Enter the Reisner Console

So I am minding my own business on ebay when I see a listing for a 3 manual draw knob pipe organ console from the estate of an organ builder starting at only $189 with no reserve!!   I quickly realized that if I bought organ control boards and wired the thing myself, not only would have a nice looking (if huge) console, but one made to AGO specifications that would have good ergonomics, and I would save a pile of money.  Anything I would piece together wouldn’t be as good, and I would still have to do something for toe studs.  I also knew as an experienced ebay trader that this auction would sit there like a brick for 6 days 23 hours and 59 minutes because everyone would be trying to get a deal.

Sure enough that was exactly what happened.  I waited until the last minute (while hitting the refresh button like a crazed chimpanzee) to bid knowing that the other cheapskates would be trying to get the thing for nothing.  With 45 seconds left I bid $600 and watched with glee as everyone else tried to buy the thing, but were to cheap to bid more than 25 or 50 dollars increases at a time.  With their parsimonious biding, time ran out as expected and I got the console for $338.  Then the problem was how to get the thing from Jacksonville Florida to Garland Texas.  Still it was a great buy.  I started looking at all kinds of options such going out myself as well as paying movers to get it ( the moving story to come later).   Long story short, I paid only about $370 total to get the thing here and to my home with help from the seller and Bill White who does organ trading and vintage wooden boats in Florida.  It then sat in the garage waiting until I could re-arrange my house to shoe horn it in. 

Once I got the console home my organ-knowledgeable friends convinced me to sell the draw knob jams and stops.  I had thought about retaining them and making use of them, as draw knobs are neat, but quickly realized I'd never use them.  My friends were right. because the pair sold on ebay  for $510 and more than paid for the console!!!

Fortunately my house has sliding glass doors in both the living room and the den, and the living room (the largest room in the house) was already designated as the music room and was home to the D910 as well as various synthesizers, keyboards, and my 1931 Baldwin SF (7’) grand piano.  I cleared off the dining room table and put that into the kitchen/den area and that bought me the space I needed for the Opus 1. 

I started with the D910 with Hauptwerk 2.0 and a single 17” touch screen which showed me that it was not only possible, but very desirable to build a computer sound source for an electronic organ.  The Hauptwerk system (http://www.crumhorn-labs.com/) along with sample sets by Brett Milan of Milan Digital Audio (http://www.milandigitalaudio.com/)  easily rivals the sound quality of any electronic organ offered including the big 2 providing you build a decent PA as well.  Once I got the big Reisner console I bought 2 new touch screens, and Hauptwerk 3.0 which has the ability to run split screens so that I would have the software side ready once the console was wired.

For the hardware side of things I looked at various control systems on offer, but by far the best deal with was the hwce product built by www.midiboutique.com  in Bulgaria.  The testimonials on their site along with good pricing and helpful email suggestions confirmed the choice.  The hwce product package consists of 4 key multiplexing boards (that would be hooked to the pedals, keyboards and combo pistons) would be able to handle all my switching needs and also had the capability of working with a number of variable continuous inputs such as swell and crescendo pedals.  I ordered the bits and received them a few weeks later. 

I didn’t want to work on the console in the garage so we removed a fence panel and the sliding glass doors in the house to prep the way.   The organ was still secured to a 4’ by 8’ pallet that was now sitting on 3 moving dollies.  We used my brother’s 11 hp riding lawnmower (his suggestion, which I though a bit insane at the time but figured why not as it is stored over here anyway) to pull the console through the yard to the porch where we then rolled the console into the house with help from a friend who lived near by and my other brother as well.  It went fairly easy and on my ceramic tile I can shove the thing about without too much trouble. 

It was then on to the wiring.  I bought computer ribbon cables from various sources including a couple of local electronic salvage and computer parts suppliers and stripped the cables into 16 wire segments necessary for the hwce connectors and then started soldering the cables to the wiring block in the back of the console.  Turns out it is quite easy to crimp on the connectors, especially if you invest a few bucks in the special tool.  It was time consuming as there are 183 solder connections for the keyboards alone, and then 32 for the pedals, and the upper half of the pedal division for the 6 general, 6 pedal, 6 choir, 6 swell, and 6 great combo pistons, plus toe studs, and the set and cancel pistons.  This use of the pedal division for combo pistons would turn out to have an interesting twist later on.  I did the lion’s share of the wiring and then had my brother look it over who gave it his approbation and helped with the final wiring of the expression pedals.   The picture shows the organ console wiring block with the ribbon cables installed and along the board at the top is the hwce brain followed by the 4 keyers.  Power supply as at far left.  Amazing to think that those 5 small boards replaced a relay system about the size of a refrigerator. 

Having been in the software trade for over 25 years and the same and more for my brother we expected problems with the project right off as anyone would with a project of this complexity.  However, the midiboutique product worked as advertised right off with no problems.  That is not to say there weren’t a few problems to deal with on a console that had sat up for many years, but those were easily traced down and worked out.  I only had 3 bad solder connections and there were  only a few engineering issues to be worked out.  A number of keyboard notes didn’t play correctly but that was mostly remedied by banging on a key rapidly about 100 times to get a good contact.  Balky keys had their contacts wire brushed.  All the pedal contacts were also wire brushed and many had gotten bent and had to be straightened out.  I also had to regulate a number of keys on the 3 keyboards that were sticky after years of sitting about in storage.

I made use of the unison contacts on the keyboards.  Each manual had a number of couplers that could have also been used.  Since I was not providing 24v power to the mechanicals I used wooden wedges in the solenoids to put the unisons on.  I used my multimeter for a few hours trying to sort out the combo action but I finally gave up on the lot, removed it and put my own simple wiring in for the combination buttons.  It only took a 7 wire ribbon cable to wire each combo piston set back to the keyer boards.  The original wiring which I scrapped accounted for push and pull of the draw knob magnets, etc, and half was missing as I didn’t have the original relay system, which I would not have used anyway.   Any remaining combination relays/mechanicals were sold on ebay.

The final engineering issue was how to connect the expression and crescendo pedals to the brain board.  The console was designed to use hand made wood step switches such that as you pressed a pedal it opened individual swell shades for the choir and the swell, and the same system was used to turn on stops for the crescendo pedal.  Hauptwerk expects a midi signal which is provided by the hwce so I just had to buy the correct potentiometers and mount them and wire them accordingly.  The great thing about Hauptwerk is that you can use a midi monitor program to see the spread of your midi controller messages and Hauptwerk will compensate for your spread if it doesn’t cover the usual 0-127 midi controller values.  On my organ for example, I have less than 180 degrees of sweep and the midi values only go from 44-84 and yet this works just fine with the Hauptwerk software.  I built mounts for the pots, created brass control arms, bent push rods, and drilled small holes into the pedal arms to anchor the push rods.  I left all the original ‘stuff’ in there so the feel of the pedal would be the same as the original implementation.  The brass control arms are glued in with JB Weld (which is made right here in Dallas) epoxy glue. 

Finally there is the PA.  I had secured a while back a Carver TFM-24 225 watt per channel amplifier in a garage sale with a load of other components that I had already sold that more than covered the cost of the amp.  These are hooked to a pair of Bose 10.2 tower speakers that stand about 4 ft tall and weigh around 65 lbs each.  They originally sold for $1200 and I got the pair in a garage sale for $40.  They sit behind the console and fire backward at the wall and to the sides.  I figured I would add other speakers later on but so far there has been no reason to.  The Bose speakers are already well known for their quality and they provide plenty of base even down to the 32’ Contra Tibia and 32’ Diaphone of the Master Works 3-31 theatre organ.  And I still have an ADS subwoofer, a pair of ADS 810s, and a pair of JBL L100 Century monitors that I haven’t bother to add yet never mind some Event 20-20 studio monitors!  I also have enough junk amps to power that lot as well.   The Enchimade trumpet on the 1928 E. M. Skinner will practically knock you off the console as is.   Finally, as all the sample sets are dry ones (no hall sound or reverb) I conscripted my old Lexicon FX-1 stereo effect into service to provide a nice big hall sound for the organ to live in.

I have as of 12/28/2008 further updated the sound system.  Pictured now you can see Event 20-20 monitors on top of the Bose 10.2s which currently are not hooked up.  In the foreground is the Carver TFM-24 and on top of that sits an Audio Source 1A amp which will be hooked to the Events (eventually).  Sitting on top of that amplifier is the Lexicon FX-1 and on top of that is a Paradigm  electronic crossover which provides multiple cross over points.  I now have everything from 50hz down sent over to a couple of subwoofers powered by a Crown PSA-2 amp.  The Bose did an admirable job, up to the point of trying to push the 32' stops through them. The big thudding honk pipes would break up the rest of the signal in the Bose woofers.  The Hauptwerk system will let you take the various ranks of pipes (or let you split off the bass pipes from a rank of pipes (very nice)) and send them to another set of channels of the LT1010 which has 10 outputs.  I did that at first, but then decided to split the signal off at 50hz.  The reason is that on top of crossover I have a switch box which lets me take stereo from the organ and pipe that into my Roland VS2400CD to make recordings.  I don't want to have to deal with a bunch of channels for a stereo CD, nor do I want the bass removed.   So back to two channels from the audio card.  You can also have pipe sounds sent to an auxiliary channel which would let you have multiple listening channels and still have a stereo pair for direct input to a recorder, but I haven't bothered with that.

In order to really have the sound right, you need a bi-amped subwoofer system.  The subwoofers I am using now are a junk ADS PB-1500 which only has one good woofer (10"/long excursion).  The ADS had a plate amplifier built in, but the subwoofer had been relieved of the burden of its ownership before I got to it.  When I found only the plate from the plate amp and no guts, as Queen Victoria would have said "We are not amused!".  Further dis-amusement came from an earlier Crown amp that popped taking one of the ADS woofers with it.  However that PB was inadequate for my needs.  I then added my home-made subwoofer to the mix by removing from my music PA.  That speaker is described in the 'prelude' section of this project.  Between these two I get down to the pedal F before they run out of gas.  The next update will be to either change the driver in my big subwoofer box or build another one to get to the elusive 16hz CCCC.  At left you can see the two subs with the Crown sitting on top of the PB-1500.  Hauptwerk voicing will let you boost individual pipes and that might work up until you pop amp or speaker.  So I would rather have something that has too much bass and is not overdriven or worn out through regular (for me) use.

As I tested the organ I quickly discovered that transposing the organ console proved to be a problem because I used (at their suggestion) the upper half of the pedal keyboard for the combination buttons.  When I transposed the organ, the combo pistons got transposed too and I forgot about that while trying to set pistons and the General Cancel piston had become the Set piston.  You can imagine the confusion that caused me.  I sent an email to midiboutique and they immediately responded that customer satisfaction was very important to them and they would make me a new controller chip putting the top half of the pedal division on a different midi channel.  Sure enough 2 weeks later the new chip arrived, was plugged in, and worked perfectly the first time, and all at no charge.  Their responsiveness to a significant problem was superior to almost anything one could expect or hope for and was the kind of goal I always have tried to achieve in my own dealings with others.  Likewise I have found Brett Milan of Milan Digital Audio and especially Martin Dyde of Hauptwerk equally helpful and equally responsive. 

The Bottom line is that I now have the organ(s) of my dreams.  I can play a great Skinner, a large theatre organ, a 100 stop German classical organ (from Oberwerk also sold by Milan Digital Audio – and this is a neat product providing 160+ sets of pipes from which you can build your own specifications!!! How cool is that?!?)  Plus a 2-7 Wurlitzer I used with the D910 and the original St. Anne’s organ that comes with Hauptwerk.  I will match this instrument against anything made by anyone.  My highest endorsement is that I always look forward to playing the Arnstein Organ Company Opus 1 and am often disappointed when I don’t get to play it for an hour or so a day.  The sound is fantastic, all my friends are amazed by it, and it is a huge pleasure to play.  I often sit down to make new registrations and end up just playing for an hour at a time.  Playing 2-3 stops on the Skinner is just as wonderful as hold-on-to-yer-butt-bringing-the- thunder.  In fact right after I got it going it took weeks just to resolve the odd sticky key or missing note because I was having too much fun playing it rather than muck about with maintenance issues.   For a hack mostly self taught organist – I would say the instrument is barely adequate for my needs!!!

Nothing like a custom name plate to add a bit of class.

In November 2008 I decided the Samsung 2053bw widescreen monitors just weren't good enough.  "Let's not sink a ship for the want of a hapeth of tar..."   My touch screen panels were designed for the older 21" Samsung 213t monitors so I bought a couple of used ones.  Well worth the investment as now the buttons are much bigger and much easier to activate.  You can see in the pictures above how the entire touch screen area is now used.  The organ samples were designed for squarish monitor settings (like 1024x768).  That was another reason to go back to squarish monitors.  You can see on the wide screens that the sides were wasted space as well when 1024x768 video aspects were choosen.  The touch screens are well  worth the investment because you just touch the stops to activate them and with touch panels they can be theatre organ tablets just as easy as classical draw knobs.

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