Wild Air

Job Opportunity!

November 16th, 2014

Our business is GROWING!  We now have an immediate opening for an individual to work in our shop, and to also help with tuning, service, and installation.  We offer medical insurance and an opportunity to become a key member of an expanding firm.  We are located in scenic Marion, IN, about midway between Indianapolis and Fort Wayne.  Compensation based on experience.  Some climbing and lifting are part of the job.  If you or somebody you know is interested, please contact me at 765-661-0075, or David at 765-661-0775.

Thad  Reynolds, President

Reynolds Associates, Inc.

A pipemaker working with the metal plane.

When we last checked in on the pipe craftsmen in the Czech Republic, they had poured sheets of hot liquid metal onto a long table to cast the material for the new organ pipes for the Shelbyville organ.

Then, we had to wait. Even in our busy, hi-tech world, some things take patience. If we want bread to taste good, we have to wait for it to rise. In the case of our pipe metal, we had to wait for it to cure before anything more could be done with it. Organ pipes made of “green” metal are never satisfactory. The curing process usually takes about 6 – 8 weeks.

When unrolled, the new metal has a shiny, spotted surface, which was on top on the casting table, and a dull surface on the bottom where the sheet was in contact with the fabric top of the table. To assure uniform metal thickness, and to provide a smooth surface on the interior of the pipe, the metal must now be planed.

This is one of the few steps in the pipemaking process where modern technology makes things much easier. At one time, if the pipemaker needed to have his metal planed, he had to plain it by hand. Mechanization can, indeed come to the aid of art!

The pipemakers mount the sheets, shiny side down, on the drum of the large machine. As the drum rotates, a small amount of metal is removed until the sheet is level. The machine is essentially a very large lathe.

When the Shelbyville organ was built, some of the more powerful ranks, such as the Diapason Major, were built “fabric-side out.” These pipes, which were made of common metal (mostly lead), had thick walls, with the smooth “top side” of the lead sheet to the inside of the pipe. In some cases, the upper lips of the pipes were covered with leather to allow the pipes to have a very smooth, powerful sound under high wind pressure.

Whenever you see a pipe with the fabric marks still visible, you can be sure that that pipe maker wanted the warm components of the tone to be preserved and emphasized. Usually, fabric-side-out pipes are used for dark, powerful sounds. To understand why, we have to look at how the pipe produces its sound, and how that sound is reinforced or amplified.

Functionally, there are two major components to an organ pipe. First, there must be an oscillating mechanism – what in a loudspeaker would be called a “driver.” In a pipe, this can be either a flue or a reed. More about reeds later…

In a flue pipe, a narrow sheet of air blows from the flue (the narrow slit at the bottom of the mouth) across the upper lip. The wind sheet oscillates because, as the old saying goes, “nature abhors a vacuum.” The windsheet oscillates because it can’t decide if it wants to deflect inward or outward. Whichever way it blows, it creates a vacuum on the opposite side, pulling the sheet in that direction. A tone is created because, essentially, the wind sheet can’t make up its mind!

This oscillation sets in motion the second major component of the pipe, the air column or resonator. The length of the air column in a pipe determines its pitch. The width, as contained by the sidewalls of the pipes, controls which harmonics in the musical note are emphasized.

Louder pipes, and pipes with stronger lower frequencies are made of heavier metal to contain the movement of the air column inside, which can become very energetic. It takes stout walls to contain this vibrating air column without canceling any of it.

Try this simple test.

The next time you are in a room with a powerful sound source, place your had flat on the wall. Do you feel vibration? If you do, the wall is canceling out some of the sound. It takes energy to vibrate that wall, and that energy is absorbed from the sound waves. Likewise, if the tone of an organ pipe is powerful enough to cause the wall of the pipe to vibrate, that vibration is cancelling out some components of the sound. In fact, in the case of string pipes, for instance, the metal is intentionally thin, so the upper harmonics are stressed.

A sad problem that we encounter from time to time is a pipe that stops speaking when you try to tune it. Just touching the tool to the top of the pipe seems to cancel its sound. This happens because the wall of the pipe isn’t thick enough to contain the sound wave. The vibration in the pipe body cancels the sound wave so powerfully that any disturbance makes the pipe stop speaking. Wrapping your hand around such a pipe (which, by the way are NEVER found in Reynolds organs) in the right place will stop the vibration in the metal, and the pipe will begin speaking again.

This brings us to one of the reasons a pipe organ sounds so good in a room like St. Joseph’s. The building was built to last, with thick, tall masonry walls that reflect sound efficiently.

So, now that are metal has cured, and has been machined to a uniform smoothness and thickness, it’s time to make some pipes!


What’s so special about a pipe organ?


Music from the Earth. A fresh, new sheet of pipe metal at the moment of casting.

The new organ at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Shelbyville, IN, will include pipes made by the skilled hands of master craftsmen over a century ago, and undergoing restoration by skilled hands in our shop, and in the shop of our master reed maker, Fred Oyster, in Ohio.

It will also include new pipes, made by men and women practicing this time-honored craft today. The new pipes for the Shelbyville organ are already on hand in our shop. But to acquaint you with the almost magical process of pipemaking, I asked our pipe supplier in the Czech Republic to snap some pictures of an order they are making up for us now, for our next project at First United Methodist Church in Connersville, IN. 

We create the specifications for each set of new pipes when we are designing the organ. We consider the style of the organ we are creating, the room in which it will sound, the kind of music it will play, and the already-existing pipes that will be part of the new organ. This process can take weeks or months before the order finally goes to the pipe shop, and includes conversation and consultation with the pipe shop and its representatives.  These knowledgeable experts are the “associates” in Reynolds Associates, and they help us create instruments that sound exactly as we want them to sound.  In addition to the specifics that change from order to order, these craftsmen know our general preferences – such details as toe bevel, foot length, and metal thickness – and take these preferences into consideration as well.

Why don’t we make the pipes ourselves? Pipe-making is a specialty. It requires specialized equipment and very specialized skill. Our pipe makers serve many companies, and understand the differing needs and requirements of each.  By enlisting their skills and knowledge, our organs are better than they would be if we tried to do everything ourselves.

A pipe order usually takes several months to produce. So, the pipe shop is often working one or two jobs ahead of our shop.  As I write, they are making the pipes for Connersville, and probably casting metal for the new organ we will build next year in Plainfield, IN.

Once the pipe shop has the order in hand, they start from the very beginning. They actually make the metal for the pipes, in a process that hasn’t changed in many centuries.

Most of the new pipes in the Shelbyville organ are made of “spotted metal,” so-called because of the lattice that forms as the newly-cast metal cools. In our case, we like the sound of spotted metal pipes that are about 52% tin and 48% lead and trace metals. In the shop, the components of the metal are combined in the melting pot. The lead is melted first, and the dross skimmed from the liquid metal. Then the tin is added, and, again, the pipemaker skims the surface until it is perfectly clean.

The casting table is a long, narrow hardwood structure. To keep the top perfectly true, it is often made of slate or soapstone, over which is stretched a piece of heavy cotton or linen cloth. The table, which must be perfectly level, has sides upon which is mounted a screed. Working quickly and very carefully, the pipemaker pours the molten metal into a trough on the table, and quickly moves the screed down the length of the table, creating a thin, level, and perfect sheet of metal.

Once the metal has cooled sufficiently, it is removed from the casting table, and rolled into a sheet. Then the process begins again until a sufficient quantity of metal has been made to fill the orders.

Now the next critical step.



Martin Ellis, at the console of the great Sanfilippo organ in Chicago

Martin Ellis will play the rededication concert on the pipe organ at First Friends Church in Noblesville, IN.  We have just completed (I mean, a few hours ago) a renovation of this organ that includes a completely renewed and refurbished Moller console, replacing the dilapidated Wicks console on this Wicks organ. 

The console had a good excuse to be dilapidated!  Back in the mid-1970s, this organ survived a tornado!  Although heavily damaged, it was purchased by First Friends, and installed there by E.H. Holloway Corp.  Some damaged pipes were replaced with pipes whose sound did not match exactly, so part of this project was to give this organ tonal cohesion.  We also added a digital voice extension system to add color voices to complement the pipe voices in the organ.  We refinished the console, including the original ivory keys, installed new stop controls, and a Peterson ICS4000 integrated control system as well.

Please plan to join us on Sunday, October 19, at 3:00 pm, for this exciting concert!

Martin Ellis, at the console of the great Sanfilippo organ in Chicago

Occasionally, the demands or opportunities of life part us from dear friends and colleagues.

So it is that we must say goodbye to Martin Ellis.  Martin has accepted a professional opportunity that will take him to Portland, Oregon.  I understand that in Portland they have beautiful weather and good food.  Now they also have one more exceptional organist.

Many of you have seen or heard Martin in performance.  He is that rare breed of organist that is at home at a big 4-manual classic organ, or at the gilded horseshoe console of a theater instrument.  You may also have seen some of the videos we have made together and have posted on YouTube.  If not, take a look at www.youtube.com/user/pipeorganman1 for a sample. 

Sunday, Martin played a farewell concert for his friends and members of North United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, where he has been organist for eight years.  We recorded that concert, and will post selections from it in the near future.  This was not his last concert in central Indiana, though.  He is planning several concerts on Reynolds organs that are in the pipeline (pun intended), and will continue his musical partnership with Dr. Randy Freiling, performing the piano/organ concerts which have become so popular.

Martin has been, and remains, a good friend of our firm, which he affectionately refers to as “The Logo.”  We wish him well in his new home and his new endeavors!

Sorry for my absence…

August 27th, 2014


Thad Reynolds

For those of you who hang on every word of this blog (lol), I must apologize for my absence the past couple of weeks.  Both my computer and I have suffered from illness.  The computer on which I write and edit this blog spent a week in the hospital.  I want to personally thank Dan and Cole of the Geek Squad at Best Buy in Noblesville for nursing it through a graphics card transplant and several other related problems.

I myself have felt really awful of about 10 days, dragging myself to work each morning, miserable, achy, and fatigued.  Finally, yesterday, my discomfort at last bloomed into one of those legendary summertime virus infections – in other words, a really bad cold.  I feel better now, at least knowing it was nothing more serious.


So, if you’ve been following along, we’ve come up with the perfect recipe for the delicious soup that will be the Shelbyville organ.

Let’s see… In a 4 quart pot, combine 3 quarts of hearty broth, 2 quarts of tomato sauce, 2 1/2 pounds of beef, 4 large potatoes, 2 large onions, 3 celery stalks, and 3 cups of water.

Do you see the problem? If not, reread the recipe carefully.

We’ll wait… … … …

No matter how great the recipe, ultimately it all has to fit into the pot! And, if the pot is too full, you won’t be able to stir the soup (tune the organ) without making a mess. Sadly, we encounter too many organs that are nearly unserviceable because too much was installed in a space that was too small.

Designing an organ that will fit into its allotted space requires a great deal of thought and engineering. In the large organ companies of the past, the first job an up-and-comer would be given was usually in the drafting room. Today, at Reynolds Associates, we use sophisticated computer-assisted drawing to fit our designs into the space available. Later, as we will see in a future posting, those drawings are translated into actual components with our CNC router system.

The first step in the process is to prepare a simple floor-plan of the space where the wind chests and pipes will be placed. Then, we discuss how we want to arrange the divisions of the organ relative to each other. At St. Joseph’s, we decided to place the Swell division behind the Great. This is similar to Moller’s arrangement, although each division will be nearly twice as wide.

Since the Swell will have expression shutters, it has to be behind the Great, so it does not block the sound projection (the fancy term is “tonal egress”) of the unenclosed Great pipes. This also makes sense because the hard wood of the shades helps to reflect the sound of the Great. If, instead, we placed the Swell and Great divisions side-by-side, the swell box would create an acoutical “shadow,” blocking some of the sound of the Great pipes.

Here is the layout for one of the four main windchests for the Shelbyville organ. Each circle represents an individual organ pipe.

The next step is to decide where each stop will be placed within each division. David Reynolds usually does much of the layout work. Based on his experience as a tuner, he knows, for instance, that you have to be able to reach each pipe from the service walkway. Mixtures and reed stops, for instance, are usually close to the tuning walk, while taller pipes are farther away. Celestes and the stops they work with need acoustical separation to work properly. In the particular case of Shelbyville, we are using two different wind pressures on the Great division, so the stops must be arranged based on the pressure upon which they will speak.

Finally, David plans the location of each individual pipe in the organ, taking care that no pipe interferes with the speech of any other pipe. Larger pipes from several stops may be placed together at the back of the swell box, where they won’t get in the way of tuning the smaller pipes.

In some cases, space may require us to revise the stoplist. At St. Joseph’s, for instance, there was not room in the Great for an independent 4′ flute. So, we “borrow” the 4′ flute from the 8′ flute. This means that the pipes of the 8′ Gross Flute also serve for the 4′ flute as well. This small compromise makes it possible for the organ to have some other useful voice in the Great, such as the 8′ Unda Maris, the pipes for which are similar in size to a 4′ flute.

Most of this process takes place before we present a final plan to the committee for approval. While the internal arrangement may undergo some additional revisions, planning it all out on the computer helps us to be sure it will all fit before the decisions are made.

Next time:

Making the new organ affordable…

A duet for organ and vacuum cleaner.

Thad Reynolds


Today, I want to share some random thoughts about a process that isn’t at all random – designing, or in the case of the Shelbyville organ, re-designing the sound of a pipe organ. It continues to amaze me how many people, even including some otherwise competent musicians, don’t understand the basics of this most structural of instruments. Many think of a pipe organ as a sort of acoustic synthesizer, with a bunch of pretty voices that imitate different instruments. Some organ stops are named for orchestral instruments they vaguely resemble, but in fact the tonal concept of an organ is much different from that of an orchestra.

The tonal design of a well-appointed pipe organ is a combination of timbre and pitch. Pipes of different timbres (diapason, flute, string, reed) occur at various pitches (sub-unison, unison, octave, etc.), creating ensembles of sound. These ensembles form a sort of tonal architecture for the organ. How this architecture is designed, and just as importantly, how it is implemented, is the key factor in the success of a particular instrument.

I like to cook, and I LOVE to eat. So, I guess it’s inevitable that I sometimes think of the design for a new organ as being like a recipe for a really good soup.

There is no one right way to design an organ. The sound may be thin and transparent, like a strained chicken broth, or thick and rich like chicken velvet soup. However, before you start to combine indgredients for a new organ – in this case stops – you need to know what kind of soup you want to make.

Let’s stay with the cooking comparison for a moment.

In the early years of the FoodTV channel, we enjoyed watching a show called “Doorknock Dinners.” The host, the camera crew, and a professional chef would show up unannounced at somebody’s home, and, while the host chatted up the family, the chef would prepare a gourmet dinner using the random items he found in their kitchen.

This is very much what we do when we redesign an organ like the 1912 Moller at St. Joseph’s. We begin by analyzing the existing organ carefully, listening to each voice and combination, looking in the fridge to see what ingredients we have. The old Moller had a number of beautiful and useful stops to contribute to the new organ. There were excellent flute and string stops, as well as a fine Oboe. The organ had a wonderful foundation of big pedal voices as well- the sorts of sounds you feel as much as hear.

Broken and shattered: The trumpet pipes at St. Joseph's

Even the poor vandalized Trumpet stop, broken in pieces on the floor of the organ chamber was a fine set of pipes that could probably be restored. These pipes, by the way, were a later addition to the organ, replacing the original Moller Trumpet. Unfortunately, they were too large to fit on the windchest properly, which may explain how they became twisted and broken.

The next step in the process was analytical. What elements did the old organ lack? What should the new organ do better than the old? While we wanted to retain much of the flavor of the 1912 organ, the new design needed to account for modern liturgy, modern music, and modern ears. As we developed the “recipe” for the new organ, we decided to repurpose some of the existing voices and to replace a few others. Some of the existing voices, while lovely in themselves, needed a “dash of salt,” to perfect them, which will happen when we revoice them in the shop.Shelbyville Interior

In the end, our ideal design for the new organ retained about 80% of the original pipes, and increased the size of the organ by about 40%. Many of the diapason stops (often characterized as “pure organ tone”) were to be replaced, especially in the main Great division. We broadened the string ensemble, and also added several reed stops. In such a glorious room, we particularly felt that the new organ needed an abundance of trumpets. After the obvious fiasco with the replacement trumpet, the old organ ended up with no trumpets at all.  This is like an orchestra with no brass – nothing to make the little hairs stand up on the back of your neck!  In the new organ, we planned for trumpet-like stops in all divisions, plus a commanding “Liturgical Trumpet,” in the front of the church.

Sounds good, right? We have designed a wonderful organ. We have figured out how to reuse most of the existing organ, taking advantage of its lovely vintage sound, and found ways to make this early twentieth-century organ into a fine instrument for the twenty-first century. We have adapted it for modern tastes and modern liturgy.

Two questions remained before we could confidently present our plans to the parish organ committee. How much will it cost? Will it fit in the church?

Stay tuned…


It is proving to be a busy (and exhausting!) summer.

Polishing pipes

Robert polishing a rank for the Shelbyville organ

In the midst of several projects that are happening in the shop, we are making some important changes to our facility itself. We are moving our CNC router shop to our new (a few years ago) back building, which has been finished inside and provided with all the comforts of home (electricity, heat, and air conditioning). The CNC machine is about 5′ wide and 10′ long, and weighs as much as a car, but without the wheels. Along with it will go the equally large vacuum laminating machine and the big table saw.

The idea is to get the big dust-makers out of the main shop so we can do “clean” work there, including wood finishing, console work, pipe reconditioning, and wiring. In the past, we have had to set up the shop for each of these processes, and, while we were spraying finish, for instance, would couldn’t run the CNC because of the dust. We have finally decided that we cannot afford what Winston Churchill called “this lush disorganisation.” We are also adding a 12′ x 32′ outbuilding to use as a staging area when we are loading trucks and trailers.

Meanwhile, we have continued to progress on several projects, most notably the new Shelbyville organ. The job of just cleaning up the old pipes seems endless, but it’s actually going pretty well. Cory has also stripped the console for the Shelbyville organ, ready for it to be refinished. More about that in a future posting…

Work is coming along very nicely on the 4-manual E.M. Skinner organ at High Street United Methodist Church in Muncie. This is the last phase of a 3-phase project that we began in 2008. It is a magnificent instrument, and the only truly Romantic organ in the area. The work now is centered on the Choir division, which will be finished before we start “tuning season,” this fall. After Christmas, we will rebuild the Echo division and install a new Trompete en Chamade, which is being custon-built for this organ. The pipes will be brightly-polished copper, and should look stunning.

We have been working with First United Methodist Church in Connersville, IN, on the visual arrangement for their new organ, which is next up after the Shelbyville organ is finished. They have approved our design, and it is posted in the News section of our website,

www.reynoldsorgans.com. Their console will probably come out next week so it, too, can be stripped and prepped for rebuilding.

Stripping Shelbville Console

Cory strips the (nasty) old finish from the Shelbyville console.

I have been working to complete our renovation of the organ at First Friends Church in Noblesville, IN. This organ is getting a really beautiful solid walnut console that we rebuilt in the shop. The console is done and in place. Part of this project also involved installing new reservoirs and wind lines. When we started working in the chamber, we decided to improve the internal arrangement of the organ, and to replace two windchests. I have also reconditioned most of the pipes in the organ to put them in “new” condition. All in all, this “little” job (the organ is only 9 ranks) has been the mouse that roared!

Next year, we will be building a new 47 rank pipe organ for Plainfield United Methodist Church. It’s a huge job, and we have been doing the preliminary work for that, including meetings with the church and the various vendors that will be involved.

Mom wants us to come to Florida for a vacation. I want to. I need to. To understand what is stopping me, please see above. Doin’ my best, Mom!

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