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Advice on Rodgers theater organ that has been out of service

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  • Advice on Rodgers theater organ that has been out of service

    Greetings everyone, First time poster here, and grateful in advance for some advice.

    Here’s the story: I drove to CA to visit a friend who just rented a guest house on a horse ranch. When we met the ranch’s owner, and she showed us around the main home on the property, I was stunned to see a Rodgers theater organ in the corner of a dark, largely unused room (image attached), with a couple of Leslie speakers right and left.

    “Do you play?”, she asked. Well, my father was a minister of the Church of Scotland, and so, as a child, I had the great privilege of being able to play the organ in his church (though not with a congregation present, lol). That’s a whole different story, as it was a William Hill, Norman and Beard with a pneumatic action, which meant that there was a half-second (or more) delay between hitting the note, and it emerging from the pipes. Anyway, it’s been probably fifty years since I last played it as a teenager, and probably about the same amount of time since my already limited organist skills disappeared to nothing, Well, very little. I’ll get back to it when I retire (at this rate, in my 90s, lol) . . .

    So the issue is that this organ hadn’t even been switched on in several years, as the ranch owner’s husband, who bought the organ decades ago, developed Alzheimers and has been in a care home. When invited to try it, I figured out how to fire it up. Not sure the model, but no doubt someone here will recognize it. Sure, I got some sound out of it, and made some delightful racket, but quickly identified several issues:

    1. The pedal board is inoperative. There appears to be a single connector on the left front side of the board, but I have not investigated further, pending your advice on how best to proceed, should you be so gracious.

    2. All three manuals operate OK, with no missing keys, but I cannot alter the registration at all. The only stop tabs that work are those associated with the Leslies. It took me a while to figure that out, as there appeared to be some significant changes when I hit the presets below each manual, so at first I thought that they were working, but I later determined that those were only because of the Leslie engagement and an associated volume bump. At least I think. This implies some kind of overall communication loss, perhaps from a bus.

    3. I do notice that the C and A keys seem to be somehow “connected”, at least on the upper two manuals, so they generate a C6. The swell pedals work fine albeit with some scrunching from accumulated dust, that has already diminished somewhat. “Easy” fix with contact cleaner and exercise, I expect. I did note that (and this is most likely quite normal) the rightmost swell pedal appeared to operate by recruiting successive pipe ranks: 16’ adding 8’ adding 4’. Sorry if my terminology is rusty.

    4. I also notice that there are some decidedly odd odors emanating from the instrument. So I guess I will have to pull it out from the corner, get inside and vacuum it out (taking appropriate precautions against hantavirus). Maybe a mouse chewed through some wires, though the lady of he house said they have no mice as there are too many farm cats.

    Given my personal history, it’s been great at least to make some noises on this lovely instrument, and also given that I’m here for only ten days or so (at least this trip), there are limitations as to what I can accomplish in terms of its partial recovery. The full monty will have to be done by someone else. But a fun thing to investigate while I’m here, especially since the lady of the house is thoroughly enjoying hearing it played again (even as I wince at all my wrong notes).

    Once I get it working a little better, I will learn and record the husband’s favorite tune for his wife to play to him at their daily visit, in the hope that it brings him some enjoyment, but I would appreciate if some of you might chime in with advice on whether there are some routine maintenance procedures that might result in improved performance, specifically the issues noted above, recognizing that this instrument probably requires a full restoration.

    Finally, if anyone has a user manual pdf for it, once the model has been identified, well, that would be awesome. I haven't found anything in the house yet, though I dare say I will.

    Thanks in advance for any advice!

  • #2
    I think I found the problem with the stops not working. If the organ has a Crescendo pedal, it appears it is wide open on the right-hand side. Pull that pedal back, and that should solve the stop problem–you'll be able to use individual stops then. A Crescendo pedal adds one stop (or group of stops) at a time until the organ reaches full organ (or nearly full). I'll assume the other two pedals express the Tibia and something else.

    Odors coming from the organ can also be cat-related. Sometimes cats will crawl into the expression shoe opening, and spend some time in the nice, cool, dark place. Once you look inside, you'll probably find fur, maybe some food, and even pee.

    Regarding the pedal board, it may be disconnected, but I'll let someone else advise you on that, as I'm not sure how Rodgers connected their pedals on that vintage of organ.

    The pipes on top are interesting. It almost looks like he took some Conn Speaker Pipes and cut them at an angle to have his own pipe façade. I'd be very curious about them.

    Hope this gets you started.

    Michael
    Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
    • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
    • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
    • 11 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 7 Pianos

    Comment


    • AllenAnalog
      AllenAnalog commented
      Editing a comment
      There are 24 pipes on the front box and 18 on the rear box. They height of many of them is very similoar. That would be a lot of Conn pipe speakers to trash and cut. Either it was a knock-off or home-made, perhaps made out of PVC pipe spray painted gold.

    • myorgan
      myorgan commented
      Editing a comment
      The mid-sized Conn speakers have a total of 24 pipes, and the large sets have 12. The math works if the back set divide the contents of one speaker.

      OTOH, the box underneath leads me to wonder if it has a xylophone, marimba, or glock underneath, and those are the resonators. Who knows?

      Michael

  • #3
    Michael's thoughts are right on. If the pedalboard uses magnets (unlikely on an organ this old, but you never know!), sometimes you can adjust the reed block behind the pedalboard and get it working. If you have access to some Deoxit, that would be a good idea on any connectors you find in the organ. I second the opening up of the organ and cleaning everything out! Rodgers analogs usually have vertical boards and nothing mounted on the bottom, so it may not be too hard to clean out, but the smell may very well be cat related! They love enclosed spaces and darkness.

    Comment


    • #4
      Thanks for the rapid responses! Yes, I had meant to add that the pipes are purely for "show". I believe they were there when he bought it. In fact, in the image you can see one lying on its side behind the music stand. I'm probably not going to bother about those, since my time is limited (though I would if it was mine), and will focus on cleaning the boards and connectors and trying to get the functional parts as operational as I can. I will start into it tomorrow, now that I have a starting point.

      1. The crescendo pedal issue turns out to be precisely as you suggested, myorgan. Once that is all the way back, the tab stops work as intended. At least, most of them. Some are taking quite a while to spool up, so maybe there are some tubes in there. I'd think a given tab wasn't operating, then a few notes in some octaves would fire up, then eventually all of them. Great to have the variety of sounds back! A handful (maybe 6 or so) don't appear to be working, but perhaps the cleaning will help.
      2. Yep, I'll pick up Deoxit tomorrow and get to work. She does have a cat, so you may be right on with that suggestion. Happy to hear it's not all jammed in there, so it shouldn't be too overwhelming.

      I appreciate the advice so far, and I'll report back in the next couple of days about my progress.

      Comment


      • #5
        Looks like a model 33E. Also with the pedals pulled out from the console it appears to have reed switches. Have you pushed the pedals back into position against the console?
        Is there a setterboard drawer under the accomp manual?

        td
        Last edited by tucsondave; 06-11-2021, 08:18 AM.

        Comment


        • myorgan
          myorgan commented
          Editing a comment
          Good eyes, Tucsondave! I never even noticed the lack of a set button (indiciating a setterboard or presets).

          Dmaz, is there a way you can list the stops that do nothing and/or "spin up" after a while? It could be that is the intended operation of the stops in question, but it helps to know their names.

          Thanks in advance.

          Michael

      • #6
        What a great and helpful forum this is! Yes, tucsondave, you are spot on. I believe this is the correct model, and yes indeed, it has the setterboard below the accomp manual. That was quite a surprise, pulling out that drawer. Very dusty in there. I had wondered about the pedalboard position. Wasn't sure whether it had been positioned there to accommodate someone with shorter legs or just dislodged when it was recently moved. I'll go over to the main house this morning and move the pedalboard back into position. Perhaps that will fire it up. As regards the stops, I'll test and note those down today. I also noticed that the right-hand speaker is disconnected, out of sight behind the instrument, so it may shake things up a bit when I get it reconnected.

        Comment


        • #7
          Spot on, td, thanks! That got me another step forward. While I am not sure how the pedalboard actually connects electronically, once I had pushed it back in, I was able to get the pedals to sound, though interestingly, only when the crescendo pedal was opened enough to illuminate the “P” on the crescendo light panel. So I guess that’s the next thing to consider. Operating the pedal stop tabs appears to do nothing at the moment, but I will get to it later. At least the pedals are sounding! I also spotted the name plate underneath, when I was installing the pedals.

          In other news, I was able to get the 33E pushed out from the wall (heavy!) and get the back open. Yep, there were mouse droppings, so those are probably the culprit for the odors. I did notice that the right speaker connector was unplugged, and therefore it was no surprise that some of the pipe ranks were missing or silent. I’m guessing that all I was hearing was crosstalk. The right speaker was also unplugged, and oh boy, what a racket when the amp kicked in. The lady of the house was actually thrilled that everything on the shelves was rattling again, as it made her feel her husband had returned.

          So, bottom line: pedals are working in part, absent pipe ranks appear to be back on, and much of the contact crunching has been resolved with exercise. Aside from the clear requirement for a good clean inside, it is working much better, just in time for my trip to the ranch to come to an end.

          My next steps will be threefold:

          1. Attempt to trace, isolate and correct the issue that causes some of the C keys to sound an additional A of a different octave register, and vice-versa. Probably a diode, from my study online thus far.
          2. Rotate out the circuit boards and give it all a good clean (I ran out of time before I figured out how to remove those safely).
          3. Figure out why the pedals won’t sound unless the Crescendo pedal is operated.

          I’ve attached a few pix just as an FYI. Sadly, I am now back in the smoldering furnace of AZ, but with your help I was able to get the old beast functioning well enough for the lady of the house to enjoy. Can’t quite say the same for my playing ability, but I was able to record enough bits and pieces that I can edit out all the wrong notes and send her something to play for her husband, and see if it sparks something amidst his dementia. Sometimes music does. Turns out he taught band all of his career, so it’s fair to say my nerves were getting the better of me as I tried to record. Thank goodness for post production.

          Many thanks to all who assisted with this exercise, and I will post again when I am ready to begin the steps noted above. I hope to get back out there in the next couple of months, and finish what I started. Now, if only I could do the same for my playing . . . Amazing how the feet lag behind the hands . . . or don't move at all, lol.

          Comment


          • #8
            You may be smoldering in Sedona but we burst into flames here in Tucson.
            Now that you have confirmed rodent presence then next trip out there search for chewed wires. I have had mice chew wires on the vertical panels. It's even more fun when they're all the same color. (the wires, not the mice).
            If you need any documentation send me an email address via private message.

            td

            Comment


            • AllenAnalog
              AllenAnalog commented
              Editing a comment
              I once had mice get into a piece of equipment. They only chewed on the insulation of the violet colored wires. All of the others were left alone.
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