Some observations on relocating organs...

Updated July 29, 2008

Since I wrote this advice 4 years ago, I have learned so much, and I hope to restate some things that I have since learned.

It is a pretty rare thing to have the opportunity to preserve a old pipe organ, a few observations from lessons we have learned:

1. Originally I thought it very important to label each individual wire between the pipe chest and the console BEFORE the wires are cut to remove the organ from the hindsight I wished I had rewired the entire organ from the beginning so this step might not be so important.

The old cloth covered wiring is brittle at the point in time of a organ re-location I do think it now advisable to rewire. It is possible to not rewire, but for long term happiness you'll be glad it was is time consuming to do so, but well worth it.

Having said that....4 years ago as of this writing when we first installed the 822 in my house we didn't have a clue, and to make the organ playable again we felt it best to label each wire at the cut between the console and the chest so we could just patch it back together for it to work again.
I had not seen this advice anywhere before we moved Reuter 822, but after playing the organ I had a suspicion that the wiring was MUCH more complicated than just one pipe wire to one console wire. Most small church organs such as this are "UNIT" organ designs where the pipes are played in different combinations for different stops. Thus this "simple" 5 rank instrument has 32 distinct and very different stops (sounds) from the same 5 ranks. It is in reality not simple at all, but a marvel of technology. I'm told this "UNIT" type organ is the basis of Theater Pipe organs such as the Mighty Wurlizter.

This step is very important step if the relay inside the organ is not "re-wireable".

This advice does not apply if you are going to rewire the organ and redo the console and install a different control system etc. Then by all means cut away and don't worry about any wiring. It is actually a probably very good idea to rewire the organ anyhow just to get rid of the old cloth covered wiring anyhow, but if the goal is to just get the organ moved with no changes then cutting the wires and labeling them will work in terms of having it pretty easy to wire up to play again with no changes.

2. Everything else is pretty much common sense, which I realize now is probably not something one has who is installing a pipe organ in their own home (laughing). Be careful when handling the pipes, many are lead which are dangerous to handle (just don't eat them...laughing). Also note that the oboe / reed style pipes are very fragile and at least in our case will "wilt" if you do not handle them very carefully. The longest reeds droop in the middle when carried from either end!

3. Take very careful measurements of every aspect of the organ and the room you are putting it in. We thought we had everything measured correctly, but 2 of the Bourdon pipes had to later be mitered so they would fit in my house under a beam. In my case, the tallest pipes are fine, but some of the shorter ones were themselves too tall for the supports of the eve in my aframe style home.

4. Install HARDWOOD SOLID WOOD floors where the organ will be placed. I didn't have time to do this, so the organ was placed on carpeting for the first 4 years that I had it. Carpet is awful for accoustics of organs..really quite horrible and the sound was pretty bad in person.

We moved the organ and installed wood floors..finally in the spring of 2008....WOW..what a unbelieveable difference..... the solid wood floors underneath the organ act as a soundboard similar to a soundboard under the wires of a piano.

some photos of the organ being moved around..the first photo is the floor underneath the opus 412 chest, the 2nd is in the main room showing the pipes of the opus 822 getting ready to go back on the 822 chest.

The wood floors make the organ much more enjoyable to listen to, and the bass frequency response has went from "nil" to "amazing".

I installed hardwood floors, and paid more for the floors than I did for the organ, but it was SO SO SO WORTH IT.

5. Be careful to install electrical connections to the organ that allow a master breaker to easily shut off EVERYTHING, both the blower and power to the console. This will happen anyhow as the electrical requirements of the organ are not standard household current, but it is something one should plan on doing correctly.

Take detailed photographs of EVERYTHING on the organ and underneath it including all the wind lines. They will be invalueable for setting the organ up again.

Take every piece of the organ when removing it including the blowers/electrical box or at least careful notes on what type of electrical connection it requires...make sure this is installed in your home by a professional.

6. Don't give up. It takes time more than anything else. Don't get rushed, and don't do anything to the organ that can't be undone without VERY careful thought. As it turns out it was actually a pretty simple process of literally taking it apart at one location, setting it up at the other, wiring it up and turning it on. The first time this was done, about 25 pipes starting playing (ciphers), Tim removed those and it quickly quieted down to just the various air leaks.

7. (this should probably be step 2). Make sure you leave enough room ( at least 18 inches) to be able to walk around the entire organ to access a pipe or bellows to fix a air leak etc.

Also: maybe: Don't place the console so close to the pipes as we did! In my case, we really had to place the console where we did for space considerations as I still wanted to have a livable home.....We didn't realize how powerful the pipes are when we did this....which in hindsight it is obvious that a organ designed to lead a congregation of 500 singing is going to be pretty powerful!...The organ is very playable, but when played on FULL organ (all stops) it is really too powerful to play for more than just a few minutes.

8. Find a local organ technician to help you out on the details you don't know about. There are many wonderful people out there who care a great deal about the pipe organ and will be glad to work with you. If you don't know of anyone start asking the local organist/church who tunes their organ and just start asking. Pipe organs are complicated but they are not rocket science. Patience is the key.

After playing a real pipe organ in my own home, I can say if you have the space, go with real pipes. There is nothing like "feeling" the music as you play it, it cannot be described. Preserving a operating piece of history like this is a challenge, but well worth it.

Questions or comments, drop me a line from the main page!

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