Results 1 to 6 of 6

Thread: New VPO project with an old organ - some questions

  1. #1
    ppp Pianississmo Powerin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2015
    Location
    NSW, Australia
    Posts
    20

    New VPO project with an old organ - some questions

    Hi All,

    After successfully Midifying and VPOing my church's Allen ADC organ I've been looking for a new project so I can finally get a home practice organ for myself (at minimal cost). I found a nice little analogue valve (tube) organ that's about my own vintage (mid 1960's) in good condition. It ticked a few boxes by being quite compact for a draw knob console and it's a piece of furniture my wife can live with .

    It was made by the former Miller Organ Company in the UK (not Miller USA). The insides are so nicely put together it nearly breaks my heart to gut it out. Anyway, my first thought was that I would renew the keyboard/pedal contacts, wire them into a matrix and go down the Arduino/PIC MIDI route. However I see that Midi-hardware (and probably others) have MIDI encoders for a reasonable price that are designed for old bus-bar keyboards where you wire each individual key switch into the encoder. I haven't yet been able to get a good look at the keyboard contacts but the pedal contacts look to be good quality and in good condition and use gold coloured wires which I assume are phosphor bronze.

    So my first question is: in your collective opinions/experiences what is the success rate for using old original contacts for MIDI? High, medium or low? I'm pretty handy with a soldering iron and it will be a lot easier than installing new switches...but if it doesn't work I guess I will have to start again. I read that these type of contacts worked well with the relatively high original voltages but maybe not so well with the 5V or less of MIDI equipment.

    If the above is a failure reed switches would be the next step and easily compatible with the bus bar encoders. However I read that reeds are fine for pedal boards but not so easy for keyboards. I like the idea of hall effect sensors, or better yet optical switches, but I can't find much about how they are wired (either bus or matrix) and don't yet know how compatible they would be with the bus bar encoder. Any thoughts on the merits of the three types?

    Finally, I bought the organ with an immaculate Hammond PR-40 tone cabinet. Again, a nice piece of furniture compared with normal speakers. The cabinet's valve/tube amplifier had been bypassed and the speakers wired directly to the organ amp. It has two 15" drivers and two 12" drivers. There's no way I could otherwise afford nice big speakers like this so I'm wondering does anyone know if it would sound OK with a classical organ? Perhaps with the addition of crossovers and a couple of tweeters? (I think the original amp had crossovers built in...but I'm not sure if it still works)

    Thanks in advance for all your wisdom!

    Peter

    miller_console2.jpgvalve_oscillators-small.jpghammond_pr40-small.jpg

  2. #2
    pp Pianissimo j reimer's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Location
    Sydney, Australia
    Posts
    156

    Quote Originally Posted by Powerin View Post
    So my first question is: in your collective opinions/experiences what is the success rate for using old original contacts for MIDI? High, medium or low? I'm pretty handy with a soldering iron and it will be a lot easier than installing new switches...but if it doesn't work I guess I will have to start again. I read that these type of contacts worked well with the relatively high original voltages but maybe not so well with the 5V or less of MIDI equipment.
    Peter,

    I faced this problem nearly 3 years ago when midifying the analogue organ in my local Anglican church in Earlwood N.S.W. (a Sydney suburb), an organ which I built back in 1980. The original switching voltages were quite high (about -70V. actually), and the contacts turned out to be almost nonfunctional at the +3 V. or so used by the encoder, which was set up on bus lines, the contacts shorting to earth. I had plenty of gold-clad phosphor-bronze wires, and had to modify all 122 contacts. Fortunately the shorting wire used by Kimber-Allen were solderable, and I soldered short sections of the gold-clad wire to become the new shorting length! Their contact assemblies for the pedals were quite different, and needed no modification. The 28 or so stop switches (tab type, with no electromagnets) required extensive modifications, again with that wire (two sections shorting together). It was all a lot of work, but I had no alternative, as I wanted to retain the existing mechanical arrangements.

    Three years later, I can say that occasionally we might have a note which is reluctant to sound, but as time progressed, that became far less common. The contacts you seem to have may be better, but it is certainly possible that the Miller Organ used K-A manuals.

    I have not used Hall Effect devices, but I think they could be preferable to reed switches for the manuals. As far as I know, they short to earth when “activated”. I suggest making a trial set-up, which includes use with an encoder, before buying a large quantity.

    If you are ever in Sydney, I would be delighted to show you that organ (I played it earlier today for a service), plus the VPO I have at home. Send me a Private Message via this Forum. I am an enthusiastic user of jOrgan. My personal website can be accessed via a link on the “This Site” page of the jORGAN DISCOVERY website (http://jorgan.info).

    John Reimer

  3. #3
    ppp Pianississmo Powerin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2015
    Location
    NSW, Australia
    Posts
    20

    Hi John,

    Thanks for that...exactly the sort of info I was after. I have yet to disassemble my organ enough to discover the type and provenance of the keyboards but they are nice wooden core keys. It actually didn't occur to me (but should have) that those older organ companies might outsource their keyboard manufacture. Obviously the keyboards might come from a different place to the pedal board and the contacts could be completely different. Time will tell.

    My journey with VPOs stemmed from my dissatisfaction with the 30 something year old "Allen" sound from our church organ. I have made a few repairs over the years but, to Allen's credit, it is still working fine and of course the majority of the congregation thinks it still sounds OK and wouldn't think of replacing it. My discovery of VPO software about 3 years ago was an epiphany and I immediately set out to test it all with a view to installing it at church. My self-imposed software choices were limited to my platform of choice being Linux. I remember trying out jOrgan and being impressed but it was a bit involved setting up a Java environment on Linux and running jOrgan, and I didn't think it would be as viable in a mission-critical church service environment. Grandorgue (which I believe is an open source fork of Hauptwerk) was another choice and I loved the sound of it even more...so that's the direction I went.

    Your various websites are an interesting read!

    Thanks,
    Peter

  4. #4
    mf Mezzo-Forte Leisesturm's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    45.51° N, -122.60° W
    Posts
    615

    Quote Originally Posted by Powerin View Post
    Hi John,

    Thanks for that...exactly the sort of info I was after. I have yet to disassemble my organ enough to discover the type and provenance of the keyboards but they are nice wooden core keys. It actually didn't occur to me (but should have) that those older organ companies might outsource their keyboard manufacture. Obviously the keyboards might come from a different place to the pedal board and the contacts could be completely different. Time will tell.

    My journey with VPOs stemmed from my dissatisfaction with the 30 something year old "Allen" sound from our church organ. I have made a few repairs over the years but, to Allen's credit, it is still working fine and of course the majority of the congregation thinks it still sounds OK and wouldn't think of replacing it. My discovery of VPO software about 3 years ago was an epiphany and I immediately set out to test it all with a view to installing it at church. My self-imposed software choices were limited to my platform of choice being Linux. I remember trying out jOrgan and being impressed but it was a bit involved setting up a Java environment on Linux and running jOrgan, and I didn't think it would be as viable in a mission-critical church service environment. Grandorgue (which I believe is an open source fork of Hauptwerk) was another choice and I loved the sound of it even more...so that's the direction I went.

    Your various websites are an interesting read!

    Thanks,
    Peter
    Meaning no disrespect, of course, but I have not found ANY church in possession of an organ, be it ever so humble, that would be willing to throw additional money and resources at it in the form of a VPO conversion or enhancement. Nor is it my opinion that the average churched Allen or Rodgers two manual instrument needs such 'enhancement'. Why not? Mainly because the sound of these instruments is good enough as is and the only reason IMO for enhancement would be to expand the tonal pallette. To do this in a fashion that is both intuitive and AGO compliant is nigh impossible. If you start with a (minimum) 3M AGO console with ~50 stop controls in place ... unless the native instrument isn't playing for some reason, I for one would not understand trying to fix what isn't broken.

    For your home practice instrument all that goes out the window. However, "first do no harm". You aren't doing harm if you remove sound producing components that you are not going to need or the metal brackets that hold them in place. You might be doing harm if you remove the internal wooden supports that maintain the relationships between the various panels of the console. Be careful there. I have a very late 1980's Eminent 3 manual console to MIDIfy. I have modules by the very well regarded MIDI Boutique (Bulgaria) that will encode the bus matrix keyboard but the principal at MIDI Boutique has advised me to ignore the existing matrix structure and wire it note for note. However I have recently discovered the line of USB 61 note semi-weighted stand alone keyboards by M-Audio. VPO builders are stripping these keyboards out of their cases and using their USB connections to plug directly into the DAC (digital audio converter) that will be needed in any case to communicate from your PC to your audio system. Some VPO systems make the DAC do dual duty and communicate keypresses and stop changes, expression, etc TO the GrandOrgue software (and the specific responses back to the console that these changes have been acknowledged) and also provide the necessary conversion of the computer generated audio into a form that can be amplified and sent to speakers for reproduction.

    You don't have to worry about the voltages that your key contacts used when they were functioning as part of a pipe or digital organ. The MIDI encoder/decoder you purchase will have its intrinsic voltage needs and will supply you with (or tell you what you need) a power supply that will generate the proper voltage at the proper polarity. Old high voltage contacts may be very burned and only partially conductive. These need to be cleaned up. But as long as the contacts are clean, it doesn't really matter what voltage they used to work at, they will happily work at lower ones. The decision as to which open source software package to use IMO is based mainly on the kind of instrument you want to hear. Sampling organs well is a lot of work. You must have noticed that the vast majority of open source soundfonts are of small, historic instruments? Well, for my purposes that simply won't do. My console has 76 stoptabs and only six or so of them are couplers. JOrgan has (afaics) soundfonts of large instruments and, if you want to use Linux it is very possible. It will be more work but that is mainly the way it is when you want to use Linux to do things. I don't think that going towards Grand Orgue needs to be an irrevocable action. For that matter, I am not ruling out trying Hauptwerk someday.

  5. #5
    f Forte rjsilva's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2016
    Location
    PA
    Posts
    844

    Quote Originally Posted by Leisesturm View Post
    ...Nor is it my opinion that the average churched Allen or Rodgers two manual instrument needs such 'enhancement'. Why not? Mainly because the sound of these instruments is good enough as is and the only reason IMO for enhancement would be to expand the tonal pallette. To do this in a fashion that is both intuitive and AGO compliant is nigh impossible.
    Seconded. Unless the VPO is setup to work seamlessly and reliably with only the organ console’s hardware I see it as a short-sighted solution for a church.

  6. #6
    ppp Pianississmo Powerin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2015
    Location
    NSW, Australia
    Posts
    20

    1 members found this post helpful.
    Quote Originally Posted by Leisesturm View Post
    Meaning no disrespect, of course, but I have not found ANY church in possession of an organ, be it ever so humble, that would be willing to throw additional money and resources at it in the form of a VPO conversion or enhancement. Nor is it my opinion that the average churched Allen or Rodgers two manual instrument needs such 'enhancement'. Why not? Mainly because the sound of these instruments is good enough as is.
    Thanks for that information Leisesturm...all very helpful.

    Regarding your above contention regarding VPOs I guess the words that resonate with me are "good enough". Yes, our 1985 Allen has certainly been "good enough" over the years. Given the technology of the time it was a reasonable facsimile of a real pipe organ and has served us well. I have played it for thirty years.

    But why persist with "good enough" given new technology? For me there is no comparison between the pipe-like sound of a modern VPO (or even a modern Allen/Viscount/Johannus) and our 30+ year old Allen. VPOs win hands down. So a VPO was a way of getting a modern sound out of a perfectly good old console without the large investment in a new digital organ (or a never affordable actual pipe organ). I carefully introduced the concept to the congregation by using a midi keyboard connected to a VPO to play for a service. The reaction was very positive so I went down the path of midifying our Allen.

    The result? An organist (me), that was beginning to find playing for services a chore, finding a new spark and enthusiasm for playing the organ...so much so that I'm setting up my own practice organ after all these years. Congregation members that appreciate organ music are loving it. Members who couldn't care less haven't complained so far. Visitors who are complete strangers have come up to me saying how wonderful our organ sounds.

    All in all I would say the VPO has been a success. I'll be the first to admit that I am unsure if our congregation sings better with the VPO (they would sing to a tin whistle), but they are certainly no worse. Of course one has to be judicious with the sample sets one uses. Some are better than others at leading singing. If I'm honest I have to say the congregation sings best by a slight margin with my least preferred (romantic) sample set.

    Quote Originally Posted by rjsilva View Post
    Seconded. Unless the VPO is setup to work seamlessly and reliably with only the organ console’s hardware I see it as a short-sighted solution for a church.
    I like to think I'm close to this ideal. Indeed it was a design parameter...as well as keeping the original organ intact and playable. All of the organ console controls are usable within the VPO...the only exception is the crescendo pedal (which I never use and haven't bothered to midify) and the transposer.

    I use GrandOrgue Live. This is a Linux system cut down to the bare bones with the sole purpose of running GrandOrgue. If you want to use the VPO you switch on the organ and push the power button on the computer. It boots up and starts GrandOrgue automatically ready to go with the last loaded sample set. Flick a switch to change over the organ amps from the Allen sound to the VPO and that's it. If GrandOrgue crashes (hasn't happened so far) it automatically restarts. If the whole system crashes flick the switch back to the Allen, which is still up and playing concurrently with the VPO, and continue on with the hymn.

    The other organists who are all around the 80 year old mark all love the sound but are not yet comfortable with the slight latency in the system. This could be improved with a better computer. The latency is about the same as any electropneumatic pipe organ I've played. But they can just stick with the original Allen they are comfortable with and everybody's happy!
    Last edited by Powerin; 07-12-2018 at 10:42 PM. Reason: Less words

Similar Threads

  1. Rodgers 4-manual VPO Project
    By John Kinkennon in forum Virtual Organs
    Replies: 6
    Last Post: 03-18-2017, 06:12 PM
  2. VPO Project
    By Moller Artiste in forum Virtual Organs
    Replies: 16
    Last Post: 01-29-2017, 02:10 PM
  3. Replies: 5
    Last Post: 01-04-2016, 03:30 AM
  4. 21H project and questions
    By Echoes in forum Leslies, Tone Cabinets, Speakers, & Accessories
    Replies: 19
    Last Post: 10-29-2014, 04:11 PM
  5. WANTED: inexpensive Organ with midi out for VPO: Northern Indiana
    By mashaffer in forum Buy & Sell Hammond and Other Organs Archive
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 07-15-2012, 09:38 PM

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •