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Organ Build Quality

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  • Organ Build Quality


    Most of the A-G organs I sold from 1998 till around 2005 were very reliable. In fact most of them, I never even serviced once.

    The main thing is, if the electronics are stable. And they generally are with these organs. One thing though, there is a ni-cad battery pack in them that needs to be replaced every 7 or 8 years.

    As I mentioned elsewhere, with re-voicing, adding external speakers, and even modifiying the internal speaker cross-over, this organ can sound really very nice.

    As for Allen quality, they are certainly well built, but I would say from my experience as an organ servicer, and what I read on the net, Allen organs need service periodically as much as any other brand. Certainly Allen servicers are busy running around the country fixing ailing Allen organs. Allen does do a good job of supporting their organs, especially if you go through their dealers or technicians network. However, they charge big bucks for board repair, for parts, etc. In other words, they prefer you not be a DIY type fixer.

    These days, I'm not sure I would say their quality is that much better than many other organs they compete with. I guess time will tell how many of the newer Allen organs and competitive models will be around in playing condition in 30 years time.



  • #2
    All of keen interest -- thank you. My present organ fixer, who admittedly works for another brand, says Allens are terrible to keep up -- each era used its own technology, parts not available, no support etc. Maybe just to throw me off the trail. In all the years I've been playing different organs in churches, I can only think of once that an Allen needed servicing, and that was one dead note in the pedal which they fixed promptly. My first church organ ca. 1971, on the other hand, was a Rodgers that had problems and (as I've said ad inf.) my present church has had hell with two Rodgers organs in a row -- the replacement much less than the first instrument, thank God, though both are very recent vintage. An AOB 3m I played on was... we'll, let's not speak ill of the dead.

    I'd been getting the distinct impression of a consensus in our crowd that Allen was the only reliable brand. If other makes last well too, it's great news.

    I'm not ready to beat up on Rodgers and don't care for it when people do. Just comparing notes. Anybody else?


    • #3

      I think your organ fixer is likely a promo guy for the dealer/brand he works for. Allen of all companies in this business probably has the best track record when it comes to supporting legacy instruments. The issue that some have with Allen, is that you can't deal with the Allen company directly unless you are a dealer or a recognized Allen service tech. The other thing is the complaint that Allen parts and service is expensive. There are still quite a few Allen analog organs out there, both tube and transistor still playing, which is a testament to quality and durability. These instruments would now be anywhere from 40 to 60 years old. I don't know how fully Allen still supports analog organs, but most of the parts in these organs are simple discrete components, obtainable at electronic outlets.

      I must say too, that for many years Allen's overall quality was simply better than most other brands. Even when 20 or 30 years old they exuded a certain quality that others didn't have.

      My experience with Allens as a servicer is that they do require some service, and that they do break down, generally less frequent than others. They are also nice to work on. The ones I work on are mostly early digitals to late MDS models (mid 90s vintage). I can't really comment on the latest Allens, as I have not serviced them.

      I will say this, that from what I have seen, and what other servicers say, most electronic organs built these days, exhibit very good quality. Especially the European made organs, are overall much better than what they produced 15 or 20 years ago.

      The problem with organs is not so much with new build quality, but how well they endure over time. Seems most organs do very well over the first 10 or 15 years, but after that breakdowns start. And then it is crucial that the manufacturer/distributor is still in business, that there are local servicers out there to fix them.

      Just my point of view here. I'm sure John B., the servicer from Arkansas will agree with me here, but he may have his own perspective on this, that he may share.



      • #4
        My biggest concern with the SL300 at this point would be the challenge of getting parts were you to need them. I'm not sure where things are in the whole GeneralMusic state of affairs at this point and if someone is keeping a parts inventory, but it's a question I'd want the answer to before I bought a used A-G for any significant sum of money.

        In my time of working on Ahlborn-Galanti organs, and I leave the disclaimer that I was never nearly as prolific a servicer as some others here, the typical service calls almost always involved tightening the back springs on the pedalboard and replacing burned-out lamps in the rocker tabs (which is not an issue for the LED tabs on the SL organs).

        The consoles would wear and tear faster than your typical Allen, not (in my opinion) being made as sturdily, but this never impeded the function of the organ. In around ten years of work, I also had a few keyboard issues- dirty contacts in the first generation organs, a couple busted silicone membrane switches in the later ones, and a key that broke. Very typical par-for-the course stuff, nothing too excessive. The pedalboard issues were annoying, but easy to adjust, and you could fix them permanently by setting the screw holes for the springs with wood glue.

        I had I think only two issues that involved electronic malfunctions- one was a bad chip in a stoprail, and the other was a maddening intermittent issue where the first four stops of the Swell would randomly disappear- we ended up replacing just about everything in the organ trying to nail that one down.

        I have always enjoyed the better Allen consoles because I feel they are built as fine furniture and fitted according to pipe organ standards. Many of the other electronic makers' consoles are built more to home organ or mass-produced musical instrument standards- lots of plastic parts, MDF or HDF, and so on. This is never an issue when the organ is new, but over the years, it takes its toll, just like it would in furniture. I have played many organs by other makers with pedalboard issues, swell shoe issues, burnt-out stop bulbs, key contacts that are intermittent, and general mechanical failings. I have also played a lot of Allens and vary rarely run into the same types of things, even on organs which I know haven't seen a service call in at least 15 years. Allen is not bulletproof- their electronics can fail just like everyone else's- but it seems they've made an effort to preclude the mundane issues that seem almost commonplace in some other electronic instruments.

        It seems many of the makers with an electronic instrument background in other markets fail to understand as well the "furniture" side of organbuilding- that a classical organ is likely to see heavy consistent use for 20 years or more, not the shorter lifespan or lighter duty cycle of their other consumer products.


        • #5

          At this point in the US, parts are not a problem for the A-G organs, especially for the newer Chronicler and SL series (those from about 1996 onward), and of course the newer A-G organs.

          The problem with A-G pedalboards, was with the screws they used, not being long enough. What I did, is I took all those screws out, drilled a deeper pilot hole, and put in screws that were twice as long. Problem solved. And I did that as a matter of dealer prep. It ticked me off that the distributor knew about the problem, the factory knew about it, and they did absolutely nothing about it for years. Finally around 2004, they fixed the pedalboard issues for good.

          I do agree with you about rubber dome switches used in stop tab switches and keyboards, pistons, etc. They will go down the river at some point. Since so many companies use Fatar for keyboards, there are going to service calls on organs if they are played a lot or once they get older. Residence organs, since they are likely to be played more, will likely see more issues. I have seen keyboard issues on organs only 3 to 4 years old. In those cases the organs were played like 3 or more hours daily. Regarding stop lamps - on the A-G organs in the tab organs, the lamps are user replaceable. And the lamps are inexpensive as well.

          I agree with you about the higher end Allen consoles. Indeed nicely built. However their entry level organs, with Fatar keyboards, Lumitech stop switches, light weight console and bench, hardly seem any better than a lot of European built organs these days.

          I think more and more, manufacturers are building instruments with a life expectancy of say 20 to 25 years. So there is a general cheapening of console quality, cheaper console appointments, etc. Nothing wrong with that, especially when the price factor is brought into the equation. I would say, you can get a better console and better appointments, but how many customers are willing to part with 50% more money to do so? And not many buyers today are buying with the view that they are buying something they will treasure for 40 or 50 years. Again not many. Even older Allens from the 70s and into the 80s are worth very, very little these days. So the extra quality does not help keep up the value of the instrument.

          But I agree with you, it is a nice experience to sit and play at a nice console.



          • #6
            Allens are sounding more and more like the king of the heap, gang -- not less! But the SL-300 is sounding like an acceptable organ. Don't see it in Ebay anymore, but maybe it will be re-offered for less money. Think they were asking about $8,300.

            Did I hear somewhere that Ahlborn-Galantis are made in the same Italian Korg factory as current Rodgers instruments?

            What a shame we're such a throwaway society that even organs aren't built to last two generations anymore, though in this case you indicate it's a matter of what the market is looking and paying for.


            • #7
              Originally posted by arie v View Post
              ... Even older Allens from the 70s and into the 80s are worth very, very little these days. So the extra quality does not help keep up the value of the instrument.

              But I agree with you, it is a nice experience to sit and play at a nice console.

              Arie, don't you think that will change if organ manufacturers build in full MIDI capabilities (not just proprietary stop tab controls or expression)? I think a quality console should be a thing of beauty for the ages, especially with the scarcity of good solid wood consoles these days.


              • #8
                Maybe it's just me, but the feel of the console is in many ways close to as important as the sound of the organ! At the end of my time with A-G, I was working at a church that had a (then) 15-year-old Allen ADC8000 3-manual. It was a nice installation in an acoustically favorable room. I was faced with the conundrum that, while the A-G organs had much superior individual sounds, the Allen just felt better to play, and I played the same literature better on it. The way the pedalboard, swell shoes, key action, positioning and layout of everything, just worked better for me in general.

                (The Allen had MIDI, and I gave serious thought to adding a couple A-G Archive modules to it to try for the best of both worlds.)

                I'm sure that it's far harder to use these items as selling points for the average church organ committee as opposed to bits and bytes and whiz-bang features and gadgets though.

                I'm also the same guy who much prefers a single, well-designed tonal scheme made of up of well-voiced, usable stops as opposed to "7 stoplists in one" or the ability to change everything willy-nilly. Give me a single stop that is well-sampled and presents itself in the room properly any day of the week instead of the ability to use a different mediocre diapason or pedal reed for the french piece and another one for Bach. Maybe I'm old-fashioned...


                • #9
                  I will second MichaelH's comment regarding the feel of the console. It really does make a difference. Both in inspiring excellence while playing, and also in hitting the right notes - I have found it a totally different experience to play ivorette (or whatever it is) covered wood keys with sharpish edges of my 70's Rodgers than the rounded plastic smoother keys of my Allen - really affected by perspiration etc. The Rodgers is more like some older pipe organs, but I prefer the Allen once I'm used to it. Then of course there are the cheap plastic keys of a Casio portable keyboard - does not inspire whatsoever.

                  I tend to agree regarding simplicity of stop lists, however, it is very hard to play certain soft pieces with the trumpet stop, so I find it more enjoyable to have a wide enough selection to choose from but not so wide that I am completely distracted by stop selection. To allow for expansion, I think Midi is absolutely the future because audio technology changes faster than console technology, and it just makes more sense to only change what needs changing, not chop down new particle board trees (like most organ companies resort to these days - yuck!)


                  • #10
                    Dell and Michael,

                    You might wish that organ consoles were better built, or to put it another way, give a better playing experience to the performer, however the market is not drifting that direction. Considering that the market is shrinking fairly rapidly, and economic realities are forcing buyers to spend less, upgrading console quality is not a priority at this time.

                    Dell, you might wish that organ consoles are more works of art. I would say very few consoles are built as art work. Most look well constructed but are plain Jane vanilla types. Fully, solid wood consoles are a rarity.

                    Console appointments, while they feel pretty good and are reasonably reliable, are more and more used from an economy point of view than how the player responds to them. The vast majority of electronic church/classical organs use Fatar keyboards, and not the ones with wood core keys, or keys with playing surfaces. These are decent keyboards, but not terribly inspiring either. But they are extremely economical. High end keyboards can cost 10 to 15 times as much as these Fatar keyboards. Lighted stop controls, cheap plastic pistons, etc. are all used based on cheap component cost. Good solenoid driven stop controls are double or triple what an illuminated setup would cost. Really good solid lumber is expensive as well. My guess is that using really fine materials throughout a console would double or triple the console price. Even then, after 20 or so years, these consoles are worth no more than a budget console.

                    Don't get me wrong, I like the beauty of a good console. I like the feel of premium materials in a pedalboard, keyboards, stop controls etc. However, in this price sensitive market, I do not see a move to change the quality of consoles at this time.

                    I also do not think integrating MIDI is going to extend the life of a digital organ, or it's console. Generally organs are manufactured to a certain lifespan - my guess is 20 to 25 years. The idea then is to replace the organ.

                    Take the analogy with a car. If a car has a life expectancy of say 12 years, and a good portion of it is worn out then, are you going to build a new car around what is left? I doubt that happens very much.

                    Right now, from what I read and hear, most digital organ companies are struggling to stay afloat. I doubt very much that offering premium consoles at 50% more money is going to help them survive.

                    Just my thoughts....................



                    • #11
                      Originally posted by arie v View Post
                      I also do not think integrating MIDI is going to extend the life of a digital organ, or it's console. Generally organs are manufactured to a certain lifespan - my guess is 20 to 25 years. The idea then is to replace the organ.

                      Take the analogy with a car. If a car has a life expectancy of say 12 years, and a good portion of it is worn out then, are you going to build a new car around what is left? I doubt that happens very much....
                      Arie - I think you are correct in your assessment of the current market with respect to the status quo thinking of the current manufacturers - which opens up the possibility a smaller company might see an opportunity.

                      A few thoughts:
                      1) Car analogy has frequently been discounted in reference to organs (smaller market mainly) -but....even if we accept the auto analogy, I drive a 20+ year old vehicle that runs and performs in many ways better than 90% of the cars on the road today. When I eventually replace it, it will be to switch improved technology (like a built in MP3 player or side air bags?), not because the one I have cannot be fixed - I can still buy parts for it from the dealer and even more from aftermarket, including performance enhancing parts if desired.

                      2) There are quite a few older Allen's (even TC-3's) still in use - the relatively simple mechanicals seem to be capable of maintenance and repair. They simply sound relatively primitive. If they had had equivalent quality mechanicals (or today's superior) and MIDI, what are the odds they would be heading to dumpsters?

                      3) With Midi and the availability of free virtual pipe organ software alternatives (like jOrgan, Miditzer?, etc) to commercial organs, it seems to me that the primary cost in building a console will be the console and electrical parts. With sealed switches (like Allen has in pedals) and similar switches for keyboards and stop selection, perhaps quality new organs will again be in the reach of the average organist or at least church. These will be the competitors of the mainstream organ companies for a certain portion of the market in the long term.

                      4) I would not count the organ out as a dying breed - especially if Cameron Carpenter and his likes gain any traction. Remember when soccer (european football) wasn't popular in the US? Now a preschooler is not properly educated unless he plays regularly and transported by that special breed - soccer moms. Tastes can change gradually until a tipping point occurs which is only visible in retrospect.

                      5) #4 won't happen unless costs come down. The guitar didn't take the 60's by storm because it was impressive in tonal range, extremely expensive, fixed in place by massive weight, etc. The possible potential for quality portable organs with AGO specs exists. Whether it ever happens or not may be considered 'pipe dream' but I still think it could happen. If the fuddy duddy organ manufacturers take note and stop making heavy particle board monstrosities with fixed stop lists. Real wood is lighter than particle board, and nobody says a console has to be wood (what about Brushed aluminum, or fiberglass composite?)

                      6) I just checked, there may be particle board in my ADC console, but I don't see any (the side walls are laminated solid wood with veneer). If Allen Company ever had any good things going for it, quality console construction was one of them.


                      • #12
                        And there is nothing wrong with quality furniture-grade plywood. In some ways it can be better than solid hardwood.

                        Dell: I am happy for you regarding your good fortune with your old car. My mother needed some small part for her window track in her driver's door and the Buick and Cadillac dealers here in town got together and managed to find her what they said is the last one on the planet. They probably meant the last NEW one on the planet, but you get the idea. (Her car is a 1985 Cadillac Sedan de Ville.)


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Menschenstimme View Post
                          ...Dell: I am happy for you regarding your good fortune with your old car.
                          Yup, some cars are easier to find parts for than others (as your mother found out). That definitely affects resale value significantly (which is why some American cars have near zilch). But it wasn't just good fortune with my old import. I bought it new after much research, had it serviced at the dealer, AND (drumroll....) purchased a technical service manual for it. Not that the dealer or mechanic don't have one of their own, but it is interesting to read. And NO...I am not planning to set up shop to build copies of my car and rip off the auto manufacturer (as Allen Company seems to fear regarding their products). ;-)


                          • #14

                            Your scenario of the organ business is that there won't be any companies left building organs. If the market goes to free organ simulations, using ultra cheap MIDI scanner systems, using 3 to 5 year old computers as the processor to get everything done, get a cheap stereo amp and some speakers from a big box store, and re-wiring an old console, the already small organ market will get much smaller. The companies that are left will have to raise their prices just to stay in business. There are fixed costs in running a business whether you sell 5 units, 20 units or a hundred units. Plus the economies of scale. The smaller a company is the less likely it gets quantity discounts when buying parts and materials.

                            As for Cameron Carpenter and others like him saving the organ business, I will just say that since he came on the scene maybe 8 or 9 years ago, the organ business has shrunk by 50 or more %. There is going to have to be a massive change in attitude to the organ for things to just get back to where they were 5 years ago, let alone 10 years ago.

                            As for building very high quality MIDI consoles, I can't see that there is enough business out there to make a good business case for it. Maybe moderate quality consoles made in China (using lots of particle board, MDF, and plastics and rubbers) would fly, if the numbers were there and the price low enough.

                            Everybody in the organ business knows that it is a tough business to be in. For companies to stay in business they need to sell new organs. Having people go and build their own does not help companies stay in business.

                            I sell on a part time basis pianos, and the piano story is the same as the organ story. Companies are going broke at a great rate. Distributors are suffering, and piano retailers are closing up in record numbers.

                            I believe keyboard instruments are not the in thing right now, plus economic woes that people have to contend with, and we are seeing huge declines in these industries.

                            Just my thoughts................



                            • #15
                              The situation is indeed rather grave, and I'm seeing way too many of our client churches not using their organs, even good ones. Sad, sad, but sometimes you can't blame them when the organ is being played so poorly that it actually detracts from the worship experience. A glimmer of hope in this area is the appearance of a number of talented and enthusiastic youthful players in the past couple of years. Let's hope they have some influence.

                              Just this past Sunday I attended one of the largest Baptist churches in the state where a very competent organist plays a fine Ruffatti. It was a joy to sing with such a fine instrument so well played, and heartening to note that the church was very nearly full, even on a cold Sunday morning in January, and people were singing traditional hymns and gospel songs quite enthusiastically. Apparently not everyone wants to worship with a rock and roll band whaling away. So all is not lost, not yet anyway.

                              As a former Allen salesman, I dearly love the sumptuous consoles of furniture-grade wood and the pipe-organ quality keys, pedals, drawknobs, etc. However, as a small-time dealer in used organs seeing a lot of 80's Rodgers analogs passing through, I have to admire the quality of those older consoles too. Even if there's a lot of particle board in the cabinet, and the lighted drawknobs have a weird springy feel, the hardware itself seems to have held up quite well. I actually might prefer the feel of the premium wooden keys on the large Rodgers analogs to the standard Allen key action. (But I'm not a very good player and no expert on how an action should feel!)

                              I'm a little off-topic, but I'd somehow missed this thread until tonight and wanted to join in. Thanks, guys.
                              *** 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!