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MMD > Archives > September 1998 > 1998.09.19 > 04Prev  Next

Amplifying a Crash Cymbal
By Matthew Caulfield


Funny you should ask how to increase the sound volume of the crash
cymbal on a Wurlitzer 165 band organ.  I have been trying, with
moderate success, to do just that on the Verbeeck 165 replica at

The crash cymbal on the Glen Echo 165 sounds perfect to my ears.
Durward Center engineered that one, because the original was lacking
when he re-converted the organ from using Caliola rolls back to 165
rolls ca.  1970.  I called Durward from Rochester several times but
never got more than his answering machine, so I was not able to ask
him for advice in making the crash cymbal loud enough to be heard over
the other instrumentation.

As an aside I should remark that the amount of crash cymbal perforation
cut into 165 rolls varied a lot over the years, dependent somewhat, I
suppose, on the type of music, but more (it seems to me) simply on who
was doing the arranging.  The same thing is even truer with the tympani
perforation: the 6-tune rolls from around 1937, arranged by John William
Tussing, go crazy with tympani, so that even the waltzes pound away with
that drum throughout.  I ended up disconnecting the tympani on the
Verbeeck while playing a couple of those rolls, because Johnny Verbeeck
engineered a colossally loud tympani on that organ and the building
acoustics are such that they only make a bad situation worse.

Building acoustics ... a subject that isn't much considered when
discussing band organ sound ... but a very important one, nevertheless.
It explains to a degree why certain organs sound so much better than
others of the same make.  The Strong Museum in Rochester got a small
custom-built Stinson organ to go on their newly installed Allan
Herschell M-G-R.  My friend Alan Mueller heard it when Don Stinson
brought it to the museum and demonstrated it in one of the museum's
small conference rooms.  Alan said the organ sounded delightful in
that setting.  But since being put in the huge two-story all-glass
atrium where the M-G-R runs, it is unplayable, and is not used except
by special request -- and then only briefly, so as not to annoy the
offices on the second floor facing the atrium.

I think you would need to talk with Durward Center to find out what he
did to make the Glen Echo crash cymbal sound so perfect with that organ.
But here are some of my observations: the cymbal is a sizzle cymbal,
and the rivets add to its resonance; the cymbal is positioned on top
of the organ (not the normal position), lying on a horizontal plane,
and is struck by the beater moving downward in the direction of gravity,
with spring return; the organ itself is in an alcove with a curved
shell- shaped reflector behind it, directing the sound outward; the
cymbal has its own vacuum supply with dedicated primary and secondary

I am not sure that Wurlitzer was consistent in its placement of the
crash cymbal.  The placement I've seen on a couple of organs is on a
horizontal arm extending out above the bass drum, with the beater
striking upwards from under the horizontally-sitting cymbal.  Mike
Kitner mounted the crash cymbal on Bill Black's 165, when he rebuilt
it, directly on the side of the case near the snare drum, on a vertical
plane, with a beautifully long beater that operates without the
positive or negative effect of gravity.  Mike could tell you whether
that appears to be the original position or one which he chose for
his own reasons.

When I couldn't get hold of Durward Center in Baltimore after a few
tries last July, I decided to replace the old crash cymbal on the
Verbeeck with a "better" one.  The Verbeeck cymbal came from the
Wurlitzer 165 that perished in the 1994 fire, it being the only thing
saved from the old organ -- and ironically the only thing NOT worth
saving.  It was not original Wurlitzer equipment in the first place,
and it was cracked.  The original Wurlitzer crash cymbal had also
cracked years ago from use and was replaced by the current one.

I went to the House of Guitars in Rochester and saw more cymbals of
different makes, quality, and sound than I ever thought existed.  I
pulled out one after the other, put them two or three at a time on
cymbal stands, tapped them with a beater, listened, compared -- and
became more and more uncertain.  Too loud, too soft, too shrill, too
deep, too resonant, too dull.  In the end I picked an expensive
Zildjian that I was afraid might be too loud.  But it was not.  I
don't think the 18-inch cymbal is made that is too loud for a large
band organ.  The Zildjian is better than the one it replaces, but
not as good as the Glen Echo one, I regret to report.

Of course you can always boost the sound of the crash cymbal on your
recordings by using an auxiliary mike.  But you know that, and it may
bring its own complications into the picture.

You wanted an essay, Marc, and I guess you got one.  I hope it helps.

Matthew Caulfield

(Message sent Sat 19 Sep 1998, 18:22:30 GMT, from time zone GMT-0700.)

Key Words in Subject:  Amplifying, Crash, Cymbal

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