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Constructing a House organ

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  • Constructing a House organ


    I'm currently designing a small 2 manual house organ and I have already made part of a 4ft Principal rank out of PVC. (Apparently this will be able to go towards half an A-Level, so I'm more inclined to spend time constructing it). The ideal specification will be:

    Great: 8ft Stopped [or open] diapason, 4ft Principal, 2ft Fifteenth
    Swell: 8ft Gedackt and 4ft Flute
    Pedal: 16ft Bourdon.

    I have a few questions about this: Will a 16ft bourdon be able to fit under an 8ft ceiling, or will the lowest pipes have to be mitred? (They would be 50mm dia. waste pipe, would a rounded corner work such as this? -

    And a second question - If I take some of the pvc pipes I have made so far, and stop them at the end to convert them into 8ft [Gedackt] from a 4ft [Principal], they currently do not sound. They only speak while open. What will I have to do to modify the pipes to make them speak when stopped - change the upper lip shape? (To save some height space!)

    The pipes have this design -

    Many thanks,


  • #2
    <big sigh> I am going to try and be helpful, but I have to tell you that I am missing the gene that makes people want to build home sized pipe organs. The main reason is acoustics. A liveable house has awful acoustics for a pipe organ. A house in which a pipe organ would sound nice would be way too echoey for normal human activities. Next is that even the smallest of digital organs would have way more resources of tone color than a pipe organ that a single builder could construct in a reasonable timeframe. Most of these organs are never finished, even after decades. They are eventually given away by the builders widow. Unknown is how many of these builders are actually the victims of foul play by said widow due to the estrangement and rancor that followed the initial stages of construction. That out of the way, scale. If your 50mm diam. waste pipe is correct as specified, that is 2". Have a look at a real stopped Bourdon. 2" would be awfully thin for an open 16' bottom octave. A stopped pipe? I'm not surprised they don't speak when stopped. They need to have much more diameter but it is beyond my knowledge to know how much more.


    • #3
      Thanks for your reply. The waste (bourdon) pipe is actually 70mm, 2.7 inches. I measured the wrong pipe (sigh). I guess this will only work for the highest bourdon pipes. It could be Subbass or anything that sounds 16ft, I would just want a pedal stop. Despite the acoustics, I would really like to start making this as I am interested in how organs work, as well as how they sound. I was just trying a different mouth size, and I found enlarging the pipe mouth made it speak while stopped, and not when open. I'll just carry on using those pipes for a principal, and take diameter into account for the Stopped pipes. It might be easier to buy pipes from a local builder. I'm going on a workshop tour at one soon, so might ask for their advice too. I was going to make it portable so I can transport it to be examined for a grade. I was going to start with a couple of ranks, and then expand it if they work. My church might even want it (they have a 20 year old digital organ which has mediocre pipe samples), who knows :)


      • #4
        You will need to consider pipe diameter as you go up a rank. Remember that if you play two notes that are an octave apart in the same rank, the higher one will be half the length of the lower one. If you don't change the pipe diameter, you may be able to get both to speak properly, but the high note will be much wider scaled than the bottom note. If you keep the same diameter over a larger range, I expect that you would reach a point where notes won't sound properly, if they sound at all.

        Your second link includes information on building one octave. That may work. I was unable to watch the video at the end. I presume that it gave a demonstration of the organ in action.

        In any case, the goal of the demonstration seems to be to show how pipes are constructed and how they work. It does not appear to address the needs of multiple ranks of both open and stopped pipes, spanning 4 or 5 octaves.

        That said, the pathway that you appear to be following will not result in an organ that can play much more than simple tunes. You are welcome to prove me wrong. I may have just misunderstood your plans. However, your plan will teach you a lot of basic information. Let us know how it goes.


        • #5

          Yes, the 16' Bourdon pipes will need to be mitered to fit under an 8' ceiling. Alternately, you can place the pipes horizontally and wind them vertically to get them to fit.

          When you stop the pipes, they don't speak because you also need to increase the diameter of the pipe. Since you're providing measurements in millimeters, may we assume you're in Canada or Europe? If you're in the USA, have you considered just purchasing the pipes? It will cost MUCH less than what you're already paying for the parts to construct the pipes you already have made.

          What do you mean by: Apparently this will be able to go towards half an A-Level? I've never heard that phrase before.

          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


          • #6
            Originally posted by myorgan View Post
            What do you mean by: Apparently this will be able to go towards half an A-Level? I've never heard that phrase before.
            I have. My wife is British. Until you made the connection for me I thought he was talking about his house being an A - Level but now I think he is talking about A-Level exams. In what I can't imagine. British students take O Levels and A Levels to qualify for college. They are similar to our SAT's and GMAT's.


            • #7
              Many years ago I used to practice on a small pipe organ which had a 16' gedackt stop for pedals, the tallest pipe being close to 8' high. I seem to remember that the only 8' stop on the manuals was also gedackt. This was a Holtkamp 'martini' or 'cocktail' organ, seen in my avatar. The tone of the gedackt I felt was slightly mellower or smoother than principle, and I really liked it, so I think you should consider building a rank of these. Now the pipes on the organ I played were metal. Not sure how pvc will sound.

              Regarding acoustics, this organ was in a conservatory practice room. Picture a 12' x 12' concrete block bunker with a concrete ceiling 9' up and a floor of old worn vinyl tiles. There was actually a large wooden frame double hung window in the room, which could be opened on nice days. Aside from a radiator, the room was empty except for this organ, which took up less than 15% of the room. Given all the hard surfaces in a space the size of a bedroom, the organ sounded pretty good in there, and you could play all stops in there (all four or five ranks, smaller principals, flutes, and some reed I don't remember) for an hour or so and not hurt your ears.

              My current music room at home has carpet, drywall, acoustic plaster on the ceiling, and other furniture in there. In theory that little pipe organ would fit in there if I got rid of some things, but I don't think it would sound as good. Not sure the type of room you will put this in but I'd say the more hard surfaces and fewer other items in the room, the better.
              Hammond RT-3, Boston studio upright piano, Fender Rhodes Mark I 73 stage piano.


              • #8
                Regeron - I am designing the organ to have a manual that spans 5 octaves and part of one that goes up to a G. The link was just to give an example of how the pipes were being made. I have taken diameter into account and it appears to work. The pipes around middle C are 32mm, and they increase in diameter the lower they go. I heard that pipe diameters should half on every seventeenth note inclusive.

                Michael - I will probably make the Bourdon pipes last, after building a small model (I will make my own version of the Orgelkids set, and then utilise those parts into a larger organ if it works.) I come from the UK - The only organ pipes I can find are 'collection only' from the other side of the country or expensive shipping from USA.

                Christopher - The room I would put it in would have carpet/furniture etc. but I would enjoy making it as well as playing it, so the acoustics are not the main problem although they would affect it. I have a £10 reed organ from ebay I referbished in the room at the moment, and I don't have too many problems with the acoustics (and a piano too!)


                • #9
                  You might check around for used pipes which might be cheaper (or might not) but will certainly be faster to get operational and very likely sound better. Besides, they need a good home.
                  Home Organ: VPO Home-Brewed from a former Klann pipe organ console


                  • Rocket1829
                    Rocket1829 commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Thanks. The only pipes I can find I would have to collect from far away, or shipped from USA which costs a lot! I am visiting an organ builder soon for a workshop tour, so I might ask him for advice.

                • #10
                  I don't know if this is an idea that you are aware of or has already been suggested to you but regarding the materials for organ pipes paper is something that I remember was suggested as an alternative to tin and led in a book called Organ Building for Amateurs. I think this could be a good alternative to PVC as would be able to make the pipes to the correct width, but unfortunately at the same time this could also be a problem as you would still need pipes of various diameters to roll each organ pipe to the correct width.


                  • #11
                    To F Kalbrenner's 01-13 Reply, I can confirm that 1) the paper pipe instructions in Mark Wick's Organ Building for Amateurs are viable if you find a modern paper and glue (I think it recommends hyde glue and cartridge paper circa 1887--I experimented and found that a medium thickness craft paper and diluted white glue (Elmer's) work), and 2) pipe forms for each pipe need to be made. The hardest parts to make and adjust are the upper and lower lips and the languids. I got a few "proof of concept" pipes built and got some kind feedback from Manuel Rosales -- the pipes have a Duliciana timbre given the pipe scale and mouth structure.

                    I will say that as I began organ design in earnest, I realized I wasn't playing enough. Weirdly these 40 years later I've thought about going back to the designs and revising them given the advances in 3D printing--most of the pipe forms would be a breeze to print and I've wondered about the various 3D printing materials relative to the strength/friction of tracker action components. But I find I play less when I'm thinking of the instrument design...I probably won't do it as I'd rather play than build.

                    Please do post the advice you get during your workshop tour.


                    • #12
                      A much cheaper, less widow-producing alternative to assembling your own pipe organ from PVC:

                      Allen ADC 3500
                      Hammond L100


                      • #13
                        There are so many sets of pipes available for free that you could get. You could always play around with them. you cannot make a Rank of pipes out of pvc tubes without making languids and other mouth parts. The wind way shape plays a great deal in the speech of a pipe. If you want to play at making a Rube Goldberg instrument I wish you luck, but your never going to have a "Pipe Organ" after all that cost and labor. It really is easier to find something on the internet and you will probably learn much more about pipe and component construction for virtually nothing. ( and you can play it almost immediately)


                        • #14
                          Thank you all for replying. I recently found out that an organ locally is being advertised for relocation on the IBO and I might be able to obtain some ranks of pipes from it. I now have a free room that I can construct a windchest in, roughly 24' deep according to I'll keep you updated about this organ, and about the workshop tour.


                          • myorgan
                            myorgan commented
                            Editing a comment
                            24 feet or 24 inches?


                          • Rocket1829
                            Rocket1829 commented
                            Editing a comment
                            Sorry for the late reply. It is 24 inches deep, around 54 inches wide.