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Affordable thumb pistons?

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    Affordable thumb pistons?

    For those who have built a VPO console from scratch, what do you use for pistons? Obviously, a junked-out church organ console may be a good source, once you find the ones you want, tear them out of there, un-solder and clean them up. And of course the organ supply houses have pistons to sell (at very high prices, shockingly high if you are wanting to put about 20 of them on your console).

    A thumb piston is just an ordinary single-pole, momentary contact, normally-off, push-button non-tactile switch with a diameter of around 1/2" (12 or 13 mm). Round plastic in format, with the button part sticking out 4 or 5 mm from the flush-mounting body. The switch needs to be mountable into a thin strip of wood, preferably with friction or snap-mount, and should have two terminals on the back suitable for soldering to a thin wire.

    The ability to have numerals and/or lettering engraved into them is of course a nicety, but I have seen consoles where the pistons had plain faces, but had labels applied to the keyslip itself. I could live with that, if the difference in price is a thousand dollars!

    Searching about the internet for an hour or so just now, I didn't come up with exactly what I want, but I did find these very affordable switches that come close. The biggest problem is that they are black, and pistons are supposed to be WHITE, right?

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BD1XKF4...jaz10cnVl&th=1

    Anybody have something better to recommend?
    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

    #2
    John,

    What about some of the parted-out piston rails from Rodgers, Allen, and others?

    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)
    • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos

    Comment


    • jbird604
      jbird604 commented
      Editing a comment
      That would seem to be a good source. In our shop though we seem to use up all the pistons we part out just to keep customer's organs repaired. We even resort to ordering new ones from Syndyne or from Allen, both types at very high prices! There may be folks on *bay selling parted-out piston rails, but I haven't searched for them yet.

      Just starting to think about my MIDI console at this point. If I go ahead and MIDI up the old Allen console I'm bringing home this week, it only has three pistons. I'm thinking of going European style -- a row of 12 or 15 pistons below the great manual only. I'll have to get a strip of wood and make a custom keyslip for that.

    • myorgan
      myorgan commented
      Editing a comment
      There are some on *Bay. It appears there are more and more people parting old Allens out now. I understand why, but can't stand to see a usable organ parted out–no matter how old the technology.

      Michael

    #3
    Well they do have red ones too, for those combinations that bring out your devilish instincts.
    Larry is my name; Allen is an organ brand. Allen RMWTHEA.3 with RMI Electra-Piano; Allen 423-C+Gyro; Britson Opus OEM38; Saville Series IV Opus 209; Steinway AR Duo-Art, Mills Violano Virtuoso with MIDI; Hammond 9812H with roll player; Gulbransen Rialto; Roland E-200; Mason&Hamlin AR Ampico piano, Allen ADC-5300-D with MIDI.

    Comment


    • jbird604
      jbird604 commented
      Editing a comment
      Yes indeed! Red ones would be quite appropriate for setting those big reedy registrations that sound like the fires of Hades. They also have them in green, and I saw one offering for a pack of assorted colors. I suppose that the assorted colors could be useful, as one could spot the desired piston without having to bend down and look at the numbers. Maybe it's time to end the tyranny of the WHITE piston!

    • myorgan
      myorgan commented
      Editing a comment
      Thank you, Cameron Carpenter!

      Michael

    #4
    Small diameter momentary push button switches are available at low prices and might suffice nicely for pistons--see this auction: https://tinyurl.com/s7sue6d

    It's stainless steel instead of white plastic, and I don't know if it would engrave well, but it is the right size and very low in cost. There are other similar designs available with different actuators, some with LED indicators built in. Look for momentary switches on ebay.

    By the way, black and red pistons and been used for piston buttons, though white has become more common.

    Comment


    • jbird604
      jbird604 commented
      Editing a comment
      Those look pretty nice. The shiny metal would be less gaudy than red or green buttons, I think.

    • myorgan
      myorgan commented
      Editing a comment
      John,

      Think of spotlights, though. Properly aimed, a light could burn a hole in something!

      Michael

    #5
    I know of a VPO build using push-button doorbell switches as pistons. Very inexpensive as I understand it but I haven't been able to find any. Just about all doorbells these days are wireless and use different buttons. Are VPO's that old?

    Comment


      #6
      Amazing how quickly a technology can change. Not that long ago, most houses had wired doorbells, and that round white button was the most common switch. These days, why would any builder waste the dollars (even though it's cheap) to put a doorbell into a new house, when people are rapidly switching to "Ring" and other systems that take the place of a doorbell and do a ton of other stuff as well? Even long before "Ring" came along there were inexpensive wireless doorbell systems that didn't have video or cell phone connectivity, but provided a quick and easy no-wire replacement for an old broken doorbell system.

      Another major application for small momentary contact switches is in automobile dashboards. But even there the single touch-screen video display in the middle of the dash is absorbing many of the functions that formerly required a hardware switch. How long before every car's dash becomes a smooth button-free surface?

      Organs may have to adapt and switch to touch-screens or membrane switches for all functions. Hardware switches may become increasingly rare and expensive, and organs are built in such small numbers the builders won't have the money to get switches made just for them.

      I'll remain old-school though. I want knobs that pull out with a satisfying clunk, tabs that snap into place, and real pushbuttons with a long enough travel to tell my finger or thumb that the action has been completed!
      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


      • m&m's
        m&m's commented
        Editing a comment
        I have a set of pistons from an Allen 301 that I picked up last year with the idea of doing something with some parts from the console, a project that did not work out. I have saved the piston rails, but no longer have a need for the pistons. Surprisingly, they were not glued in, and can easily be pushed out. I will let them go for a nominal price plus postage. Six pistons each Swell, Great, and General, plus Set, Camcel, and Sforzando. Any takers?

      • myorgan
        myorgan commented
        Editing a comment
        M&M,

        Post a classified. Ironically, the piston rails I mentioned on the Bay sold almost immediately.

        Michael

      #7
      John, I suppose you could paint the faces of the black switches with white nail polish. Nail polish is intended to be applied to a non porous surface, so it might work.
      Bill

      My home organ: Content M5800 as a midi controller for Hauptwerk

      Comment


      • jbird604
        jbird604 commented
        Editing a comment
        I had thought about nail polish, and in fact had a conversation with another forum member this morning and mentioned that. Could work and look ok if applied with great precision.

      #8
      Because the console I use doesn't output MIDI messages for the thumb pistons, I've configured a couple of the top keys of the keyboard which my sample sets don't use to send messages which I use in the combination sequencer of my VPO.

      I quite like using the sequencer. In fact I like only to use the Next function. I set up all the registration changes as a sequence. So even if I revert to a previous registration I simply recreate that registration and add it to the next "slot" in the sequence. It's a little tedious if there are a lot of reversions, but once it is set up it is extremely easy to use while playing. You only ever have remember to press the whatever control you have. Of course, if you have even only a few pistons, you can have a Next controller for each keyboard and also a toe stud for maximum flexibility.

      Just having a few pistons or controls should cut down on the cost considerably.

      Comment


        #9
        The donor console I am working with has a plethora of proprietary pistons, but they have perhaps, the most awful tactile engagement of any piston I have ever pushed. There is no travel to speak of, just a barely perceptible click. Figuring out how they are wired on the circuit board modules will also be something of a pain. Each piston has a tiny green LED inset. I am not sure about whether I can hook the LED's independently to the MIDI decoder to acknowledge piston presses.

        The stop switches also have a non-standard wiring matrix, they do not have SAM's. They use lighted pistons as part of the (non-functional) combination action. You set your initial registration on the stop tabs, but if you cancel or change that registration the lights will indicate the new status of things. If you need a cancelled stop again you would need to use the piston above the stop tab to activate the rank because the stop switch (already in the ON position) would not be effective.

        It is a kludgy and non-intuitive system, and I would like to implement a more normal functionality. I'm thinking of putting springs under the stop tabs so they will return to the OFF position when pressed. The lights in the pistons would indicate the active status (or not) of any stop. I'm thinking of yanking all those redundant pistons over the stop tabs , there are 76 of them, John (I can make you a better offer than m&m . Use bigger LED's that will fill a 1/2" opening for stop status indication. I will still have more pistons left than any 3m instrument needs.

        Comment


          #10
          Thank you all for the kind offers. I even got a call from a member today informing me of a complete capture action that a friend of his was selling! Right now I'm not going to snap up anything, as my plans are still fluid, so I encourage you to put your stuff on ebay if you want to get rid of it. But I am very grateful for every offer of help with this question. You guys are the best!

          I was at the shop today prepping the old Allen MOS 120 for transport to the house tomorrow. It has a completely blank keyslip under the great, as the only pistons it has are three blind generals on the slip between the two manuals. Feeling around under there I decided that it would be quite easy to mount 16 pistons all in a row under the great. They will all be generals, so I'd need numbers 1 through 16, which would be very unusual to find used anywhere, I suppose.

          My feeling is that I may well mount 16 of those black ones from Amazon on the slip, then add a very small strip of wood right below the keyslip, with the edge angled slightly upward so I can apply labels there to ID each piston clearly. That will make engraving of each button unnecessary, and might even be an advantage, as I won't have to lean back or bend over to see the numbers!

          Anyway, this is all on the assumption that I'll actually carry through with my plans this time. In the past I've balked at converting a console to VPO, knowing that it might wind up getting sold. But this old dog I'm bringing home isn't likely to attract any buyers, so I should be able to safely convert it and keep it!
          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


            #11
            I've found the white switches on eBay from time to time so it's likely they will show up again. I've never seen the need to try engraving them as I typically install them in groups of five and I can keep that straight in my head without the engraving. Even if it's 15 generals in three groups it doesn't seem hard to keep track of where I store a registration.
            http://www.kinkennon.com

            Comment


            • jbird604
              jbird604 commented
              Editing a comment
              I can see that. The keyslip under the great on this organ has mounting screws that break the available length into three sections. The middle one is slightly shorter than the two outside ones. I can visualize a Set piston on the far left, a Cancel piston on the far right, and then three groups of 5 pistons each in between. Surely I could recall which ones hold which registrations without requiring them to be numbered. I could maybe memorize them according to which key on the great manual they fall under.
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