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Reed Organ Newbie Looking for an Organ--Help and Advice wanted! :)

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  • Reed Organ Newbie Looking for an Organ--Help and Advice wanted! :)

    Hello!

    In the recent months, I've become fascinated with reed organs.
    I've been researching the instruments, and I love their sound and looks! As a fan of all sorts of traditional music and an enthusiastic but not overly-talented musician, I am very interested in getting one, but not in a particular hurry.
    I've been casually searching for an organ in my vicinity on Craigslist, and I'm asking for wise advice in making a choice.
    Some questions I have are:
    How many stops are good to have? Is it always better to have more?
    How to transport one of these beautiful beasts?
    What are some easier problems to repair, and what types of problems should be avoided?
    When looking at a reed organ, what are some things to check to assess its quality?
    What are signs I might be being cheated? ;)
    Also, are there any particular brands that are better or which should be avoided?

    I'm searching for a relatively cheap organ (around $300 or under), preferably with the least number of problems that need repair.
    I don't have a load of time to dissect a delapidated instrument, but I'd be willing to work a bit on a very nice instrument rather than purchase a problem-free low-quality organ.

    The nearest large cities are Kansas City, St. Louis, and Des Moines. I'm in St. Louis relatively often...

    Any help would be greatly appreciated! Excuse my vast ignorance. I'm no veteran in this field, and I'm sure I'll end up accidentally saying something ridiculous...

    Thank you all in advance!

  • #2
    Howdy! These are just my opinions, and I don't really know much. I am sure that there are others around here that can give better advice than I can.

    Originally posted by Mr. Goodfellow View Post
    How many stops are good to have? Is it always better to have more?
    Many of the ubiquitous cheap parlor organs really only have two ranks of reeds, but they use "soft stops" to only open the flaps half way for a slight change in tone/volume (though I don't think it's really enough to be worthwhile most of the time).

    The front rank will be the principal rank, and then the rear rank will often be detuned by a couple of cents to make that "celeste" sort of beating sound. There will be two stops for each rank, to operate the treble and bass sections separately.

    You generally get your octaves on these sorts of organ through the couplers, rather than additional ranks.

    There will usually be a Vox Humana in the center that runs a spinner to provide some tremolo.

    And there will usually be two Forte stops, one for the treble section and one for the bass section.

    So your typical ubiquitous parlor organ will have at least 9 stops. If it has any more than that, they're probably soft stops that don't really do as much as you'd expect.

    Your principal stops (one each bass and treble) will be marked as 8' (probably diapason). Your supplemental stops may be 4', or 8' celestes. Mine has a 4' flute stop in the bass, and an 8' celeste in the treble.

    The church organs will have more than two ranks of reeds, and often a short sub-bass rank at the bottom of the bass. This is the kind of organ you want, although they are not usually free (the parlor organs often are free for the hauling away). The sub-bass stop can be identified by its 16' marking. Only consider paying money for the instrument if it as least has that.

    Originally posted by Mr. Goodfellow View Post
    How to transport one of these beautiful beasts?
    I have the seller help me lift it onto a pallet on the back of my pickup. I wrap it in an old blanket and secure it to the pallet with ratchet straps. When I get it home, I unload it by myself with a skid loader with pallet forks.

    But these organs generally aren't nearly as heavy as a piano. The parlor organs usually have a tall hutch that doesn't do anything, which can easily be removed with a screwdriver without hurting anything. After that, it's fairly easy for two men to lift one.

    Originally posted by Mr. Goodfellow View Post
    What are some easier problems to repair, and what types of problems should be avoided?
    Your free-for-the-taking basket case parlor organ will have several problems:

    1. It will be full of mouse droppings. This is easily remedied with a shop-vac, but be careful not to apply too much pressure/suction to the reed cells. These I blow out gently with a straw and my lungs, rather than shoving the shop vac all up in there.

    2. The bellows and exhausters will probably be leaky. The exhausters have leather valves that get hard and stop sealing well, which may need to be replaced. The billows cloth can crack at the seams and corners and leak a little, too. These are difficult to repair correctly without replacing all the bellows cloth. I've had some luck with very conservative use of gorilla tape, but others on these fora will probably excommunicate me for saying that. ;3

    3. It's possible that a treadle may be dropped. This is from the cloth strap that connects it to the exhauster being broken. This is a fairly easy fix, but I would pass on any $0 parlor organ that had this problem, unless it had a sub-bass.

    4. Some of the stops will probably be missing labels. That's ok. But if *any* of the stops are broken/nonfunctional on a basket case parlor organ, then that instrument is a hard pass.

    5. Likewise, if any of the notes cipher (play without being pressed) or play with no stops pulled, then that instrument is a hard pass (unless it's something unusual/special).

    Originally posted by Mr. Goodfellow View Post
    When looking at a reed organ, what are some things to check to assess its quality?
    The ubiquitous basket case parlor organs are all pretty much cut from the same cloth. The church organs are more unique, but you'll have to pay actual money for a good one that's been taken care of. You can probably get a parlor organ that only needs a little work for free, although it will still be out of tune (and these are extremely difficult to tune).

    Originally posted by Mr. Goodfellow View Post
    What are signs I might be being cheated? ;)
    Anyone asking anything more than $0 for a parlor organ that isn't in *perfect* condition and in tune. Most people on craigslist seem to think that their uh... fecal droppings are made of gold. If you can get an actual church organ or artist's instrument, something with more than 2 ranks of reeds and a sub-bass, I think you'll be happier in the long run, although if you have the means and desire to transport a $0 parlor organ, then that might make an interesting project to make restoration mistakes on before you get a nicer instrument.

    Personally, I am still holding out for an Estey 2MP. :3 In the meantime, my great-grandmother's basket-case parlor organ does the job.

    Edit: There, I think I added everything I wanted to say now. Lol. Good luck!
    Last edited by Mr. Polecat; 06-17-2019, 04:43 PM.
    1914 Estey Parlor Organ. 196x Allen T-12a "Special" (MIDI VPO project). Digital piano. Various guitars. Autoharp. Banjo. Bowed saw. Musical Cat.

    Comment


    • #3
      Adding to Mr. Polecat's good comments, I'd say make sure you actually see and hear the instrument before making a decision. And try to find someone in your area who's familiar with reed organs to go with you. Some sellers will tell you "all the keys work and make a sound" - but they often don't know anything about reed organs, and don't know how to use the treadles and activate all the stops.

      Certainly agree on the added value of a sub bass reed set. My own 1874 George Woods has a fantastic sound when that stop is engaged. And an extra reed set for a treble "celeste" is another bonus. Also, are there two knee levers, or just one? Usually the left knee lever (under the keyboard) gradually activates *all* the stops one after another; the right knee lever opens the dampers on the main reed sets, increasing volume.

      Be prepared to *take the whole thing apart* if you're getting a very inexpensive parlor organ. Getting to the bellows inside, which will almost undoubtedly need recovering, and to the reeds themselves, which will need removal and cleaning, will be a time-consuming and detail-oriented process.

      Some photos of my George Woods as I worked on it, and the result:
      https://www.reedsoc.org/index.php/ro...organ?ID=12710

      Reed Organ Society number 6270.

      Tom M.

      Comment


      • #4
        Thanks for the tips, Mr. Polecat and Tom!

        As an example of one I've come across, here's probably the "nicest" looking one I've found in a reasonable vicinity.
        Since I really don't know anything, I'm not sure if it's nice or not, but seeing that it was in a church it seems that it's probably been maintained better than many.
        I haven't even contacted the seller yet and I'm honestly not even sure if the Craigslist posting is still current...

        Still, any thoughts on this one?

        Aaand, it's inexpensive.

        https://desmoines.craigslist.org/atq...860311975.html

        (and if there's somehow a more "proper" way to post links on this forum, I'd be fine with help! XD )

        Thanks!


        Comment


        • #5
          Hello Mr. Goodfellow and welcome to the mob. You will find lots of friendly advice here but it sometimes takes a little time in coming.
          The organ you are looking at on Craigslist is a small Beckwith chapel model. Those were normally fitted with a nicer back panel that often faced the congregation. The case appears to be oak and the condition, well - the proof of the pudding, y'know...

          That one has enough stops to give you what you need, considering your comment that you are not a out and out musician (sounds like me...:->). Also the stop faces all appear to be there and the treadles are still upright. It also appears to havbe all the knobs and curls on the decorative top. The top section will come off easily, normally held by two screws. The organ itself will easily fit inside a panel van or station wagon, lying on its back.

          Ask for a sound clip if possible if you cannot see it in person.

          Good luck!

          Nico
          "Don't make war, make music!" Hammonds, Lowreys, Yamaha's, Gulbransens, Baldwin, Technics, Johannus. Reed organs. Details on request... B-)

          Comment


          • #6
            That looks like a pretty nice instrument to me. But unless it was very close I think I'd ask for a stop list before doing anything. Given the large number of stops, I would guess it to have at least 3 ranks, but again I don't know much.

            If I were me, I'd offer $100 if everything worked and it at least has a sub-bass rank. But I'd still probably pay $125 if he wouldn't go down any.

            Even coming from a church, it may have been sitting in the basement for 70 years and had some remodeling done inside by various small rodents to make it more livable. But that's still better than sitting in someone's barn or abandoned house for that long.

            I see pins for two knee swells, but only one knee swell lever showing in the picture. Make sure they're both still there.
            1914 Estey Parlor Organ. 196x Allen T-12a "Special" (MIDI VPO project). Digital piano. Various guitars. Autoharp. Banjo. Bowed saw. Musical Cat.

            Comment


            • #7
              Alright, ignorant question #1 ;)

              By ranks, do you separate sets of reeds? Also, would there be a way to verify how many ranks an organ had without looking inside it? Would the stop faces likely indicate that?

              I'll probably try to get in touch with the seller, to see if it's still even available and to ask a few questions. If I decide I'm really interested in it, I'll definitely look at it in person before making a decision.

              Also, any tips on questions to ask?

              For the time being, thanks again for the help!

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Mr. Goodfellow View Post
                Alright, ignorant question #1 ;)

                By ranks, do you separate sets of reeds? Also, would there be a way to verify how many ranks an organ had without looking inside it? Would the stop faces likely indicate that?

                I'll probably try to get in touch with the seller, to see if it's still even available and to ask a few questions. If I decide I'm really interested in it, I'll definitely look at it in person before making a decision.

                Also, any tips on questions to ask?

                For the time being, thanks again for the help!
                Generally, a "rank" is a set of reeds. Only way to tell what it actually has is to look at the stop names *and* inside the instrument. Just using the stop names brings up the issue of "hard stops" and "soft stops" - individual reed sets versus modifications to the reed sets.

                If you can get the model of the instrument, you can look it up in the Reed Society database and see what stops and ranks it originally had.

                https://www.reedsoc.org/index.php/ro...=0&type=Search

                The ad was two months old, so it may already be in someone else's possession. I *really* emphasize the importance of seeing and hearing an instrument in person before making a decision - especially as you're new to this. I'd certainly ask a seller "How many years have you had the instrument? Why are you selling? When was it last cleaned and repaired?"

                Tom M.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Mr. Goodfellow View Post
                  As an example of one I've come across, here's probably the "nicest" looking one I've found in a reasonable vicinity.

                  Still, any thoughts on this one?
                  Mr. Goodfellow,

                  Welcome to the Forum! I hope you continue to contribute here for a long time to come.

                  Beckwith, if I am not mistaken, was manufactured by Sears & Roebuck. My Sears & Roebuck organ (my maternal grandmother's organ) is one of the more simple organs described above (2-3 sets of reeds w/o sub bass). However, it looks like the organ you have found certainly must have more ranks of reeds than mine, and the case is much more ornate than mine. I would certainly pay the asking price if it is represented correctly in the ad. That said, works great is a rather relative phrase. I also noticed the keyboard on that organ is 6 octaves, rather than the normal 5 octaves.

                  I'd probably go for it.

                  Hope this helps.

                  Michael
                  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

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Thank you all again for the help!

                    I have already heard back from the owner of the organ, and he says that it is still available. He says: "My parents have had it for approximately 10 years. It came from a little country church East of Exira, Iowa. I do not know when it has been last cleaned, I do not believe that there has been any repairs.."

                    He did send a picture of all the stops so that I could see their names, and these are the names on their faces, from right to left:
                    Bass Coupler
                    Bourdon Bass
                    Cornet Echo
                    Principal
                    Dulciama?
                    Siapson
                    Viola
                    Sub Bass :)
                    Vox Humana
                    Siapason Forte?
                    Cremona
                    Melodia
                    Cornet
                    Celeste
                    Flute
                    Clarionet
                    Treble Coupler

                    Aside from saying all the stops work, he didn't give any more information on the working condition of the organ. I realized I should probably have asked him when it was last in regular use, so I'll probably check with him on that.

                    I was very happy to see that it has a sub-bass stop!

                    Thank you all again for your help, and if you have any comments on the stops that would be great!

                    Edit: I missed it the first time I posted this, but there's a "Principal Forte" stop between the Sub Bass and the Vox Humana, bringing the total up to eighteen stops.
                    Last edited by Mr. Goodfellow; 06-19-2019, 08:06 AM.

                    Comment


                    • musicgeek854
                      musicgeek854 commented
                      Editing a comment
                      Most likely it will need some reeds cleaned by soaking them in vineger. also check the felt while your at it.

                  • #11
                    Quick thought: that's a good assortment of stops (both real and "soft"). Be sure to go see the organ before making a commitment. You want to make sure each of those stops is functional, and make sure an "easy pumping" on the treadles brings up a full rich sound. You don't want to have to pump the treadles like crazy to get sound (which would indicate lots of leaks in the air system). Easy pumping for about five pumps should fill the air system; then easy pumping keeps the sound up. One test: Pull out only the Principal and the Melodia stops. Pump the treadles for about ten times, then stop. Hold down one single key, and count how many seconds the note keeps playing before it dies out.

                    See if there are two knee levers; they might be folded in, but should pull out so your knees can move them.

                    Sometimes hard to read the old style print on those three stop knobs: Dulciana, Diapason, Diapason Forte
                    Good luck!
                    Tom M.

                    Comment


                    • #12
                      Here are pictures of all the stop faces:
                      You may only view thumbnails in this gallery. This gallery has 3 photos.

                      Comment


                      • #13
                        Judging soley off of appearance and number of stops, it might be similar to this type of Beckwith:

                        https://www.reedsoc.org/index.php/ro...Search&ID=9657

                        Comment


                        • #14
                          Some of those are most certainly soft stops. The Dulciana for example is probably a soft stop of the Principal or Diapason. Which is confusing; I use "Principal" and "Diapason" interchangably, so I think it's strange that there's a stop for each. But I don't know much, haha.

                          It's unfortunate that the "pipe" lengths aren't listed on the stops. My guess is that the Viola is a 4' bass rank.

                          Then everything to the right of the Vox Humana will be treble-side stuff. I'm not sure what to guess up there. There's probably a 2' stop of some sort. The only way to be sure what are soft-stops of what is probably to open up the back and front and see what flaps open what amounts when which stops are pulled. :P

                          Yeah, I think I'd buy something like that for that money, if one were available near me.
                          1914 Estey Parlor Organ. 196x Allen T-12a "Special" (MIDI VPO project). Digital piano. Various guitars. Autoharp. Banjo. Bowed saw. Musical Cat.

                          Comment


                          • #15
                            Go grab that one bud! However, please be prepared to do a little work on it. These old'uns are all suffering to some extent of rheumatism, arthritis, dementia or some kind of condition associated with age - just like humans. Nothing a little TLC could not remedy though - unlike humans! If its within your reach distance-wise and you have the dollar, go for it!
                            Luck

                            Nico
                            "Don't make war, make music!" Hammonds, Lowreys, Yamaha's, Gulbransens, Baldwin, Technics, Johannus. Reed organs. Details on request... B-)

                            Comment


                            • musicgeek854
                              musicgeek854 commented
                              Editing a comment
                              yes! I have a estey spinet model with two ranks (for double octaves) and i'm still trying to put the bellow return spring (actually a torsion spring)in. also i'm replacing the felt under the keys. I'm a complete noob at reed organs so don't worry.
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