Rebuilding Pipe Organs

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Patrick J. Murphy & Associates has become well known for its work in rebuilding existing pipe organs. Our conceptions of both new organs and restorations are quite clearly defined. Rebuilding pipe organs covers the wide variety of projects that fall between the two. The pipework might be serving the musical needs, but the mechanical systems may be failing. Perhaps the mechanical systems are fundamentally sound, but tonal alterations or additions are appropriate. Our goal in rebuilding is to strengthen the practical, mechanical, and tonal integrity of the organ. We carefully consider the musical needs of our client, evaluate every component of the existing pipe organ, and offer a pragmatic and systematic approach to reaching that goal.

It is important to remember that all well-built pipe organs are designed to facilitate tuning, servicing, and eventual rebuilding. Most electro-pneumatic organs that rely on leathered components, (windchests, bellows and consoles) usually average 40 or more years of useful life expectancy before rebuilding is necessary. In today’s world, one would be hard-pressed to think of any other large cost item that gives a comparable life expectancy. Asphalt roofs, furnaces, and other major cost items commonly found in churches will often need replacement long before a major organ overhaul is needed.

However, there are instances when the prohibitive labor costs of releathering certain pneumatic windchests may warrant their replacement with the electric slider or electro-mechanical chests built with less perishable leather. These chest designs may also provide efficient use of space for additions or improved servicing while at the same time all but eliminating the need for labor-intensive chest releathering in the future.

We at PJM will work with you as you consider the many questions that come with a pipe organ rebuilding project. Is the instrument successful as it stands? What might be done to improve it so that it may function musically and reliably for the next generation? Does a rebuilding warrant extensive changes? Are these changes justified? Depending on the answers to these and other questions, pipe organ rebuilding costs can often range anywhere from 20% to 70% the cost of replacement. Many instruments will improve with a quality rebuilding. However, the best decision on whether to rebuild or replace comes only after the pipe organ builder and client together have done their homework to ascertain the best course of action.