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What Keyboard Action Is Best?


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This issue is close to my heart at the moment. The organ I play was rebuilt in 1988 with a digital transmission and playback system (replacing a pneumatic action in use since 1914). For the past couple of years this has been the cause of numerous random ciphers, and the instrument is getting towards unplayable. I'm told the digital system is not repairable. This is in addition to the electropneumatic action, where the magnets are also at the end of their life, and the cause of further, slightly more manageable ciphers.

 

So should we replace the digital transmission with the latest version, as well as restore the EP action, and expect another 18 years (approx cost is £60k for a 20 stop organ). Or completely replace the action with something simpler and therefore more reliable and with a longer life.  :)

 

Or could I assume that the latest digital systems will last longer? But how can this be proved?  :P

 

JJK

 

A difficult question - I am also considering whether to replace the electro-pneumatic action on my own organ. However, in this case, it is still functioning well after forty years of hard use. I am not convinced by Solid-State, either.

 

However, I am suspicious of the quote you gave - £60,000 is a huge amount to provide a new action for a twenty-stop instrument. Does this also include a general overhaul and restoration?

 

If not, I suggest that you get a couple of other quotes from recommended builders - it is just possible that you are being fleeced.

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Greetings,

 

        My narrow opinion tells me that plastic is plastic and technology is technology.  While I am not totally opposed to say, diode-matrix switching as a practical matter, I have no interest in multiplexed or computerized systems.  Removing the one-to-one correspondence in the key action introduces risks that did not exist before; namely the possibiltiy of a complete, catastrophic failure.  My opinion of the equipment sinks further when combining this with the non-renewability factor which comes with it, and the inconvenience of removing diagnostics from the human senses - also a trait of solid state.  In the end, I see digital equipment as building-in obsolescence and a future need for replacement

 

        I highly recommend the experience of reaching ones hand through a bunch of ribbon cables and having them crackle and snap at the slightest touch; to say that this technology will last and last is mere specualtion.  Infinite renewability of natural materials is on the other hand matter of fact; and will continue to be so as long as God remembers the recipe for sheep.

 

          Best,

 

            Nathan, notorious tubular-pneumaticist and neo-luddite

 

Some interesting points.

 

Whilst I am also not entirely convinced by Solid-State switching and coupling, my own experience of tubular-pneumatic action (by several different builders) has been entirely negative.

 

I would be interested to hear about instruments known to you which utilise this form of transmission - and precisely how their precision, responsiveness and reliability have been obtained.

 

I would also welcome your views on whether or not you would favour restoring an existing electro-pneumatic action (including renewing the wiring), as opposed to replacing it with Solid-State. I wish to avoid my church making a costly error. I am also extremely pleased with the response and reliability of the present action.

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" I am also extremely pleased with the response and reliability of the present action."

 

(quote)

 

Why change it, then?

Pierre

 

Because it is forty years old and even though generally, it still functions perfectly well, it is beginning to show its age - notably with respect to the electro-mechanical switching for the couplers. Since the organ is due for a major restoration, it would be unwise to dismantle and then renovate the instrument, leave the action, re-assemble - and then have the action fail within a year or two!

 

In addition, our organ builder informs me that certain parts (if they do happen to malfunction) will be extremely difficult to replace.

 

However, I would agree with you in the sense that I do not wish to replace anything that is not broken - I certainly desire to keep the present level of response and 'feel'.

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Have a look at this one:

 

http://www.festival-orgue-chatelet.be/orgue.htm

 

It works since 1942 (electropneumatic).

Each time a problem occured, the organiste-titulaire and friend of mine,

Thierry Smets, was told things like that!

"you should replace all", "the parts you will never find", etc, etc.

But he never let do and the organ works just fine; moreover, its value

is rising because such organs, formerly quite common, begin to be

seldom nowadays.

Mr Smets theory is: "have only changed what is worn out, not a screw too much".

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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However, I am suspicious of the quote you gave - £60,000 is a huge amount to provide a new action for a twenty-stop instrument. Does this also include a general overhaul and restoration?

 

If not, I suggest that you get a couple of other quotes from recommended builders - it is just possible that you are being fleeced.

 

Just to clarify, this price represents a rough but informed initial estimate of the work needed, which does include general overhaul and restoration - but not tonal changes. IMO it is still a large amount of money considering that the digital transmission would last 15-20 years and the EP action maybe slightly longer.

 

JJK

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Just to clarify, this price represents a rough but informed initial estimate of the work needed, which does include general overhaul and restoration - but not tonal changes. IMO it is still a large amount of money considering that the digital transmission would last 15-20 years and the EP action maybe slightly longer.

 

JJK

 

OK - thank you for clarifying the position.

 

I should expect a good electro-pneumatic action to last at least forty years, though!

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Have a look at this one:

 

http://www.festival-orgue-chatelet.be/orgue.htm

 

It works since 1942 (electropneumatic).

Each time a problem occured, the organiste-titulaire and friend of mine,

Thierry Smets, was told things like that!

"you should replace all", "the parts you will never find", etc, etc.

But he never let do and the organ works just fine; moreover, its value

is rising because such organs, formerly quite common, begin to be

seldom nowadays.

Mr Smets theory is: "have only changed what is worn out, not a screw too much".

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

 

Thank you, Pierre.

 

I am also inclined to this view. I may just ask for quotes to re-wire the action as it stands, re-make any faulty electro-mechanical boards and re-leather the under-actions as required.

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Mine's just hit its 50th birthday, and is still going, but definitely showing its age.

 

========================

 

The gorgeous little baroque-tracker I play is now 31 years of age, and is about to be cleaned/overhauled.

 

The action requires new bushes, the stop-action needs a bit of reduction in the free-play, one new small tin pipe (butchered by a former lunatic organ-tuner) and a new Schwimmer pan.

 

£10,000, one Sunday with the piano and we're back in business!

 

Keep it natural, I say!

 

:)

 

MM

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I would be interested to hear about instruments known to you which utilise this form of transmission - and precisely how their precision, responsiveness and reliability have been obtained.

 

Greetings,

 

The fastest tubular action that I have encountered thus far was built by a small firm by the name of Tellers. While the tube runs are not very long as it is a small self-contained 2m instrument, it is indeed quite snappy in response.

 

I believe that the speed of the Tellers action is the result of its simplicity. The action is exhaustive, and is controlled by simple exhaust valves on the console end; there are no double-acting valves that resupply the tubes from the console. The tubes are resupplied by bleeds located at the chest primaries, which are controlled by easily accessible screws which can be backed out to allow more chest air to bleed into each key action.

 

I suspect that bleeds in combination with double-acting key valves would be even faster as the tube would be resupplied at both ends. I also would think that if the chests were pitman pouch chests that even more speed could be obtained.

 

Even so, the current action is quite satisfactory.

 

Although it is far from complete, I am starting a page about this organ at the following URL:

 

http://www.geocities.com/bigaquarium/MC/

 

Best,

 

Nathan

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Interesting - but small!

 

I suspect that the larger the instrument (and therefore the more complicated the action, with longer tube lengths) the less responsive the action will be.

 

Certainly, in the cases of Bristol Cathedral and Shrewsbury Abbey, I found that the pneumatic actions were not satisfactory - I was far from alone in this discovery!

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Interesting - but small!

 

I suspect that the larger the instrument (and therefore the more complicated the action, with longer tube lengths) the less responsive the action will be.

 

Certainly, in the cases of Bristol Cathedral and Shrewsbury Abbey, I found that the pneumatic actions were not satisfactory - I was far from alone in this discovery!

 

===================

 

I don't think the actual size of an instrument should make a great deal of difference, especially where slider-windchests are involved. I'm told that the 4-manual re-build at Armley is superb, now that the Binns action has been restored.

 

I always like the "feel" of charge-pneumatics, which usually (always?) have a tracker operated touch-box with plenty of feel and "pluck" at the keys.

 

Whilst the very clever exhaust-pneumatics can run considerable distances, they usually feel springy and disagreeable, and this can detract from performance even though the response is often quicker.

 

Oddly enough, a good charge-pneumatic system is comparable to a tracker-action for repetition; the latter having a certain inertia which cannot be rushed.

 

The worst actions are those which use pouches and sliderless-chests, which can be "all over the shop" and unreliable. Some of the German pneumatic instruments may have been clever in design, but in practice, they are less than brilliant very often. I suspect that these complicated pneumatic actions were responsible for the death of some of the rather tonally nice Anneessens organs imported to the UK.

 

Pneumatics CAN be extremely fast, and the quickest I have ever heard was on a punch-card-player Mortier dance-hall organ.....absolutely phenomenal responses.

 

Lest anyone doubt the speed and reliability of "pneumatics" in the wider sense, they may be interested to know that the valve-mechanisms of certain Formula 1 racing-cars use high-pressure gas systems. They can open and close pneumatic valves 150 times per second!! (At 18,000 rpm)

 

It's just a matter of design.....anyone up for compressed Nitrogen?

 

:)

 

MM

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Interesting - but small!

 

Greetings,

 

Indeed. I would be shocked and amazed if there were a T-P chancel installation anywhere in the US, let alone one in operational condition. The largest extant operational T-P I know of is 25 ranks. That being said, Binns and Willis did it sucessfully! :)

 

Here's an interesting T-P instrument for you to read about:

 

http://www.dobsonorgan.com/html/instrument...ild/remsen.html

 

Note: Those who have allergic reactions to non-slider chests should NOT click!

 

- Nathan

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"Whilst the very clever exhaust-pneumatics can run considerable distances, they usually feel springy and disagreeable"

 

(Quote)

 

Kerkhoff had an excellent design to obviate this; he build indeed exhaust-pneumatic systems with Roosevelt sliderless chests.

But the console is mechanichal, with trackers running up to the basement of the organ, where the pneumatic relays are.

This is enough to get a "feel", and a slight increase in weight when couplers are drawn.

The tubes are indeed shorter, while inner complications of the air flows in the console are avoided.

 

"The worst actions are those which use pouches and sliderless-chests"

 

(Quote)

 

Then we should put all pneumatic Walckers, Sauers and Link organs in the bin, while

they are actually unbelievably reliable.

Some are on Taschenladen, other on Kegelladen, but it's sliderless anyway.

 

The sliderless chests provide common channels by stops, not notes, and this is musically quite important.

There is a "Registerkanzelle-Ton" and a "Schleiflade-Ton".

 

The silderchest helps blending of the stops that are played on the same note,but their effect is not the same if you drawn one or say, ten.

The sliderless chest helps blending within the stops themselves while played in chords, while enhancing the crescendo, there being no difference in effect should you drawn one or ten stops on the same manual.

 

Another, and even more important point is the architecture, the inner design of the organ.

With sliderchest you need to seperate the unissons on your chest; for example

Open Diapason 8', Principal 4', Gamba 8', Fifteenth 2', Geigen 8' etc.

You cannot exceed four 8' on the same chest. Should you want six 8', then you need to have a second chest.

On a sliderlesschest you do exactly the reverse: the 8' are togheter, then the 4', etc.

Hence a completely different construction and design, from the very first drawing on paper.

This is the reason why romantic organs rebuild on sliderchests are completely spoiled, not to mention the complete revoicing this implies.

 

In Britain the situation is of course different because a vast majority of romantic organs ever had sliderchests.

In short this means we may not establish a kind of "hierarchy" between the good, the bad and the ugly with the chests. They are a part of the whole organ as an artistic concept, like the specification.

The time is over -should be?- when one could say "I want a Schnitger-like Sesquialtera instead of the celeste on the Swell"; this should be the same with the chests.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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This is the reason why romantic organs rebuild on sliderchests are completely spoiled, not to mention the complete revoicing this implies.

 

Greetings,

 

I always get a chuckle when builders over here say they are going after the "Skinner Sound"; and yet they are using slider chests and low pressures. They might as well build on electric "pinball machine" chests!

 

So is the Binns action at Armley a pressure-charge system?

 

Best,

 

Nathan

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As far as I know, Binn's system is a "charge-system", not "exhaust".

Pierre

 

"and yet they are using slider chests and low pressures"

 

(Quote)

 

This is a problem in Europe too; not long ago, an organ was rebuild that

way in Alsace after the "alsacian reform" (1910-1925), moreover with

epoch pipes.

The result is not "bad": it is extremely bad.

 

This said, we must remember Cavaillé-Coll used moderated pressures and

ever slider-chests (with a very few exceptions for isolated stops), so it's

possible to build a genuine romantic organ that way.

Ladegast in Germany too used slider-chests.

Merseburg's organ was tracker with slider-chests, and it is that way

that Liszt knew it.

But whenever an organ is build with another system, any change in that matter

will destroy it.

 

As for new romantic organs, if we aim at the german repertoire Reger included,

the Registerkanzelle would be preferable.

 

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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As far as I know, Binn's system is a "charge-system", not "exhaust".

Pierre

 

"and yet they are using slider chests and low pressures"

 

(Quote)

 

But whenever an organ is build with another system, any change in that matter

will destroy it.

 

As for new romantic organs, if we aim at the german repertoire Reger included,

the Registerkanzelle would be preferable.

 

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

 

==========================

 

 

Pierre makes a good point, and St.Bart's, Armley was the classic case. Originally built with Barker-Lever action, the organ was re-built by Binns using his patent charge-pneumatic system of outstanding quality and longevity.

 

Although Schulze never voiced his large-scaled Diapasons to speak quickly, the percussive effect of large pneumatic-motors was enough to cause certain notes of the Great chorus (in particular) to speak uncertainly before finally settling down. The use of open-toe voicing and flue-regulation only, was respected by Binns, who made no changes to the pipes whatsoever, so he claimed. For the reasons described above, I would suggest that this was indeed the case.

 

At Doncaster, a similar re-build using pneumatic-action by Norman & Beard was

also said to "respect" the original, which is probably true in the widest sense. However, in a document of which I have a facsimile, Norman & Beard refer to pipe-regulation without actually admitting to it! This organ never suffered the same unsteady transient notes as Armley did after the new action was fitted, which tends to suggest that "changes were made" to the original at Doncaster.

Also, the pipes of the Swell organ are not "open-foot, again suggesting that there was some degree of regulation, if not outright re-voicing.

 

When Pendelbury re-built the Schulze at Hindley, he more or less destroyed the original sound, and showed not the slightest respect.

 

I'm sure there may be many more examples, but the only use of cone-valve chests in the Uk which I know about, and which used pneumatic-action, were made by Brindley & Foster to facilitate their patent "Brindgradus" stop and expression controls. Having made the sweeping statement that such systems were inherently unreliable, I should have recalled the fact that I played an original example about 10 years ago, and it was in good working order throughout

 

It's good to be proven wrong from time to time, but I still think that all those little sliders and valves in exhaust-pneumatic systems (as used by Norman & Beard, I believe, and later used by Harrison & Harrison) are a terribly complex way of building organ-actions.

 

The Binns system of charge-pneumatics was so elegant and reliable, with a lovely feel to the keys. The Binns patent adjustable piston-action was esepcially clever, where stops could be drawn, then set by a system of bellows and squares behind the stop-jambs.

 

Those who developed these clever systems really were very brght engineers indeed.

 

MM

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Indeed, MM,

 

This goes of course both ways; to change from sliderless to sliderchest,

and/or from pneumatic to trackers is not a good idea.

Just as doing exactly the reverse in an organ build after the classic

sliderchest+trackers design was an extremely bad idea.

 

This said, Armley has quite convincing remains!

 

(Has anybody got the idea recording a complete Mendelssohn there?)

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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This is a problem in Europe too; not long ago, an organ was rebuild that

way in Alsace after the "alsacian reform" (1910-1925), moreover with

epoch pipes.

The result is not "bad": it is extremely bad.

 

Dear Pierre,

 

I wonder which organ that would be, and what "not long ago" means here. Can you help with some more specific intormation?

 

Thanks in advance,

Friedrich

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