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My modular virtual MIDI organ project

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  • Momboc
    One of the considerations in my first post in this thread was to allow my Modular MIDI organ to be reconfigurable. Some of the limitations of the original wooden box approach was that it was too small and not adjustable enough - so I've decided to use a flexible industrial shelving unit as the supporting structure for the organ.

    The unit is 1800mm wide, 600mm deep and 2100mm high. Each shelf has two beams and a particle board insert. I've set it up with a shelf for the keydesk including a 1200mm deep return for a mixer, an overhead shelf for 'in use' sheet music (and also to hold the touch screen support arms) and an upper shelf for the electronics.

    The next thing to do was to make sure that it was correctly adjusted to ensure the proper spatial relationship exists between the pedals and the manuals. Note the notch in the keydesk on the above photo which provides clearance under the lowest manual to ensure that knees wont be obstructed when playing the pedals. The keydesk and the return are 25mm thick particle board which sits on top of the shelf (and can be screwed down onto the shelf to provide stability)

    I've used the pedals as the lowest fixed reference point and adjusted everything else to suit. In the AGO spec, the 32 note pedalboard is to be centred under the manuals and also have 29 1/2 inches between the top of the middle natural pedal and the top of the keys on the lowest manual.

    Here is my arrangement. The plumbob and stringline shows the pedalboard centred under the manuals. Note that the centre of the 61 note manual is between the F and G keys above middle C (there are 18 naturals each side of this point)

    The keydesk shelf was adjusted to be slightly lower than the AGO specified vertical distance between the pedalboard and the lowest manual and I added an extra piece of particle board to lift up the lowest manual to the correct height.

    I also want to use a 13 note 'spinet' pedalboard so I checked the relationship between the manuals and pedalboard using both a Lowrey and Hammond spinet.

    Here is the photo of the Lowrey (the Hammond was actually the same). You can see that the upper 'C' pedal on the spinet pedalboard is actually aligned with the gap between the D and E keys above middle C.

    To get the spinet pedalboard at the right height I have added a platform to lift up the pedalboard.

    Next to screw down the keydesk, return etc and to give it bit of paint.

    Then to set up the controller stack and wire it back up.
    Last edited by Momboc; 08-29-2013, 09:06 PM.

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  • Momboc
    You certainly can purchase a 25 note MIDI pedalboard (although I think they are expensive when bought new):
    Roland make the PK25A http://www.roland.com/products/en/PK-25A/
    Hammond Suzuki make the Pro XK system 25 note pedalboard (normally used for expansion of the XK3C) http://hammondorganco.com/products/p...pro-xk-system/
    There are others from other manufacturers

    Depending on how good you are with some handtools and a soldering iron, another approach is to buy a second hand pedalboard (via ebay) from a dismantled Hammond console (typically an E or H model) and add a MIDI pedal encoder.

    To set it up, you just need to get the pedalboard's MIDI signals into the PC and set up each MIDI controller (including the pedalboard) to transmit on its own MIDI channel.

    There are generally two connection options as shown on the following diagram.

    Option 1 is a 'MIDI Chain' that requires you to have MIDI controllers that can 'merge' an incoming MIDI stream with it's own internal messages and send the combined stream to it's MIDI out (for example Edirol PCR controllers can do this when they are set/switched to MIDI merge).

    You set these type of controllers up with each controller connected into the next and the last controller in the chain is then connected into the PC's MIDI in. Typically the pedalboard won't have a merge capability and therefore needs to be set up as the first device in the chain.

    Option 2 involves using an external MIDI merger (such as the MIDI Solutions Quadramerge), where each controller is plugged into the Merger and the combined output is then connected to the PC's MIDI in.

    I set the Upper Manual to MIDI Channel 1, the Lower Manual to Channel 2 and the Pedalboard to Channel 3.
    You can then allocate the various sounds to the appropriate channel so that they respond to the respective manual or the pedals.

    For example in Kontakt I often set up a Piano sound responding to Channel 1, Strings to Channel 2 and Plucked Bass responding to Channel 3.

    When emulating a 2 manual + pedals Hammond console - to use the Ch1= Upper, Ch2 = Lower, Ch3 = Pedal scheme in Native Instruments Virtual Organs within Kontakt the software needs to be set with Midi Channel set to OMNI and the Mode set to MIDI Split.

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  • Directora13
    OMG this is wonderful and exactly what I need at home.. but I would like to use a 25+ note pedal board.. if I'm able to purchase one, how would I go about setting it up?

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  • bassdude
    Interested to hear how this progresses :-)

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  • Momboc
    Some of my aims in building a modular virtual organ are to have flexibility in how I configure the 'organ', and to have a wide choice in sounds, rhythms and styles available to me - without being locked into just one manufacturer's 'solution'. Adding sound modules, in addition to the PC, gives me extra sound choices. I agree that it may not be essential - depending upon whether you can get everything you want from the available samples for PC based sample players. Alternatively, you could build your virtual organ using only hardware sound modules and not use a PC if you wished. As Andy G said - you can have both. That's the advantage of modularity.

    In addition to emulating a Hammond tone wheel organ (in various guises), I also want to emulate other organs such as Yamaha's EL90 or AR 100; Roland's - like the Atelier AT 900; and other organs types such as a theatre pipe organ and a church pipe organ, as well as arranger keyboards - without having to have all of these console cabinets sitting around my house. I want the 'universal do it all' organ.

    With respect to the XK3 it has an optional second manual and also optional 13 note and 25 note pedalboards. http://www.hammondorgan.com.au/the-m...51906-4328.pdf
    I suppose when you add all of those options to the XK3 you would end up with a B3 like configuration. I already have a Roland PK5 13 note pedalboard - so I won't be bothered with getting a 25 note Hammond Pro XK25 pedalboard. Roland, and other maufacturers, also make 25 note MIDI pedalboards.

    The pedalboards that I want to use are the 13 note 'spinet' type and a 32 note concave and radiating 'pipe organ' type. Although I do have a, yet to be MIDIfied, 25 note pedalboard that came from an old wrecked Lowrey C500 Celebration, on the shelf.

    I have some other hardware sound modules and I'll show them in other configurations of my virtual organ in future posts.
    Last edited by Momboc; 04-14-2011, 08:17 PM.

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  • andyg
    The supplied Microsoft GM Wavetable voices in a PC are, as I'm sure you know, 100% garbage! That's why you need either a) an outboard sound module or b) proper 'virtual' instruments - like those mentioned - to run on the PC. Or both!

    I'm now 100% virtual instrument for almost everything, including B4, B4-II, VB3, Organ 3, Miditzer and Hauptwerk (straight and Virginia Wurlitzer), though there are times when I'll record and use audio from external instruments. So my sound modules are in the loft and will remain there until I sell them or give them away! However, the JV1010 has some unique sounds and I recently set up a studio for a client using both virtual instruments and a JV1010 - they blend well.

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  • Rafael Chacon

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  • Momboc
    The first thing I thought I'd start with is a PC based Hammond clone.

    My Ingedients - for emulating something like a single manual XK3.

    PC System Unit
    Motherboard with several USB sockets - plus enough PCI slots, and maybe with onboard graphics
    A decent processor - with a quiet coolng fan (and motherboard fanspeed control)
    Enough memory - to cope with the largest sample sets that you will want to load
    A quiet power supply
    Low latency ASIO driven soundcard - preferably multichannel with breakout cables or patchbox
    Midi interface
    Quiet (preferably fanless) graphics card
    Enough disk space - for all your software and samples sets etc

    Operating System
    Updated device drivers for your PC

    Hammond clone sound generation application

    A simple velocity sensitive MIDI controller keyboard - can be USB connectable
    Power supply (if required)
    A foot pedal - for sustain or operating the virtual Leslie control
    USB cable

    A (stereo) amplifier with auxillary or CD input
    Audio cable for conecting PC to amp (generally 2xRCA to 2xRCA)

    Speaker wire

    A table

    My Method:

    Based on the experience with the first prototype in post #1, I decided to replace the PC and amplifier and add a no frills 61 note MIDI control keyboard.

    Here is the PC.

    I think the important things for a PC running sample based sound generation is enough processing power, sufficient memory and low audio latency. I read the 'PC prerequisites' document and specs from the Hauptwerk and Native Instruments websites to make sure that what I was going to buy was adequate, and had a bit of headroom for growth.


    My PC is not bleeding edge and the system unit was bought second hand from ebay. It has a Gigabyte Motherboard with an Intel quad core Q6600 processor and I've upgraded it to 8Gb of Kingston RAM.
    I decided to run a Zalman 'silent' power supply and a fanless graphics card to keep the noise down.

    The sound card is an M-Audio Delta 1010LT PCI card - shown on the benchtop on the far left of the photo. As you see from the right hand photo it's two breakout cables (one analog and one digital) are a bit chunky - but you can get 8 to 10 channels of audio out of it. And it has MIDI input and output connectors. Cost for this card is about $300 RRP.

    Here is the Windows Experience Index Rating (available under Control Panel / System and Security) which shows the detailed PC configuration

    I'm using an M-Audio Keystation 61es as the MIDI controller. This is a fairly simple unit that connects directly to the PC via a USB cable, although it does have a MIDI out connector so you could use a MIDI cable if you wished. It has no MIDI in/merge. The USB cable also powers it but it has provision for an external power adaptor. Cost is around $230 RRP.

    The amplifier is an old Yamaha surround sound amp which gives me 5 channels of audio amplification, although I'm only using the front left and front right channels for a stereo setup at the moment. This photo shows the very basic connections required for the XK3 clone arrangement. The #1 and #2 analog outputs of the 1010LT audio card (acting as a stereo left & right channel pair) are connected using standard RCA HiFi cables to the CD input of the amp.

    And below is the 'modular MIDI virtual XK3 clone organ' - running Native Instruments 'Vintage Organ' sample libraries. Cost for the Hammond organ samples is $119. A real XK3 retails at about the $2200 mark.

    These run under NI's free Kontakt player.

    I also have a copy of NI's (discontinued) B4II Hammond software.

    Next thing is to record a demo and post it on Youtube.

    I'm also playing around with the height and shape of the tabetop/shelf in the box.

    Graham - thanks for your post. I haven't done anything in Linux at the moment. I'm using Windows based applications - mainly Kontakt and Hauptwerk at this stage. I also have MidiTzer loaded. I use 'Band in a Box' as the rhythm unit. Later on I'll set up a post or a youtube clip about how I'm using it.
    Last edited by Momboc; 03-14-2011, 03:23 PM.

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  • ggoodesa

    This looks like a very fun MIDI workstation setup, not just for MIDI organs! If you're into orchestral sounds you can get the OpenSource LinuxSampler application and run that and play the wonderful Salamander Grand Piano SFZ sample set http://wootangent.net/2010/05/the-sa...uxsampler-cvs/, and the Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra - CC-licensed sample library (http://sso.mattiaswestlund.net/

    Tell us what software you are currently using... and what virtual organs you enjoy playing?!


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  • Momboc
    started a topic My modular virtual MIDI organ project

    My modular virtual MIDI organ project

    Here is my modular virtual MIDI organ 'project'.

    I have seen a few threads with various members asking "How do you create a MIDI organ?", "What's the future of the home organ?" and "Would you spend $20,000 on a home organ?" etc
    One of the things that I have been keen to do is build a 'do it all' organ using MIDI controllers, sound modules and a PC. So here is my approach.

    The primary considerations are that:

    1. it is expandable - so that you can start with a simple arrangement and grow it over time,
    2. it is modular - so that any component can be upgraded or replaced without having to throw away the whole thing,
    3. it can be reconfigured - so that it can be changed and adapated according to evolving needs or new ideas,
    4. it is not proprietary - so that you are not dependent upon a single manufacturer,
    5. it is relatively inexpensive - so that you don't have to fork out $$$$ for a decent organ, particularly when compared to a name brand,
    6. it is multi role - so it can play as a pipe organ, a theatre organ, a hammond clone, a home organ and anything else that is desirable in a single instrument,
    7. it's fun to play and play with.

    This is my first version.

    It's a bit clunky but this was done as a cheap "concept demonstrator", using stuff I already had, to get an idea of how the various components could be fitted together.

    In this version the main items are:

    Yamaha P80 hammer action piano - as the lower manual
    Edirol PCR800, 61 note MIDI controller - as the upper manual
    Roland PK 5 MIDI controller - a single octave pedalboard
    These are connected using standard MIDI cables via the through/merge terminals

    A Roland JV 1010 sound module - as the tone generator

    An old Dell PC with a soundblaster card
    Wireless desktop mouse and mutlimedia keyboard

    The PC is running 'Band in a Box' - as the rhythm unit

    A small DJ mixer to merge the audio signals from the PC soundcard and the sound module

    An old combo audio system as the amplifier

    Some book shelf speakers

    It is all mounted in a chipboard box with adjustable shelving.

    Feel free to ask questions and make comments & suggestions, because this may help me and others with new ideas and thoughts.
    Last edited by Momboc; 03-13-2011, 12:59 PM.