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  • Home Organ Conversion Questions

    First of all, I hope this is an acceptable question here.

    I know very little about the standard Conn, Lowrey, and Wurlitzer models I see on CL all the time, but I've been having this urge to get one and convert it to Hauptwerk. I would like to use one as a semi-portable chamber organ to accompany my church choir and other events. No pedals needed. Single manual is fine, but two manual is bonus. Thus one of the many free spinet home organs from the 1970s seems ideal. I'd be saving one from the dump and getting a decent looking organ for very little money (although a lot of work I know!) I was involved in converting an old Allen classical organ a while back and have a background in electronics, so I know a little of what I'm getting into on that side.

    My questions are:
    1. Do most old home organs have a flimsy back panel like I've seen in a few photos? I'd like to switch the direction of the speakers for playing in public. Also, I'd like the rear of the organ to look presentable. Any particular models that have a finished back? Surprise, most people don't take pictures of the back of their organ with the cover on.
    2. Is it realistic to think that two people can carry around a spinet (with most electronics removed)? Is there a possibility of splitting the console into two halves (assuming quick disconnects for wiring?) Top and Bottom? I assume this is somewhat dependent on the model/manufacturer. I'm aware there are organ dolly's for this, but I'd like to be able to easily move it around the room without grabbing the dolly's every time.
    3. Is there a particular manufacturer that I should be looking at for decent build quality? I see tons of Conn, Thomas, Lowrey, Wurlitzer and Hammonds in my area. A few Baldwins, Farsifas and Kimballs. Of course the Hammonds are more $$ and I don't necessarily want to cut up a collectable organ. By the way, do Hammonds have a different touch to their keyboards?
    4. Any other considerations I'm not thinking about?

  • #2
    I can only make a few guesses, but perhaps someone will chime in with personal experience. I'd think most spinet consoles intended for home use would only have a perforated pasteboard rear cover, as finished wood backs are pretty much reserved for more costly church consoles. But you could easily cut a sheet of 3/4" cabinet-grade plywood with a nice birch or mahogany finish and use it to fill the opening, and that would be suitable for mounting speakers to. And nearly all older spinet consoles from Conn, Baldwin, Lowrey, etc., were built sturdily with good quality wooden sides and fronts and other parts. Only the back would be flimsy.

    And I think a spinet size console would be easy enough for two men to carry if you removed all the heavy internal parts, such as power supplies, amps, tone generator chassis, transformers, and other stuff that you won't need any more. I assume you will have to have some other parts in there though, such as your MIDI interface, computer, and audio amp, as well as speakers. So it won't be exactly light, but if you installed some carrying handles on the ends at the right height (about halfway down maybe), two strong men should be able to pick it up.

    If I were doing this, I'd probably want to put speakers on both the back and the front, and perhaps even on the sides, if you're wanting to simulate a little portative pipe organ. Such an organ needs a more or less omnidirectional audio output in order to cover an area with sound that can accompany a choir. Or at least that would be my thought on that.

    Good luck. Post pics!
    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


    • #3
      Yes, I was thinking I'd probably want speakers on the back and sides at least. Hadn't thought about putting them on the front too, but that's probably a good idea. Handles on the sides is a great idea as long as it doesn't look too dumb. Thanks!

      There's a Conn 540 free on CL right now that I like the looks of, but they're not responding, dang it.

      Comment


      • #4
        Tweedle_Dee,

        To run Hauptwek from any organ, you need to have an organ that has MIDI output capability. All the organs from the 70s that you are thinking of will not have it ( was not invented till the 80s ). So to use one of those, you will need to retrofit MIDI to it.

        I built a portable organ for a very similar use to what you are wanting to do with one. This was built to use for church services outside, weddings in various venues, and at locations I am asked to play at that do not have a decent instrument ( lots of churches in my area fall into this category ! ). While I have not used mine to play the Hauptwerk system, it would be quite suitable for that as it has MIDI, In, and Out factory installed. I use the MIDI to play an "old school" Roland Sound Canvas SC-155 module to supplement the organs internal sounds, primarily pedals, chimes, strings, and other handy things.

        I did this about 7 or 8 years ago now, and am still pleased with the setup. I took a Yamaha EL-25 and chopped it out of it's cabinet and made a 2 section portable organ / MIDI controller out of it. In the process I converted the cord connecting the pedal unit ( including the expression pedal ) to a computer type DB25 cable, for durability when disconnecting and reconnecting it regularly. This is not a particularly hard job to do to one of these Yamahas, because all the required components are in the top section of the instrument already.

        To use this setup without the internal speakers that it had, I use a Peavey KB-100 amp from the line outs. You could also use any powered PA speakers you wish. I like the KB-100 because it has a 15" woofer in it and handles the lows real well. For your use that would mean hauling a separate component for audio amplification, but I think that is just as well, because having the sound come from somewhere else besides the console is best anyhow.

        Here is a link to the thread where I described the job :

        http://www.organforum.com/forums/sho...IDI-Controller

        Here is a link to the photo album showing some of the process :

        http://www.organforum.com/forums/album.php?albumid=155

        If I were to build another one of these setups, I would look ideally for a larger Yamaha spinet in the same EL series. They are all built in the same console style, so come apart in the same manner. But the bigger ones have actual preset pistons between the manuals, not just 4 of them off to the side like the EL-25.

        I set mine on an A frame keyboard stand, and that works nice. Obviously there are other options available as well. To make it look decent when in a setting like a church, I drape fabric over the back side of the rig. I have black, maroon, and green folded up and ready to use.

        So, there is another option for you to consider.
        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.

        Comment


        • #5
          I guess the link to the thread where I described the conversion got messed up. I hope this one works :

          http://www.organforum.com/forums/sho...IDI+controller
          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.

          Comment


          • #6
            My 2 cents on this. While it's perfectly feasible to gut an old spinet and then retrofit a MIDI controller system to drive Hauptwerk, I don't think it's worth it. For what you want to do, you could buy any one of dozens of spinets from the mid 1980s or later, or even get one for free. It would have basic (sometimes more than basic) MIDI implementation. No need to spend time and money doing the retrofit. All you'd need is a decent quality MIDI to USB cable to hook up to the computer or laptop. (Get a Roland UM-One MkII, avoid the cheap Chinese ones).

            Almost all spinet organs like this are very easily moved by two people, I've shifted hundreds of them. A set of piano wheels or a proper organ dolly would make things even easier. There are a few, like the larger Kawai models, that are heavy. But you don't need to go too high up the range, a smaller model with MIDI will be fine.

            John's advice on mounting the speakers on a new back panel is sound, and should be easy to do.

            Reliability? Go for a Japanese make.
            It's not what you play. It's not how you play. It's the fact that you're playing that counts.

            New website now live - www.andrew-gilbert.com

            Current instruments: Roland Atelier AT900 Platinum Edition, Yamaha Genos, Yamaha PSR-S970, Kawai K1m
            Retired Organs: Lots! Kawai SR6 x 2, Hammond L122, T402, T500 x 2, X5. Conn Martinique and 652. Gulbransen 2102 Pacemaker. Kimball Temptation.
            Retired Leslies, 147, 145 x 2, 760 x 2, 710, 415 x 2.
            Retired synths: Korg 700, Roland SH1000, Jen Superstringer, Kawai S100F, Kawai S100P, Kawai K1

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Larrytow View Post
              I guess the link to the thread where I described the conversion got messed up. I hope this one works :

              http://www.organforum.com/forums/sho...IDI+controller
              Thank you for this. You've given me some options to think about.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by andyg View Post
                My 2 cents on this. While it's perfectly feasible to gut an old spinet and then retrofit a MIDI controller system to drive Hauptwerk, I don't think it's worth it. For what you want to do, you could buy any one of dozens of spinets from the mid 1980s or later, or even get one for free. It would have basic (sometimes more than basic) MIDI implementation. No need to spend time and money doing the retrofit. All you'd need is a decent quality MIDI to USB cable to hook up to the computer or laptop. (Get a Roland UM-One MkII, avoid the cheap Chinese ones).

                Almost all spinet organs like this are very easily moved by two people, I've shifted hundreds of them. A set of piano wheels or a proper organ dolly would make things even easier. There are a few, like the larger Kawai models, that are heavy. But you don't need to go too high up the range, a smaller model with MIDI will be fine.

                John's advice on mounting the speakers on a new back panel is sound, and should be easy to do.

                Reliability? Go for a Japanese make.

                Do the organ manuals let you know how extensive the MIDI implementation for a specific model is? I would want stops to be covered, and ideally have a master volume control, although I doubt I'll need the expression pedal. There are WAY more early organs available in my area which is testament to the fact that no one wants them. I have to admit that the challenge of converting an old organ is part of the appeal. Also, I tend to like the looks of them better (particularly the 1950s and early 60s.) But you make a good point that I'll take into consideration.

                Out of curiousity, I just looked and only see one spinet that might work (Yamaha Electone MR series) for $200 about 150 miles away. I know I've seen a few others listed previously.

                Comment


                • #9
                  If you like projects such as a full MIDI retrofit to an older organ, that's cool - go for it. But Andy is right, a more modern spinet that already has MIDI from the factory is so much easier to use, not to mention quicker to get put into service.

                  The difference in weight between my chopped EL and the whole EL as a complete unit is minimal. I know - I have one of each. Any of the modern spinets are light enough for two people to move easily. Or one person with a dolly setup. The only reason I chopped the one is so that I can move it by myself in pieces, without using a dolly. That way stairs are no issue.

                  I would not bother with an MR Yamaha. An EL model is really the way to go. Some of the preset organs already in them are usable in a pinch. Or other Japanese Mfgs organs in the same era. I mostly know about the Yamahas, because I have been a lifelong Yamaha user / fan. However, not All their models are good / suitable for your intended use.

                  Virtually all the organs that have MIDI will have a MIDI implementation chart in the manual. That will tell you a lot about the capabilities of any particular model. All Yamaha owners manuals are available on their site for free download. I would think most other Mfgs would have them as well.

                  There are lots of us on this forum who watch classifieds real closely in our respective areas, so will know when a particular model becomes available fairly soon after it is listed. That could be helpful for you. But of course, we don't know where you are ! Please put a general location in your profile. When one is looking for a specific style or brand or model of organ, one needs some patience. And, traveling to pick one up once found is sometimes required. But, they are out there, lots of times for free, or very minimal cost. A couple of weeks ago I picked up a nice Baldwin church organ and my total cost was 40.00 for fuel to go fetch it.
                  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.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Home organs don't usually have extensive MIDI specs (there are some exceptions but they won't be in your price range). You'll get key on/off, key on velocity, CC11 on the expression pedal (usually) and perhaps CC7 from the master volume control (but probably not). Individual stops will not send any MIDI messages. The Registration pistons/panel memory buttons will usually send a simple programme change message, so if you have 8 pistons you'll had prog changes 1-8.

                    And that's probably all you'll get. That is enough to run Hauptwerk, I've used a little Yamaha HE4, a Kawai SR6 and my current Roland with no issues once Hauptwerk was set up correctly.
                    It's not what you play. It's not how you play. It's the fact that you're playing that counts.

                    New website now live - www.andrew-gilbert.com

                    Current instruments: Roland Atelier AT900 Platinum Edition, Yamaha Genos, Yamaha PSR-S970, Kawai K1m
                    Retired Organs: Lots! Kawai SR6 x 2, Hammond L122, T402, T500 x 2, X5. Conn Martinique and 652. Gulbransen 2102 Pacemaker. Kimball Temptation.
                    Retired Leslies, 147, 145 x 2, 760 x 2, 710, 415 x 2.
                    Retired synths: Korg 700, Roland SH1000, Jen Superstringer, Kawai S100F, Kawai S100P, Kawai K1

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Your original post says "No pedals needed. Single manual is fine, but two manual is bonus."

                      Then just buy a 61 note MIDI controller - and you can drive Hauptwerk with that - and carry it under your arm. A modern one can be connected to the PC via USB

                      Use a suitably spec'd 2in1 PC and an ASIO capable combined audio and MIDI interface feeding a suitable amp/speaker.

                      If you really want to lug around an Organ (without pedals) then MIDIfy/convert the top half of an Allen MOS1 CONTEMPORARY style console (NOT the classic style console). This will give you two 61 note manuals with proper organ keybeds
                      Last edited by Momboc; 02-08-2018, 04:27 PM.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Momboc View Post
                        Your original post says "No pedals needed. Single manual is fine, but two manual is bonus."

                        Then just buy a 61 note MIDI controller - and you can drive Hauptwerk with that - and carry it under your arm. A modern one can be connected to the PC via USB

                        Use a suitably spec'd 2in1 PC and an ASIO capable combined audio and MIDI interface feeding a suitable amp/speaker.

                        If you really want to lug around an Organ (without pedals) then MIDIfy/convert the top half of an Allen MOS1 CONTEMPORARY style console (NOT the classic style console). This will give you two 61 note manuals with proper organ keybeds
                        I have certainly been considering using a MIDI controller. It would be the best choice if my first priority was portability and minimal effort. I'm still considering all possibilities, but I like the thought of everything in a single "box" like a real chamber organ. Our church is very traditional and the idea of having separate speakers and exposed wiring, for me, wouldn't be ideal. I picture storing the organ in the back of the sanctuary like a semi-permanent fixture and only moving it out when needed for other events which would be only once or twice a year (I'm part of a Renaissance Christmas choir and hope to use it there.)

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          In that case, ditch the spinets because the outcome isn't worth the effort, and go for something like an Allen 101 or 201 contemporary console to MIDIfy. When they are gutted of the original electronics and wiring you can seperate the upper and lower sections for easier moving. They can also accommodate a solid back panel

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Well, after looking at a couple of organs and being impressed by their small size (they look larger in pictures I found) and very unimpressed with their keyboards, I had pretty much decided to get a very small spinet console and retrofit a couple of modern controller keyboards to it.

                            However, I've run into a problem I didn't expect. Most home organ sellers are INSANE! I can't believe the types of people I dealt with last weekend just trying to buy a cheap console. Either they think the organ is worth its weight in gold or they want it out of their house with the least effort possible. Apparently, I asked too many questions of one seller (who had no description in his ad) and he started screaming at me that I was a snowflake and a damn liberal LOL! All I asked was if it came with a music stand and bench, and that it was cosmetically sound.

                            Another seller said he was flexible on price and just wanted the organ out of his garage, claiming the organ was "like new". I drive an hour and find the organ has lots of problems although cosmetically fine. I make a very reasonable offer and find that he won't budge at all. Doesn't even make a counter offer. On my way out of his driveway I see a sign that says something like "Liberals will be shot on sight." He and his property looked very much like something out of Duck Dynasty.

                            Sorry, had to vent a little.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Make the home organ great again!

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