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Digital Organ For Practice

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I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that a digital instrument at home will be the preferred way of securing regular practice (ie every day, ideally). I am lucky enough to have unrestricted access to a "real" instrument, which I shall (of course) continue to use, but with the best will in the world it is difficult to get there as regularly as I would like to. I have not had the opportunity to play all that many digital instruments, and I'm not aware of any showrooms in my immediate vicinity where I could try out any instruments. I don't desire a lavish five manual cathedral reproduction; I would be quite happy with a modest 2 (maybe 3) manual affair, with the emphasis on quality rather than quantity. However, in a nod to ever so slight self-indulgence, I would prefer a French romantic specification, since this is the music I particularly enjoy, and as I'm paying and it is my hobby, I think I deserve a little self-indulgence. However, the instrument should be capable of allowing decent practice of a range of styles. I have done some internet research and generally have a 'feel' at, least in theory, of what the relevant companies are offering. I'm sure many of you have such instruments at home, so any first-hand advice or recommendations you have would be gratefully received. I don't want to ignite any (further) pipe vs digital debates. (My teacher is of no real help here as he has never had such an instrument and his only advice is to get a small 3 to 4 stop pipe organ. Well, as I'm not made of money and my (soon to be) wife would relish the prospect of headphones being used, this is not an option.) I hope this topic is not entirely outwith the remit of this forum.

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I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that a digital instrument at home will be the preferred way of securing regular practice (ie every day, ideally).

 

Although it was twenty years ago myself and a friend went around looking at small electronic organs. We found the chief problem was that although many of them sounded very realistic - they were simulating the type of English parish chuch sound that neither of us would want to play on. The only company that produced an organ suitable for organ music was Johannus Johannus organs. My friend duly bought one - and it still works fine after 20 years pounding (give or take a few maintenance visits to clean contacts) - so I would start there.

 

PS I think that the Compton Makin organs are now manufactured by Johannus to Compton Makin specifications.

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Hauptwerk has to be worth a look/listen. For French romantics the Aix Cavaillé-Coll is available and Metz Cathedral should be soon. I thought the Silbermann and Schnitger/Bosch reproductions very satisfasctory indeed - I would be very happy living with these. There isn't much, though, in the way of English Romantic instruments: there's a Willis but I don't think much of the samples on the net. The IIP Brindley and Foster you get as a freebie isn't my sort of organ, but it is very effectively done.

 

Phoenix do effective French organs, so I'm told, though I've no first hand experience of them. Wyvern likewise, I believe.

 

One thing I would say (yet egain) is that quality over quantity really must be extended to the console as well as the tone. Unless space restrictions dictate it, do not under any circumstances go for a compact console. Also the keyboards may well be placed too low. This may not feel uncomfortable at first, but continually playing in such a low position may result in physical problems in the long term. Also check that the pedalboard is sufficiently recessed under the manuals so that you are not forced to lean forward as you play. If you buy a console that enforces bad posture you will regret it.

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Guest Barry Williams
Although it was twenty years ago myself and a friend went around looking at small electronic organs. We found the chief problem was that although many of them sounded very realistic - they were simulating the type of English parish chuch sound that neither of us would want to play on. The only company that produced an organ suitable for organ music was Johannus Johannus organs. My friend duly bought one - and it still works fine after 20 years pounding (give or take a few maintenance visits to clean contacts) - so I would start there.

 

PS I think that the Compton Makin organs are now manufactured by Johannus to Compton Makin specifications.

 

 

As far as I am aware there is no such company now as 'Compton Makin', though I think there was once a 'Compton Edwards'.

 

Makin Organs Ltd do indeed supply Johannus instruments. I agree with Douglas that they make satisfactory practise organs. My wife and I had three over the years and found that they kept their price on resale. The contact there is Richard Goodall who knows about these things.

 

Barry Williams

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Well, as I'm not made of money and my (soon to be) wife would relish the prospect of headphones being used, this is not an option.) I hope this topic is not entirely outwith the remit of this forum.

Also, do invest in a really good pair of headphones. Whilst the digital organ I use for practise at home sounds quite good in our small music room, it sounds absolutely excellent through a decent set of headphones and this is now my preferred choice for practise. Run-of-the-mill headphones just don't sound so good.

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I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that a digital instrument at home will be the preferred way of securing regular practice (ie every day, ideally). I am lucky enough to have unrestricted access to a "real" instrument, which I shall (of course) continue to use, but with the best will in the world it is difficult to get there as regularly as I would like to. I have not had the opportunity to play all that many digital instruments, and I'm not aware of any showrooms in my immediate vicinity where I could try out any instruments. I don't desire a lavish five manual cathedral reproduction; I would be quite happy with a modest 2 (maybe 3) manual affair, with the emphasis on quality rather than quantity. However, in a nod to ever so slight self-indulgence, I would prefer a French romantic specification, since this is the music I particularly enjoy, and as I'm paying and it is my hobby, I think I deserve a little self-indulgence. However, the instrument should be capable of allowing decent practice of a range of styles. I have done some internet research and generally have a 'feel' at, least in theory, of what the relevant companies are offering. I'm sure many of you have such instruments at home, so any first-hand advice or recommendations you have would be gratefully received. I don't want to ignite any (further) pipe vs digital debates. (My teacher is of no real help here as he has never had such an instrument and his only advice is to get a small 3 to 4 stop pipe organ. Well, as I'm not made of money and my (soon to be) wife would relish the prospect of headphones being used, this is not an option.) I hope this topic is not entirely outwith the remit of this forum.

I would say that you would go an awfully long way to beat a Wyvern Koralia - three manuals and at around £6500 it represents superb value for money. I had one and was so delighted with the results that I upgraded to a larger Wyvern Toccata III - which is just marvellous....

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Guest Lee Blick
Also, do invest in a really good pair of headphones. Whilst the digital organ I use for practise at home sounds quite good in our small music room, it sounds absolutely excellent through a decent set of headphones and this is now my preferred choice for practise. Run-of-the-mill headphones just don't sound so good.

 

Definately concur with this. I bought a set of Sony professional headphones and my organ sounds bearable now. Low quality headphones can be generally crap for picking up the lowest pedal notes.

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I would say that you would go an awfully long way to beat a Wyvern Koralia - three manuals and at around £6500 it represents superb value for money. I had one and was so delighted with the results that I upgraded to a larger Wyvern Toccata III - which is just marvellous....

 

A few weeks ago I went round and played three manual instruments from Viscount, Makin and Wyvern - I was really impressed with all 3... and am finding it VERY hard to chose between them. One I did discount very quickly was the Johannus - I'm looking for something very 'English' and for me, that really didn't do it - but that was more on the stop list and not the quality of build, keyboards or samples.

 

I was very taken with the realistic swell sound when under box control of the Viscount, but thought that the key action was rather heavy - how have others found this? of course, they're all going to feel different to my electric action instrument that I play at church week by week!

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I use the Grado SR 125 open backed headphones on my Wyvern Sonata (which I heartily endorse as a good old wholesome English voiced instrument) as they offer a wide sound stage with very good bass response without clouding the mid and treble.

If you do get a toaster, I would seriously invest in a separate reverb unit as the on board ones are normally limited in their scope. Feel free to PM me if you want.

Best wishes, Oliver.

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Guest Lee Blick

I don't know if Wyvern are still doing it, but when I visited their old showrooms in Chobham in January last year, I was inmpressed with their two manual traditional drawstop organ (not the ones with the small drawstops), I was taken back by the quality, comfort and sound of it. about £5k. It didn't have many stops, but I would take the quality of the sound and quality of the console over the number of stop and fancy aids any day.

 

In my opinon, firms such as Viscount and Wyvern are fast catching up with some of the more well known makers.

 

My additional advice would be pay attention to the internal speaker systems. I have a 90's Viscount organ and put them through my surround sound computer speakers and suddenly my organ sounded ten times better! If you are visiting showrooms make sure you test them out on the internal speakers rather than the external system these places often have. It is annoying even today how many manufacturerers skimp on the speakers.

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My additional advice would be pay attention to the internal speaker systems. I have a 90's Viscount organ and put them through my surround sound computer speakers and suddenly my organ sounded ten times better! If you are visiting showrooms make sure you test them out on the internal speakers rather than the external system these places often have. It is annoying even today how many manufacturerers skimp on the speakers.

 

To be fair to all of the showrooms I visited, all of them let me play (for well over an hour) using only the built in speakers (probably because they knew I was buying for home). I was also impressed with the general feeling of there being no pressure; i wasn't subjected to any sales pitch, and haven't been plagued with any follow ups.

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Guest Lee Blick

That is good to hear Steve. Don't be afraid to go back and ask more more time to test out the instruments. There are several makes being played on YouTube, although not as good as hearing them in the 'flesh' as it were, it is useful to see how other people cope with them.

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I was very taken with the realistic swell sound when under box control of the Viscount, but thought that the key action was rather heavy - how have others found this? of course, they're all going to feel different to my electric action instrument that I play at church week by week!

 

I've had a Viscount Prestige three decker at home for about three years now. The initial "pluck" of the key action is slightly heavy (I think they intend it to be a means of replicating a "tracker feel"), but not unpleasant at all. I'm quite used to it, and find it a pleasant and comfortable instrument to play. The after-sales service is also very good. Last year I had to transport it to play for a friend's funeral as the organ blower packed up at the church in question. One of the internal speakers was playing up; I 'phoned Viscount late in the afternoon who sent me a replacement which got to me the following morning. Incidentally, the Viscount led a congregation of several hundred people without any problem at all, and people were coming up afterwards to say what a splendid instrument it was.

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That is good to hear Steve. Don't be afraid to go back and ask more more time to test out the instruments. There are several makes being played on YouTube, although not as good as hearing them in the 'flesh' as it were, it is useful to see how other people cope with them.

 

They all said that I would be more than welcome to go back at any time - although from down here in Kent it's a bit of a trek although I might spend a long day doing it again later in the year!

 

I was also impressed at how much it was possible to manipulate the sounds on each of the instruments, changing individual volumes for stops (or even notes), speed of attack (can make for a more realistic pedal section with a bit of speech delay on the bigger flues) etc...

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Guest Barry Williams
They all said that I would be more than welcome to go back at any time - although from down here in Kent it's a bit of a trek although I might spend a long day doing it again later in the year!

 

I was also impressed at how much it was possible to manipulate the sounds on each of the instruments, changing individual volumes for stops (or even notes), speed of attack (can make for a more realistic pedal section with a bit of speech delay on the bigger flues) etc...

 

A couple of months ago I was at the Allen studios. All the instruments were out of tune. Then one was tuned specially for me to hear. The improvement was dramatic.

 

It is worth purchasing an instrument that you can have tuned as you wish - not just a 'temperament' but properly tuned, rather than the factory set de-tuning beloved of electronic suppliers.

 

Barry Williams

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Some general thoughts, mostly based on helping a student who also wanted to purchase such an instrument for home practice.

 

Do the normal checks that you'd expect to do on a pipe organ. For example, check the depth of the switch on point on the keys and the pedals. One new, Alan organ we tried had markedly varying switch on depths that were annoying for me as a player. The salesperson did not think that these were adjustable.

 

I've also heard salespeople indicate that each individual note can be adjusted, only to find out, when asked to, in one case, drop the volume of a particular note that was booming in the venue in which it was installed, that this was not really possible Only narrow bands of notes could be adjusted. Ask specific questions, and write down the answers given.

 

The high level of customisation involved in the electronics potentially presents its own possible problems into the future. There is no use offering a 10 year warranty if replacement boards, or integrated circuits or whatever are simply no longer available, or if the software needed to program particular types of programmable integrated circuits no longer work with the latest operating system and so on. Ask around. If the instrument is not able to be fixed within the warranty period because of this, will they replace the instrument with a current model one? If you can cite an example of a church where the instrument is languishing because of this, it tends to stop the glib assurances from the salespeople. (To ask the salesperson what was being doing for the church my father-in-law attends where the instrument had been intermittently failing for some months because a power supply component could no longer be sourced gave me great pleasure. If they make wild claims, they should expect tough questions.)

 

Think carefully about what you'd like in terms of how the action of the notes feels. Do you want to match the instrument that you normally play? Would you prefer something with a little more resistance that will keep the muscles working harder? Will you occasionally have to play your French toccatas on mechanical action organs with, say three manuals coupled. In Australia, some time ago, an opening recital for a mechanical action organ was broadcast nationally (Live, I think.). The organist played the Widor V toccata as an encore, with fingers that skipped more and more of the notes as the fatigue factor really set in.

 

How well will the keys and pedals wear? Will pedals start clicking in the future, and can this be attended to? Half your luck if you have the time to make this a problem!

 

And finally, and irreverently, if you spend huge amounts of money on amplifiers and external speakers to allow you to wallow in the splash of sound echoing through the virtual cathedral in your lounge room, can you also connect your DVD player up to it for your surround sound movie viewing, or, indeed, to maximize the benefit of SACD recordings of organ music?

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I would say that you would go an awfully long way to beat a Wyvern Koralia - three manuals and at around £6500 it represents superb value for money. I had one and was so delighted with the results that I upgraded to a larger Wyvern Toccata III - which is just marvellous....

 

I have the Wyvern Sonata model, two manual. I bought it nearly nine years ago, and at the time had to have the two manual for reasons of money and space. At the time Anthony Bogdan was the Northern Manager, he came with his box of tricks and fine tuned the stops as I wanted them. The touch is just right, not too light so that transferrring to mechanical actions is OK. He tightened the pedals a little as I thought they were too light...

I use it most days, the wear on the pedalboard shows this, and, touch-wood, it has never let me down in any way. It's stood a house move too, and in both houses it lives upstairs, easy as the console furniture is not too bulky. I exclusively use headphones, originally because we had neighbours to consider, but now because I prefer the sound/experience. My wife says that I groan when I get to the difficult bits though! Our cat, Snoopie, sometimes tugs on the headphone wire from behind which is not the best experience mid-toccata!

Although a three manual would be very nice, as a practice instrument it does the job. Also, if the home organ was too luxurious (number of manuals, pistons, stepper, solo reeds, etc, etc) then it would be a disappointment to go back to the churches I play at.

I still do one session (hour-two hours) each week at the church, but that's now for fun and registration rather that learning the notes.

There's a link to Wyvern's site (which I'm sure you've seen) and also a picture of me at mine, hard at work - if you scroll down. http://www.paulcarr.co.uk/page11.html

 

Good luck!

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There's a link to Wyvern's site (which I'm sure you've seen) and also a picture of me at mine, hard at work - if you scroll down. http://www.paulcarr.co.uk/page11.html

 

Good luck!

 

Thank you all for your helpful comments so far.

 

Nice website, Paul. I know what you mean about the disappointment of transferring from a more luxurious home organ back to less well resourced church instruments, but I would imagine that that would be more than made up for by the presence of pipes.

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I've enjoyed my Johannus 3 manual for a couple of years now, and frankly the extra versatility of having a choir/positive is gold-dust. That said, for goodness sake if getting a three manual, make sure it will fit comfortably through your door. Mine wouldn't go through as the doorframe, being slightly bowed in with age, was narrowest at keyboard height. Cue van blocking road, organ stuck halfway through front door (with door taken off doorframe) and me madly planing away the frame to get it narrow enough to go through with neighbours looking on in disbelief.

 

If you really want the most organ for your money, there are many times more second hand instruments available in Holland on a Dutch organ auction website or dealer websites and the price can be lower than the UK. I sourced mine from a dealer in Holland, and even with transport and swapping straight flat for conc- rad pedals, I got my 3 manual Johannus for under £3k. There is also an internet directory of second-hand French electronic organs if you want the French sound.

 

Regards,

 

Contrabombarde

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Guest Lee Blick
Mine wouldn't go through as the doorframe, being slightly bowed in with age, was narrowest at keyboard height. Cue van blocking road, organ stuck halfway through front door (with door taken off doorframe) and me madly planing away the frame to get it narrow enough to go through with neighbours looking on in disbelief.

 

I am sure thousands of men up and down the country have a similar problem on a Saturday night...

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Hauptwerk has to be worth a look/listen. For French romantics the Aix Cavaillé-Coll is available and Metz Cathedral should be soon. I thought the Silbermann and Schnitger/Bosch reproductions very satisfactory indeed - I would be very happy living with these. There isn't much, though, in the way of English Romantic instruments: there's a Willis but I don't think much of the samples on the net. The IIP Brindley and Foster you get as a freebie isn't my sort of organ, but it is very effectively done.

 

I have to agree with VH that Hauptwerk ought to be seriously considered, particularly if you want the flexibility to be able to play different repertoire on the appropriate kind of organ. I also agree with him about the serious lack of a good large English sample-set (e.g. Harrison or Willis) at the moment.

 

There are some very attractive console options - mostly compact, and some easily portable - available from suppliers in Germany, Canada and the US (as yet no UK-based solutions, hence my recent post about MIDI consoles). See here for examples:

http://www.milandigitalaudio.com/masterwor...idi-console.htm

http://www.midiworks.ca/products/product_r...p?categoryid=22

http://hoffrichter-organs.co.uk/html/pictures.html (last 4 pictures)

 

Add the cost of these to the cost of the necessary computer hard- and software, and you will still probably get change out of what you would have paid for a decent toaster.

 

Best wishes in your search.

 

Douglas

[Hoffrichter Organs UK - but for how much longer is a moot point!]

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Guest Barry Williams
I've enjoyed my Johannus 3 manual for a couple of years now, and frankly the extra versatility of having a choir/positive is gold-dust. That said, for goodness sake if getting a three manual, make sure it will fit comfortably through your door. Mine wouldn't go through as the doorframe, being slightly bowed in with age, was narrowest at keyboard height. Cue van blocking road, organ stuck halfway through front door (with door taken off doorframe) and me madly planing away the frame to get it narrow enough to go through with neighbours looking on in disbelief.

 

If you really want the most organ for your money, there are many times more second hand instruments available in Holland on a Dutch organ auction website or dealer websites and the price can be lower than the UK. I sourced mine from a dealer in Holland, and even with transport and swapping straight flat for conc- rad pedals, I got my 3 manual Johannus for under £3k. There is also an internet directory of second-hand French electronic organs if you want the French sound.

 

Regards,

 

Contrabombarde

 

Many years before Makin Organs Ltd took over supplying Johannus in this country, I enquired about a Dutch version of the two manual and pedal. In the event I bought it new directly from Holland for about £2,000, which compared favourably with the exorbitant price quoted by the then importer of about £7,000. The mark up on all foreign instruments is huge, so purchase directly from abroad is well worth considering.

 

 

Barry Williams

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I have to agree with VH that Hauptwerk ought to be seriously considered

 

Having just gone through this process, I thought I’d break my posting ‘duck’ and put in another vote in favour of Hauptwerk.

The big advantage to my mind over the off-the shelf digital organs is that every pipe of every rank is sampled in high quality, often with multiple samples. The difference in quality is quickly evident. Some need a powerful computer, others can run on more modest machines, though a dual processor and 2GB RAM is I reckon a working minimum.

I also like the historical integrity offered by Hauptwerk, allowing you to purchase and use organs ideal for different schools of composition. You expressed an interest for the French Romantic style and as well as the samples mentioned by Vox Humana (and yes the Aix organ is excellent, though quite a large, memory-hungry sample set), there is a smaller Cavaille Coll at Mainz which would fit a smaller computer- although prepared for the first release of Hauptwerk, listen to the MP3 demos at http://www.organartmedia.com/CCMainz-Demos.html and they don’t sound at all bad- and will be much better through Hauptwerk directly, where the sound is not compressed into MP3. I'd also claim to be a fan of the very high-quality sample set of the Bosch-Schnitger at Vollenhove- http://www.organartmedia.com/Vollenhove-Intro.html

 

I’d also support the call for a good pair of headphones, far better than any internal speakers- I went for the AKG K701 which (once ‘broken in’- 300 hours non-stop iTunes library in my case!) are more than a match for any speaker system. I would recommend a headphone amplifier as well, which stops any hint of distortion. I’ve also added a touch-screen TFT monitor, which means that stops can be altered with the press of a finger, though mounting this in a suitable location is not yet solved.

All in all I’m delighted with the solution; I'd have to say it’s not ideal for the technophobe as there are several different elements to integrate and as yet an ‘off the shelf’ all-in-one solution is not available.

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Guest Barry Oakley
Many years before Makin Organs Ltd took over supplying Johannus in this country, I enquired about a Dutch version of the two manual and pedal. In the event I bought it new directly from Holland for about £2,000, which compared favourably with the exorbitant price quoted by the then importer of about £7,000. The mark up on all foreign instruments is huge, so purchase directly from abroad is well worth considering.

Barry Williams

 

I know someone who bought an East European-manufactured cello via the internet rather than go through the UK agent and they saved a lot of money. I also know someone who tried to do something similar with a foreign toaster manufacturer and were told to go through the UK agent. Probably the only way to save money would be to hire a van and visit the particular foreign manufacturer's premises. They are hardly likely to send you away empty-handed.

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Guest Barry Williams
I know someone who bought an East European-manufactured cello via the internet rather than go through the UK agent and they saved a lot of money. I also know someone who tried to do something similar with a foreign toaster manufacturer and were told to go through the UK agent. Probably the only way to save money would be to hire a van and visit the particular foreign manufacturer's premises. They are hardly likely to send you away empty-handed.

 

 

I hesitate to mention this (for rather obvious reasons!!!) but offering cash probably assists in achieving an even bigger discount. My wife and I paid import duty on our instrument.

 

Barry Williams

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