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Where to begin converting Rodgers 800 analog to VPO

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  • Where to begin converting Rodgers 800 analog to VPO

    We have a Rodgers 800 analog organ with two manuals and a pedalboard. The timing circuit board has gone bad, so it is not operating. We don't want to spend more than $500--can it be done for that price? We have an older laptop, iPad, or desktop computer to use with it. It does not have midi capabilities. We see all kinds of videos and tutorials, and my husband can do the technical work, but where do we start? And where do we get the necessary components? Or is there a market to sell the organ so we can start over? We live in Idaho.

  • #2
    Viscount C400 3-manual
    8 channels + 2 reverb channels (w/ Lexicon MX200)
    Klipsch RSX-3 speakers and Klipsch Ultra 5.1 subwoofers


    • #3
      Your first step is to midify the console. You will want to midify the manuals, pedals, pistons, expression, and crescendo. If you're not planning on using touchscreens for your stop selection, you'll also want to midify the stop controls. Midi Boutique is a helpful and good source of the encoders you'll need to use for your conversion, but there are others.

      The next step is to assess what you'll need in a computer. This will depend to some extent on the VPO software you will use, but primarily on the sample sets you wish to use. Here are the recommendations for Hauptwerk for both Mac and Windows., but you'll also need to check the memory requirements of the individual sample sets you're interested in.

      Final step is to decide upon your audio configuration. You'll need a computer audio device such as a sound card or external audio interface. You'll need to decide how many channels of audio you want. You should have at least two channels, but you can go up to 500+ channels with Hauptwerk if you have the room and budget. You should be able to re-purpose the audio system for your amps and speakers.

      Even if you wind up using the free Grand Orgue software or the free Hauptwerk version, a $500 budget is cutting it close. You should be able to do the MIDI conversion for around that amount, but your current computers might need an upgrade beyond what you currently have.

      Feel free to ask more questions.

      Allen 965
      Zuma Group Midi Keyboard Encoder
      Zuma Group DM Midi Stop Controller
      Hauptwerk 4.2


      • #4
        If you organ was digital them it would be a bit cheaper. When folks say midify they mean taking the analog signal and turning it to digital. You would need an additional board (midi boutique has those) between the keyboard or pedals before the encoder. It's not huge money but it's something to take into account. Now that the keyboard will be putting out a matrix set of contacts (if I can put it that way) they go into the midi encoder which makes them into midi input to the sound card on your computer. Then the organ software knows what notes you are trying to play.

        If you are able to use the amplifiers out of the current organ as well as the speakers and you have a way to adjust the output of each then the conversion hardware is probably closer to $6-700 bucks but the time it's all done. The extra cost and time is due to starting analog.

        Also keep in mind that you could buy keyboards with midi out as an option. In that case you will just need a midi controller so the computer can keep them straight


        • #5
          The more you can do yourself in terms of working out your organ configuration and then doing the wiring and soldering the less expensive it will be. If you have the skills it is quite rewarding to do this work yourself.

          As noted above firstly you will need MIDI encoders for the keyboards/pedals/stops/expression that will convert the physical electrical contacts into MIDI messages that can be understood by your computer and organ software. Many here recommend Midi Boutique as a source for a wide range of encoders but I also found Midi-Hardware to be good. They have a smaller (and perhaps less confusing) range of midi gear which is somewhat less expensive and I found the owner to be very helpful.

          If your organ keyboards/stops etc are arranged in a scanned matrix configuration you should be able to get encoders (2 keyboards, pedals, 3 expression, 30+ stops) for around US$150 + shipping from Europe. Add another $20 or so for wiring, plugs and power supply. If your keyboards are not matrixed you need different encoders (add $100) and need to wire these to each key/stop switch separately (up to 4 times as much wiring, time and effort).

          Your computers will almost certainly not have a dedicated MIDI socket. Most MIDI encoders will have a MIDI standard 5 pin output socket. You will need a converter cable to convert this to USB to plug into your computer. You can get cheap ones from eBay for under $10. I have had some success with these but others have not. A quality one (eg Roland UM-ONE) will be about $40.

          Older computers can be successfully used with a VPO provided you don't use too big a sampleset. Memory is probably more important than CPU power. Hauptwerk is the gold standard in VPOs of course and is commercial software. A couple others which are free are Grandorgue and jOrgan. I like GrandOrgue better. I believe Hauptwerk and Grandorgue share the same software ancestry but being free and open source GrandOrgue is no where near as refined as Hauptwerk in terms of features, ease of configuration and documentation. That's the price of free.

          GrandOrgue (GO) is available for Windows, OSX and Linux. Seeing you have an iPad there is also an app available (not free) usable with just the one built-in sampleset for iPad or iPhone. If your computers are limited in resources I would highly recommend trying "GO Live". This is a bare-bones low resource Linux operating system with GrandOrgue and a basic sampleset pre-installed. You burn the system image onto a DVD or a usb memory stick (google how to burn and boot a live ISO image) and set your computer to boot from DVD or USB. Insert the DVD/Usb and the system will boot up with GO started and ready to go without affecting anything on your existing hard drive. Remove the DVD/USB to boot up your original Windows system. GO Live is ideal for testing and trying things out, but is very slow to load so is not really usable as a regular system. If you find it works well, and you don't want the computer for anything else, you can install GO Live onto your hard drive. Be warned this will irreversibly erase Windows and anything else on your hard drive. It is a dedicated Grandorgue system and is what I use on our church's organ.

          There are only around 20 free samplesets that can be used with Grandorgue and very few you can buy. Many of them are of great quality but are mostly limited to small Baroque and Romantic European organs. As a general rule you cannot use the multitude of commercial samplesets available for Hauptwerk with Grandorgue.

          If your organ's audio system and speakers work OK just plug the computer/iPad audio out into this and you're ready to go.

          Under $500 is easily do-able...but the trade-off is needing plenty of time and research as well as some basic computer/electronic knowledge and wiring skills. As a guide it recently took me about 40 hours to midify a small two manual 1960s vintage organ with non-matrixed keyboards for under AU$500. You could save even more using generic hardware from the Arduino family...with a requisite increase in time, programming and research.

          I hope that gives you some idea. Good luck.
          Last edited by Powerin; 09-09-2018, 02:08 AM.


          • #6
            "There are only around 20 free samplesets that can be used with Grandorgue and very few you can buy. Many of them are of great quality but are mostly limited to small Baroque and Romantic European organs. As a general rule you cannot use the multitude of commercial samplesets available for Hauptwerk with Grandorgue."

            Actually you can use any unencrypted HW sample set in GrandOrgue if you are willing to spend the time creating the organ definition file (ODF). There are a few ODFS out there which have been made available for some of the commercial sample sets. You can also make composite sample sets from the various free demo sample sets by combining them into one sample set. Of course, you need to tweak the tuning and you have to voice the samples, but I find that enjoyable. I have created a sample set which I very much enjoy playing of 58 stops, including a 32' Untersatz and a 32' Posaune. All of the samples are free.

            Piotr Grabowski has created and made available for free some very high quality sample sets at in both HW and GrandOrgue formats. There is a variety of sample sets available, from baroque to romantic. The beautiful Giubiasco sample set is one of my favorites for Bach.


            • #7
              The Rodgers 800 is a pretty decent platform for MIDI conversion. It's old enough to have quite sturdy construction, good keyboards with reliable contacts, good pedalboards. The stop tabs could be the "sticky" type, or maybe not. If they feel like they get stuck in the "on" position, requiring a bit of effort to free them each time, that could be a problem. But if they are fine, and the capture action still works, you can probably wire up the stops to your MIDI encoder and not have to settle for a touch screen.

              The 800 should have 3 or 4 audio channels, each one powered by an old reliable "S-100" amplifier, a fine amp for organ sound, plenty of power and to spare. These amps are turned on with an internal relay, sensing a 15 volt signal from the organ at power-up. You'll need to retain the organ power supply to operate these relays, and of course the capture action if you're keeping it.

              The speakers may or may not be re-usable though. It probably has 2 or 3 of the "M10" speakers -- a Rodgers design with six 6x9 "car radio" speakers plus four little plastic piezo tweeters. These are not very "hi-fi" though they probably served decently to project organ tones from this organ. There will also be a subwoofer, possibly a very big one, and it might come in really handy in your setup. Or you might prefer to ditch it and buy a more reasonably sized modern sub or pair of subs.

              If you all have tech skills, you should be able to do this, especially considering how much help you can get from this forum and other online groups who support VPO's. And your console will probably be sturdier and more rugged than most you can buy today.

              You might ought to get a copy of the 800 service manual so you'll be able to tell where the wires go, and which portions of the power supply you need to preserve.
              Church: Allen MDS-45 with Allen MIDI-DIVISION-II expander
              Home: Allen Renaissance R-230 with expanded four-channel audio and MIDI-DIVISION-II
              Shop: Bunch of organs in varying conditions, some good, some not...
              Half of an incredible two-man organ service team -- servicing all the major digitals in Arkansas churches


              • #8
                Originally posted by tbeck View Post
                The beautiful Giubiasco sample set is one of my favorites for Bach.
                Agree wholeheartedly. I mostly use Guibiasco in our church. But I also love the sound of the latest Strassburg sample set, although I haven't had a chance to try it myself yet.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Powerin View Post
                  Agree wholeheartedly. I mostly use Guibiasco in our church. But I also love the sound of the latest Strassburg sample set, although I haven't had a chance to try it myself yet.
                  The Strassburg sample set is also very well done. It might be a little more "authentic" than the Giubiasco. It has a smaller specification and lacks a reed, other than the 16' Posaune in the pedal, so it is a little more limited. However, it sounds great and is a lot of fun to play. The other recent baroque sample sets from Piotr Grabowski are also terrific: the Azzio and Raszczyce.

                  However, I most often play the Giubiasco for Bach. I have extended it slightly. For some uses, I find the pedal Flauto 8', which to me sounds a little more like a principal, to be a little loud. I created a softer 8' "string" stop from the 8' Voce Umana which is a principal-scaled stop tuned slightly sharp, like a voix celeste, however to be used (I believe) with the Principale 8'. Since the Voce Umana starts at G2, I reload the Flauto 8' for the bass portion, retuned the Voce Umana and reduced the amplitude and gain on both the Flauto 8' and Voce Umana 8' to make a softer stop. Since I reload the Voce Umana and Flauto, the original stops remain unchanged. I also created a floating division, so this stop is playable from all manuals. For greater flexibility, I also added the Violoncello 8', which is actually a reed, to the floating division, which makes it playable in the pedal at 8' or 4' without having to draw it on the Great.

                  I just love all of the stops in this sample set. They really sing. All the stops in the positivo tergalo have tremmed samples, and the sound phenomenal. The pedal Ottava 4' is a great pedal cantus firmus, as is the Violoncello. The reverb and acoustic are also excellent. There is a fair amount of reverb, but rapid and polyphonic passages sound with exceptional clarity. (Well, for people who can play with clarity, which I only occasionally manage.)

                  By the way, I'm not a paid propagandist. I'm just really enthusiastic about the sample set. I find I am playing and practicing for a much longer amount of time because I enjoy the sound so much.