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  • Instrument Trouble

    I thought of mentioning a few things about instrument trouble I've experienced with a couple church pipe organs. I'm wondering if people here would have some insight about the first issue, because I don't think it's been resolved yet (I'd have to check up on the church's music director to find out). I have some friends who are organ builders (a couple church organ builders and one theater organ builder), but I only have some tuning experience and experience playing them. I thought it would be interesting if people posted about interesting instrument problems they've experienced, I'd love to hear them, I don't know if there's an existing thread for those.

    One instrument, a 3-manual 43-rank Wicks/Berghaus, has an 8' Trompete in the Great that is an extension of the Posaune/Trompete rank series in the Pedal (it has a more broad sound, and doesn't sound anything like the swell trompette on that instrument for example). For the Berghaus rework they took the pedal rank, extended it upwards, and added a stop for it to the Great. When playing music with full organ and reeds, I was experiencing trouble when playing the trumpet with the pedal subbass. Pressing pedal notes with the subbass activated would cause the wind of the entire trumpet rank to shake with each note. It obviously means that both of those ranks are on the same regulator, I have images of the original Wicks blueprints (that the music director provided) that I could check, but I think the Posaune rank was relocated to the exterior pedal area after the blueprints were drawn, so I don't think it's shown on there (both the Posaune and Subbass pipes appear to be in the same area). I've never been inside the instrument, but I wanted to back then mainly so that I could check how those ranks were winded. That trumpet sounds nice, it reminds me of a Tromba, the sanctuary has lush reverb too (about 2-3 seconds), but I would always have to turn the subbass off for it to work properly. I don't know enough about wind regulation to know what the exact issue would be, I assumed it was just overloading it or something, the music director (and organist) at the time didn't really know either. The blueprints have chest and reservoir pressures noted, the ranks I saw (especially the facade ones) are on higher pressure. In the Great, the 8' Principal is on 8 inches, Octave is 6 inches, and the Mixture is 10 inches, I always thought that the mixture sounds a little squeaky. On the organ at my main church I told the original organist about those pressures, and he said that on their instrument the Main and Antiphonal Principal ranks are on 4.5 and 3 inches respectively, so I don't know if that might be related. The instrument sounds prominent in the sanctuary, those high pressures might be related to that too.

    At my regular church (that I mentioned above), which has a 4-manual 80-rank Austin with an Allen console that provides an additional 40 digital ranks (I've played it quite a bit), we would sometimes have crazy things happen during church services but never really any major (lasting) trouble. These issues happened when I was in the large church choir, the most serious issue was that during one church service, there was some kind of malfunction and we lost most of the pipework, the digital ranks still worked. The organist (who was one of the designers of the instrument) said that it would've been nice to have digital-only combinations in case bad things happen, things were sounding pretty bad when he was trying to play it, you could hardly hear the instrument, so he was scrambling trying to do manual registrations to switch to digital stops. I remembered that a full instrument restart fixed the problem. The other notable issue I remember is that one time we were sitting in the choir loft (right in front of the main pipe chamber's lower level) and there was a crashing sound (like a collapsing), it sounded as if someone fell inside it (the service basically stopped briefly, it was so loud), and so me and one of the main choir members immediately went into the main chamber to see if something or someone fell, but it was apparently just a crazy regulator causing trouble. I don't entirely know what happened though, if I remember correctly I think it happened during the sermon. The music director said that the church is having an AGO concert event in November, so if you're in the Chicago area you might want to check it out, I'll get details about it soon, I might invite some friends (most of my organ friends are from the theater organ world, mainly from the Rialto Theater in Joliet, I'm more into the church organ). That church used to have a second small pipe organ in the central Garden Chapel but it was removed in 2010, I wish I had been there to see it (I started going there in 2013, so I missed it).
    Last edited by eventhorizon5; 07-15-2021, 06:17 PM.

  • #2
    Regarding the Austin/Allen, one thing that I do remember is that the network cables going from the organ to the pipes boards do not like to be coiled up. That can cause some strange things to happen.

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    • Admin
      Admin commented
      Editing a comment
      CAT 5 cable is comprised of twisted pairs in order to inhibit inductive cross-talk. I think it more likely that the issue was due to cable capacitance and mismatched cable, driver, and receiver impedances.

    • you795a
      you795a commented
      Editing a comment
      This isn't CAT5 cable that Allen used. It was their own cable with the 9 pin connectors on each end.

    • Admin
      Admin commented
      Editing a comment
      This isn't CAT5 cable that Allen used. It was their own cable with the 9 pin connectors on each end.
      Well, there you go. A nine pin connector would suggest a serial data connection such as RS232 or RS422 - an older , less robust technology. There's reason CAT 5 or CAT 6 cabling is used for data networks.

  • #3
    For the first problem, it sounds like the subbass and posaune/trumpet are on an offset wind chest, basically one that is separate from the rest of the organ. It's not unusual to get robbing if two very wind consumptive stops are on a single offset swell chest. I'd say you'd have to get an organ builder to fix it. Either you need a more potent wind supply to the offset chest, or you need a gadget like concussion bellows.

    For the second problem, it sounds like either the board that interfaces the Allen to the Austin, or the power to the Austin system had some problem. The fact that it was fixed with power cycling points to the computerized components. For the wind regulators, I wonder when the last time they have been serviced is? You could get someone in to look at the system, but if the problem is intermittent and not easily reproducible, they might not be able to fix it very easily.

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

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