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Mander Organs

'tracker Touch' Keyboards On Electric Action Instruments


SteveBarker77

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I've been looking at a lot of electronic instruments for home practice, and they've all had some degree of tracker touch built into the manuals; I know we'd all like to play a nice tracker instrument but in many churches (including my own) electric action is really the only suitable action due to position etc. I haven't ever come across an electric action pipe organ that has 'tracker touch' manuals - do such instruments exist? I'm beginning to start the ball rolling on a rebuild of my church instrument - would tracker touch manuals be worth investigating, or just seen as a bit of gimmick really?

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I've been looking at a lot of electronic instruments for home practice, and they've all had some degree of tracker touch built into the manuals; I know we'd all like to play a nice tracker instrument but in many churches (including my own) electric action is really the only suitable action due to position etc. I haven't ever come across an electric action pipe organ that has 'tracker touch' manuals - do such instruments exist? I'm beginning to start the ball rolling on a rebuild of my church instrument - would tracker touch manuals be worth investigating, or just seen as a bit of gimmick really?

 

Quite often - standard keyboards can be had like this from P&S, incorporating I believe a long magnet built into the keybed at the back, baffled with felt, and smaller magnets fixed into the base of each key. Pressing the key gives a pulling sensation as the two part.

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Yes, P&S do a very nice top resistance keyboard. Recent examples are the new keyboards at Hereford and Salisbury Cathedrals and St Laurence's Ludlow. Doubtless there are many more. Willis used to do a similar arrangement (maybe they still do) and I have a very nice example on the 1930s Nicholson/Walker console at Holy Trinity Hereford. Absolutely nothing to do with the touch of a good mechanical action, of course, but very pleasant to play on, nevertheless.

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I've been looking at a lot of electronic instruments for home practice, and they've all had some degree of tracker touch built into the manuals; I know we'd all like to play a nice tracker instrument but in many churches (including my own) electric action is really the only suitable action due to position etc. I haven't ever come across an electric action pipe organ that has 'tracker touch' manuals - do such instruments exist? I'm beginning to start the ball rolling on a rebuild of my church instrument - would tracker touch manuals be worth investigating, or just seen as a bit of gimmick really?

 

Some years ago I used to practice at St. Gabriel's Cricklewood (3 manual Walker) which was (and presumably still is) electro pneumatic action and had imitation tracker touch. I found it quite uncomfortable, as the 'tracker' effect was too pronounced for my liking, and quite unlike any tracker action I had come across before. The keys were also, if I recall correctly, plastic covered, which didn't help. No doubt P&S and others like them can do better now - I hope so.

 

Regards to all

 

John

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Yes, P&S do a very nice top resistance keyboard. Recent examples are the new keyboards at Hereford and Salisbury Cathedrals and St Laurence's Ludlow. Doubtless there are many more. Willis used to do a similar arrangement (maybe they still do) and I have a very nice example on the 1930s Nicholson/Walker console at Holy Trinity Hereford. Absolutely nothing to do with the touch of a good mechanical action, of course, but very pleasant to play on, nevertheless.

 

Yes, we do still do them. We also restore the HW3-type 'Torpedo' toggle actions often described as being "irreparable": we still have new components for them, in stock.

 

The new P&S magnetic top-resistance is very good. As a matter of slight scientific interest, what is the life expectancy of a permanent magnet of limited size, kept permanently within the flux field of an opposing magnet of identical size?

 

DW

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Guest Barry Williams

Willis III keys are a joy to play. The touch always seems to encourage clean playing and good phrasing.

 

It is excellent news that they can be repaired and a shame that so many have been removed.

 

Barry Williams

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I have also been looking into this for some time, (raised a similar query in an earlier topic).

 

It seems to me that the first problem lies in deciding exactly what you are trying to imitate. With a practice organ, you could, for example, try to imitate a particular 'real' instrument because that is what you normally play on. However, if you are looking to construct / renovate a 'real' instrument, is that type of action that best one to copy, if indeed it's possible to do so? What sort of touch will enable the best playing by yourself and visiting organists?

 

On a slightly different slant, given a house organ, (usually a 'Toaster'), intended for general practice, is there a 'type' of action which would be most likely to lead to, or encourage, the best technique for general use? If so what would it be?

 

I am not an organist so I don't know. What I have found is that it's quite difficult to get those who are to describe exactly what they mean. They know what they like when they find it, but they seem to have difficulty defining it. To paraphrase an old question, it seems to be a case of "I can't quite say where I'm going, and I'm not sure if it's best to start from here anyway, but I'll know when I get there." Perhaps the experts on here could help?

 

There are some interesting, very well written papers on this site, which attempt to analyze a number of aspects of organs

 

http://www.pykett.org.uk/

 

You might go to "Complete articles" and start with "Touch Relief in Mechanical Actions," "Response Speed of Electric Actions" and "The Physics of Organ Actions." The author doesn't discuss 'imitation trackers' specifically, and I wouldn't dare make subjective comments on the merits of his research, but he does know how to write a good paper, and I find is invariably interesting to read.

 

Hope this is of interest.

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On a slightly different slant, given a house organ, (usually a 'Toaster'), intended for general practice, is there a 'type' of action which would be most likely to lead to, or encourage, the best technique for general use? If so what would it be?

A good, light tracker, or imitation tracker, action - one that feels not too dissimilar to a harpsichord.

 

Probably sometime around the middle of last century tests on touch typists using electric typewriters established that they typed far more accurately using keyboards that gave significant tactile response and made some noise. This was partly because their rapidly moving fingers acquired considerable momentum which needed to be destroyed and reversed and partly because their eyes needed audible and tactile confirmation that a signal had been registered by the machine.

 

For much the same reasons a tracker-touch keyboard is likely to feel more comfortable to play than a non-mechanical one (so long as the resistance is not so great as to become cumbersome) and why a certain amount of resistance is built into the latter. The main reason why cheap electronic keyboards of the Casio type feel so naff is because of the complete lack of "feel". An organist benefits from being able to feel the precise point at which a note sounds.

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I am happy with the touch on the Minster organ claviers. It is not simulated 'tracker touch' - frankly, I cannot see the point of this. The touch is fairly shallow, but I have never found it to be a problem. The pedal keys are reasonably firm, which I find preferable.

 

The only thing which I do not like is the toggle touch on the draw-stops. Whilst I have been assured by one organ builder that this is impossible to avoid with solenoids, nevertheless, I am positive that the draw-stops did not have toggle touch when I first knew the instrument.

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An organist benefits from being able to feel the precise point at which a note sounds.

 

Thank you for that reply. Possibly others have meant to say that, but that is the first time I have heard it put that way. I have heard complaints about lack of 'feel', and unevenness, but I can see now that attempting to impart an artificial sense of touch on its own, without properly associating it with the start of the sound, would not make sense. Of course that would happen naturally with a well adjusted mechanical action.

 

Obvious really. Most helpful, thank you.

 

I am happy with the touch on the Minster organ claviers. It is not simulated 'tracker touch' - frankly, I cannot see the point of this. The touch is fairly shallow, but I have never found it to be a problem. The pedal keys are reasonably firm, which I find preferable.

 

Presumably that must, of necessity, be more or less the standard situation in most such places?

 

Thank you both for taking the trouble to reply.

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Marlborough College's new von Beckerath has electric tracker-touch keys for the Solo. They are made by Otto Heuss (www.ottoheuss.de) and seem very well thought out. The touch was indestinguishable from mans. I, II & III, the only giveaway being if one released the key really slowly, the release of the action magnet would just allow the pallet to snap shut.

 

H

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... The touch was indestinguishable from mans. I, II & III, the only giveaway being if one released the key really slowly, the release of the action magnet would just allow the pallet to snap shut.

 

H

 

In reality this is unlikely to be a problem, since one would not need to release a key that slowly.

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The only thing which I do not like is the toggle touch on the draw-stops. Whilst I have been assured by one organ builder that this is impossible to avoid with solenoids, nevertheless, I am positive that the draw-stops did not have toggle touch when I first knew the instrument.[/font]

Depends who makes the solenoids. When I was in HNB's console shop we were using solenoids moved without such an action. Later we used a different supplier (KA if memory serves), who put a toggle spring in the solenoid to give a positive on and off setting. A solenoid has no effect on this action uinless it has a current running through it, which of course it doesn't unless you have pressed a piston. So your memory is probably correct. Have the solenoids been changed?

 

Regards

 

John

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  • 4 weeks later...
The only thing which I do not like is the toggle touch on the draw-stops. Whilst I have been assured by one organ builder that this is impossible to avoid with solenoids, nevertheless, I am positive that the draw-stops did not have toggle touch when I first knew the instrument.[/font]

 

Depends who makes the solenoids. When I was in HNB's console shop we were using solenoids moved without such an action. Later we used a different supplier (KA if memory serves), who put a toggle spring in the solenoid to give a positive on and off setting. A solenoid has no effect on this action uinless it has a current running through it, which of course it doesn't unless you have pressed a piston. So your memory is probably correct. Have the solenoids been changed?

 

Regards

 

John

 

I suspect that few of us are fond of toggle touch drawstops. I have played plenty of EP organs that don't have this - H&H most notably. They used to have their drawstop solenoids made by Taylors, I think, and very nice they were too, with a deep draw and a a good 'feel'. I don't think Taylor's are still in businesss, so I don't know where they go now.

 

Stewart Taylor

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I suspect that few of us are fond of toggle touch drawstops. I have played plenty of EP organs that don't have this - H&H most notably. They used to have their drawstop solenoids made by Taylors, I think, and very nice they were too, with a deep draw and a a good 'feel'. I don't think Taylor's are still in businesss, so I don't know where they go now.

 

Stewart Taylor

 

 

Taylor's business and the machines were transferred to Renatus in January 2004.

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Taylor's business and the machines were transferred to Renatus in January 2004.

 

I far as I am aware Alan Taylor is still in business, passing only the mechanical action component work to Renatus; the Taylor firm still producing outstanding transmissions and electrical components. Herewith a link to their fine drawstop unit - http://www.ajltaylor.co.uk/Drawstop/1947B/1947B.html

 

Electric draw-stops usually have either one of two systems to produce a toggle, earlier forms using an electro-magnetic toggle, modern forms using permanent magnets. The early form (such as the Williams type) are not directly compatible with solid-state systems and are usually replaced with modern types when solid-state capture actions are installed, though at the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin, J.W.W., in their rebuild of 1995, retained the existing solenoids by cutting out the toggle circuit to allow a capture system - the result is a sloppy feel to the draw. Incidentally, the Willis 3 form are particularly fine, so I wonder if the current firm are producing them?

 

My personal preference is for non-toggle electric keyboards - I find a toggle (whether magnet or toggle kick spring) contextually synethic when the rest of the action response is electric. As other have mentioned, the toggle can be adjusted to be pretty inoffensive, but can at times be dreadful - my worst experience of all being a Dutch electronic with an enormous toggle to overcome, follow by a practically 'all-spring' spongey feel that was simply tiring to play...all personal taste though I guess.

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