Selecting and purchasing the best organ for your church is often a challenge and the fact that you may be doing this for the first and perhaps the only time in your life; this information is designed to help you avoid common mistakes.
Mistake #1 is not consulting with your musicians to ask what they require and desire. Having the correct instrument should be 90% of your focus in my opinion. Sometimes Elders and Trustees who are not musicians are tasked with the responsibility of selecting an organ. This is fine as long as a trusted musician is consulted and even better, involved in the purchase process.
Mistake #2 is buying an organ for your church that was never intended for use in church but was rather manufactured for home entertainment purposes. Many “home entertainment” organs were sold that now are being donated to churches and sold at yard sales. Just because something is called an “organ” does not automatically make it correct for your church!
Mistake #3 Buying the first organ you find because it is cheap! An organ in the church should last for decades and some reasonable investment will be required to get a good instrument that is reliable and best suited for the type of music that is played for worship in your church. The wrong instrument will disappoint for many years to come or become a complete waste of money as it will need to be endured or scrapped and the process will start anew. Select the correct instrument for your situation and the cost of ownership per year will be lowered.
Types of organs need to be properly matched to the intended purpose! There are different types of organs and each has its place and function.
- Pipe organs. This is where it all started hundreds of years ago. This is generally the most expensive organ to purchase and to maintain. 90% of churches today will select an electronic alternative that accurately duplicates the sound of a pipe organ. If it is a true pipe organ you require, allow many months, considerable research, and start saving your funds now as the price potentially will reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions.
- Home Entertainment organs, previously discussed, were made specifically with many automatic features to entertain the general public. Generally these are not suitable or appropriate for church use and may be difficult to impossible to maintain long term. If there is an automatic drum machine associated with an organ you are considering, or many colorful tabs, switches and controls, move on to find something different.
- Electronic Church organs manufactured specifically for use in churches and designed to replicate the sound of a pipe organ but is not a pipe organ. Historically,the manufacturers of these instruments are companies like Allen, Rogers, Baldwin, Conn, Saville, and Hammond to name a few. Most serious organists who play hymns and play in a liturgical style, will prefer organs with 32 bass pedals. If you are considering an organ with only one octave of bass pedals, it is not a true church organ. The bass pedals need to be the entire length of the bottom of the organ and will be either 25 or 32 notes. Gospel organists generally prefer 25 note pedal boards but some with classical training may prefer 32 bass pedals. Most organists who have played pipe organs or have been classically trained will prefer 32 bass pedals. Anything less will be like an insult to their musical sensibilities. These organs, being electronic, tend to become obsolete in 15 or 20 years as electronic technology changes and parts become difficult to obtain. New organs of this type are like new automobiles in that they are like computers and the musical tones are computer generated. Parts and maintenance may become an issue after a decade or two and as technology changes. Buy only from a well-established manufacturer if this is your preferred instrument type.
- Tone wheel generator organs were made primarily by the Hammond organ company. Originally the Hammond organ was made to compete for business against pipe organs in the 1930’s. In a blind study when the organs were tested side by side in the same acoustical setting, experts could not easily determine which organ was being played and the United States government concluded and allowed Mr. Hammond to call his new musical invention an organ. This caused disappointment to the pipe organ builders of the day. The tone wheel generator Hammond organ model A was so much more budgeting friendly when compared to a pipe organ. The same is true today.
- The most well know Hammond organ model B3 is almost in a category by itself as it combines a unique system of tone generation (tone wheel) with electronic amplification. Originally the amplification was vacuum tube and even today it can be vacuum tube. A rebuilt or restored Hammond B3 can have the original electronics replaced with newer and brand new solid state electronics or the original electronics can be restored. The beauty of this system allows the organ to be rebuilt and restored every 50 years to function like a new instrument again and parts are available if you know who to ask. Something unique has happened with the Hammond B3 organ. It has crossed over into many different styles of music, has been a staple in many recording studios and when combined with the right Leslie speaker has a unique sound that is recognized and preferred by many church organists especially those who play for spirit filled worship services. So popular has this equipment become, that many have said it is just not church without the Hammond organ.
There is the very well-known and specific Hammond B3 model organ and then there are other models, manufactured using the same internal parts, that will produce the desired sound. Other models with this same sound potential are the C3, A-100, RT-3, D-152. The B3, C3 and A-100 models have 25 bass pedals which many Hammond players prefer. The models RT-3 and D-152 have 32 bass pedals which many classically trained musicians prefer. It is always best to compare the sound of any organ you select or purchase side by side with these world famous models if in fact you prefer the tone wheel Hammond sound.
There have been many attempts to duplicate or replicate the sound of the Hammond B3 organ with Leslie speaker. There is nothing like the real thing. It is the opinion of this writer that the Hammond B3 organ with Leslie speaker needs to be preserved for future generations while at the same time utilized and enjoyed by us today. I like to compare the quality of the Hammond B3 tone wheel generator organ with Leslie speaker to a Stradivarius instrument. Both manufacturers have stood the test of time, have excelled in their excellent, and have proven to be wise musical investments. Fortunately the Hammond B3 organs are currently still very affordable when compared to the other options. Not every Hammond organ can sound like the most famous Hammond B3 organ. Hammond also made instruments intended for “home entertainment that are not suitable for church use.
Choose wisely, seek wise counsel, and be a good steward. Hopefully this information will help you make a good decision.
By Jim Huss, President, Keyboard Exchange International in business at the time of this writing for 47 years © 2016
Sources for restored Hammond organs and new or used Leslie speakers
- Keyboard Exchange International www.keyboardexchange.com (407)323-7493
Restored Hammond B3 organs, new and used Leslie speakers, rentals, financing and delivery everywhere from our location in Sanford Florida. Worldwide shipping