September 22, 2010

Photos for earlier pedalboard posts

Contact rail:

Temporary Practice "Console"

For the time being, until it becomes clearer that my renewed interest in the organ is more than just a flash in the pan, I am using a very rudimentary setup for practice. I dug up my old Yamaha PSR-185 keyboard that I bought back in 1996 or so to accompany my high school's ice hockey games. (Yes.) That yellow "15" sticker is from a production of Fiddler on the Roof, where I was second fiddle, er, keyboard. 15 was the "stop" number I was using for the celesta riffs in Tevye's Dream, IIRC.

The Yamaha is placed on a pine board spanning the pedalboard, supported by some random furniture I found up in the attic. So at night, I steal upstairs for a little practice with my cheapo Yamaha, silent pedalboard, and the chirp of my iPhone metronome. (Well, actually the clunk of the worn felts on the pedalboard is rather noisy right now.)

Once the pedalboard MIDI is done, I would like to build a simple console frame. I found an interesting one done in plywood, but I'm thinking it might be cheaper and easier with decent-quality 2x4's. For manuals, I'm looking at getting two M-Audio 61es's.

That looks about right for my price range. I certainly can't justify paying for new MIDI-ready tracker touch claviers, and I think my time would be better spent practicing than converting old pipe organ claviers if I don't have to.

But what about swell pedals? Classic sells new ones, but they're pretty expensive, and scrawny; I grew up on Austins, and I like those nice fat, juicy wooden pedals. The trick will be to find one to MIDIfy...

Prepping the pedalboard electrics

Over the past few days I've begun the work of MIDIfying the pedalboard. I ordered a 64-note encoder from Largonet, which appeared to be the most economical practical alternative. Perhaps I will be able to map notes 33-64 to other Hauptwerk functions. All told, it came out to just under 100 USD. It uses an 8x8 scanmatrix, which requires each note to have a diode. I found those easily at RadioShack.

I started work on the pedalboard's contact rail last night. When I demounted the rail from the pedalboard upon acquisition, it looked the the mounting had been redone/butchered - I will have to fix that up. Now, I took the pressboard cover off the top of the contact rail. It seems that there was a bit of water damage to this pedalboard, based on the finish, rust on the screws, and the fact that the glue is loose on the 5 contact blocks in the bottom of the concave arc. Maybe it was in a dank or flood-prone basement for a while. No biggie.

I cut away the old cabling, and wiped everything down with some cleanser. The pressboard plate was very dirty. The contacts themselves are in okay shape; a few are a bit bent. I'm sure there will be some contact regulation in my near future. There are ten available contacts per note; it turns out that several are unused on this board; I will try to make use of these so I won't have to bother with desoldering the old connections. I will cut the buss bar into sections of eight notes for use in the scanmatrix.

Next: solder the diodes onto the contacts, and wire up the positive side. But first: to practice!

September 12, 2010

Anatomy of a pedalboard

The fellow I got it from told me he figured it had come from a Möller, based on the key ends, if I recall correctly. We live in a second-floor apartment. Getting back home that night, I hauled it up into our front stair until the next day, when I would figure out how to get it up to our attic.

Next day, I took a look at it. I knew it would be impractical to lift the whole thing, so I decided to remove the pedal keys to lighten the load. This also gave me a chance to see the way the pedalboard was constructed - a bit different from the ones I'd seen detailed on other folks' websites.

(I apologize for the poor quality of the pictures; I haven't yet installed decent lights up in the attic.)

Instead of riding on a pin in the front end (the one behind the organist and farthest from the body of the console), the keys are dadoed, and a thick strip of metal screwed into the key and the front key bed. This also serves as the return spring, as opposed to other pedalboards I've seen, which used a separate torsion spring, just like pallet springs.

In the middle of the keys is a knife-like piece of metal...

...which shorts out the wire contacts on a board spanning the width of the pedalboard. These'll need some love. If I understand correctly, the multiple contacts allow easy coupling in pre-solid-state wiring. The camera is looking at the pressboard plate screwed to the top of the rail, covering the solder joints and cabling.

In the rear (console) end of the keys is a felted slot (well, it once was felted...) which slides over pins sunk into the frame of the pedalboard.

Interestingly several of the sharps were chipped; they are apparently made of some plastic-type material. Where'd I put that Bondo...

I was able to get my shoulder under the frame of the pedalboard and carry it upstairs with only about the top octave removed. And here it is! (With a random board resting on the end)
Next time: my pathetic proto-console.

September 11, 2010

Beginnings of a pedalboard

Well, like those who came before me discovered (see my Delicious links), the trickiest part of getting together a Hauptwerk instrument is the pedalboard. Ready-made MIDI pedalboards (or non-MIDI for that matter) run into the thousands of dollars. The usual solution seems to be to find an old one someplace. After scouring eBay and craigslist, I finally posted on PIPORG-L - and was surprised at the remarkable number of responses I got!

One of them offered me my choice of two pedalboards - for free! I will let him remain nameless, in case he doesn't want the publicity. I drove the 100 miles to his home (with a family trip along the way for my obliging cohorts), and followed him down into his basement shop. Turns out that he seemed to be something of a builder himself; his main functioning practice instrument was apparently a Hammond in his living room, though he had at least one Hauptwerk project in the works. His shop was strewn with odds and ends of organ components: a couple old manual keyboards, some Rodgers combination piston rails - and two pedalboards, complete with contacts installed!

I wasn't sure how to evaluate their condition; both seemed to be in fine functional shape, so I made an arbitrary choice. He also threw in a bench for good measure! I was quietly ecstatic. At this point, I rediscovered how HEAVY pedalboards are. My goodness. But I suppose it makes sense: a solid-wood piece of engineering measuring some three feet by four feet, is going to be difficult to maneuver. My benefactor helped me hand-truck it up the hill in back of his house to our waiting minivan, and the rest was history.

Dash it all, the contact rail was only half-secured, and was knocked out of position in transit - but I suppose I would need to regulate it anyway.

Pictures and more moving stories to follow. Good night!


Hello there. I studied organ from ages 11-20, the last two years of which I spent at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. You may remember me from the Organ Pump. At 20 I abruptly stopped - perhaps more on this later - and in the ten years since have only sat down once at the console, at the Bedient concert instrument at Queens College, where I finished up my higher edumacation.

Until this year - and now I'm back, baby - risen from the ashes! Over the past couple of months, I have started dusting off my chops, and would like to make a tentative re-entry into the organ world. I am slowly cobbling together a Hauptwerk practice instrument, and am hoping to perform again one day. This will be my chronicle.

Dramatic, no?

I will try to post regularly on my musical and mechanical progress. Meantime you can follow my links at and catch me on PIPORG-L.