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Mick Berg

I have always been interested in the organ. I always dreamed of acquiring a real pipe organ, but I never found one that was suitable. In truth, pipe organs do not sound good in small rooms with dead acoustics, and so I resigned myself to getting an electronic organ. I became interested in digital sound technology, and many years ago now, I developed a system to use Soundfonts and Soundblaster soundcards to create a fairly realistic classical pipe organ on a Windows computer. But much better technology came along in the form of the commercial program Hauptwerk and its open-source equivalent Grandorgue, both of which use digital samples of real pipe organs, meticulously recorded pipe by pipe. (Quite a few people became interested in my concept, which I called the PC Organ.)

After owning several organs, including a Yamaha Electone and two Schober Recital kit organs, I was very lucky to find a wonderful console desperately in need of a good home. I paid only $500 for it, including delivery! (Which was probably worth another $500.) It was originally installed in St. Paul’s Catholic Cathedral in San Diego as a temporary console. It seems to be a mixture of Klann and Moller components.

The organ runs on the grandorgue open-source software, on a very basic Windows XP computer. My favourite sampleset is an Andreas Silbermann organ which I have extended, to create a likeness of the Arlesheim Silbermann organ, which is my favourite of all organs. How lucky we are to have technology that allows one to pick their favourite pipe organ in the world, and have it available in their own home! I only wish I could do it justice with my playing!

This is the organ. (I will find a better picture.) It has eighty drawknobs, three manuals, and a 32-note AGO pedalboard. There is a floating Echo division that can be coupled to the Choir or Great.

It has a complete digital combination action, and a fully programmable crescendo pedal, implemented in Grandorgue. It did have a very limited and clumsy setterboard combination action, but I removed it and substituted the digital system.

I play the organ through Sony MDR-6 headphones, and Aura Bass Shakers installed in the bench.

I am currently refinishing the oak woodwork. Some of it is solid wood, some veneered plywood, but it is very solid and incredibly heavy!

Digital Organs

Detailed Description

I purchased the organ from Bob Knight, an organ technician in San Diego. He desperately wanted to get rid of it, but did not want to see it junked. His asking price was $1500, but to my surprise he accepted my starting offer of $500. He even delivered it for no extra cost!

The organ, which dates from the sixties and seventies, came with a Conn 904 tone generator, which had been re-built into a very crude cabinet, following a fire which destroyed the console. There were also lots of speakers, including “sweet sixteens” (sixteen 16-ohm speakers wired to present a 16-ohm load impedance). However, the cones were dried out and they weren’t usable. There were also several large Allen tone cabinets. I did not want these and sold them or gave them away. Some SAMs (stop action magnets) had been rescued from the Conn console, so I have some extras.

I spent a long time getting the 904 electronics to work, but I was not satisfied with the results. Apparently these organs were very expensive, but were full of compromises. I gave the box to a friend of mine, but I don’t think he ever did anything with it.

The keying voltage was a terrifying 65 volts, which created quite a big spark from the magnet coils. The contacts in the console were badly burned but I cleaned them all up. The whole thing used masses of current, and I swear my house lights dimmed when I turned it on! I didn’t keep this beast for long, and progressed to MIDI and computer technology.

The Console

The console that replaced the original Conn, and is the one that I bought, is an interesting affair. It was apparently installed in St. Paul’s Catholic Cathedral in San Diego, while a new console was being built for their Moller (or Skinner?) organ. This was confirmed by the music director of the Cathedral, and the stoplist coincides.

The keydesk and stop jambs match, but do not exactly match the main console. However it fits together fine, and you wouldn’t know there is anything amiss from the outside. The internal wiring varies in quality from the immaculate work of the original, to some positively dreadful work done by whoever hooked it up to the Conn box, and then there is my work, which is quite reasonable.

It is reminiscent of a tracker organ, with couplers on white-on-black drawknobs. The music rack is set low, just above the manuals, and there are no coupler rockers. There was a setterboard combination action, with a zillion switches in pull-out trays on either side of the console, but it was clumsy and not versatile, and the relays were in bad shape, so I removed it. There must have been a thousand switches to set up about twenty combinations. Now the organ uses the software CA action in Grandorgue.

There are eighty drawknobs, including the couplers. There are six general pistons, and four divisionals for each of the three manuals, floating Echo, and pedal. Also setter (formerly Sforz) and General Cancel pistons. Generals, Gt-to-Ped reversible, pedal divisionals and GC are duplicated on toe studs. There are three swell shoes, Swell, Choir, and Echo, and a Crescendo pedal.

Using one of the spare SAMs, I have implemented an “organ ready” indicator that signals (visually and audibly) that the organ software is loaded and ready to play. Also there is a crescendo indicator that lights when the crescendo pedal is active. Through the grandorgue software there are infinite combinations available, and also many extra couplers including Bass and Melody couplers. I have just acquired a vintage (1927) Moller Crescendo Pedal Position Indicator that I plan to install.

The Electronics and Computer

The organ uses a Devtronix MIDI encoder for the keys and stops, and DST MIDI driver boards for the SAMs. An Edirol UA-20 sends the MIDI to and from the computer via USB. The computer is very basic, using Windows XP, two gigs of RAM and a Soundblaster sound card. The soundcard is controlled by KX Project open-source software, which gives extra versatility.

I listen to the organ on Sony MDR-V6 headphones, and there are two Aura Bass Shakers built into the bench that give excellent sensation of the low pedal notes. These are powered by one channel of a Conn 4-channel amplifier, two of which came with the Conn 904 box. I removed them before giving the box away.

I have quite a few sample sets, mostly free from Grandorgue. I have an Andreas Silbermann set from Joseph Basquin (my favorite) and the St George’s Casavant set from Ken Bales. I also have a Barton Theater Organ, and a Blanchet Harpsichord. It is not overly difficult to create ODF’s (Organ Definition Files) in Grandorgue to make any kind of organ you like. I have made an ODF that represents the console exactly, for development and maintenance use.

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