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    To go virtual or not, That is the question?

    I've got an Allen MDC-Classic 20 for home practice, and there are only a handful of stops on this organ that work well together, I've played with the voicing till I'm blue in the face and just can't get it to sound decent. It also has low polyphony and will drop notes when playing full chords with a lot of stops selected. It is working 100% but I'm so dissatisfied with the sound of this that I'm thinking about:

    1) Gutting it, installing a midi interface (unfortunately this model didn't have it) and going with virtual organ software. Is this a waste of a working organ that I could sell to someone else (cheap, I wouldn't ask for more than $1000.00 for it, might even let it go for a little less to the right person) who was interested in a practice organ of their own.

    2) Watching for another more up to date used organ to become available that already had Midi.

    3) Bighting the bullet and buying a new chapel organ from Allen, Roger's, or Johannus. I thinking of this as an option since by the time I have a dedicated computer, buy the midi, interfaces and Paid for Hauptwerk, I would be almost to the cost of one of Johannus's Organs. Any one had any experience with Johannus I've never Played one, or seen how they are constructed I would guess for the price their Opus line is not of the same quality as Allen or Rogers, but might be sufficient for Home use.

    So what are the pros and cons of these options? I am an electronic technician by trade so the technical aspects of putting together the virtual organ option doesn't scare me. I've looked at the option of buying new midi key boards and a pedal board, and that would cost as much as a new Johannus or Allen Chappel organ. I'm not in a big hurry right now but I am considering my options.

    #2
    After budgeting for a Hauptwerk setup and including the risk of getting on another upgrade/update train I settled for a second hand pipe organ.

    Comment


      #3
      Since the original question referred to going "virtual", I feel free to point out that there are some free programs (e.g. jOrgan, GrandOrgue etc.) where in my opinion, excellent sound quality is available. Of course, you still need a MIDI interface plus suitable audio amplifiers and speakers. I am fully satisfied with what I can do with what is a fairly basic laptop with a 1.6 GHz processor, running jOrgan, using a MIDI to USB cable, and just the onboard sound, which is then fed to an external amplifer/speakers. It doesn't have to cost a lot.

      John Reimer

      Comment


        #4
        I recently built a prototype virtual pipe organ (VPO). I was impressed with the ContreBombarde mp3's and YouTube videos and wanted "make a test run" before investing serious money -- $5000, $10,000, $15,000 -- in such a project. I already had a computer with a quad core intel chip and 8 gb ram, and an lcd monitor, so my cost was less than $500.

        My experience is as follows:

        1. CONSOLE. I rewired a 50-60 year old pipe organ console. I had to regulate the action of the entire keyboard. Many of the key contacts ("squirrel" cage type) had to be readjusted. Some of them, after many attempts, are still flakey.

        The contact springs which comprise part of the electric circuit are stretched, resulting in a "bounce" in the midi signal. Soldiering the spring where it makes connection with the keying mechanism solves this problem with some of the keys, but results in a fixed flection point in the spring where the spring will eventually break. I have soldered them on a key-by-key basis, but with the continual development of bounce in other keys, I have decided I need to solder all the keys.

        Part of the bounce problem is also due to arching at the contact points which over a period of time has etched and deformed the contact points. This is a result of the organ's original 12 volt electircal system. Now that the organ is run with 5 volt midi boards, bouncing is worse. Bounce resulting from damaged contacts *cannot* be corrected: delicate sanding of the roller rods is unsuccessful.

        Springs in the pedals also had to be retensioned and additional felt added under some of the keys which bottomed out. Now all of the pedals are of equal tension. But I am not satisfied with the tension (too high) so I am going to have to repeat the process.

        The stop/capture action is the typical mechanical action prevalent at the time. As a result of poor design, when pistons are activated, the back of the stop tab which receives all of the force from the capture mechanism is *plastic*. The plastic pivot point breaks at this point after many years of use. Epoxy glue is my temporary fix, but the force is so great that even epoxy glue slopped all over and around the break is a temporary fix. Therefore, I use the mechanism only to cancel the stops.

        Obviously there was a reason why this console was replaced.

        2. MIDI BOARDS. I decided to use midiBox boards to keep the cost down. My midiBox experience, unlike any other writer you will find on any forum, was unsatisfactory . It took three orders and twice as many boards as necessary to get the organ up and running. It took more than a month on one occasion to receive my order from SmashTV. Two of the three orders contained defective boards. My brother, an electronics engineer who worked on Motorola's defunct Iridium project, tested the boards for me. One had a defective optocoupler, the other had whisker between two tracings in the board which resulted in a short. I complained to SmashTV and was told that all parts had been tested before shipping.

        3. OPERATING SYSTEM. My operating software originally was Windows XP, but I later changed to Windows 7 64-bit. I have worked with computers as a hobby for 20-25 years. If you like to tinker with software, a VPO is for you. However, I am frustrated with an operating system that at time thinks it is a random-number generator, and occasionly does what it darned-well wants to do! I have had to reinstall Windows 64 several times because the computer midiboard (I am using Saffire) and Windows 64 will not play nicely together. (Be sure and make multiple backups. Everytime you modify your VPO software, make a backup.) After 25 years I am fed up!

        4. VPO SOFTWARE. I have used both jOrgan and the free Hauptwerk version. I did extensive searches of the internet before I setup either. The help I needed was either *not* available in howto's or found only much later after I had to learned by trial-and-error. The jOrgan setup is a snap, if you know how to do it. I didn't. The Hauptwerk setup is complicated, redundant, and the numbering of the manuals (I, II, III, etc.) is inconsistent and depends on which menu item you are currently working from.

        5. SOUNDFONTS.
        Sound fonts for jOrgan are few, almost entirely synthetic and the applied reverb sounds "springy". In a word, they are poor.

        The free organ, St. Annes, that comes with Hauptwerk is a joke. It apparently was the current Hauptwerk owner's first experiment with sound recording, and it sounds like it. The St. Annes organ is out of tune and poorly regulated. Sound amplitude, attack rate and speech are variable note to note. The sounds are those of a poorly-maintained pipe organ.

        A few free organs are available for Hauptwerk. A standout is the Paramount 310 theater pipe organ. Superb! The truncated trial version of the Volsolvo organ, a new baroque organ is also superb, but contains a severely limited number of stops - an 8', 4', 2', mutation and mixture for each manual and a 16' and 8' on the pedal. Other trials sets have superimposed sound dropouts or are unusable with the free Hauptwerk version. Several complete free sets are available, but they are synthetic and sound synthetic.

        6. SOUND SYSTEM. Listening to music through headsets is fine, if you are a teeny booper and have been raised to think Apple iPod is great. I am also underimpressed by the current rage of texting: it is nothing more than an instantaneous telegram. (You can tell how old I am!) Since this was a prototype organ I used only computer speakers. I found that computer speaker systems with a separate bass speaker work quite well. I never proceded to the next step of connecting my organ to my four Altec-Lansing Voice of the Theater speakers.

        7. MONITORS. You can use a mouse or a touch monitor to active stops and pistons for those stops that are not programmed on your organ console. Be sure to allow sufficient time between the musical phrases to reach and move your mouse, or have tiny finger tips and good aim when using your touch screen.

        8. TURNING ON THE ORGAN. Finally, whenever you decide to play your organ, allow several minutes to turn it on. There will be many switches to turn on and volume adjustments to make. Oh! You must also play a first trial note to see if your organ really did boot up properly. (This frustration is obviated by never turning your organ off. Sort of like never having to say you're "sorry"!)

        SUMMARY.

        1. If you are a computer programmer, a computer hacker, or a hobbyist, a VPO is a lot of fun.

        2. If you are a serious musician who was trained on a pipe organ or an electronic organ, you will find practicing and performing on a VPO to be a hassle. But it will improve your piano playing skills -- you will spend more time practicing the piano, and less time on the organ!
        Last edited by castaway; 11-15-2010, 09:54 AM. Reason: additional information

        Comment


          #5
          Ray,

          I too experimented with J-Organ a few years ago, but my usage of it was merely as a supplement to an existing analog Rodgers. My computer was old then, and I was running Windows ME and used a SoundBlaster card rather than the software synths more commonly used today. Since I only used it to add certain stops that the old analog lacked, I wasn't pushing the limits of the software or the computer, and it worked fine. I can't remember a single time that it failed to boot up or caused me any trouble, but my setup was very simple.

          I'd get to church in plenty of time to boot up and test, and used a small touch-screen monitor for stop control. I used the free "Stephan's Cathedral" soundfont, which had (for the time) amazingly authentic-sounding stops. I had set up a beautiful flute celeste at 8' and 4' as well as some solo reeds, chimes, and a few chiffy stops that were much better than the analog stops on the old organ. It was just enough "extra" to make the old organ tolerable.

          As to your question about what to do with your Allen MDC20 -- that is a pretty lame little thing, certainly not a good example of what Allen could do, just a cheap model they could sell for a bargain price back then. Unfortunately, you may not be able to get much of anything for it if you sell it, the market being what it is today. But I would suggest that you'd be better off to get rid of it and find something more suitable rather than trying to midi-fy that console. After all, you don't even have an AGO pedalboard, so putting MIDI on it is a lot of hard work and you'll have a sub-standard organ when you're done!

          My suggestion would be to watch for an Allen MDS series organ (from the 90's), even a small model such as the MDS-5. The MDS models were the first from Allen to fully implement MIDI. You'd be able to drive any virtual organ softward from this console and be able to control not only keying, but also stop selection, pistons, expression, etc., without having to add anything to the console. Besides that, the MDS sounds are so vastly superior to what you have now that you might be quite satisfied with them and not even need to do the virtual thing. Or you might simply add on an Allen expander box and get a whole set of additional pipe and orchestral sounds with minimal fussing.

          The Rodgers PDI models from the 90's also have complete MIDI and you might find one of those for sale. Even the cheaper Rodgers models from that era had full MIDI and would do for that purpose, though the quality of the consoles and hardware would be inferior.

          This is all assuming that you'd rather spend your time playing the organ rather than tinkering with the hardware. OTOH, if you truly enjoy the tinkering, find an older console, such as a Rodgers analog, and strip it out, and install the MIDI interface of your choice.
          John
          ----------
          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
          https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

          Comment


            #6
            I must applaud castaway for his long post detailing his virtual organ experiences, but he does paint an unnecessarily grim picture of things. My experience has been far more positive. As mentioned in my earlier post in this thread, I use jOrgan with a basic laptop set-up, and I have none of the problems he mentions. There is a piano in the same room, and I never touch it!
            For most of my 71 years I have been hopelessly devoted to pipe organs and the quest of setting up an electronic replacement for the home. I had a measure of success during the 1980's, when I built five analogue electronic organs of my own design for Sydney churches, and two for private clients. This was in addition to running an Anglican parish as its minister! (I seriously wonder now how I did it, and I mention it here simply to underline my personal commitment to this whole quest).
            Of course, technology has now moved on, and with computers at our disposal, it is a whole new world. jOrgan caught my attention a few years ago. I had a lot of learning to do, but I persevered, and I must say that the effort was abundantly well-spent. It was hard to get my head around it, and I am pleased that jOrgan is now much more user-friendly than was the case two years ago.
            The matter of sample quality is a genuine concern, especially for people who know what the real thing actually sounds like, up close. I have spent a lot of time in the past year or so, making synthesized samples which actually sound very good. Recently, jOrgan disposition developers (of which I am one) have begun to turn their attention to using recorded samples. These bring their own problems, including the quality and state of the organ being recorded, of course, to say nothing of the recording process itself. My early attempt at this (as recently as yesterday afternoon, when I regulated the Open Diapason 8' and Principal 4' virtual stops based on ranks of the Great department of a small tracker pipe organ I "recorded" some years ago) is quite exciting. I spent much of the afternoon playing it. For me, this will be the future, using hybrid samples where the attack section is a genuine recording, and the steady-state section is synthesized using accurate information of the harmonic spectrum of the particular note. The necessary liveliness of the steady-state section (which continues as long as one holds the note down) can be satisfactorily imparted using the flexibility which the sf2 soundfont system permits. But don't expect huge organ specifications from my direction. Just these two stops have used up most of my spare time for the past two months. And at my age I am a retired "gentleman of leisure"!

            John Reimer

            Comment


              #7
              Thanks to all that have posted, and for the amount of detail in the posts. I am very much aware of the shortfalls of the MDC-20 I have now, although the pedal board isn't full AGO it is close enough that I don't have too much of a problem adapting from it to the AGO pedal board on our Allen MDS-20 at Church. That being said I am starting to think that finding a used MDS series organ that already has midi might be a better option than trying to upgrade the MDC which doesn't have sealed contacts (except for the pedal board). I still have a lot to think about, and welcome any other input that any of you might have. I'm definitely going to keep my eyes open for a chance to get a more suitable used console, I would actually love to get my hands on an MDS series in good working condition. It sounds like the virtual organ idea might be better to augment an existing working instrument with Midi than as an instrument in it's own right. I don't mind a little bit of tinkering to get something up and running, but I do have a day job and want to spend some time actually playing the instrument.

              Comment


                #8
                Hi Ray,

                I have done some MIDI conversions of organ consoles and although it is quite a lot of DIY work, the end results have been very, very good. I used MIDI Gadget Boutique boards from Europe, and found their product and support to be great. If you are not into soldering and tinkering then getting a console that already features MIDI would be your best option.
                The options of jOrgan, GrandOrgue, and HW3 Free Edition immediately give you some stunning organ sounds with only the cost of downloading and spending time installing and configuring things for your system. If you are really looking at low cost options, then jOrgan running on Puppy Linux is the way to go (and there is plenty of help available). If you already have a good Windows computer, then you're ready to start the virtual organ journey.

                And just for an update to those who have used jOrgan in the past and have found that the 'synthesised' soundfonts are not what they are looking for, this year has seen a number of disposition producers turn to sampling real organs, and these soundfonts are an order of magnitude better than their older synthesised cousins. It has been a joy to test and comment and be part of this move in the jOrgan world. I have installed jOrgan running on Puppy Linux in a couple of churches here in South Africa (having MIDIfied their old, non-working electronic consoles), and the results have been very good. John's hybrid samples have also improved the standard of sounds available, and he has shared his methods with the jOrgan forum members... so there should be more good stuff being offered in the near future
                Kind regards,
                GrahamG

                Comment


                  #9
                  Originally posted by RayE View Post
                  Thanks to all that have posted, and for the amount of detail in the posts. I am very much aware of the shortfalls of the MDC-20 I have now, although the pedal board isn't full AGO it is close enough that I don't have too much of a problem adapting from it to the AGO pedal board on our Allen MDS-20 at Church. That being said I am starting to think that finding a used MDS series organ that already has midi might be a better option than trying to upgrade the MDC which doesn't have sealed contacts (except for the pedal board). I still have a lot to think about, and welcome any other input that any of you might have. I'm definitely going to keep my eyes open for a chance to get a more suitable used console, I would actually love to get my hands on an MDS series in good working condition. It sounds like the virtual organ idea might be better to augment an existing working instrument with Midi than as an instrument in it's own right. I don't mind a little bit of tinkering to get something up and running, but I do have a day job and want to spend some time actually playing the instrument.
                  I feel sorry for you having to put up with the MDC-20. Honestly I don't know what Allen was thinking putting out that crap. I know they were desperately trying to market a low-end organ to compete with other companies, but they should have tried to use more of their good digital technology that they had.

                  Watch Ebay like a a hawk. Every once in a while a real bargain shows up. Believe it or not, an Allen Renaissance was on Ebay a few weeks ago for UNDER $10,000. MDS organs show up there occasionally as well. Both series have excellent MIDI implementation.

                  Comment


                    #10
                    I have played (quite happily, by the way) a Johannus Opus 37 for a while. I learned about virtual pipe organs and decided to take the plunge. I installed a robust desktop system and purchased the Hauptwerk and Salisbury package that easily connected to the organ. I'm so pleased I play until my body aches! I am saving up for the additional modules that will be released this year. Expensive hobby, but oh so fulfilling!! I encourage all those curious about virtual pipe organs to dabble. Some packages do not sound too hot, though.

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