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Tubular Pneumatic

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  • Tubular Pneumatic

    Can anyone provide/link to photographs of Tubular Pneumatic mechanisms.
    Circa 1900 - was this system;
    a) simply as a means of connection between the keys and the pneumatic motors activating the pallets under a slider-chest system
    b) a connection between the keys and an individual pipe value as in the unit-chest system

  • #2
    Both actually depending on the organ. Whatever it was, it deserves to be burned.


    • #3
      Most surely one of the least efficient actions ever created.


      • #4
        The best explication I ever found of the system was in the Audsley books.


        • #5
          French Horn,
          Thanks for the photos. I'm particularly interested in Vincent Willis’ patent of 1889 which I have been told, by trusted sources, was equal to any electro-pneumatic in terms of responsiveness and repetition although prohibitively expensive. I know that many Willis organs from 1890 to 1920 used this design. I grew up listening to a 1900 Father Willis that used this action and I can confirm that this was no sluggish beast. Obviously not all tubular-pneumatics were created equal. Admittedly this particular instrument benefited from the proximity of the console to the pipes/chest.
          I'm assuming you're from the UK so perhaps you are familiar with this design.


          • #6
            in the united states, most tubular-pneumatic actioned pipe organs were smaller instruments with fairly short runs of lead tubing that carried the pallet control from the rear of the keyboards to the playing action, whether it was a primary action (most typical) or to operate pneumatic pull-downs on an otherwise tracker style organ (that is, one that utilizes bar-and-slider style wind chests).

            The playing action could either pressurize the playing system or exhaust the same to actuate the notes, depending on the design of the action. Both the 'pressure' systems and the 'exhaust' system had their advocates, and both could be responsive up to a certain point, with distance being one of the limiters.

            One popular use for tubular type actions was to operate pipes in the facade of the organ - where the main wind chest would operate a secondary action under the actual pipes in the facade. Pressure supplied by the pallet on the main wind chest would travel thru a lead tube to a small action that would open the pallet under the individual pipes in the impost of the facade...this was more efficient than using large paper tubes to convey wind from the main chest to the pipes.
            you would find this type of action also used for pedal ranks, even in some tracker organs of the late 19th century.

            Rick in VA


            • #7
              Estey Organs (Brattleboro, VT) used this action somewhat for their organs. It was also slow and lethargic when using most of the stops, however, the stops did speak evenly. Unfortunately, the Estey I played in Maine had more wheezes and whistles from the tubular pneumatic mechanism than it did from the pipes--and that was AFTER rebuilding.

              At their museum in the old Estey Organ Factory in Brattleboro, they have a tubular pneumatic which has been expanded so the viewer can walk through the organ pipes and see the mechanism. In that installation, they have repalced the traditional lead pipes, with plastic air pipes of different colors so the viewer can see which ones go where (Swell, Great, stops, etc.). It is an excellent idea!

              To support VaPipeorgantuner's statement about the façade pipes, I played a Hook & Hastings in Brewer, Maine which had tubular pneumatic conduits coming from the chest to the façade pipes.

              Attached Files
              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


              • #8
                Thanks for the info. I have to admit, I was not aware that paper tubing was used as a conduit. Was this a common material at one time or just a poor man's lead pipe ?
                Hope you're not buried in snow !


                • #9
                  Originally posted by N. A. Zard View Post
                  Thanks for the info. I have to admit, I was not aware that paper tubing was used as a conduit. Was this a common material at one time or just a poor man's lead pipe ?
                  Hope you're not buried in snow !
                  Paper tubing to convey chest wind to facade pipes (when there was no intermediate action involved) was mostly an economic one, the cost of cardboard tubing of 3/4 inch diameter vs. the cost of a pipe maker's time to make up the conveyance and the cost of the common metal from which the conveyance would have been made...cardboard and hide glue being the less costly material. In more modern organs, a tubing called "papflex" - which is a flexible tubing made of a paper outer shell and an aluminum-foil inner shell - is used for the same purpose. Less costly than fully metal conveyances, can be glued into place easily with modern adhesives (or hide glue). Also less expensive in many cases than building an auxiliary wind chest with the necessary secondary action to control the valve under the pipe.

                  Rick in VA (not in the snow...we got a dusting here, much less than in areas more to the east and north.)


                  • #10
                    The organ in Wellington Town Hall in New Zealand, built by Norman & Beard in 1905 and installed into the hall in early 1906 has tubular pneumatic action that is blindingly fact some of the best action I have ever experienced in a large concert-hall organ. The tubular pneumatic action connects to slider-chests which are also pneumatic as far as the stops and sliders are concerned, as is the entire combination piston system in the organ.

                    Like a lot of English concert-hall organs from that era, there was a huge amount of pressure during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s to electrify the action. Thankfully, this pressure (mostly from organ builders maintaining the instrument) was resisted, with the result that when the organ was fully restored in 1985/1986 by the South Island Organ Company (based at Washdyke, near Timaru in NZ's South Island), the decision was made to restore the organ as a historic instrument and no changes or additions whatsoever were made to the organ. It has no modern stepper or capture system to aid the organist in the organ's registration....what you see is a complete restoration of the original pneumatic system (naturally with all of the leathers renewed) and the organ is still exactly as the builder left it in 1906. The result is that a high degree of skill is needed to play the organ as far as registration management is concerned, because you only have the fixed combination pistons, and all other stop changes have to be done by hand while playing the insturment. is still using the original blowers from when the organ was first built. They were obviously made to last! These days, the organ receives nothing except fullsome praise from international concert organists who perform on it. It is a grand old instrument in every way, with a sound that causes tingles along the spine. The full organ is earth-shattering with a sheer grandeur of tone that many modern organs don't come anywhere near.

                    The tonal style of the new Auckland Town Hall Organ is based on the sound of the Wellington Town Hall Organ. It is not a copy, but was built with the same grand style of tone by Klais Orgelbau of Bonn, Germany. Philippe Klais was absolutely blown away by the Wellington Town Hall Organ when he took a close look at it before design work began on the new Auckland Town Hall Organ. I actually talked to Philippe about it and he told me that in his view, the Wellington Town Hall grand organ by Norman & Beard is one of the finest concert hall organs of its era anywhere in the world, and he particularly appreciated that the organ hasn't been altered in any way, including the original pneumatic action design.


                    • #11
                      Interesting that you should mention this organ. Just last week I decided to expand my horizons and delve into the treasure-trove of organs from down-under. I purchased "Who needs an Orchestra", a selection of orchestral transcriptions played on the Melbourne Town Hall organ. What a jewel ! (the instrument and the CD). You have whetted my appetite - so the Wellington organ is next on my list.


                      • #12
                        If you would like to really hear the Wellington Town Hall Organ in all its glory, I would seriously take a look at the CD Liszt & Reubke Organ Works on the Atoll label. The CD features Robert Costin playing Liszt's Fantasia and Fugue on Ad nos, ad salutarem undam S 259 and Reubke's Sonata on the 94th Psalm with the full tonal resources of the instrument being used.

                        Another magnificent historic organ down-under is the Sydney Town Hall Organ (completed 1889) which is also completely original except for one rank of pipes which was changed within a couple of years of the organ being inaugurated. The Sydney Town Hall Organ was built by William Hill and it was the biggest organ ever built by him. In fact, when it was completed, it was the largest organ ever built anywhere in the world up until that time and is still the biggest 19th century romantic organ still in its original condition. Like the Wellington Town Hall Organ, it retains its original pneumatic action (both key action and stop/slidder-chest action) and was fully restored in the 1980s. There are several excellent recordings by various artists of the Sydney Town Hall Organ that will blow you away. The Sydney Town Hall Organ pedal division has a genuine 64-foot Contra-Trombone consisting of full-length pipes where the bottom C pipe actually has a resonator that is 64-feet long. The reeds in the bottom twelve pipes of this rank are so large that they use pneumatic motors to initially start them vibrating when the pipes speak. The bases of those bottom twelve pipes of the Contra-Trombone are sited in a deep pit within the organ chamber, arranged around their own exclusive supply bellows. I have stood in the bottom of that pit amongst those massive reed pipes, which are unique in the world. However, I personally consider the smaller Wellington Town Hall Organ to have a grander sound than the giant Sydney Town Hall Organ, although the Sydney instrument has a greater variety of tone colours due to its larger size.

                        The organ in Melbourne Town Hall, while a magnificent instrument, is not original, having been rebuilt a few times throughout its life, with numerous changes.