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Pipe interfacing
Pros and cons, by Lance Luce
What is it?

It is the combining of wind blown pipes with a new
digital console.  This can be done with new pipes, or
with existing pipes.

Who's doing it?

Just about every major organ builder is either offering
digital enhancements with their pipe organs, or pipe
additions to their digital organs.

Why do it with old pipes?

In many cases, the console that the organist plays
wears out long before there is anything wrong with the
pipes.  The chestwork below the pipes may need
re-leathering or other service through the years, but
the pipes themselves will virtually last forever.

The key and pedal contacts and other mechanical
functions of the console such as the relay and
combination action will, over time, become less and
less reliable.  This makes the playing (and listening)
experience less than desirable.  Notes don't play,
pedals don't play, couplers don't couple, etc.

The old console also lacks a large amount of presets
and other modern features such as a transposer and
MIDI, in most instances.

Why do it with new pipes?

The use of new pipes adds beauty to the instrument.  
The pipes add another dimension to the sound, an
ensemble or chorus, due to their inherent
imperfections.

Is it hard to do?

In most electro-mechanical organs, the interfacing can
be done near the chestwork.  It does take some time,
but the results are worth it.

Pros:

If you are interfacing an existing pipe organ, you
retain the beauty and value of the pipe work.  You
gain a reliable key and pedal contact system.  You gain
a reliable relay system.  You gain virtually unlimited
memories for your combinations.  You gain transposer,
bass coupler, MIDI and other modern features.  You
might gain new couplers.  You might gain a new manual
or two!  AND!! . . . most likely you will gain new stops
or voices that you didn't have before.  Organs that
lacked 32' stops, or festival trumpets, just to name a
couple, will benefit from the addition of new digital
voices.  These digital stops can be custom voiced to
blend flawlessly with the pipes.

If you are interfacing to new pipes you gain the beauty
and grandeur of pipes.  You can have a full pipe organ
sound with limited space or limited resources.  You
may not have the space for a large pipe organ, or you
may not have unlimited  financial resources.  
Interfacing allows the organ to sound and look like a
complete pipe organ, while only taking up a fraction of
the space and at a much reduced cost.

Cons:

New pipes are expensive.  On average, pipes are
roughly $18,000 - $22,000 a rank.  Pipes take a while to
build, some times pipe shops are backed up years in
their orders.  Pipes need to be tuned at least twice a
year.  Pipes take up space, you may have to build a
shelf or chamber to house the pipes.  After 30+ years
you most likely will have a considerable cost for
overhaul maintenance on the chest work under the
pipes.

If you are considering interfacing to existing pipes, do
the current pipes SOUND GOOD?  Interfacing to a new
console won't make the pipes sound any better than
they do now.  The new digital stops might help "cover
up" the sound of bad pipework, but that's not a good
reason to interface.

Overall:

The digital stops now can have a temperature sensor
that keeps them in tune with the pipes automatically.  
Digital stops are so good nowadays with computers
being so fast, and sampling technology being refined,
it's difficult, if not impossible in some rooms, to tell
the difference.  Don't judge a pipe combination organ
on your past experiences.  If you haven't played a NEW
one lately, you're most likely in for a nice surprise.
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This is a circuit board that allows the
wires from the pipes to be attached.  
Note the diode protection, as well as
the ease of modular construction.  
These wires have not be soldered yet.
This picture shows the "back side" of
the same circuit card as above.  
Modern wire is color coded to ease
identification.
This shows the "old" hooked to the
"new".  The 1928 circuitry is on the
bottom, now wired to the modern
circuitry above.  You can see some of
the very old wire that is all white, not
color coded.
Most of the time the notes need to be
sorted out or "rung out" so everything
ends up in the right order.
One of the most recent pipe interfaced
consoles, an Allen Q410 hooked to 22
ranks of Casavant pipework from 1928
This is the "big picture" of the interface
board by Allen Organ Co. on the top,
and the older wiring on the bottom.  
The communication between the organ
console and the Allen interface board
are two tiny white wires!