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MMD > Archives > April 2001 > 2001.04.11 > 04Prev  Next

Build the Organ Yourself
By Julie Porter

Since you are in the UK I am sure others will refer you to Melvin
Wright's website,

You got it easy in the UK as there are a lot of folk who make things
like the "Busker organ."  There is also a society there called the Fair
Organ Preservation Society.  You can find links to it through Mel's
site.  There is also a book called "The Fairground Organ" by Eric
Cockayne.  Try and locate a copy.

 [ To be re-published by St. Albans Organ Museum.  Contact:
 [ Keith Pinner <>
[ P.O. Box 59, St. Albans,
[ Herts., AL2 2AZ.
 [ England.
 [ -- Robbie

I too have been seeking plans for the fairgrounds organs.  I am more
in the bind that I am into the American roll playing organs, but I have
now a lot of European material.  But we got the technology from
Germany.  Who was it that said a Dutch organ is actually a French
design made by Italians in Germany?  I think these were imported to
the US by Canadians.

As luck would have it, I acquired a large collection of pipes --
hundreds of them, from all sorts of machines, mostly European.  I do
not think such plans exist.  Having plans that outline the difference
between Ruth, Bruder, Gavoli and others would be really helpful right
now, especially as I have two or three pipes or parts there from each.

There are plans available for the Wurlitzer 104/105 fairground organ,
sometimes called a 125 when made with brass pipes.  Good analysis of
these can be found on  The rest of the
so-called "plans" are just fragments of shop notes.

I found Ord-Hume to be difficult to read; I think something got lost
in the translation.  The pictures are nice, but the text reads like
English liturgical sermons from Sunday afternoon.

There is a book by Herbert Juettemann about the Waldkirch organ
industry which has nice pictures in it.  This book really needs to be
translated into French and English, which are languages I can read.

My advice would be to repeat what was given me six months ago, after
a lifetime of waffling about and whining about the lack of such plans:
"Locate a scale and stick to it."  Focus all your energy on that.
I must say in 6 months I found more information than in the prior
30 years.  And it was not for want of looking for it.

You will find after a while it all looks the same -- only the scale
changes.  Since these guys learned to "hear" an organ from the stop
list, no one ever bothered to go beyond that.  One can spend a lifetime
studying a single instrument.  In the 18th century, building one of
these things would be the equivalent to our building a space probe in
the garage.

An organ is going to have a certain "sound".  This tonal design
can only be learned by listening to a lot of instruments.  I would
recommend crossing the Channel and spending a few days at the
Netherlands National Museum "Von Speelklok tot Pierement" in Utrecht.
There you will find all the "plans" your ear can desire.

You are lucky to have such a place so close.  Someone once told me
that to an Englishman 100 years is but a short time.  To an American
(especially a Californian) 100 miles is next door, and after 1000 miles
you are still in the same state!  For me, anywhere between England and
Holland is less than the distance I would have to travel to go from my
part of California to the part of this state where the MMD is based.

In my desire to locate information on the Wurlitzer 165 I acquired a
collection of book masters for European music.  This is sort of the
back wash from focusing my search.  I also acquired several projects
that will teach me the skills to build the big organ.

My recommendation would be for you to build the John Smith Busker
Organ.  If that is too small then the Wurlitzer 105/105 is a good
start.  Wurlitzer based most of their design on one of the Bruder
organs of Waldkirch.  To be honest, in my opinion it takes a really
trained eye to determine whether a pipe comes from Waldkirch or North
Tonawanda NY.

The design of these items are determined by Isaac H. Newton, Bernoulli
and Pascal.  Helmholz determined that what they said is Law.  The main
difference between the makers is how the pipe is tuned and voiced, and
the quality of the wood.  Someone in Spain just made a pipe organ out
of marble.  Stone weighs about the same as glass and aluminum when cut
into thin sheets.

As for pipe scale plans, one does not use actual measurements; instead,
a scale is used.  This is more akin to dressmaking than to engineering.
Basically you make a ruler for a given rank of pipes.  Then use dividers
to take the measurements from the ruler.  This scale is a complex
projection of a 3-dimensional object into 2 dimensions.  A tailor's
pattern serves the same purpose.  Unlike a violin, a pipe gets its tone
from the shape, not the material.  The easier the material is to carve
and hold shape, the more control one has over the tonal design of the

Many an enthusiast (myself included) found frustration in trying to
make an organ like a clock.  Possibly one could make a monkey copy.
(What is it with the MMD and accidental puns?)  I think it has been
noted in MMD that such instruments do not sound quite right, or the
maker abandons them when they realize that it is more like maintaining
a nice English car than a radio.

The way these organs seem to be made is the pipes are scaled first,
then the chest is made, then the whole thing is made to fit into a box.
To this end, no one ever bothered to work things the wrong way 'round.
Most of these items were made to order, like a space probe.  Remember,
the church was the state.  200 years ago these things were funded the
same way we fund missions to Mars.  Automatic instruments are like
cellular telephones: they use the technology of the big instruments.
To further the parallel (another accidental pun), cell phones are
rented out just like automatic instruments were rented out 80 to 100
years ago.

I have not even begun to address the topic of wind supply.  This is an
art unto itself, and I am in the process of learning myself.  I would
highly recommend you take a look at the 'Busker' organ; most of the
bugs in this have been worked out by a group of Englishmen.  I
understand they get together and work out these problems empirically.

Julie Porter

(Message sent Wed 11 Apr 2001, 20:47:20 GMT, from time zone GMT-0700.)

Key Words in Subject:  Build, Organ, Yourself

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