A Pipe Organ For The MIDI Generation

If you are a musician and you are also a Hackaday reader, there’s a good chance you’ll own at least one MIDI instrument. A synthesizer of some description, maybe a keyboard, or perhaps a drum machine. A pipe organ? Probably not.

If you answer to the name of [Wendell Kapustiak] though, you’d say yes to that question. He’s built himself a beautiful pipe organ from scratch, with hand-tuned wooden pipes, and for a modern touch he’s made it MIDI controlled. An Arduino Due sends its commands to a set of solenoid drivers, the solenoids then control the air flow from his wind chest through a set of plastic tubes to his organ pipes. Air supply comes from a shop vac in a sound-insulated box, with a pressure regulating chamber. The result is not perfect, he believes that the pipes are too close together and this somehow makes them difficult to tune, but to an outsider’s eye it’s a pretty impressive instrument.

[Wendell] is both a skilled and prolific maker, and his blog is rather a good read. The organ project is spread over a few years, so to get the full picture it is best to read his previous posts on the subject as well as the one first linked. He recounts his early experiments as well as giving us details of the electronics and the pipes. He’s put up a video showing the completed instrument which you can see below the break, and another more recently showing a recent one-LED-per-note modification.

Though they don’t come along often this isn’t the first MIDI pipe organ we’ve seen on these pages, we covered one at the University of Edinburgh in 2008. We’ve also brought you another wooden-pipe organ, though in a far more traditional form.

Thanks [Michael Horne].

20 thoughts on “A Pipe Organ For The MIDI Generation

  1. Though my flash and linux aren’t getting along I see that these pipes must cover a range that is only diatonic or maybe the band organ standard of 9 notes per octave. The pipes range from stopped 4 foot long (bass) and up to much shorter open pipes.
    When open pipes are close together their distance is not firmly fixed thus they can lean a little in or or away from taller pipes and detune. With stopped pipes this is not a problem. There were portable organs made where the stopped pipes were combined into a shared sides assembly, for more compact form.

  2. Affixing acoustic foam onto the inside of the solenoid enclosure will help dampen the percussive clicking of the solenoids.

    Additionally a squirrel cage fan with a reducing cone would provide much greater airflow with a slightly higher pressure.

    Finally, saturating the boards in Tung Oil or an oil based stain will help with the tuning problem by inhibiting absorption of water. It certainly won’t be a 100% fix, but it will help greatly and may help to reduce warping over long periods of time.

  3. For a “retrotechtacular” 1970’s view of computer control of organs, check out the 1979 “BYTE Book of Computer Music” at archive.org. There’s at least two articles about pipe organ control using the crude microprocessors of the day. One, “The Microcomputer and the Pipe Organ”, is by Jef Raskin, later famous for inspiring the Macintosh. Of course he had his own church-size organ in his home.

  4. This is how the big organs do it. http://opustwoics.com When they were converting the Wanamaker Organ in Philadelphia i discussed with one of the engineers using MIDI. I was told in great detail how MIDI isn’t even kind of close enough to keep up with needs of such a machine.

    Check it out, it’s pretty wild. They developed a bespoke system running on PIC chips of all things. They get under 20ms response times though.

    There was a hackaday article a few months ago about the Wanamaker, but i don’t think they got into detail on the Opus system.

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