Electronic Organ Repair

Electronic Organ History

Electronic organs have their roots in the world of pipe organs and harmoniums which are purely acoustic instruments and generate their sound by moving air creating standing waves in hollow pipes or vibrating metallic reeds like the ones found in an accordion or harmonica. The transition to electrically generated sound started in 1897 with the Teleharmonium invented by Thadeus Cahill. This massive instrument was used to pipe music into New York establishments via phone lines. While it was never commercially successful it was the first instrument to demonstrate that musical tones code be generated using the newly understood magic of electricity. Later electrically powered pumps and early electronic amplifiers were applied to the reed concepts of the harmoniums and commercially viable electronic/wind hybrid organs made their appearance.

In the mid-1930's Laurens Hammond, an industrial clock maker, developed a technique to generate pure sinusoidal tones using metallic tone wheels spinning in front of magnetic pickups. These pure tones were combined in adjustable proportions using drawbars to create full rich musical pitches and amplified by an electronic amplifier which drove speakers in a separate cabinet. The Hammond tonewheel organ quickly displaced the reed organ and found it's way into many homes and churches world wide. Vintage Hammond organs still constitute the backbone of many Gospel, Blues, and Classic Rock sounds.

Later combinations of oscillators, dividers, and filters, implemented first using vacuum tubes and then discrete transistors, were used to generate the musical tones. As electronic technology progressed new technologies were introduced into the electronic organs and rhythm generators, auto-accompaniment, record and playback techniques, and an ever expanding palette of sounds became standard features. Integrated circuits, microprocessors, and digital sampling techniques have continued this trend and todays organs are a powerhouse of performance, composing, and recording features. Many organs also include evermore lifelike simulations of the classic Hammond Tonewheels. Modern organs share common technologies and features with digital pianos and synthesizers. The one truly unique feature to organs is the multi-note pedal board. The classic church organ has digitally sampled pipe organ samples and endeavors to accurately imitate the sound of large multi-rank pipe organs that would cost millions to install and require a massive organ chamber. The typical home organ will have numerous orchestral, acoustic instrument, percussions and numerous other sounds as well as recording and playback functions, teaching features, and touch screen displays to access the features.

Tools and Equipment Needed for Organ Repair

There are wide variety of electronic organs that are likely to be encountered if you repair organs as a professional. Organs spanning the whole history of the technology back to the turn of the twentieth century could be encountered. Early organs had a large electro-mechanical content and too repair them requires an assortment of standard hand tools. These same tools may be necessary to access the cabinets of even the most modern digital electronic organ. Screwdrivers, nutdrivers, Allen wrenches, pliers, and wrenches will all be used on occasions. Even a hammer has it's occasional role. The earliest true electronics to appear in organs were all based on electron vacuum tubes. A tube tester, a digital multimeter, wire cutting and stripping tools, and heavy duty soldering tools will make the job easier. An oscilloscope is often invaluable to troubleshoot electronic circuitry of every vintage. A more delicate soldering iron, soldering wick, a solder sucker, and flux are necessary for later generations of electronics. A hot air gun can be used to remove higher density integrated circuit packages. Frequency generators, digital tuning devices, signal tracers, LCR meters and ESR meters are also useful troubleshooting tools.

A wide variety of spare parts should be stocked including the most frequently used integrated circuits; a selection of diodes, transistors, and vacuum tubes; a variety of resistors in varying wattages; a good selection of capacitors, low and high voltage types; and a variety of lubricants, contact cleaners, flux removers, and freeze spray should all be stocked. Many other items will be added to your inventory as you gain experience with the particular product lines that you service. Specific models of organs tend to have certain failure modes that are common and parts to make those repairs should find their way into your inventory.

Training and Technology

To repair the entire spectrum of technologies one might encounter if you attempt to service every possible make and model of organ, a thorough understanding of electronics including vacuum tube theory, semiconductor theory, basic electronic principles, integrated circuit families, microprocessor essentials, and digital signal processing techniques is required. Classroom training, hands on experience, and continuing independent study are required to master all of the possible technologies that you would encounter. MITA International provides training in general electronic technologies and model specific repair techniques at their semi-annual conference held in Las Vegas in even numbered years. Online tutorials are available for every electronic technology you might encounter. MITA's on-line forums are a great place to exchange knowledge, and ask questions of hundreds of experienced technicians world wide.

Safety Considerations

Organs contain high voltage power sources and vacuum tube circuitry has very high voltage potentials throughout that pose a risk of electrocution and death if not given the respect they deserve. Proper high voltage safety techniques should be understood and practiced at all times. Modern transistor and IC technology is sensitive to static discharge so proper grounding and static safety procedures should be used at all times. Modern IC circuitry includes numerous fine pitch leads and circuit board traces that can easily be damaged by improper Soldering techniques. Practice on scrap circuit boards before trying to perform repairs on valuable instruments. Many older organ models contain metal chassis with sharp edges that can inflict serious lacerations so handle them with caution.

Can I Fix My Own Electronic Organ?

Unless you fully understand the terms and the implications of the entirety of the above discussion, you should not even be considering working on your electronic organ. Seek a repair professional to properly and safely repair your valuable and beloved instrument.

Where Can I Get My Electronic Organ Repaired?

MITA technicians are tops in the field, with the training and experience to reliably repair your electronic organ. Find the nearest MITA technician here for further consultation or a quality repair.