist organ -- the simplest, cheapest, smallest thing one could get by with?

    Most of us love our gorgeous, massive consoles, the heavier, deeper, and more elaborate the better. Who wouldn't love to have four manuals set into a one-ton carved oak console with a 200 pound solid hardwood pedal clavier, and all the innards to go with it? And a few dozen speakers to provide the audio excitement? Size matters, and any sane organist is always looking for MORE organ, right?

    But what if the opposite is imposed upon us? What if size matters, but in the sense that one must DOWN-SIZE to the greatest possible extent? It could be in anybody's future, could be in mine. Not immediately -- I have the stuff on hand to build a 3m VPO, and I sure hope to enjoy it for a few years.

    One day though I may be living in a tiny apartment or retirement home. And even now I have customers who can't accommodate the standard size consoles we all think are essential. And I grieve for some of the little churches out there where there isn't room (or money), and never will be, for a "real" church organ, not even a used MOS 100 series (which might not actually sound very good under the hands of some players).

    With the wonders of today's VPO technology, could one assemble a perfectly serviceable "organ-ish" system that would be better than nothing? That would allow amateurish organists and old folks and little churches nearing the end of their ropes to have good organ sound, even if sacrificing a lot of what makes an organ an organ to you and me?

    While there exist certain slightly compact instruments that one could make do with, such as the wonderful Roland Atelier series, and the Studio models from Johannus, the Allen Historique organs, etc., and there are used spinet organs out there for little or no money, I'm thinking one could build up an all-new "organ" that would cost far less than any new organ from a commercial builder and sound far better than any used spinet or home organ. And be fully customizable and scalable to suit the player.

    Here's an example of what one might do, keeping in mind that the compromises are rather jarring, but that the overall result would meet the needs of a great many less-than-professional players:

    1. For keys, one (or two or even three, if you want to go crazy) of the well-built 49-note MIDI "controller" units, such as the M-Audio Keystation 49 MK3, which can be bought for not much over $100. Yes, 49 keys is not 61, but how many amateur players ever use the top octave of an organ keyboard? I certainly don't. And 99% of the small church organists I work with never do. So this unit is certainly sufficient, costs half of what the 61 note version costs, and allows the console to be smaller. It also has "over-hanging" style keys instead of "piano-style," which might suit some players better.

    2. For pedals, how about that little 24-pedal thing that was discussed in another thread recently? It sells for $499 (search for JG3 Tech 24 note MIDI pedals on ebay or Google) and the builder says it preserves the basic layout and feel of the standard Hammond pedals of the B3 etc. While this isn't 32-note AGO, it only weighs 22 pounds and occupies far less floor space than AGO pedals, and, as with the keys, is certainly sufficient for the typical hymn player or amateur like me.

    3. A case or stand could be crafted from MDF or plywood, assembled with glue and screws, painted or stained to look quite acceptable if not attractive. It would only need a suitable shelf or two for the keyboards -- or just one shelf and some blocks cleverly devised to hold the second keyboard at the right height above the first -- and a socket of sorts to place the pedal board in to hold it in the right position relative to the manuals. A nook to hold a single expression pedal (keep it simple for the simple needs of the player).

    4. Additional equipment -- MIDI adapter or merger, etc., as needed to combine the MIDI streams of the pedals and keys and interface them with a computer via USB. A pair of nice powered monitor speakers, and a small home theater type sub.

    5. An inexpensive computer to run Grand Orgue, with a free sample set installed. I believe there are laptops today that sell in the range of $300-$400 with touchscreens and plenty of processor power and RAM to run Grand Orgue and a perfectly good sample set such as Friesach or Bureå Church.

    The advantages of such a little setup would be that everything is new, the cost is a fraction of the price of the cheapest new organ (a very small fraction indeed), and it will sound like a million bucks, given the astounding realism of a VPO system. The downside would be that a little old lady church organist would need some help getting some presets set up (as they do with any new organ) and some help learning to properly use the touchscreen as an interface. Adding some physical pistons might be well worth the cost of the extra encoder board and a few pushbutton switches.

    Anyway, I'm just letting my mind wander on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
    John
    ----------
    *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

  • #2
    I’ve been thinking of this topic too. For a classical organist, I would think there is no way around having an AGO pedalboard. However, you don’t need a huge monster on top of it, however you would need two manuals. A Viscount Cantorum Duo, Hammond SK2 or SKX or a Nord C2D would work. This would be to have classical organ sounds that turn on with the push of a button.

    Hauptwerk or Grandorgue are great, but they are a bit fiddly to get working and keep working, so not ideal, particularly in a retirement age player.

    For someone who would just play for enjoyment, there are more options. If one keyboard is all you need, for the classically bent person a Johannus One or the one manual viscount is probably enough. If the person is looking for more sounds but still wants organ sounds, a Hammond SK1 or the new Pro would be a good mix. For pedalboards, the inexpensive one mentioned above would work, but still might be too big. I like my Hammond XPK-200L. It’s not full size, but has longer pedals so you can still do heel toe technique. For even more portability, you can get one of the pedal sets with the Spinet type pedals pretty inexpensively.

    The 49 or 61 key Midi controllers work well, but the problem is always mounting them compactly, and adjusting the controls/sounds on the unit. Having a computer on the side of the organ always takes up more space.

    I suppose you could set up a compact console with spinet type pedals using Hauptwerk, similar to a Roland Atelier series. If you repurpose an old spinet type organ, of which there are many around for free or very little, that would be very inexpensive. But I suspect they would run into computer problems eventually.

    Current: Allen 225 RTC, W. Bell reed organ, Lowrey TGS, Singer upright grand
    Former: Yamaha E3R
    https://www.exercisesincatholicmythology.com

    Comment


    • jbird604
      jbird604
      Moderator
      jbird604 commented
      Editing a comment
      Ready-made solutions, especially the Cantorum Duo, are certainly attractive, and rather inexpensive. Everything essential is already assembled, including physical controls. If I were a Viscount dealer, I could sure sell some Duos to little country churches with decrepit old Conn, Kimball, Thomas, and Baldwin organs that we simply can't fix any more. And I wouldn't mind at all having one of those as my "retirement home" organ someday.

      Set the unit on a sturdy stand (a properly sized wooden desk or just a gutted organ console) and offer them their choice of 13, 24, 25, 27, 30, or 32 pedals (using the various units available from Viscount and other builders). Add an expression pedal and their choice of audio system, either 2 or 4 channels with or without a sub. With adequate audio and proper setup, such a system could rival a very expensive new organ from the major builders, and be plenty of organ for a small church or amateur player's home.

      Only downside is that the cost of such a setup begins to approach the cost of a new Johannus Studio model, and even a few thousand dollars may be out of the reach of some of these little dwindling churches. Something that can be put together for under $2000 is far more attractive than a $10,000 turn-key organ, to folks who literally have no money at all.

  • #3
    John,

    I like your concept. My suggestion would be to offset the 49-note controllers by an octave. My Atelier AT-90's upper manual starts at C2, leaving of the bottom octave. I have found very few hymns in the 1991 Baptist Hymnal that I cannot play completely on the upper manual. (I do not play the bass part with the left hand.) Anything that I cannot play on the upper manual, I use the lower manual. By offsetting the keyboards, it both the highest octave and lowest octave are available, albeit only on one manual, if needed.

    Later,
    Allen
    Currently own: Roland Atelier AT-90, Yamaha 115D, Roland DP-90SE, Yamaha PSR-S910

    YouTube Channel

    Comment


    • jbird604
      jbird604
      Moderator
      jbird604 commented
      Editing a comment
      Offset keyboards would of course work just as you say, even if giving it the old "spinet" appearance! Good idea.

    • afuller5
      afuller5
      mf Mezzo-Forte
      afuller5 commented
      Editing a comment
      John,

      I play mostly spinets. So, the offset would not bother me. I much prefer the 49-note manuals on a spinet to the 44-note ones.

      I still have my first organ, a small Yamaha spinet. It has 37-note manuals. I often run out of notes when playing it.

      Later,
      Allen

  • #4
    Speaking of minimalist, I'd like to share my solution to building a keyboard stand that is both cheap yet sturdy. I started with one of those ubiquitous "Single X" keyboard stands that I keep acquiring every time I buy a keyboard. As they come, they are entirely useless for my purposes, so here is my modification.

    Take the stand apart and cut each section to a height of 30 Inches. Take two pieces of 1x6 (nominal) lumber (I used two boards left over after some deck repairs) 54 inches long and sandwich the two base pieces between the ends of the two boards, drill a pair of through holes and bolt everything together. The two left over "T" pieces are simply sandwiched between the two boards and two bolts on either side are tightened, yet allow for easy adjustment up or down. The stand nicely straddles an AGO pedal board.

    On a non carpeted floor, the stand is very stable; alternatively, it can be anchored to a wall. For a shelf, I'm using the lid salvaged from an Allen organ. This looks very nice. The stand is light enough to carry with one hand and can be easily broken down for transport.

    Click image for larger version

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    As far as a VPO goes, I don't understand why there is so little mention, in this forum, of the cheapest alternative of all: the Jeux d'Orgue app for an iPad. Through a good set of headphones it sounds quite lovely and several of my friends find it perfectly adequate for practice or personal enjoyment. And even when played through a stereo system, it sounds quite decent. It is simple to set up and operate through the touch pad and avoids all the expense and complications of HW and setting up a computer.

    Click image for larger version

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    Comment


    • #5
      Very clever idea. I have one of those stands I may very well convert exactly as you have!

      Current: Allen 225 RTC, W. Bell reed organ, Lowrey TGS, Singer upright grand
      Former: Yamaha E3R
      https://www.exercisesincatholicmythology.com

      Comment


      • #6
        About a year after I started learning organ I was developing plans to get an organ to practice on at home. The home organs were out because I already had music that I really wanted to learn that required a full pedalboard. The apartment we were living in barely accommodated an upright piano. Consequently, I was working on plans for a compact AGO spec organ. I was getting the console to be less than 24" deep, 48" tall (plus the music desk), and 52" wide. I was having trouble with the depth of the pedalboard. It just sticks out so far. I was working on plans for a folding pedalboard, but ended up getting my ADC organ before I got them fully developed.

        Today I had an idea for a pedalboard that is half as long as usual so that it doesn't stick out much past the manuals. I'll have to draw it up and see if it might work.
        Sam
        Home: Allen ADC-4500 Church: Allen MDS-5
        Files: Allen Tone Card (TC) Database, TC Info, TC Converter, TC Mixer, ADC TC SF2, and MOS TC SF2, ADC TC Cad/Rvt, MOS TC Cad/Rvt, Organ Database, Music Library, etc. PM for unlinked files.

        Comment


        • #7
          Let's not assume that everyone who wants to play the organ wants to play classical or liturgical repertoire. A spinet with two 44 or 49 offset manuals and a 13 note popsicle stick pedalboard works fine for pop and most theatre style playing.
          -Admin

          Allen 965
          Zuma Group Midi Keyboard Encoder
          Zuma Group DM Midi Stop Controller
          Hauptwerk 4.2

          Comment


          • Reorganizing
            Reorganizing
            pp Pianissimo
            Reorganizing commented
            Editing a comment
            My circa 1973 301 was exceedingly well-used in a church, and there are 4 notes on the bottom octave of the pedalboard where the top of the pedal has worn away by about a quarter of an inch - and the right hand half of the board looks untouched, not even scratches in the varnish.

          • jbird604
            jbird604
            Moderator
            jbird604 commented
            Editing a comment
            My cousin Yvonna may have played that one. She only used the C, F, G, and D in the bottom octave. Never touched any other keys.

          • afuller5
            afuller5
            mf Mezzo-Forte
            afuller5 commented
            Editing a comment
            I have read that Laurens Hammond examine pipe organ pedalboards for wear. That was how he decided to only put a 12-note pedal board on the the first spinet organ. Maybe Yvonna's was one he examined.

        • #8
          Pedalboard preferences are all over the place. Some folks find a spinet pedalboard adequate, some love their flat 25-note Hammond, and some must have 32-note AGO, or close to it. This will always depend greatly on the style of music to be played.

          The first organ I ever played was an "M" with 12 pedals, and I didn't know I needed any more than that. Thirty years ago I was playing in a country church on a Wurlitzer spinet with 13 pedals. By then, having sold Allen for several years, I had "graduated" to playing with both feet and trying to follow the bass line of hymns more or less literally, but I still managed. When I eventually got an AGO pedalboard at church and then at home, I was of course in pedal heaven. To me, this is the board of choice, and I can't imagine one more friendly to the feet or more intuitive or comfortable to play.

          That said, I "think" I could be satisfied, if need be, with that 24-note MIDI board. Though I try to play hymns literally, I rarely reach up past G2 or A2, more likely to play the bass an octave lower than written if it goes up there. And watching some of my favorite players in Europe playing on flat pedalboards, I assume that even I could learn to play without the concavity of the AGO that I love so much.

          When/if one is faced with the absolute necessity of down-sizing, such compromises may have to be made. And through the magic of the VPO, one can still play the world's largest and most magnificent organs, even if your console isn't!
          John
          ----------
          *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

          https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

          Comment


          • #9
            At last it's complete and I'm delighted! This is what I hope to take to the old age home.
            Two proper organ keyboards (at last) and with five pistons. What luxury!
            The pedal board is flat and straight with 27 notes, modelled in its dimensions after the 30 note pedal on the Wolff organ in the local cathedral.
            My musical taste runs to the Baroque so 25 would be a bit short. Upper C# and D are very useful, making this a good compromise. The pedal and matching bench were custom made by the local organ builder.

            Attached Files

            Comment


            • Jaques Silva
              Jaques Silva
              ppp Pianississmo
              Jaques Silva commented
              Editing a comment
              Coenraads, I live in Brasil. I am looking for the measurements of the Wolff pedalboard. The only information I got is that the naturals is spaced 60mm apart. Can you share the dimensions of the pedalboard you took as a model?

            • Coenraads
              Coenraads
              p Piano
              Coenraads commented
              Editing a comment
              Jaques, I can't seem to lay my hands on the dimensions of the pedal of the Wolff Organ.
              But I can share the dimensions of my pedalboard pictured above, which was modelled after the Wolff pedalboard.

              Width of case: 40.5 "
              Front to back of case: 32.5 "
              Full length of white keys, visible part: 25 "
              Length of black bottom C#: 4 5/8 "
              Length of black middle C#: 4.0 "
              Spacing bottom C to top D (16 white keys) centre to centre: 36.75 " = 933.45 mm
              Spacing of white keys (centre to centre): 2.45 " = 62.23 mm

            • Jaques Silva
              Jaques Silva
              ppp Pianississmo
              Jaques Silva commented
              Editing a comment
              Thanks so much Coenraads.

          • #10
            I have HW4 but haven't upgraded my computer since I got HW in the days one one still dealt directly with Martin Dyde. Perhaps this will encourage me to do so. In the meantime, for the sheer convenience I just fire up Jeux d'Orgues, Pitea, Burea or the the Strand Organ on my iPad. It still blows my mind that I can have four complete organs in a package smaller than a hymn book. They all sound pretty decent, but Jeux is my favourite.

            But I do miss my Silbermann.

            BTW, these Allen keyboards play so much better than the electronic keyboards I had been using.

            Comment


            • jbird604
              jbird604
              Moderator
              jbird604 commented
              Editing a comment
              Allen keyboards are of course the cream of the crop! And I like the Loduca keyboards currently mounted in my VPO, which came from an 80's Baldwin. In the discussion above I've speculated about using typical $150 to $200 MIDI controller keyboards, but I'm sure real organ keyboards, at least from the premium builders, will always be more desirable.

              BTW, I'm intrigued by the use of an iPad as an organ generator. Sure makes it easier to set up and handle than having to use a big bulky computer tower with separate monitor. I may give that a try.

            • Coenraads
              Coenraads
              p Piano
              Coenraads commented
              Editing a comment
              Higher up on this post, I've added a screen grab of what the touch screen on the iPad looks like when running Jeux d'Orgue. For well under $100 CAD, one can purchase the program, a MIDI to USB adapter and a Lightning to USB Camera Adapter and then it is plug and play. I have put together about half a dozen VPOs for friends and I always recommend that they initially forego the expense and complications of HW and go the iPad route. I haven't heard of anyone who has subsequently gone to HW because they use their VPO mostly for practice and an iPad App is all they need. The apps have combination actions (multiple levels) for use with pistons as well as record and playback capability. How both the sample set and the program to run it fits into 372 MB I think is an astounding bit of programming. (Burea takes 1.4 Gb)

              https://www.jeuxdorgues.com/

          • #11
            That’s an interesting thing to think about. There’s a Hammond 124 for-sale near me and the ad states that they still play Bach on it.

            Comment


            • #12
              I have 3 consoles at home now, including the Yamaha HX-1 I purchased new in 1990. But the machine that the public hears is a Yamaha Tyros 5 and 2 Roland 990 keyboard amps that I gig with. I am considering adding a flat 25 note pedalboard to it, and maybe a Hammond XK-5. But by the time you put all that together, , even buying good used equipment, you are well into the $10,000- $12,000 range. More compact than the description of the dream organ in the original post and easier to move, but not cheap. The advantage is you can pick and choose the components according to your playing style as needed. The whole modular idea is the future.
              Classic Midi Works can set you up, https://us.midiworks.ca/index.php/pr...ategory&path=2
              Current inventory. Yamaha HX-1 and FX-20, Hammond Colonnade w/ Leslie 720, Kawai XR9000, (2) Technics FN3, FA1, Yamaha Tyros 5, psr 910.
              Is that enough?

              Comment


              • #13
                Originally posted by Larason2 View Post
                For a classical organist, I would think there is no way around having an AGO pedalboard.
                Hitting the nail on the head with that one. RCO or AGO pedalboard preferably; but at least 30 notes even if straight and flat.

                Comment


                • #14
                  Is it absolutely necessary that the pedal keys be as long as they are in an AGO set? I seriously doubt than anyone actually plays them by pressing down near the rear pivot--most work is within 18" of the front. I know that shorter keys would change to some extent the feel by tilting more when depressed, but perhaps some clever hinging could counter that. (Or it might not matter once one got used to it.)

                  Comment


                  • Larason2
                    Larason2
                    f Forte
                    Larason2 commented
                    Editing a comment
                    I have a Hammond XPK200L pedal set, where the keys are shorter (but just long enough to be able to play with heels). A full length pedal board is more comfortable, particularly the sharps, which need quite a bit of pressure compared to the naturals. Its a serviceable pedalboard if you don’t have anything else, however.

                  • sandstone42
                    sandstone42
                    p Piano
                    sandstone42 commented
                    Editing a comment
                    AGO standards have come along relatively recently in the whole history of organ building. If the organ is to be used for personal use then I think the "standards" could be relaxed as long as you can play the repertoire you want.

                  • jbird604
                    jbird604
                    Moderator
                    jbird604 commented
                    Editing a comment
                    We had a Content organ in the shop for a while, a model CS-225, one of the models they sold through Hammond dealers in the US. I remember that the pedal board was a little bit shorter than an AGO unit, which made it somewhat less heavy and thus easier to handle when moving the console, or when you need to pull the pedals off for servicing. Not to mention the small amount of floor space that it saved as well. (And even more so because the console itself was considerably slimmer than a typical Allen or Rodgers.)

                    I wish I had measured it and could sday for sure how much shorter it was, but I'd guess it was at least 2 or 3 inches shorter. And I loved the feel of it. Could not feel anything wrong with it at all, and would gladly play one of those all the time. Likewise, the Allen "princess" pedals are somewhat shorter than AGO (as well as obviously being a bit narrower too), and I can't say that this makes for any significant difference in the playing feel, as far as touch weight or depth. Of course I'm not an accomplished pedal-player, competent only with hymns, so those who play actual organ literature might detect some problems with a shorter pedal stick.

                • #15
                  Back to this old thread, because I just ran across something on YouTube that made me think of this concept -- a minimalist setup, the least complicated, cheapest, most portable "organ" one could get by with. Richard McVeigh just posted this great video showcasing some amazing YOUNG ORGANISTS, including some incredible new players (to me) who give me much hope about the future of the organ!

                  Rather than having all these young players right in his own music room, he had them video themselves playing on their own instruments, and some of the setups are quite surprising and interesting, to say the least. Of course the playing is marvelous, and the sounds are wonderful as well, given that Hauptwerk makes it possible for one to play the world's finest organs from whatever keys you have at hand.

                  I had to take notice of a couple of the performers who are using very ordinary and relatively inexpensive keyboard units stacked on racks, and others who have converted really clunky old organ consoles or built their own.

                  Just imagine how much simpler my upcoming move to St. Louis would be if I were content to simply move some keys and pedals and a lightweight stand instead of a console weighing several hundred pounds!

                  jbird604
                  Moderator
                  Last edited by jbird604; 12-19-2021, 05:13 PM.
                  John
                  ----------
                  *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

                  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

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