Electro-pneumatic releathering costs
  • Does anyone know if there is a general rule-of-thumb for calculating the cost of releathering and replacing electro-magnets in an electro-pneumatic action organ? In other words, would the church need to set aside 1/3 of the cost of the original instrument, or 1/2 or something along those lines? Any help would be appreciated! Thanks.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,270
    All I can tell you is that in 1995 Schantz charged $35,000 to releather our 10-rank organ and replace the pedalboard. Are there independents who can do it for less? I think so. Granted, inflation would have pushed the price up since then. Check around, starting with the service providers in your area.

    I can also mention an independent in Louisville, KY (who does excellent work) charged $45,000 to rewire and update the console, install combination action, replace the horrid non-adjustable bench ($3,500), replace all the naturals and contacts on the pedalboard, and do some revoicing. This was in 2015.
  • Thank you CharlesW for taking your time to respond. That is a start. Thanks!
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 987
    It's hard to give a formula for something like this. You have to factor in the scale of the project (15 ranks or 65?) how the instrument is located, etc. Dismantling a organ on the ground level adjacent to the sanctuary is one thing; hoisting windchests down from a very high loft or out of a remote chamber is a whole 'nother can o beans. All these things will factor in. That said, it will indeed be expensive; this is typically a project that only gets done every 30-60 years or so.
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,560
    contact Noel Jones... he is on this forum.
  • Francis, thank you so much for taking the time to respond. I had a similar response from a colleague who has done some organ consulting in the past. Thank you!
  • Also, I will contact Noel.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 8,036
    As others have said, ask some organ builders or a repair man who is near you. If you don't know any, get a reference from organists in your area. Such would certainly give you more accurate proposals than we can guess about in a profession in which prices rise every month.
  • Yes, definitely.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,060
    The $35k estimate isn't crazy. This is one of the reasons I'm a "tracker backer", although I realize we can't pick the instruments we play. But the thought of releathering a bunch of pitmans every 30 years is...not fun.
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,270
    We made it 50 years on a set of Schantz 1953 leathers before they gave out. Good quality leather will last. Providing clean, filtered air goes a long way toward preserving organs. Unfortunately, the inner workings of organs is a great mystery to many organists. They turn them on, play them, then turn them off. Out of sight, out of mind. It has amazed my how filthy some organ blower rooms and pipe chambers are.
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  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,333
    I also depends on the condition of the leather in each part of the bellows. If I were you, i would get back there is possible and take photos of all the reservoirs etc. Obviously you cant take photos of inside the chests... but some builders will insist on replacing everything so they get more work...i am anazed at what even so called reputable builders will do. When you see the leather youself, you will have an idea if what might be done, and this knowlege will help you deal with bids. I agree we MJO (after all he is usually right lol) about using local companies. You save money and support the local economy....have a look around and ask other organists who they trust.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,270
    Good advice. Don't think you can avoid all costs by getting a tracker. True, you don't have the releathering costs. However, when they eventually get worn enough they can also be expensive to rebuild. I don't know about the electric actions. Anyone with experience on those?
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  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 987
    However, when they eventually get worn enough they can also be expensive to rebuild.


    Indeed. And when a tracker touch goes sour and the roller boards get stiff... it's an absolute bear. You can perhaps limp along without as many siphons and dead notes, but your day will come too.

    (And for the record, trackers use leather at the valves to help create the seal; it just doesn't have the same pressure behind it. But if it dries out, it can cause problems too, and it will eventually need replacing.)
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  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,704
    "syphons" ... as in grasping at straws? I guess the days of using syphons to steal gasoline from a car are gone.

    Oh! I think I can now decipher what was meant!
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,060
    Indeed. And when a tracker touch goes sour and the roller boards get stiff... it's an absolute bear. You can perhaps limp along without as many siphons and dead notes, but your day will come too.

    (And for the record, trackers use leather at the valves to help create the seal; it just doesn't have the same pressure behind it. But if it dries out, it can cause problems too, and it will eventually need replacing.)


    Can you elaborate? This, in my experience, takes like 100 years to happens. Seems a good investment. Releathering reservoirs, etc., isn't a bad job at all.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,270
    In 100 years, or likely far less, the demi-gods of AGO will decide the aging tracker no longer has the correct sounds to interpret Bach, or some other composer. Funds will have to be raised to junk it and replace it with the "correct" organ of the day. In the U.S. that tracker will be thrown out long before it could ever be rebuilt.

    In all seriousness, don't forget the effects of regional climate, humidity or lack of it in your building, and other factors that can affect the life of any organ, tracker or not. Does it get bitterly cold, then the custodian fires up the heating system and the temperature jumps 50 degrees in short order? Not good for organs. Placement matters and regional weather patterns do make a difference in organ longevity.

    An addition: I know of a tracker in a very humid place that routinely sticks and jams and is nearly unplayable at certain times of the year. A nationally acclaimed brand but not suitable for that climate.
  • Thank you everyone. Excellent food for thought.
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 987
    Can you elaborate? This, in my experience, takes like 100 years to happens. Seems a good investment. Releathering reservoirs, etc., isn't a bad job at all.


    I've played many a tracker that hasn't aged well. Stiff roller boards, eventually uneven keys, certain notes that stick because the physical chain to effectuate a valve is so long and has so many failure points... etc. etc. They aren't "more reliable" just because they are mechanical. Many instruments would make a poor witness in that case. (and "mechanical" is a misnomer in this case anyway; all organs are mechanical... some just use different mechanics to achieve the same goal.)

    It's just that the nature of the problems manifest differently between styles of instruments. For example, I'm currently playing an organ that has electric contacts under the keys; they are 50 years old and still feel great. There's a tracker I know that was installed at almost the exact same time, and recently underwent a 200k restoration, and the action is ... ahem... "crappy" to say the least, even post restoration.

    I taught lessons on a tracker at a college last year and on more than one occasion I had to crawl inside the instrument (literally crawl) during a lesson because it was acting up something fierce. I've also had to go up into chambers to dislodge a pipe on a EP instrument. In both case there was a siphon, but their causes were very different. Same problem in the end though.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,060
    Lots of non sequiturs here, in my opinion. You can't compare the best of a genre to the worst. The technology is much better now for both types of action than it was 50 years ago, and ciphers happen with either if things are aging or out of adjustment.

    One thing you are seeing is fewer builders doing EP. Mostly Blackinton-style electric slider. It's not easy to sell a parish musician who knows his/her stuff on something that has pouches that need releathering every 50 years.

    Anyhow, I'd invite anyone interested to check in on our progress in Birmingham. We're trying to document it well on social media so the parish will understand the investment and eventual return.

    30 years ago, you couldn't build a tracker like this. But advances with carbon fiber, use of balanciers, etc., make large mechanical action instruments a smart investment.
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,270
    No question the trackers are using better materials. I have seen and played many older ones that are stiff and unresponsive, negating the advantages they were supposed to have. I have played those old and not so old EP instruments where you could depress a key and go shopping at Walmart before the pipe sounded. SLOW. As I noted earlier in this post, I know little about electric action so can't make any judgments as to whether they are an improvement.

    However, I do like not being buried in the organ case. When the console is distant from the organ I always thought I had a better idea of what the congregation was actually hearing. Consoles that can be moved are also a good feature. I also directed the choir from the console so putting the console directly in front of them helped greatly - aside from actually seeing some of their bad behaviors. Rieger supposedly has some instruments that can play from both a tracker console and a remote console. Then again, Rieger builds some fine instruments so I am not surprised they are in the forefront of design.

    I agree with SS that mechanical might be a bit of a misleading term. Are some still being plagued by organists who play half-open sliders? I hope not and that went the way of the flesh. I remember it too well.

    The long and short of it is that you have to evaluate each organ individually. Some are good, some not so good and that is not always dependent on type of action. Buy what works best for you, your building configuration, and how you plan to actually use the instrument on a service level. I have seen too many organists get an instrument for the recitals they plan to play over the course of a year, but they prove to be terrible service instruments.

    Looking forward to eventually hearing the Birmingham instrument.

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  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,060
    Detached console here was a must! I agree that the en fenetre keydesk is a huge disadvantage in practical terms. Ours was actually supposed to be a good bit more distant than it will be, but as the organ grew...the space diminished!

    Carbon fiber is nasty to work with, but makes a lot of things possible (esp. long tracker runs, while keeping a light action). Some pallet assist (e.g. balanciers) also helps once the organ gets a lot of 16's and 8's (which of course we all want!)
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 987
    The long and short of it is that you have to evaluate each organ individually. Some are good, some not so good and that is not always dependent on type of action.


    Agreed.
  • Thank you to all who have responded and for clearing up some questions we had in our new organ deliberation here at St. Joseph in Columbia, SC. (Still using my old bradatStMayAiken handle at MusicaSacra. I need to get that changed!) We decided on C.B. Fisk of Gloucester, MA. and are scheduled to make a presentation to our finance council May 26. The new Fisk at Holy Name Cathedral in Charlotte and the Fisk at St. James Episcopal in Richmond were really impressive. And, after visiting several examples of some reputable organ firms, we were caught off guard that these firms, and very few other firms make their own organ pipes these days, but instead use suppliers, especially for metal and reed pipes. Fisk continues to use their own raw materials to make the flue and reed pipes, as well as wooden pipes. This impressed us as did their collaboration-approach. Pray for our council presentation!
    Thanked by 1BruceL
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 987
    This is quite common and not necessarily a knock on the builders. Running a lead foundry is no small/inconsequential operation. To be clear, Fisk is undisputedly a top-tier builder. But it is normal for a few specialty suppliers to make more difficult reed pipes to the exact specifications of a builder. They are still bespoke pipe work; it’s a bit akin to having a plumber come do specialty fittings whilst building a house rather than having the general contractor do it. It’s really not because the others aren’t good organ builders. I should also mention that there are still many firms that make their own pipes who don't have their own foundries; they just get pre-made lead sheeting and cut it up. I do think it's fair to say, however, that you do need a certain critical mass to be able to make your own pipes. There are many smaller operations now that really specialize in maintenance and renovation more than building as such.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,704
    Taylor & Boody of Staunton, Virginia have always made all their pipes, wood, metal, and reed. All their organs are mechanical action (tracker) some of which have interesting geometric configurations necessitated by the installation specifications (eg. divisions on opposite sides of the chancel, genuine Rückpositiv positioning (behind the organ bench) in the loft, etc. I'm familiar with their work and even visited their factory back when I lived in Charlottesville. Their brochure is attached, which gives specifics of several of their organ installations

    https://www.taylorandboody.com/

  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,060
    Yes, the question of whether or not to make pipework, etc., in-house is huge. It certainly adds a tremendous amount of overhead. T&B, Fisk (although they will occasionally send things out), Richards Fowkes, and Juget-Sinclair (among others) all do their own pipework. Other excellent builders, like Noack, do not. It's really a business model question, since the pipemaker (whether in the shop or in another shop) is making the pipes to the spec of the builder (at least if it's a decent builder!)

    Also, Brad at St. Mary...go check out the Fisk in Nashville at Covenant sometime. I think it might be my favorite of their instruments even though it's unfinished. Great setting, beautiful work, expressive (and heroic!) instrument without the loudness that can mar their work.
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  • Yes, we had wanted to visit Nashville but COVID travel restrictions had other plans!
    Thanked by 1BruceL
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,704
    I've mentioned it before, but I'll reiterate that the Fisk at St. James Episcopal in Richmond, Virginia is a splendid instrument.
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