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Introduction and Advice on Purchasing a Reed Organ

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  • Introduction and Advice on Purchasing a Reed Organ

    Hello people of the Organ Forum!

    My name is Joshua and I'm from the great state of Colorado! (haha, no surprise there) I graduated high school back in May of this year and I've been a huge fan of organs for as long as I can remember.

    Over the years I've had the opportunity to hear various organs at different events and churches. I've been fortunate enough to have been able to briefly play both a church organ and a theater organ in town, but because I haven't had ready access to one that I could practice regularly on, I would still classify myself as a beginner organist. There is a guy in town who offers pipe organ lessons, but they're $80 an hour and that hasn't ever been feasible for us. I'm at an intermediate level when it comes to the piano, but the organ and the piano are very very different instruments. I'm confident that I could teach myself organ if need-be as I've already done so with quite a number of other instruments, but there again is the whole having-access-to-one problem.

    12 to 13 years ago, a family friend gave me an old electric Kimball Valencia home organ from the 1960's. I've had that ever since, but now various components are starting to give out and it's slowly giving up the ghost. The main reason I've kept it is for sentimental reasons, but I've wanted to replace it for a while with something that would fit my needs and taste in music better. I've never really been a huge fan of electric organs. There's just something about a raw sound coming straight out of a pipe, reed, or bell that just can't be replaced digitally. I've always really loved pipe organs, but being a poor student with little space to work with and very little budget, owning one of my own has never been a possibility for me, obviously.

    Recently, reed organs came on my radar when I ran across one at a local thrift shop. That one was in pretty bad disrepair, but after playing it, I instantly fell in love with it. While they can sound similar to pipe organs at times and have that classic church organ feel, they're much more affordable and fit into a space the size of a piano. I've been researching them (and organs in general) on and off pretty diligently since.

    That being said, I was wondering if you guys could give me some tips about things to look for when buying one (signs of anything that would classify one as being a "bad egg" that's not easily fixable or general things to look for), fair price, etc. so I can make the smartest, most cost effective, long lasting choice I can. Currently I don't really have access to a garage or workshop with the tools required to restore one and I really don't have the budget to do that either. I know a lot of things go into appraising one of these (history, age, condition, manufacturer, etc), but I was curious if anyone had any tips as far as fair price for a fully functional organ (or one that just needs ultra simple repairs) and maybe things that would be easy and inexpensive to fix that wouldn't require much in the way of tools.

    I'm also curious about the best, safest, most cost effective way to transport one and any specific tips as far as upkeep or even learning to play.

    I apologize for the long winded post, but thanks in advance for any advice you're able to give!

  • #2
    Hi, Josh - Welcome to the forum. It's nice to see another youngster (we have a few here) interested in organs. You can read about my adventures with an old Kimball in the link below. I'm no expert with reed organs at all, but some folks here ARE.

    I'd think it would be important to hear an organ play - see if it sounds when lightly pumped with a high and low stop pulled. The organ may have "flat" pedals, meaning the straps to the bellows' feeders is broken. You may be able to reach up inside and feel the straps, and get a pump or two in that way.

    Just looking at the way my Kimball is made, I'd think it would be best to transport a pump organ upright. A strip of felt and tension holds the reeds in place. If that felt is gone to dust, the reeds could be banging around in their cells. If a "swell" shutter (the long wooden cover closing out the reed cells) is missing or has a broken spring allowing it to flop, the reeds could fall out in a jumble. Of course, this should not be the case if the organ is playable.

    My other hint is to look for a reed organ with more than eleven or twelve stops (knobs). I found out that Kimball made organs in the same case shape as my parlor unit with more reeds and stops. Unlike pipe organs or modern digitals, a row of pull-stops does NOT mean there are thousands of combinations of sounds available. Far fewer. The reed organ can be "split." In other words, my Kimball has Diapason and Melodia coming from the SAME set of reeds. The bass goes up to the F below middle C (Diapason) and the rest of the way up with the Melodia.

    Estey was the biggest manufacturer. Kimball made 430K of them. Mason and Hamlin are up-market.

    This is RSoc - or the reed organ society.

    http://www.reedsoc.org/

    They have searchable databases with pictures and descriptions of reed organs. That's a great shopping aid.

    And this is just my opinion, but many folks advertising on eBay seem to think they have some rare and valuable antique. A reed organ is an old sort of rare, money-eating, time-consuming liability that can offer a spot of squeaky joy and melodic beauty every now and then. One forum member said that he'd been given great organs and bought $300 junk organs. Conventional wisdom is that a thing is worth what someone will pay. So be cautious and don't over-pay.

    Again, it's great to have you here. Please keep us posted with your search.
    -- I'm Lamar -- 1967 Allen TC-4 Project (forum thread)
    -- 1899 Kimball Parlor Organ (forum thread)
    -- 1999 Rodgers W5000C and Hauptwerk - spare W5000C for spares
    -- Conn 643 Theater - Hammond M3 and E-112 - Roland RD300nx stage piano
    -- Public domain hymn search: https://songselect.ccli.com/search/r...t=publicdomain

    Comment


    • #3
      Thanks for responding!

      Looks like your advice confirms a lot of my research.

      There's actually a bunch of reed organs for sale on Craigslist around here and I definitely want to take a look at them and hear them play before choosing one. I've certainly been on the lookout for flat pedals as you said and I've heard of pieces falling out and going who-knows-where inside if you transport it laying down, so I'm definitely going to try not to do that. I'm just trying to figure out how exactly.. I currently don't own a pickup and an open trailer might be a little precarious, especially if it has a mirror.

      And yeah, I have been looking for organs with the most stops possible (sub-bass anyone? Haha) since I want the widest range of sound and I'm a big fan of the low end.

      I hadn't thought of using the RSoc as a shopping aid, so thanks for the tip!

      I found a fully restored, 18 stop organ for $300, which I'm guessing is a really good deal.. Problem is that it's several hours north of me and that was a hair more than I wanted to spend. Might be worth it though, if I can manage to get up there.

      I'll definitely keep everyone up to date on what I find. Thanks for the tips!

      Comment


      • #4
        Ah - I can give you another tip, then. U-haul has a couple of vehicles that fit the bill for moving an organ. One is the small Ford van. They're pretty new and I haven't seen many of them. The other is the two-axle trailers. You'll have to find a tow-vehicle, of course, but the longer trailer is highly resistant to sway and has a nice ride. Both have low platforms - lift-over height is important to me. Getting a Conn theater organ up a ramp into the back of my truck in 100-degree humid heat (Charleston) nearly killed me and my teenage nephew.

        Mirror? Take the top off and transport it separately. My Kimball's top fit neatly behind the seats of my Dodge. It was held on by TWO screws, both visible from the front. I did carry the organ in the back, but it was only 60 miles and a nice day.

        I'm glad I got my current reed organ, but I'll wait for the next one.
        -- I'm Lamar -- 1967 Allen TC-4 Project (forum thread)
        -- 1899 Kimball Parlor Organ (forum thread)
        -- 1999 Rodgers W5000C and Hauptwerk - spare W5000C for spares
        -- Conn 643 Theater - Hammond M3 and E-112 - Roland RD300nx stage piano
        -- Public domain hymn search: https://songselect.ccli.com/search/r...t=publicdomain

        Comment


        • #5
          a good starter instrument. https://cosprings.craigslist.org/msg...349832039.html
          Bulletproof, easy to fix, less than 100 years old. and just $50
          Casey

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Silken Path View Post
            Mirror? Take the top off and transport it separately. My Kimball's top fit neatly behind the seats of my Dodge. It was held on by TWO screws, both visible from the front.
            Oh yeah, duh. I forgot about that, haha. I'll have to bring a drill or screwdriver.

            That heat sounds painful. I'm glad to live in Colorado.

            - - - Updated - - -

            Originally posted by SubBase View Post
            a good starter instrument. https://cosprings.craigslist.org/msg...349832039.html
            Bulletproof, easy to fix, less than 100 years old. and just $50
            Casey
            Oh yeah, I saw that one. Wasn't huge on the color or number of stops, but for that price I figured it'd be worth taking a look at.

            This is the one I'm currently interested most in:
            https://fortcollins.craigslist.org/m...384566763.html
            Would you consider that a reasonable price? I know that's hard to say without knowing many details.

            Comment


            • #7
              https://fortcollins.craigslist.org/m...384566763.html
              This is a Cornish. They are known for an ostentatious display of stop knobs in relation to the minimal sets of reeds.
              They sold for very low prices, and had monthly payment programs.
              All that said, if you like the way it sounds, and can afford it...

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by SubBase View Post
                https://fortcollins.craigslist.org/m...384566763.html
                This is a Cornish. They are known for an ostentatious display of stop knobs in relation to the minimal sets of reeds.
                They sold for very low prices, and had monthly payment programs.
                All that said, if you like the way it sounds, and can afford it...
                Hmm, okay. Could possibly be worth looking elsewhere then. That one is two and a half hours away anyway and I don't really want to travel so far for something that may not be what I need. I really appreciate info like that because I don't know those things being very new to the reed organ world.

                Comment


                • #9
                  This church organ just became available really close to where I live, has 15 stops, made by Hinners Organ company, and it's only going for $100. Worth checking out?

                  https://cosprings.craigslist.org/msg...392406248.html

                  Update:
                  Just set up a time to look at it tomorrow. Did some research on the RSOC and I believe this model has a Sub Bass and a bunch of other great stops I was looking for! Will keep everyone updated.
                  Last edited by ColoradoJoshua; 11-18-2017, 08:58 PM.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Good luck, Joshua. The lack of more front openings (and that a church has it) suggests it is a chapel model. Look for cabinet openings on the back too, and don't be surprised if it has been electrified at some time.
                    -- I'm Lamar -- 1967 Allen TC-4 Project (forum thread)
                    -- 1899 Kimball Parlor Organ (forum thread)
                    -- 1999 Rodgers W5000C and Hauptwerk - spare W5000C for spares
                    -- Conn 643 Theater - Hammond M3 and E-112 - Roland RD300nx stage piano
                    -- Public domain hymn search: https://songselect.ccli.com/search/r...t=publicdomain

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      That Hinners should have about 4 sets of reeds.
                      Can endorse.
                      Casey

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        So today I did get to go take a look at it, but I haven't decided whether I want to buy it yet because it appears that it needs some more restoration than I originally bargained for. I'm supposed to give the owner my decision by Thursday. I wanted to hop back on the forum to ask what kind of work would be required to fix the problems I found so I could see if they would be reasonable for me to do with no previous experience and little budget.

                        First, when I pump the organ, it takes a fair speed to actually get sound out of it. Not like really really fast or anything, but a pretty good pace. From what I've been able to gather, it's supposed to make sound pumping slowly and for a couple seconds after you stop pumping. This one fairly abruptly stops (but not instantly) after I stop pumping. This makes me think the bellows are weak / may have some kind of a leak. Is this assumption likely the case? And if so, what would I need to do to fix that problem?

                        Secondly, the very top set of keys only play notes on certain stops and none of the stops play a sound on the top most F key. My first guess is that those reeds could be dirty and need cleaned, but could there be anything else wrong? All of the upper stops should play to the very top of the keyboard, correct? What all could be wrong and how could I fix that?

                        Third, there's one stop cover missing, but that probably wouldn't be all that hard to find. I found an organ that looks exactly like it on the RSOC website so in theory I should be able to find the one stop that that one has that this one doesn't have marked to find out which stop it is.

                        Fourth, the knee lever for the swell seems to be very tight to move and there is no spring action pulling it back into place at all. I can either move it over so it stays open, or move it back so it's closed. Is that hard to fix?

                        Lastly, some of the fancy grate work in front of the felt is messed up, but it's not ultra serious and I don't really have the skills to make new parts. What I really care about is the organ just working and sounding how it's supposed to.

                        Other than those issues, it appears to be in good shape. Just dusty. The felt over all the openings seems to be in great shape and not warn or even faded.

                        A church doesn't actually have it; a guy has had it in his wood shop under a tarp for some 20 years. It's history prior to that is unknown. However, it does have a good many openings in the back definitely marking it as a chapel organ. When I was looking at it, there was no sign it had been electrified at all - no button to turn it on and no plug. Pretty sure it's in it's original state. Does the fact that it's a chapel organ make it less desirable as a home organ because of the grates in the back causing the sound not to come out the front as much, or is that something that doesn't really matter?

                        Overall, it has the stops I really wanted: A 16' sub bass (and two other 16' stops), an octave coupler, vox humana (not something I was expressly looking for, but cool to have), and a very nice full deep tone. If the problems I listed above are fixable fairly easily, I think it's what I'm looking for... just wanted to get some input from people more knowledgeable than me.

                        Thank you all in advance!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Welcome to the world of reed organs Joshua!

                          The Hinners would be a better choice, but it sounds like it would need a full restoration. if you have a technical 'knack', it would not be overly difficult, but it would definitely gobble up time and a little bit of money. The way you described it sounds like the flap valves are dried out and the action would need a complete disassembly to clean it up. To replace the flap valves, a full bellows rebuild would be required.

                          I often hear about good instruments in the Denver area (if that is not too far away), you may be able to find a good one in good working order over time...

                          All the best,

                          Rodney
                          To play a reed organ or harmonium, it helps to disconnect your feet from your brain and connect them to your emotions.
                          Most of all, be creative, make music and have fun...


                          Website: http://www.rodneyjantzi.com/

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Joshua, it may be hard to find an organ that doesn't need bellows repair, or won't after you've started playing it. Disappointing that this wasn't a working church organ, but there's no disadvantage to having a chapel model over a parlor model. I'd think the chapel model would be more likely to have additional stops. (I'd probably grab this organ if it were local to me, but then again, I'd diddle around with it for a year or two, too.)
                            -- I'm Lamar -- 1967 Allen TC-4 Project (forum thread)
                            -- 1899 Kimball Parlor Organ (forum thread)
                            -- 1999 Rodgers W5000C and Hauptwerk - spare W5000C for spares
                            -- Conn 643 Theater - Hammond M3 and E-112 - Roland RD300nx stage piano
                            -- Public domain hymn search: https://songselect.ccli.com/search/r...t=publicdomain

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Rodney View Post
                              The Hinners would be a better choice, but it sounds like it would need a full restoration. if you have a technical 'knack', it would not be overly difficult, but it would definitely gobble up time and a little bit of money. The way you described it sounds like the flap valves are dried out and the action would need a complete disassembly to clean it up. To replace the flap valves, a full bellows rebuild would be required.
                              I have always been pretty mechanically minded, so it's likely I could figure it out if I had to. The main thing in question is exactly what goes into a bellows rebuild and if by action disassembly you mean taking literally the entire action for every key apart. I'm brand new to all of this, so please excuse all the questions, haha. Just trying to learn as much as I possibly can from those who have experience.

                              This kind of organ really fits the bill for what I'm looking for, but I basically have my room in which to work... pretty small with little access to tools and no proper workshop in which to lay things out.

                              As for Denver, that's not too far, it's just a matter of being able to get up there on little notice. I've been watching the craigslist listings for most of the Front Range and there actually was another organ in Denver I wanted to look at.. (in good shape with a ton of stops) but it was scooped up before I managed to get up there.

                              - - - Updated - - -

                              Originally posted by Silken Path View Post
                              Joshua, it may be hard to find an organ that doesn't need bellows repair, or won't after you've started playing it. Disappointing that this wasn't a working church organ, but there's no disadvantage to having a chapel model over a parlor model. I'd think the chapel model would be more likely to have additional stops. (I'd probably grab this organ if it were local to me, but then again, I'd diddle around with it for a year or two, too.)
                              Yeah, I've been finding that myself. All the organs I've tested out so far have had weak bellows. From what you're saying, it sounds like a chapel model would suite me well. I'm just trying to figure out if I'd be able to do the work needed and if it's worth all of that. I mean, it does play for the most part so in theory I could use it as is until I got the chance to do a rebuild of the important parts... but it's pretty difficult to play well, especially with the bellows problem.

                              Comment

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