Electronic organ

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A home organ ( Farfisa Pergamon ) from 1981

A keyboard instrument with electronic tone generation is generally referred to as an electronic organ . A specific analog or digital technology of sound generation, design or size cannot be tied to the term and is always dependent on the respective state of the art and strongly user-related. Since the musician is more interested in the sound quality and purpose of the musical instrument , the technology used takes a back seat. Colloquially, it is also called E-Organ or Elektro-Organ (formerly also electron organ , electronic organ ).

Developed from its predecessors in the 1930s , it was one of the few electronic keyboard instruments with polyphonic tone generation until the advent of polyphonic synthesizers in the mid- 1970s . Originally the pipe organ was the model for the development of the electronic organ: keyboard (also with several manuals ), designation of the register positions according to the number of foot notes or, in part, the register names are adopted. Through continuous improvements and now through the use of computer technology, the sound generation has been improved so that it can also be used as an electronic concert organ and sacred organ with high sound quality.

The dimensions of the keyboard correspond to those of the piano, but the pressure resistance is lower (unweighted keyboard). The number of keys is often 61 (5 octaves), but other values ​​between 44 and 88 also occur. The low playing resistance allows playing techniques that are difficult or impossible on a weighted keyboard. Digital sacred organs , based on church organs, also simulate (adjustable) the pressure resistance of the keys.

Electromechanical sound generation

Drawbar of a Hammond XB-1

Apart from the optical sound organ , the early "electronic" organs were almost all electromechanical organs (see also electromechanical musical instruments ), such as the Hammond organ : a mechanically defined alternating current was generated in the pickups . As a result, the term “Hammond organ” has become a synonym for the entire class of instruments. The sound was initially generated by gears, the teeth of which induced electrical sinusoidal voltages in coils.

In contrast to pipe organs, with their registers that could only be switched on or off, these first instruments had the option of adjusting the volume of each foot position (row of notes) individually in nine steps (0–8) with drawbars . There are usually nine drawbars available per manual, with these in the different pitches 16 ′, 5 13 ′, 8 ′, 4 ′, 2 23 ′, 2 ′, 1 35 ′, 1 13 ′ and 1 ′ sound. By pulling out and pushing in the individual drawbars, the volume of the individual sine tones can be influenced by the bridged or in the signal path resistances according to the partial tone intensity of the corresponding overtone series and thus different timbres can be generated. The sound generation thus corresponds to a simple additive synthesis .

An important part of a Hammond organ is a loudspeaker cabinet ( Leslie loudspeaker ), which reproduces the sound of the organ via rotating loudspeakers and thus gives it additional beat and tremolo effects. The rotation speed can be determined in two stages (slow / fast). Later, not least for reasons of space and weight, the electronic simulation of this effect by means of bucket chain controls was used. Examples of such devices were the Wersivoice from Wersi and the Phasingrotor from Dr. Bohm.

In the 80s and 90s, the Dynacord company manufactured rack-compatible effects devices that were specialized in simulating a Leslie cabinet and were widely used (CLS-22, CLS-222, DLS-223, DLS-300).

Fully electronic (analog) sound generation

The first transistor and thus fully electronic organ in the world, the Böhm organ , was designed by the physicist Dr. Rainer Böhm in Minden / Westphalia. For the first time, Böhm offered kits for electronic organs, which could also be assembled by laypeople and which could later be expanded with technical innovations. In 1964, Philicorda AG 7500 from the Dutch "Gloeilampenfabrieken Philips " was also an early fully electronic organ that became more widespread. In the mid-1950s, the electronic organ models from the Düsseldorf company Jörgensen-Electronic (Clavioline, Tuttivox, Combichord, Basilica) were known.

Electronic organ from Musikelectronic Geithain

Home organ

The home organ is an electronic organ designed for the living room. It mainly has two manuals with three to four octaves each (so-called spinet organs - the manuals are offset by an octave) or five octaves (so-called "full organs" - the manuals are parallel one above the other). In addition, home organs usually have a stub pedal . Most devices have a built-in power amplifier and - depending on the equipment - several loudspeakers. The sound generation was initially purely analog , later the home organ was also digitized . The registration is done by pressing buttons and switches that switch individual circuit parts (and thus timbres) on and off.

The heyday of home organs was in the 1970s and early 1980s. At that time they were also a status symbol , which was reflected in a performance class classification similar to the automotive world. Typical lower-class models were mostly equipped with three foot positions in the upper manual and one to two foot positions in the lower manual. Mid-range models regularly had orchestral presets - more or less good copies of strings or wind instruments, as well as monophonic synthesizer units that were used to simulate solo instruments. Upper-class models were also often equipped with the classic feature of real Hammond organs, namely drawbars , or had a third - smaller - manual for solo voices. In rare cases, these upper-class models were also equipped with full pedals (25 or 30 pedals). Almost all home organs contained rhythm devices , so that the illusion of a “one-man orchestra” was possible. Less experienced players were also given the opportunity to accentuate the sound of the organ with increasingly sophisticated automatic accompaniment , without really having the ability to “play with hand and foot”. At the end of the 1970s, prices were between DM 2,000 and DM 15,000  .

A single manual home organ from the Farfisa brand

The manufacturers for the mass market were in the 1970s and 1980s z. B. Farfisa (Italy), General Music | GEM (Italy), Yamaha (Japan), Kawai (Japan), Technics (Japan), Lowrey (USA), Wurlitzer (USA) and Hohner (Germany). Bontempi (Italy) produced particularly cheap but also lower quality models . The German manufacturers Wersi and Böhm offered kits with which experienced hobbyists could build very powerful organs for the home. These models gained their attractiveness because they were used by the organ stars of the time. Completely assembled and fully assembled, however, the models from these manufacturers achieved prices above the home organ level. Wersi and Böhm are still represented on the German market today, primarily with concert organs, while the manufacturers Farfisa, GEM, Yamaha and Technics have withdrawn from the market or no longer exist. Basically there are only a few organs on the market today that can be referred to as home organ. This included the Roland Atelier organs until 2018 and the Orla organs today .

One of the main reasons for the decline in the organ boom can be seen in the growing popularity of keyboards since the 1990s . These one-manual, easily transportable instruments can be played by inexperienced musicians in a similar way as a home organ with automatic accompaniment, but are significantly cheaper for the end customer. Since they no longer offer the basic possibility of a three-course game (right hand - left hand - foot), there is no need for complex housing designs or the integrated amplifier and loudspeaker systems.

Well-known organ artists and thus pioneers of the "home organ hype" were u. a. Klaus Wunderlich , Franz Lambert , Mark Shakespeare , Ady Zehnpfennig and Curt Prina . Lambert is still active as a concert organist today, while Claudia Hirschfeld represents a representative of a new generation of organists.

Even the Jazz -Organist Jimmy Smith played in the early 1980s sometimes a Wersi instrument. Currently popular are artists such as Mambo Kurt , who use the instrument in a playful and experimental manner and thus allow the organ to penetrate into foreign realms such as punk and heavy metal.

Concert organ

Digital concert organ

The concert organ serves excellent organists as an instrument for solo concerts, mainly in the field of pop music. In principle, it is a home organ with extremely complex equipment. This includes two, usually three manuals and always a full pedal with usually 25 keys. Concert organs only rarely have an internal loudspeaker system, but are played via external amplifiers and boxes in order to meet the acoustic requirements of large halls or open-air events. Well-known manufacturers were or are Böhm, Roland, Yamaha, Wersi. Hammond also built concert organs, but they were mostly used for jazz concerts.

Concert organs were often used as the top of the range home organ series for promotional concerts. For this, the manufacturers had contracted top organists who were supposed to be symbolic figures for the quality of the organ brand. The best-known example of this is probably Franz Lambert , who has been giving concerts on Wersi organs since the 1970s.

Analog sacral organ

For churches, electronic organs were used early on as a replacement for the complex pipe organs, the sounds of which were specially optimized for church music. The sound design was done with analog filters . In contrast to home organs, these often had several channels and loudspeakers in order to broadcast the sound in several dimensions.

Electronic (digital) sound generation

Organs for light music

While the Hammond organ is the epitome of the typical "Sinus organ sound", newer organs from the brands Yamaha, Wersi, Böhm, Lowrey or Roland are the epitome of orchestral organs, which in addition to traditional organ sounds of different styles (Sinus, theater organ, etc.) also depict orchestral tones. Such organs are used in the home as well as for solo entertainers . Large series instruments nowadays have two manuals with 61 keys, a 76-key manual with hammer action or a polyphonic 30-key pedal.

In the rock or jazz area there are mostly classic Hammond organs or modern replicas. In order to create the Hammond sound in these replicas as true to the original as possible, virtual tone wheel simulations are often used, which also imitate details such as crosstalk and distortion , for example . Such organs are also increasingly being emulated by software synthesizers.

Digital sacred organ

Digital sacred organ (fully equipped "off the shelf" model)
Small sacred organ in a mourning hall

Another variant that has increasingly gained its place with the advancement of digital technology is the electronic (or digital) sacred organ (less commonly used: "digital organ"). In the early 1990s it replaced the sacred organ equipped with analog technology. In the early years of digital technology , the sonic results were a step forward compared to analog organs, but were usually not very convincing compared to pipe organs . Only in the last few years has the quality of this type of instrument increased enormously. Their disposition (composition of the different sounding voices) corresponds to that of pipe organs. The console of these instruments (especially the stops or rockers , manuals and pedals) is designed like pipe organs. The keyboards also simulate the pressure resistance of mechanical church organs.

In the past, digital sacred organs were mainly used as a practice instrument in private homes, as well as in church halls, small churches and chapels. The meanwhile convincing sound and reproduction quality makes digital sacred organs increasingly a serious alternative for larger churches and concert halls. Further arguments for the spread of the digital sacred organ are the significantly lower purchase price compared to the pipe organ, the insensitivity to fluctuations in temperature and humidity and the resulting elimination of regular maintenance costs. In addition, these organs today often have several dispositions (often a choice between baroque, romantic and symphonic disposition) and different moods (e.g. Pythagorean , medium-tone , well-tempered , equal ) as well as several "reverberation variations" (from chapel to cathedral) can be simulated for private rooms.

With digital sacred organs, the sound is generated by sampling or by sound synthesis.

Digital pipe organ / hybrid organs

The digital pipe organs represent a special form: Here, individual channels are bundled and placed on active resonators, which represent several pipes. The sound is generated electronically and the sound amplification is mechanical. Hybrid organs, which combine both methods of digital and classical sound generation in parallel and thus acoustically overlay two organs, are also in use.

Sound generation process

Today's organs combine a number of sound syntheses such as sampling and FM synthesis and physical modeling .


The sound is generated here on the basis of previously recorded samples from the various organ registers . These are then added together again with a special hardware sampler and can be called up by pressing a button. By loops ( loops ) the recorded sounds can be brought to an arbitrary length.

Hauptwerk , software that can be controlled with a MIDI- compatible organ console, has been simulating the sampling principle on the PC since 2003 . However, sampling has some disadvantages. On the one hand, obtaining the sample requires an enormous amount of effort, since every single pipe of the original instrument has to be recorded and digitized. On the other hand, the sound has to be artificially lengthened or shortened during playback, which cannot be fully represented due to the volume constellation between the sounding sound and the developing reverb.

A particular difficulty is that by means of sampling the effect of the mutual influence of several pipes sounding at the same time can hardly be simulated, even with great effort. This influence is greater, the closer the pipes are spatially to one another. A free alternative that can work with the same samples as Hauptwerk is GrandOrgue . Many organ sample sets also reproduce the reverberation of the recording room ( wet samples ). In a small room, this usually sounds more realistic than purely artificial reverberation, especially with historical organs, where the room acoustics are an integral part of the sound. When used in large church rooms, however, they are not very convincing, since sampled reverb and real reverb overlap. Pure pipe sound samples ( dry samples , pure samples ) are the better choice for this. However, there is the problem of absorbing the spatially extensive pipe in its entirety without room reverberation.

Some sample set producers prohibit the use of their recordings in public spaces through the end user license agreement .

Sound synthesis through modeling

Kisselbach Concerto 350 DLX with physical technology

Another possibility is to use mathematical calculation models to simulate the sound of a pipe organ and to generate it synthetically in real time. No samples are used in the sound synthesis and the parameters on which the model is based can be freely changed over a wide range.

One representative of this type is the Aeolus software , which is available as free software under the GPL for the Linux operating system . As it does not use sampling, it uses little system resources and runs on a 1 GHz computer with 256 MB RAM. Digital sacred organs from Viscount and Eminent use a similar process.

The Physis technology promises an even more authentic replica of the natural irregularities of the pipe organ. The sounds are calculated using complex algorithms, with the natural irregularities of the pipe organ being simulated in more detail than before. Physis organs have an extensive voice library comprising several hundred registers, from which registers can be selected and assigned to the register positions via an internal menu. In addition, these organs have extensive intonation options for individual sound design.

Hardware requirements

Numerical examples of polyphony and memory requirements: If ten registers are drawn, 100 pipes sound at the same time when ten keys (five keys with each hand) are played, which makes it necessary to process 100 samples simultaneously. "Wet samples" can contain about two seconds of "release samples" for reverberation after releasing the keys, and longer for large cathedrals. With ten stops drawn, a fast piece with five four-part chords per second and a reverberation of two seconds, there are 400 voices to be processed simultaneously. With “dry samples” the “release sample” is much shorter, about 0.5 seconds long. This results in only 100 (4 × 10 × 5 × 0.5) samples to be processed simultaneously.

The samples of the configured registers must be kept in the main memory, since reloading from a hard disk (individually or as a swap file) would be too slow. The memory required depends on their resolution (16-bit, 20-bit, 24-bit, 32-bit etc.), whether they are in stereo or mono, and whether they are "pure samples" or those with reverberation. As a rule of thumb, the manufacturer of Hauptwerk specifies the following: 2 GB of memory is sufficient for "pure samples" in mono with up to 80 registers, "pure samples" in stereo with up to 50 registers, and for reverberation samples in stereo for up to 30 Register. In this case, the operating system can still be a 32-bit system; if more memory is required, a 64-bit operating system is required to manage it. 4 to 8 GB is sufficient for most organs with "pure samples" and for many larger organs with reverberation samples. With 16 GB of RAM you can play very large organs with reverberation samples.

In 2003, the price for a typical concert hall-sized digital organ was quoted at $ 60,000 to $ 75,000. The high-end system developed to 300,000 USD in 2003 ( "produce the best instrument That Could be conceived within current technological limits if price were no object") Opus 1 by Marshall & Ogletree for the Trinity Church (New York City) is Equipped with a console by Fratelli Ruffatti with three manuals, pedal and 170 stops for 240 voices. Ten networked Linux computers compute in a rack , using special software to draw samples from a repertoire of a total of 34 hours. The amplifier rack has 74 audio channels with 150 to 500 watts and an additional six subwoofers are connected. In the final configuration in 2006 there were 82 audio channels with 15 kW amplifier power. An identically configured gaming table was also added, which addresses its own sampling set, which leads to different but compatible tones. The two tables can be used independently of each other. By 2011, five similar customized Opus systems had been installed and other systems were adapted. The price for a “cheap”, small Prodigy modular system from the same manufacturer starts at under USD 200,000.


Some examples of digital and electronic organs in church buildings.

place church year Organ builder Manuals register Remarks link
Gifhorn St. Altfrid 2013 3 with 8 speakers in the room To the organ
London St Mary le Strand with speakers on the gallery
Quedlinburg St. Wiperti Johannus 2 26th to the organ
Wuppertal- Unterbarmen Rotter Church 2012 2 Additional 128 (effect) registers can be called up
Time St. Peter and Paul Cathedral 2001 Rodgers 3 45 To the organ
Dortmund-Marten Ev. Immanuel Church 1997 Benedict 3 103 8 works with 26 loudspeakers behind the historical prospectus
Fredelsloh St. Blasii and Marien 2017 3 60

Web links

Commons : Electronic organs  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Electronic organ . In: The Brockhaus Music . Lexicon editor of the FA Brockhaus publishing house. 2nd Edition. Mannheim 2011, p. 197 ff.
  2. Hammond organ . In: The Brockhaus Music . Lexicon editor of the FA Brockhaus publishing house. 2nd Edition. Mannheim 2011, p. 293 ff.
  3. The PIG ORGANS: Dr. Bohm. www.horniger.de, accessed on August 2, 2020 .
  4. Werner Lottermoser: Electronic organ . In: the music in the past and present (MGG). General encyclopedia of music. Unabridged electronic edition of the first edition. Digital library. Bear Rider. S. 19830. Printed edition: Electronic organ . In: the music in the past and present (MGG). Tape. 16. Bärenreiter-Verlag, 1986, p. 59
  5. Erich Valentin : Handbuch der Musikinstrumentenkunde. Gustav Bosse, Regensburg 1954, p. 455 ff. ( Instrument maker ).
  6. Ralf Hoffmann: Legends live forever. Archived from the original on February 22, 2014. In: Okey! . 2002.
  7. KIENLE® sound systems - loudspeakers for digital church organs and "Hauptwerk". Retrieved August 2, 2020 .
  8. Hybrid organs | Sakral-Orgel.de. Retrieved August 2, 2020 .
  9. by Dr Matthias Nagorni: Digital pipe organs and the original. May 14, 2020, accessed on August 2, 2020 (German).
  10. What is Physis Technology? viscountorgans.net
  11. main work. Technical data. (PDF; 307 kB) Hauptwerk.com, April 19, 2011
  12. ^ Organ Specification Epiphany op. 1 nycago.org, December 20, 2015.
  13. James R. Oestreich: The Pipes Are Gone but the Organ Resounds; Its Organ Damaged on 9/11, Trinity Church Tries High Technology's Authentic Wheezes . In: The New York Times , September 10, 2003
  14. Allan Kozinn : A "virtual" organ Wins New Converts at a recital. In: The New York Times . July 7, 2007.
  15. ^ Trinity Church Wall Street, New York City. Marshall & Ogletree Opus One. marshallandogletree.com
  16. Introducing Prodigy® by Marshall & Ogletree. marshallandogletree.com