Jump to content
Mander Organ Builders Forum

J W Walker consoles


Recommended Posts

Hi folks... I'm wondering if anyone here can shed some light on this. Perhaps Cynic will remember a bit about this from his time working with Walker's.

 

At St. James cathedral in Toronto, Canada we have a J W Walker console from 1979. The instrument it's attached to is a Warren / Casavant last rebuilt in 1967. It's a great instrument and was voiced by the late Laurence Phelps - well known for the instrument at Hexham Abbey.

 

The problem with the console is the keyboards (and pedal board to a certain extent). The keys have a tendency to stick down... The problem according to Casavant who maintains it is to do with the springs and the pins which they say are flawed by the design (they tend to bend and warp) and have been giving problems for many years. The console itself is a bit worn but it doesn't look like the finances will be available to replace it in the near future, and in fact it is actually the newest part of the organ.

 

I was wondering if anyone else had experienced this problem or knew anything about J W Walker keyboards from this era. Does anyone know if there is a replacement / repair solution? The keys themselves are in good condition, but the mechanism behind them (electro-pneumatic action) gives problems.

 

How do the consoles of other Walker organs compare? I've played a few and never come across these problems before. Here's the spec and photos of the organ and console. It's a joy to play when it's all working!

 

http://www.stjamescathedral.on.ca/Portals/..._OrganSpecs.pdf

 

Many thanks....

Link to post
Share on other sites

Dear Clarion Doublette,

once again I'm flattered that anyone can think I know enough to help. Regrettably, the branch of Walkers with which I worked (R.H.Walker, Chesham, Bucks) boasted the surviving member of the Walker family, but we built exclusively mechanical action jobs by the time I joined the firm.

 

I have come across several consoles by the 'parent' firm, however, but the problems you describe are unfamiliar to me. Of course one gets the odd sticking note from time to time on every type of electric action console. I'm guessing, but I imagine your climatic conditions can be a severe test and are probably to blame rather than the design and manufacture of the keys themselves. Players like wooden keys, but wood is a living substance even when dead and there are definite pinch points in wooden keys around either stainless steel or nickel plated pins, indeed the underneath of the front of many keys will have an inserted piece of hardwood merely to reduce excess wear. In your case, the troublesome notes probably ought to be taken out one at a time and either graphite applied to the existing holes or the holes fractionally enlarging with a needle file.

 

I'm curious about the description of the pins as being 'flawed'. Are they not a long cylindrical one for the pivot point and a 'bat' pin (i.e. shaped like a cricket bat) at the front? The clever thing about a bat pin is that if the play is too much they can be turned with long-nosed pliers so as to take up the slack. You appear to have the opposite problem, so unless the pins are already turned, and can be turned back a little, filing or lubricating are your only answers.

 

You are lucky in one thing, anyway, your smart console (coming from 1979) will have ivory keys. Accept no substitute! I am horrified each time I encounter a decent instrument updated with something inferior and no trace left of the splendid playing surface that existed before.

 

Hope this helps.

 

P/C

Link to post
Share on other sites

The keyboards almost certainly will have been made at P&S. They are, and as far am I'm aware always have been, of a good standard construction. If for some reason you have a set of KA keyboards there may be some variance. I don't understand the remark about flawed design. Sure, they may not necessarily be top notch toggle touch keys, but I don't know of anything that a little adjustment of the type cynic suggests wouldn't sort out. More severe climatic conditions may have some bearing, but the keys should be laminated to minimise this. Get your builder to show you the problem on their next visit.

 

AJS

Link to post
Share on other sites

Were P&S involved by 1979? I thought they came on board later than that.

 

Even though quite a weight is involved in pressing the key, it doesn't take much friction to make 'em stick down and as Cynic says the bat pins at the front are the most usual source of bother.

 

Later in your post you say that the keys themselves are fine but the action behind it is knackered - that is of course a totally different ball game.

 

Are the ends of the keyboards a fairly ornate rosewood scrollwork, or plain?

Link to post
Share on other sites

JWW was, in effect P&S from 1975 although not the Brandon P&S we know now. I'd be surprised if what was behind the key action was much different to a diodised contact and wiper arrangement, and from 1979 it's fair to assume a degree of wear on the components. It's a simple job to replace them unless you want to go for a change in the type of touch generation, but I don't get the impression that's what your builder is talking about. I hope they're not trying to bamboozle you.

 

AJS

Link to post
Share on other sites
I hope they're not trying to bamboozle you.

 

That was my worry too. I have seen countless Walker keyboards of this generation, and earlier, and never known any of them have a problem, even in temperature/humidity extremes. In any case, the first symptom of atmospheric problems I would expect to see would be the key coverings coming away. I regularly see six from the mid 60s and five from the mid 50s which have had no attention at all other than a light dusting in the intervening years.

Link to post
Share on other sites
That was my worry too. I have seen countless Walker keyboards of this generation, and earlier, and never known any of them have a problem, even in temperature/humidity extremes. In any case, the first symptom of atmospheric problems I would expect to see would be the key coverings coming away. I regularly see six from the mid 60s and five from the mid 50s which have had no attention at all other than a light dusting in the intervening years.

Likewise. A little cleaning of contacts and wipers on the non diodised ladder switch set ups as you'd expect. Otherwise wear rates are as good as you could hope for.

Link to post
Share on other sites
. It's a simple job to replace them unless you want to go for a change in the type of touch generation, but I don't get the impression that's what your builder is talking about. I hope they're not trying to bamboozle you.

 

AJS

 

I think one of the problems is that Casavant would like to have their own console on the organ - as people often make the assumption that it's an English organ mistakenly. Some people in the Cathedral also don't like the size of the console - it's massive and the Canadians are much more used to smaller consoles. Anyway, the chances of of it being replaced in the near future are very small because of other financial projects including a brand new building at the cathedral.

 

Casavant's reason for saying the keys are flawed is to do with the fact they are not pivoted in the middle but rather hinged at the back - which is not a Casavant practice. They say the Walker console is cheap and of a lower quality in comparison to the Casavant ones, and there is no doubting the high quality of their consoles which are extremely solid and reliable. However I don't agree that the Walker console is bad having played a number of others myself and I wish they'd have a bit more enthusiasm about maintaining it.

 

And yes - they keys are ivory - we must not let them go! The sharps are lacquered. I think alot of the problems come down to the more extreem climate, the console has many cracks in the wood of the stop jambs and key slips now, the keys appear to have warped slightly but I've seen worse. I just wish it felt right to play - it really doesn't, the feel is rather unrefined and clicky.

 

Thanks for everyone comments!

Link to post
Share on other sites
I'm curious about the description of the pins as being 'flawed'. Are they not a long cylindrical one for the pivot point and a 'bat' pin (i.e. shaped like a cricket bat) at the front? The clever thing about a bat pin is that if the play is too much they can be turned with long-nosed pliers so as to take up the slack. You appear to have the opposite problem, so unless the pins are already turned, and can be turned back a little, filing or lubricating are your only answers.

 

 

P/C

 

Thanks Cynic - indeed these 'bat' pins you describe are what the organ builder was talking about. He described the way in which they could bend under the hands of a heavy player, though I don't think that instrument has had any heavy players for quite some time. He said when they bend this leads to a key getting stuck down, and over the years he has regularly had to take it apart to correct this. He said he could obtain new pins but he thought the problem would re-occur. The key beds also feel very worn away, and therefore the keys give a hard click when pressed.

 

Being a 1979 console it also has the very first generation of solid state capture system - all instantly changeable but there are no separate memory levels. That's another matter... Controlling the auxillary (ie. nave-organ) with only 12 generals and 3 services and a recital every Sunday is something the cathedral organist is proud of, but it would be made much easier by a more up to date system. I'm surprised that wasn't done years ago, I reckon retro - fitting a new system to this console is something else the builders have dragged their heels over.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Thanks Cynic - indeed these 'bat' pins you describe are what the organ builder was talking about. He described the way in which they could bend under the hands of a heavy player, though I don't think that instrument has had any heavy players for quite some time. He said when they bend this leads to a key getting stuck down, and over the years he has regularly had to take it apart to correct this. He said he could obtain new pins but he thought the problem would re-occur. The key beds also feel very worn away, and therefore the keys give a hard click when pressed.

 

Being a 1979 console it also has the very first generation of solid state capture system - all instantly changeable but there are no separate memory levels. That's another matter... Controlling the auxillary (ie. nave-organ) with only 12 generals and 3 services and a recital every Sunday is something the cathedral organist is proud of, but it would be made much easier by a more up to date system. I'm surprised that wasn't done years ago, I reckon retro - fitting a new system to this console is something else the builders have dragged their heels over.

 

 

If your tuner says that the bat pins are bending, he must be able to show you some deformed ones, though I've never seen one! I would reckon it would take more than a heavy-handed player to do that - someone seriously ham-fisted with the long-nosed pliers could do it, but even then this sounds a surprising ailment. I accept what you say about the keyboard feeling 'clicky': replacing the hard green felt beneath the keys ought to cure this. For a single experienced builder to carry this operation out on all four manuals couldn't take more than a few days - for a bill under $1000 anyway! Try asking for that.

 

If odd notes click more than others, once again a little felt can be introduced where there is excessive play. A whole box of brand new (high grade) bats pins might be a good idea. Even with all these extras, you're still talking of relatively few materials and about one man's time for a week. How does that sound to you Porthead?

Link to post
Share on other sites
If your tuner says that the bat pins are bending, he must be able to show you some deformed ones, though I've never seen one! I would reckon it would take more than a heavy-handed player to do that - someone seriously ham-fisted with the long-nosed pliers could do it, but even then this sounds a surprising ailment. I accept what you say about the keyboard feeling 'clicky': replacing the hard green felt beneath the keys ought to cure this. For a single experienced builder to carry this operation out on all four manuals couldn't take more than a few days - for a bill under $1000 anyway! Try asking for that.

 

If odd notes click more than others, once again a little felt can be introduced where there is excessive play. A whole box of brand new (high grade) bats pins might be a good idea. Even with all these extras, you're still talking of relatively few materials and about one man's time for a week. How does that sound to you Porthead?

 

Never mind long-nosed pliers, you'd need a hammer and a vice to do it. The wood would surely give way first.

Link to post
Share on other sites
If your tuner says that the bat pins are bending, he must be able to show you some deformed ones, though I've never seen one! I would reckon it would take more than a heavy-handed player to do that - someone seriously ham-fisted with the long-nosed pliers could do it, but even then this sounds a surprising ailment. I accept what you say about the keyboard feeling 'clicky': replacing the hard green felt beneath the keys ought to cure this. For a single experienced builder to carry this operation out on all four manuals couldn't take more than a few days - for a bill under $1000 anyway! Try asking for that.

 

If odd notes click more than others, once again a little felt can be introduced where there is excessive play. A whole box of brand new (high grade) bats pins might be a good idea. Even with all these extras, you're still talking of relatively few materials and about one man's time for a week. How does that sound to you Porthead?

 

I would suspect the clicking is caused by wear or wastage of the felt wads or touch-strip beneath the key-fronts, where in extreme cases the tops of the bat pins could actually hit the keys at the top of the front-pin mortice (ie, going down too deep in the touch).

 

A word of caution on turning the bat-pins with pliers- it is easy to spoil the polished surface of a pin this way, much better to obtain or make a simple slotted tool that will move the pin without any risk of damage. Ask your local piano technician? He will have something that will fit!

 

CP

Link to post
Share on other sites

I know your Casavant rep in Toronto is a first-class guy, but I get the feeling sometimes that the company is not whole-heartedly into maintenance of dated technology, especially when it isn't theirs. In any case, I would feel inclined to get a second opinion on such things.

 

I had a bash on the organ in Giles Bryant's time, five years before I came to live in Canada. A fine instrument, as you say, but rather a wild mix of this, that and the other. Maybe next time it needs major work, it could be pulled together a bit. I found the Walker console rather intimidating. I like a full set of couplers, North American style, but when they're all controlled by drawstop it's a heck of a job to remember what's on. Couplers by tab over the top manual are much easier to work with.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I had a bash on the organ in Giles Bryant's time, five years before I came to live in Canada. A fine instrument, as you say, but rather a wild mix of this, that and the other. Maybe next time it needs major work, it could be pulled together a bit. I found the Walker console rather intimidating. I like a full set of couplers, North American style, but when they're all controlled by drawstop it's a heck of a job to remember what's on. Couplers by tab over the top manual are much easier to work with.

 

Yeah... I do agree with you about the couplers - every conceivable octave coupler on a draw stop makes for a confusing console. I suspect that North American standards were insisted upon - ie no swell toe pistons but general ones instead.

 

The instrument itself is like many rebuilds of it's time, it was revoiced throughout and a lot of it is previous pipework where new pipes should have been made. However, when you sit in the nave it sounds glorious when played by the right person, unlike so many north american organs it isn`t too loud and doesn`t snarl at you. The soft colours are very pleasant too. It`s been improved greatly recently in 2008 when the swell chorus reeds were taken away to the factory and revoiced to make a broader and more romantic sound than before. Hopefully the auxillary reeds and the horizontal trumpet might one day get the same treatment.

 

Thanks to Cynic for his comments once again. We will keep a close eye on this matter and with luck something may be done before long.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Yeah... I do agree with you about the couplers - every conceivable octave coupler on a draw stop makes for a confusing console. I suspect that North American standards were insisted upon - ie no swell toe pistons but general ones instead.

 

The instrument itself is like many rebuilds of it's time, it was revoiced throughout and a lot of it is previous pipework where new pipes should have been made. However, when you sit in the nave it sounds glorious when played by the right person, unlike so many north american organs it isn`t too loud and doesn`t snarl at you. The soft colours are very pleasant too. It`s been improved greatly recently in 2008 when the swell chorus reeds were taken away to the factory and revoiced to make a broader and more romantic sound than before. Hopefully the auxillary reeds and the horizontal trumpet might one day get the same treatment.

 

Thanks to Cynic for his comments once again. We will keep a close eye on this matter and with luck something may be done before long.

 

 

That's interesting - I'm sure the treatment to the swell reeds must have improved them, and it would be good if the fanfare trumpet were to be broadened. An organ like that really needs a tuba, don't you think?

 

Good point about the volume - it's loud enough but not too loud.

Link to post
Share on other sites
That's interesting - I'm sure the treatment to the swell reeds must have improved them, and it would be good if the fanfare trumpet were to be broadened. An organ like that really needs a tuba, don't you think?

 

Good point about the volume - it's loud enough but not too loud.

 

The refurbished & revoiced swell reeds I`m sure transform the instrument - on some old CDs I have they sound pretty nasal and rather in the background. Not sure about a tuba though... as much as I love English Tubas... I`m just not sure it would fit into the tonal scheme, with everything else being bright. The chamade trumpet definitely does need to be made to speak more broadly, smoothly and promptly - it is none of those things at present. I have to say I don`t really like Casavant Tubas... having played one just today only dating from 2008, they just don`t sound as refined as English ones. Except the battery of them at St. Paul`s Bloor Street which are magnificent, but those were voiced in England I believe...

 

Interestingly, it is really not very good at all to hear at the console and a lot of the visiting recitalists make mistakes with the balance because you just have no idea from where you`re playing, and the blend of the great and pedal divisions in the chancel is strange and misleading too. Tuning is a nightmare too because of the instrument being in three different places!

Link to post
Share on other sites
The refurbished & revoiced swell reeds I`m sure transform the instrument - on some old CDs I have they sound pretty nasal and rather in the background. Not sure about a tuba though... as much as I love English Tubas... I`m just not sure it would fit into the tonal scheme, with everything else being bright. The chamade trumpet definitely does need to be made to speak more broadly, smoothly and promptly - it is none of those things at present. I have to say I don`t really like Casavant Tubas... having played one just today only dating from 2008, they just don`t sound as refined as English ones. Except the battery of them at St. Paul`s Bloor Street which are magnificent, but those were voiced in England I believe...

 

Interestingly, it is really not very good at all to hear at the console and a lot of the visiting recitalists make mistakes with the balance because you just have no idea from where you`re playing, and the blend of the great and pedal divisions in the chancel is strange and misleading too. Tuning is a nightmare too because of the instrument being in three different places!

 

I was thinking maybe a Hill or early Willis-style Tuba.....

 

I know what you mean about Casavant Tubas. The one here (St. John's Anglican Cathedral, Newfoundland) is beaten hands down by the Great reeds, although it honks nicely as a tuba should. But it's in the Solo box and fires towards the harbour instead of the congregation. Still, it's handy as a back-up Full Swell (like Harry Gabb used to do with the enclosed tubas at St. Paul's Cathedral), or with the box closed if one needs a French Horn (Whitlock!). I wouldn't want to lose it, but a big unenclosed brother would be nice. A few blocks away, Cochrane Street United Church has what is supposed to be one of the finest late-50s Casavants. The Tuba is magnificent. The previous organ was a Harrison (steam heating killed the soundboards, I believe) but everyone swears that nothing of it was used in the new instrument. However, I took David Wells, the Liverpool organ-builder, to hear it a while ago. He was sure it was a Harrison Tuba, and he ought to know. One day, I will get inside it and see for myself!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...