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Now looking at a MDC-20

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  • Now looking at a MDC-20

    I'm still looking for an organ for my son, after several close calls but still the right thing hasn't come along. Right now I'm considering an MDC-20 Allen organ. The owner thinks it's from 1990. It doesn't have MIDI but other than that it looks good. He is asking $900 but I was thinking of offering half that. Is that too much, too little, or would that be a fair price? I'd also be paying a few hundred to get it shipped, but from where I live, I'm going to pay that on pretty much anything.

    I read some other discussion and I saw it's not a favorite organ around here, but still for my purposes it could work out. And maybe over the next few years my son could add MIDI to it himself. Is that a really difficult thing to do, or could a bright, computer savvy, and highly motivated soon to be 11 year old manage it, maybe not while he's 11, but maybe as he gets closer to 13 or 14? And would it be ridiculously expensive to do so?

  • #2
    Do a web search for "Allen MDC-20" and check out some of the results. (Some are from this Forum.) It would appear that back in 2011 some of these were selling for between $500 and $750. One link I read indicated that MIDI could be added (for $400) but I've no idea how difficult the process is.



    • #3
      Why does this feel like deja vu all over again?
      In my opinion they are the most worthless used Allens - along with the single rank analogs - and there is simply no point in paying for one. Yes, there are several previous threads about them: They are ubiquitous because they were popular in their day, and, yes, they are durable, which is about all that can be said in favor of them. (but then, any Allen is durable) Much as I like the company's products, it must be noted that Allen's survival has had as much to do with their financial savvy as anything else. The MDC series were created with a mind towards selling the Allen name to the non-institutional public (generally) that was unawares of how crippled the system was. Brilliant for the financials of taking an organ that cost 1/4 as much to make and being able to sell it for 2/3 of what a full MOS organ cost...but not in terms of the brand's legacy.

      The owner is lying, they are from the early 1980s at the latest; MIDI cannot be "added" and they are the only Allens made after 1971 where that is the case. The entire console can be rewired to work with MIDI, as any organ console could be.
      At the very least, if you're buying for a student, get the very largest MDC model which I believe did have a full AGO pedalboard. I once had an MDC-20 when I was a student; whatever people say, I can assure you that it was difficult to move back and forth to AGO pedalboards. Maybe fully trained organists can go back and forth with ease, when you're learning, you really should be learning on an AGO pedalboard.
      And a reminder, since it bizarrely continues to get confused, the MDS organs are completely different, and several generations more advanced. MADC is completely different as well. MDC organ were a cost-cutting, dead-end branch off of MOS technology (first digital from 1971). Someone in 2007 wrote: "These organs where a shameless attempt at cutting costs, with things like built in speakers, cheap capture action, non moving stoptabs, princess pedalboards, duplexing and unification, the list goes on. Although these were made post MOS era, they are actually a step down from any MOS organ."
      Last edited by circa1949; 03-30-2013, 12:44 AM.


      • #4
        Since your son started out using an older Gulbransen and is currently working with a Casio keyboard, this little Allen would probably be at least an improvement, though the drawbacks of this model have been well documented. (I recap some of these below.) I sold a few of these little organs when I was an Allen salesman and have serviced dozens of them over the years. I don't really like them, but I don't hate them as much as some people do. I just keep their limitations in mind and try to work around them.

        Even though you should keep looking for a fully AGO console that is already equipped with MIDI, it may be to his benefit to get at least some kind of organ into the house at this point, with a plan to upgrade when something comes along that is exactly what he is looking for. I wouldn't pay a lot of money for this organ, the market being how it us, and hopefully you will eventually find the organ he is looking for -- perhaps a full-size Allen, Rodgers, Viscount, etc. from the 90's or newer -- and you may find one of those for relatively low cost too. Then you can practically give the MDC-20 away and not feel that you've lost much.

        FYI, adding MIDI to any organ is not a piece of cake for even a seasoned tech like me, though I'll add that it's easier than it used to be, with several sources selling MIDI adapters for various types of older Allens, particuarly the MOS1 and MOS2 organs. But you can surely get a console with factory MIDI if you just keep an eye open. All Allen organs from the MDS era (early 90's) onward, all Rodgers organs since about 1991, every modern Viscount, Johannus, Ahlborn-Galanti, etc. will have factory MIDI that transmits not only keying data but also stop data, expression pedal movements, piston presses -- everything one needs to fully interface with Hauptwerk or other VPO software.

        The MDC-20 is certainly not a good long-term solution because it lacks so many things that a serious player or student needs. The pedalboard has 32 keys as it should, but they are slightly narrower and the sharps are smaller than the AGO pedalboard that he eventually must learn to play on. No capture action (which means the preset pistons cannot be custom set, they only bring on pre-determined settings that are certainly not what he'll want for advanced playing). No mixtures, no couplers -- both of which are practically essential in serious classical organ music. And I know of no easy way to add MIDI. AFAIK, none of the Allen MIDI retrofits made for MOS organs will work on this one.

        To its credit, the keyboards are perfectly good, the same keys used in the biggest Allen models. And the basic 16' 8' 4' 2' set of principals, strings, flutes, and reeds are on the stoplist, so a lot of organ music can be played quite satisfactorily. That's why I am willing to say that it would be better than nothing at this point.

        Other drawbacks include the "celeste effect" on the Swell keyboard. When using this effect, you can only play six notes at a time on the swell. This can be frustrating, though some players will tolerate it. As long as you know what is happening and avoid playing large chords on the celeste it won't hurt you.

        Also, the "carillon" stop on the Great is virtually useless, not only because it sounds pretty bad but because playing a single note on the carillon robs five of the available 12 sound generators in the organ. Playing a second note on the carillon before the first one decays fully robs another five, and if you have a chord and pedal note playing, the second carillon note simply will not sound. Very awkward, source of endless frustration to many church organists. But one can simply avoid using either the celeste effect or the carillon, or at least be sure to never use both at the same time...

        Keep on posting. Believe me, the folks on this forum are very happy to hear of your son's interest and will be wishing him well and following his progress!
        *** 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!


        • #5
          Midi was added to Allen Organs about 1990 with the advent of MDS technology. Not all early MDS organs had the Midi feature and some retained the card reader. If you look at Craigslist "Search Allen Organ" there is an Allen MDS 26 ( ca 1990-1997) which is a full AGO console, 2 manuals, full 32 note pedal to AGO spec. I agree with the other posters here that the MDC organs are maybe not the best choice and certainly for a budding young organist and he should have a full AGO pedal board for learning purposes.


          • #6
            Momtopipeorganboy, Everyone has given you great information about the MDC-20, and I agree with them. However, if it works and you can get it way cheap, then it will be OK for a stopgap instrument until you find the right one.

            I'm pretty sure that the MDC-20 has a very Germanic style of voicing, in the style of Silbermann and Schlicker organs. That may be fine for someone who is really into Bach and the Baroque era of music, but it is not as generally useful and nice as the standard Allen voicing scheme. The Allen standard voicing tends to be American Classic, in the tradition of Aeolian Skinner organs of the G Donald Harrison era.

            That "princess" pedalboard is a real issue for some organists. Some hate them, and some don't mind them. I agree with everyone else that when a student is just starting to learn to play, it is preferable to learn on the AGO standard pedalboard. Most organs one will encounter in churches and so on will have an AGO board, so being comfortable with the actual industry standard will be helpful. Once your son gets a degree of competence with the AGO spec., learning to deal with the other styles is a good thing to do, and will come easier to him. There are so many different pedalboard styles out there that eventually having a passing familiarity with all of them, will make him a very well rounded player.

            Here is a link to a video I made this past fall that shows the differences between the Allen AGO and Princess style boards.


            <iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

            I realize now that I should have placed a flat radiating 25 note pedalboard next to them, and included that in the comparison as well. It's not like I do not have a bunch of those around here, so I sure could have. Truth be told, although I can play any style pedalboard nowadays, I prefer a flat 25 radiating one to a Princess style, if given a choice. The type / style of music one is expecting to play also has a bearing on what sort of pedalboard is best. For pop music ( bass guitar lines and so on ), I prefer a flat 25 radiating board. For church / classical, I prefer an AGO board.

            But sometimes one is not able to choose what pedalboard style they must play on, so being flexible is good. For instance, tomorrow I will be playing Easter Festival services on two different organs, and both ( Hammond A-105 and Baldwin C720T ) have 25 note pedalboards.
            Regards, Larry

            At Home : Yamaha Electones : EX-42 ( X 3 !!! ), E-5AR, FX-1 ( X 2 !! ), US-1, EL-25 ( Chopped ). Allen 601D, ADC 6000D. Lowrey CH32-1. At Churches I play for : Allen Q325 ( with Vista ), Allen L123 ( with Navigator ). Rodgers 755. 1919 Wangerin 2/7 pipe organ.


            • #7
              Originally posted by robmcginn View Post
              Not all early MDS organs had the Midi feature and some retained the card reader.
              I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you are not trolling. ALL MDS organs had MIDI. That was the whole point of the "next generation" design! Why would they have given an organ a new series designation if it was no different from ADC? A few of the very earliest, very smallest ones - just certain versions of those models - did not have a console controller to configure the MIDI. But if you RTFM about those models, they still provided note, expression, stop, and program MIDI. And many of the CC functions can be replicated with goofy combinations of piston inputs. cf:

              "I'm pretty sure that the MDC-20 has a very Germanic style of voicing"
              This is like calling a VW Bus a "German Speed Demon That Rules The Autobahn". Hard to get a German sound when there are no mixtures, and not even a Superoctave 2! I can't remember if it had a chiff stop, but if it did, the chiff was not remotely pipe like. Remember there were 4 samples unified and duplexed all over the instrument: diapason, flute, trumpet, string. But unlike an analog or pipe organ that was duplexed, every note was not slightly distinct. The monotony of the sound was extreme.