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Theatre Organ Book - Barnes?

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    Theatre Organ Book - Barnes?


    A project is moving toward me, and may end up in my wheelhouse. A 1928 Kimball Theatre Pipe Organ (2 manual/8 ranks) needs some minor attention, and I'm wondering if this is a worthwhile reference book:

    The Contemporary American Organ: Its Evolution, Design and Construction; by William Barnes (4 editions available).

    Any other suggestions for a relative newbie to theatre pipe organs like myself?


    Mr. Simonson,

    Could you provide a better idea of your perceived future role (i.e. performer, rebuilder, tinkerer, supporter, etc.)? It sounds like you may be called on to make potentially minor repairs. At some point, repairing a theatre organ diverges from the repair of a classical pipe organ, but I would think the majority of repair issues would be common to both.

    Thanks in advance for your clarification.

    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)
    • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos


      Hi Michael,

      Thanks for your question. I'm not a player, at this point, but I am getting increasingly involved with this instrument's care and maintenance.

      Any work will be done professionally, but I would like to get educated on the instrument, so I can participate in a meaningful way, as we identify needs and solicit possible work on the organ.

      Besides, it's a fascinating world, that of the Theatre Organ.

      Last edited by Bruce.Simonson; 03-12-2020, 04:46 PM. Reason: fixed typo


        The Barnes book is entirely focused on classical organ, not theatre organs. However, it is a good general book that covers electropneumatic organs, which is the type encountered with theatre organs. It is worth having. I recommend the latest edition you can find--it should not be terribly expensive. Be sure to check abebooks.com


          Hi toodles,

          Your point, regarding classical pipe organs - understood, thanks.

          Are there any good texts specifically on the "theatre" side - that cover how percussion instruments are incorporated and maintained, for example?

          This Kimball has a full percussion kit (is that what it's called?), and chimes, xylophone, glockenspiel, sleigh bells, and two bird whistles.

          And I thought Zimbelsterns were loopy ...



            I don't know of any technical texts specifically for theatre organs. If you understand the electropneumatic action, it is almost intuitive to see how the pneumatic part of the action could be used to actuate a striker instead of a pipe valve.

            Tune percussion stops are called just that--tuned percussions. They include piano, chimes, glockenspiel, orchestra bells, harp (specifically, organ harp) also called chrysoglott, xylophone and marimba. Occasionaliy, tympani are included. Some include a reiteration device to restrike while the key is held down, but most are single stroke. Pianos always had an actual piano, whether grand or upright.

            The achromatic percussions (i.e., drums, cymbals, etc.) were called traps, from "trap", a contraction of contraption.

            Maintenance of all parts of the pipe organ, including percussions and traps, is a matter of cleaning to remove dust, adjustment, and lubrication in some cases.


              While Barnes book does not deal directly with theatre organ actions (percussions - traps), it does deal with electro-pneumatic actions in chapter 10. Following chapter 10, there are numerous drawings of chest actions, which are explained as to how they work. If you did a concentrated reading of these sections, you would become familiar with the operation of pipe organ pneumatic systems...primary actions, secondary actions, etc.

              Organ Supply Industries sells a soft cover edition of this book. While that firm will only sell parts to pipe organ technicians, I think they would have no objection to selling you the book. You could try by calling their number (814) 835-2244. You might mention that you are trying to develop more knowledge on the subject.

              You might also get in touch with a chapter club of the American Theatre Organ Society, and talk with their technicians, or possibly visit them and get acquainted with their technical members. If I knew your location, I could refer you to a chapter of that organization....hopefully, not too far distant from your city.

              Best wishes.


                Some time ago ( in the mid / late 90s I think ) I saw many mentions of a two or three volume set of books named something like "The Theater Organ Encyclopedia" . At that time I was subscribed to several organ mailing lists, and one of those was the theater organ list. I'm interested in all things organ, so read a lot about all facets of them, even though theater organs are not a particular big interest of mine.

                If my memory is correct, those books were sorta self published by the author, not by a publishing house. From what I recall, they are very detailed about the workings of theater organs, but only a limited run were ever printed.

                Today they are likely hard to find, and probably not offered for sale much. Sorry I can't remember more details about what I "think" I recall, but I really do know that I have seen many mentions of them in the past. I just can't seem to remember the authors name at this moment. But he was one of the very respected members of the ATOS I'm pretty sure. I'll bet the ATOS would know of the volumes I am referring to, even if they could not help you locate one.
                Regards, Larry

                At Home : Yamaha Electones : EX-42 ( X 3 !!! ), E-5AR, FX-1 ( X 2 !! ), FX-20, EL-25 ( X 2, 1 chopped, 1 not ). Allen 601D, ADC 6000D. Baldwin 626. Lowrey CH32-1. At Churches I play for : Allen Q325 ( with Vista ), Allen L123 ( with Navigator ). Rodgers 755.


                  All together there are 4 volumes. The first two published by the late David Junchen, the third by Preston J Kaufman which focuses on Wurlitzer organs. The last is a compilation by editor Jeff Weiler of the material David Junchen had collected on Wurlitzer organs and goes into much more detail. All are out of print. I have all 4 copies. I also have two extra copies of Vol. 1 and one each of Vol. 2 and 3.
                  Not sure if I want to part with extras yet. Covid-19 may change all that.
                  Can't play an note but love all things "organ" Responsible for 2/10 Wurli pipe organ, Allen 3160(wife's), Allen LL324, Allen GW319EX, ADC4600, many others. E-organ shop to fund free organ lessons for kids.