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Newbie VPO Adventure Advice

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  • Newbie VPO Adventure Advice

    Hi all,

    I, too have caught the VPO bug!

    My wife and I both play some organ and we would like to find an organ or try creating a VPO to join our non-V-piano in our home. I have experience using MIDI, but not building MIDI capabilities, and no experience working with electricity/electronics besides replacing a few outlets and light switches. But after reading all the great and inspiring information on the forum, I think I might be able to do it!

    So here is the first of probably many questions to come: which organ/console should I start with?

    I did a search, and there are four I'm looking at at the moment:

    1) Johannus Opus 220, FREE (https://jonesboro.craigslist.org/msg...503105580.html)
    Plusses: It's free! It's only 2 1/2 hours away from home! It (mostly) works!
    Minuses: Only two manuals. We might want three, if available, but that's not a deal breaker. Some sticky keys. Are they easy to fix? And as I understand it (I couldn't fine a user manual online), it has no MIDI capabilities. Is that right? I also wonder about the sound system. Does it only have internal speakers? Does it also have external speaker capabilities? Does it have a headphone jack? Would it be relatively easy to add MIDI for a VPO?

    2) Baldwin/Viscount C400, $1400 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/38489936833...0AAOSwY0RioLhp)
    Plusses: Three manuals! Looks really nice! It has MIDI built in, but don't know if it works. I would learn a lot about building a VPO (same goes for the Johannus, I guess).
    Minuses: Some things work, many don't! It's 5 1/2 hours away from home. But if it's the best deal to go for, I'd make the trip. Will it fit in my front door? Does anyone know the dimensions of the console? How heavy is it? Would it be worth it to buy it, get rid of anything that doesn't work, and build the VPO from what's left? If I gut it for a VPO am I paying for too much stuff I don't need? Like all those lovely lighted pull stops! Could I sell the parts I don't want on ebay/craigslist? Or trade?...

    3) Allen ADC 1140 T, $2800 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/15505108203...gAAOSw69NisMkY)
    Plusses: It looks like it works fine. We wouldn't be averse to obtaining a perfectly good, functioning organ for the right price, and gradually add the VPO later. How old is it? I assume that's probably a decent price depending on age.
    Minuses: It's 8 1/2 hours from home. That's a long way to go to try it out, but not buy. Does it have MIDI built in? Does it have external speaker outputs? I assume it has internal speakers. Is there something I'm missing about this one?

    4) Cambridge/Rodgers (model??), $2000 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/28487154953...3ABFBMloyz279g)
    Plusses: I've read good things about these organs, but I don't know what model this is. And what's up with that ebay address? It's very far away from home, but we're actually vacationing quite nearby right now. Maybe it's worth taking a look.
    Minuses: What model is it? Same questions as earlier about MIDI and sound system capabilities. The sellers don't give much info about its condition, or just don't know anything about it. One of the lights on the music stand is out. The pictures are fuzzy. Actually, one of the three pictures they include is of a completely different organ. I read an earlier post about bogus listings on ebay and craigslist. Could this be one? (that ebay address, again...)

    Some more background info: I play an Allen organ at my church. Two manuals, not sure what model. I'm a pianist, so I mostly use the pedal coupler. But I'm trying to teach myself to play the pedals! If we get an organ at home, I should start some lessons. My wife has had organ lessons, and has had a few regular church gigs in the past, but only substitutes occasionally at this time.

    Right now, I'm inclined to get the Johannus because it's closest to home, and the price is right! Plus I am sometimes too slow at completing house 'projects' and I wouldn't want this to be a big mess in the middle of the house for too long. That's assuming it would be less of a mess than the Baldwin...

    Anyway, I hope this isn't too long winded. Any advice would be much appreciated!

    Good Day!
    pd
    --

  • #2
    I'd be wary of the Rodgers Cambridge (presumably 220 II). The seller doesn't appear to know much about organs. (S)He lists it at 27 lbs., features a speaker (doesn't say whether it's internal or external), lists it as a pipe organ, size=48", length=30", nothing about the depth, the bench is made of apple wood (sure it is–to my knowledge Rodgers never used apple wood), he talks about the bench being very heavy, but nothing about the organ. They are also using photos of 2 different organs! Look at the toe studs to the right of the expression pedals–they don't match number & location.

    With the Rodgers, I would proceed with EXTREME caution. It could be an inexperienced seller (only 2 ratings), and that sometimes opens up opportunities to get something for next to nothing. BTW, a Cambridge organ will be analog and VERY heavy.

    The Allen doesn't have MIDI built in. An Allen ADC organ will only have note on/off if it has MIDI. However, they are quite adaptable to MIDI depending on what method you use. This organ has internal speakers, but can probably be converted to external speakers easily.

    Because I have no experience with Johannus or the Baldwin/Viscount, I'll defer to others' expertise on those models. Hope this helps.

    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


    • #3
      Conway, AR! Wow! We lived in Greenbrier for 30 years and Conway is one of my favorite places. Do we know each other?

      Anyway, I've been building my VPO for just over two years now, and hope to offer you some help when I can.

      Be sure to check on weights and dimensions before you buy anything. That Rodgers console, for one, is huge and heavy. Not at all something I'd recommend for a home organ. Very old too.

      The Baldwin C400 might be a good choice. One member here has that model and enjoys it very much. But be sure to check any organ out before you commit to bringing it home.

      Good luck!
      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


      • myorgan
        myorgan commented
        Editing a comment
        @pdcomp,

        What model is that Allen?

        Michael
        Last edited by myorgan; 08-06-2022, 11:34 AM. Reason: Fix capital for proper noun.

      • pdcomp
        pdcomp commented
        Editing a comment
        Michael,
        I'm not sure. I'll look at it when I get back from vacation next week. It has two manuals, but a few fewer stops than the MDS45 at my church. Do you think I could diagnose it and maybe fix some things with the Forum's help?

      • myorgan
        myorgan commented
        Editing a comment
        Originally posted by pdcomp View Post
        Do you think I could diagnose it and maybe fix some things with the Forum's help?
        @pdcomp

        The answer to that depends mostly on you. Someone with technical knowledge–most definitely. Someone who only knows how to play–it depends on how comfortable they feel taking risks.

        Michael

    • #4
      The organ at UCA is an ADC5000 that I installed there in the Recital Hall in 1985 or 86. It was heavily used back then. Had a second speaker array in Farris Center, where the organ would be set up for graduation and other events. Then they abruptly stopped using it and it went downhill fast. I haven't seen it in years. It could need a tremendous amount of work.
      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


      • #5
        You have some good advice already, so all I'm going to say for right now is : You Do Not want the Baldwin C-400, even though it is a good looking console. There is a real good chance that the most important parts for making a MIDI instrument out of it ( or restoring it to functional condition ) are no longer all in good condition. Those would be the key contacts, and those are a known issue with that era of Viscount organs. It may say Baldwin on the name tag, but it is actually a Viscount model 1332 organ. It might have built in MIDI, but if you have a bunch of key contacts that have failed, I doubt that the MIDI functions will work right. See this thread for more information :

        https://organforum.com/forums/forum/...ntained-organs

        And this thread :

        https://organforum.com/forums/forum/...-baldwin-model

        Regards, Larry

        At Home : Yamaha Electones : EX-42 ( X 3 !!! ), E-5AR, FX-1 ( X 2 !! ), FX-20, EL-25 ( X 2 ). 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
          Thanks for all the advice so far, everyone. I was leaning towards the Johannus at first (it seems simpler to adapt to a VPO), then the Baldwin (a third manual, and already has MIDI). Then I thought the Baldwin had been sold, but just today, it was relisted!

          So today, based on the listings and your responses, my decision seems to be:
          a) fix some minor things on the Johannus and add MIDI
          OR
          b) fix many things on the Baldwin, including possibly re-adding MIDI (if the MIDI on the Baldwin is in fact as unreliable as Larrytow and others on those two topics say it might be).

          I hope to look at one or both this week. The Johannus is fairly close. Is it worth the extra six hours of driving to look at the Baldwin too?

          Comment


          • Larrytow
            Larrytow commented
            Editing a comment
            Those Baldwins are reasonably nice consoles, and the Fatar keyboards feel nice enough. If the contacts are good / have been replaced / etc, it might be worthwhile as a MIDI controller console. The built in voices though are all Viscount, and have a very European style voicing to them, no matter what the stop-knobs say. I think they are thin and brittle sounding - some like that sound - I don't.

            Is the 6 hour drive one way, or is that round trip ? The only best way to evaluate the condition of a used large organ it to check it out in person. Most sellers of organs in that size range do not know enough to thoroughly check Everything that needs checking. So most are not able to state that Everything works as it was designed to, and be correct about it. There are some exceptions of course, but most big ones like this come from churches, and the organist is not usually the person in charge of selling it.

            Only you can say if the driving time is an investment you care to make. Even 3 hours there, 1-2 hours checking it out, and 3 hours back makes for a pretty full day. I actually like driving around my state on missions like these, but most people probably don't. A trip like this could land up being a complete waste of a day, but then too, perhaps not ?

          • pdcomp
            pdcomp commented
            Editing a comment
            Larrytow,
            Do you (or anyone on the forum) have a picture of what these single dome or double dome key contacts look like? Just so I know what I'm dealing with.

            The six hours would be round trip.

          • Larrytow
            Larrytow commented
            Editing a comment
            Yes, I have photos of the contacts. But I'm on my way to bed now, so will post them ( or a link to them ) when I get up later.

        • #7
          pdcomp

          Here is a link to a file folder with photos of a Baldwin C-400 / Viscount 1332 organ at a church here in WI. Their contacts are failing one by one, and the old single dome ones are not available Anywhere as far as I could determine. And I did a lot of research trying to find some for them. The newer double dome style contacts are available from Viscount USA, but they need to order them from Italy. The double dome cannot replace the single dome style - the mounting is too different. Perhaps the wiring is too, but the job never got that far, since the new style contact strips won't physically fit where the old ones are anyhow.

          https://drive.google.com/drive/folde...4O?usp=sharing

          I suppose if the console really is one you "must have", and the contact strips are shot, it might be possible to retrofit a completely new contact system to all three manuals. That would be way more time, cost, and trouble than it is worth, in my opinion. At this point in time though, it is possible that the original contacts were replaced at some time in the past, and the current ones are all in good shape and functional.
          Regards, Larry

          At Home : Yamaha Electones : EX-42 ( X 3 !!! ), E-5AR, FX-1 ( X 2 !! ), FX-20, EL-25 ( X 2 ). 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


          • pdcomp
            pdcomp commented
            Editing a comment
            Thanks, Larrytow! I couldn't see anything but wires while looking at the back of the Johannus. But the manuals seem to be working well at the moment.

          • Larrytow
            Larrytow commented
            Editing a comment
            Well, it makes sense that you could not see the key contacts in either organ. They are underneath the keyboards, and you have to do some disassembly to get to the point that you can hinge the keyboards Up to see them. You usually would not invest that much time in investigating an organ for sale. And many sellers would not allow you to do that anyhow. Thats why I was saying test the Function of all the keys. The photos were mainly because you asked to see them, and I have them available.

        • #8
          Well, I looked at the Johannus a couple days ago. I was told it hasn't been played regularly in several years. But it mostly still works.

          In general, the action on the keyboards is rather springy, and some of the stops sound very 'electronic,' but many of the standard stops, especially when combined together sound decent enough. The upper range of some of the stops, especially the 2' and above, start fading out and are hard to hear in the top octave. I suppose that was by design. I could certainly use it just for some practice at home.

          But if I want to make a VPO, should I get rid of all the old sounds and corresponding electronics? Is it possible to have both the original organ sounds and VPO capability? I don't suppose I would use the old sounds much if I have several nice sample sets to play with. But I need to keep some of the old wiring and stuff to convert it to a VPO, right?

          All the notes and all the stops work on the Great and Swell manuals. The only anomaly is the Fagotto 16' on the Swell: the middle octave (C4 to B4) changes to a different timbre, and then changes back starting at C5.

          The pedal stops all work. But there are four pedal notes that have problems. The lowest C# (C#2) F and F# would not make a sound when pressing the pedals. But if I pulled the pedal board away, I could press the metal tabs that the pedals contact and the notes would sound. So either the pedals themselves need adjusting to press the metal tabs better (farther down?), or maybe the contacts with the metal tabs need adjusting? (The first picture shows the metal tabs. The second shows the key contacts from the back? Not sure what some of this stuff in the back is, or how to 'fix' it! And I couldn't do anything else to it at the time, anyway.)

          Click image for larger version

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          Also the high C# (C#4) often gets stuck on. Occasionally I could wiggle or stomp on the pedal to get it to stop playing. But usually I had to pull the pedal board away and wiggle the metal tab with my hand to get it to stop. Also, when I coupled the Great or Swell to the pedals the C#4 would sometimes randomly sound when not playing/pressing anything on the organ. So that must be a problem with the contacts again, I guess. This is my first experience 'testing' an organ!

          There's a Chorus knob that seems to slightly detune one of the manuals in relation to the other--not sure about that. And there's a Cathedral knob that must have some faulty wiring: it just produces a lot of loud electronic crackle through the speakers. And I think there's a 1/4" headphone jack that I didn't try because I had no 1/4" jack headphones! The speakers seem to be fine. But eventually I suppose I would want some better external speakers. Could I combine the existing speakers with external? Or is it easier to just use external?

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          So, are these pedal notes fixable? Is this a good candidate for a VPO? I've read lots of great info here over the past month. And my head is swirling. But I think I better not bite off more than I can chew, at least to start with. So, I'm leaning towards acquiring this rather than the Baldwin. I'm not sure I have room for the Baldwin in the house, anyway.

          Comment


          • #9
            I'm guessing the Johannus is old enough that it does not have MIDI from the factory ? If that is the situation, others here will need to advise you if that is a good candidate to convert to MIDI, or add MIDI capabilities onto. I've never done any add-on or retrofit MIDI jobs, but many others here have successfully done those jobs. I do know that it is a lot of putzy work to do such a thing, and not everyone has the patience to do it nicely.

            If the Baldwin has good contacts it still might be better than converting a console without them to have MIDI capabilities. The Baldwin has a pretty complete Input / Output panel on the back, and that panel has MIDI In, Out, and Through ports on it already. Then it is only a matter of plugging in your MIDI devices into those ports, and the output audio from the computer ( or whatever ) into the Audio In on the console.

            Making the big Baldwin console fit into your house is another matter altogether, of course.
            Regards, Larry

            At Home : Yamaha Electones : EX-42 ( X 3 !!! ), E-5AR, FX-1 ( X 2 !! ), FX-20, EL-25 ( X 2 ). 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
              I would be surprised if the Johannus doesn't have midi, it would have been a good idea to take a picture of the connectors. The Johannus' pedals should be pretty easily fixable, so it would make a good VPO candidate. However, if there's anything wrong with the IC's, they would have to be replaced. Johannus is still around, but companies don't always support older products. Not sure what year it would be from. I think the problem with the Contra Fagotto will probably require a board replacement.

              I wouldn't totally discard the Allen because it is far away. It will have the nicest keyboards out of all of them, and the most reliable components. If you do choose to convert it to MIDI alone, it is otherwise pretty easy to convert. Converting is fiddly work, but we could help you with the project. The ADC organs had pretty good sounds, but the sound is improved if you get a small mixer with reverb to add between the organ and the amplifier.

              So my overall impression is Johannus/Baldwin would be ok, but have a fair number of problems. Allen good, but far away, and not as complete midi implementation. Cambridge/Rodgers is probably analog, so needing a lot of work, and probably not a good candidate for conversion.

              So for which organ would sound good and be reliable for playing without Midi, probably only the Allen. Which one would be good for playing out of the box Midi? Probably only the Johannus, but once you rack up more board problems like the Contra Fagotto 16, you probably won't be able to play it without midi. The Allen may have basic MIDI, which you can use for experimenting. Which organ would make a good midi conversion? Definitely the Allen. Potentially the Johannus/Baldwin, but I don't think they would be very reliable. If their contacts are giving trouble now, they will give more trouble later. TLDR version: Get the Allen.

              Current: Allen 225 RTC, W. Bell reed organ, Lowrey TGS, Singer upright grand
              Former: Yamaha E3R
              https://www.exercisesincatholicmythology.com

              Comment


              • #11
                Larason2, I think some parts of your last post are going to get pdcomp sorta confused. In two places you mention "JOHANNUS/Baldwin" to identify one of the organs he is considering. He actually mentioned 4 different organs in his OP, and none of those match your description.

                The 4 he mentioned are : 1) Johannus Opus 220, 2) Baldwin/Viscount C400, 3) Allen ADC 1140 T, and 4) Cambridge/Rodgers (model??). Of those 4 options, these are a few of my thoughts (FWIW ) on each of them for his intended use :

                #1, I don't have much experience with Johannus organs, as they are not at all common here in churches, or homes for that matter. To me, that right there says something about their quality. Looking at the photos posted, it looks to be an older one, and likely does not have MIDI built in. If it is an older one, the native sounds in it are likely very European. Whether or not it would be a good candidate to convert to a MIDI only console I will leave for others to comment on.

                #2, The Baldwin C400 is actually a Viscount 1332. This organ has nothing inside of it that was made by Baldwin - it is Viscount thru and thru. The external speakers and amps ( if it has those ) might well be Baldwin made, but that too is not a sure thing. This is the one that may very well have failing key contacts, as that is a very common problem with the Viscount organs of that era ( 1994 - 95 ). But again, they might well have been replaced at some point, so the replacement ones may still be in good shape. The only way to know is to visit the organ and try out Every key. The native sounds in this one are also very European, thin, and Baroke sounding.

                This one does have built in MIDI, and it seems to be a well done implementation. If the key contacts are a problem though, the MIDI signals would not be transmitted either. It also looks like retrofitting those Fatar keyboards completely with a different contact system would be very difficult and expensive, if that is even a possibility. So if one wanted that console to make into a MIDI only controller, it would probably require 3 replacement manuals, and their associated contact systems. This one has multiplexed ribbon cables coming from each manual, and that is what the computer wants to see. Duplicating that with 3 manuals of a different style would be way more complicated work than it is worth, so MIDI only is the way to go if you decide to do that.

                #3, The Allen ADC 1140T is going to be the best sounding organ of this group. The native sounds are real good, and the console construction is the best. I don't know if these came with a MIDI option or not. If it does have built in MIDI, it might be a limited implementation where it transmits note information ONLY. As in No expression or stop data gets sent. Allen ( even as High Class as they are ) were kinda late to the organs with MIDI game. And then when they did start putting MIDI in organs, their earliest implementations were sorta Half As$%&.

                #4, The Rodgers Cambridge will be an analog organ. As such it will be the heaviest to move of the group. When an analog Rodgers is working well, the native sounds are decent enough considering. Not sure, but I think this one is old enough that Rodgers did not put MIDI in it. The later 80s Rodgers could have MIDI either built in, or added as a kit. The 755 I play now and then does have MIDI, and it is a pretty well done implementation from the manuals I have read.

                The one thing you need to know is that adding MIDI to an organ, AND keeping the native tone generation working alongside of it, is more complicated than it seems. So the practical choice usually is to get rid of the native sound producing components and use the hardware to make a MIDI only console. I agree that having both available is nice, but really the best way to do that in an economical way is to find an organ you like that already has built in MIDI capabilities. That way you have the best of both worlds
                Regards, Larry

                At Home : Yamaha Electones : EX-42 ( X 3 !!! ), E-5AR, FX-1 ( X 2 !! ), FX-20, EL-25 ( X 2 ). 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


                • Larason2
                  Larason2 commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Ah, yes - I suppose you are right. It was less confusing in my head. Still, I don’t think the Johannus or the Baldwin/Viscount are the best options. Other opinions may vary.

                • Larrytow
                  Larrytow commented
                  Editing a comment
                  I agree with you Larason2 - Unless that Baldwin is in perfect shape, none of them sound ideal for a MIDI project. Of course, there is always the consideration of how long someone is willing to wait for a really good candidate to become available. If the Allen is in good shape, that might be one to get, just to have something to play at home.
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