We have a pipe organ already, but it has problems. Is it worth rebuilding?

It depends. We would want to do a complete survey. Many organs can be much improved with proper rebuilding. Organs with electric action often become much more reliable with the installation of a solid state switching system. Electropneumatic systems may require releathering. Mechanical (“tracker”) action organs may just need the action to be gone over, or have the chests rebuilt. Any of these options might be suggested, once the pros and cons are weighed.

Our pipe organ is inadequate. Can we add more stops, or substitute new pipe here and there?

Most likely you can add new stops. To some extent, it depends on the type of action. If mechanical action, it usually would be more difficult to add more stops, though not impossible. With most forms of electric action, it would be easier to do so. It might depend on whether there are stop controls available in the console. If the stoplist could use improvement, it might be possible to substitute different sets of pipes. We would want to do a study of how the organ is used, and propose the best options.

Our electronic organ is dying. Why shouldn’t we just get another one?

There is no denying that electronic organs have been sounding more authentic over the years. Considering the purchase of a pipe organ requires some long-range thinking. Pipe organs are definitely more expensive, but that is nothing new. But consider how long they last before being rebuilt: tracker-action organs typically don’t need rebuilding for about 75 years, and electropneumatic ones need re-leathering every 40-50 years. As we said: long-range thinking! As far as the “bells and whistles” one may want, modern pipe organs can be fitted with multiple-level memory systems, midi controls and other playing aids. And don’t disregard the importance of well-designed casework, which not only functions to protect and project, but also can add visual beauty to a room. The main consideration, though, is that when the organ needs to be rebuilt, you won’t throw it away!

Okay, give me the bad news. What do pipe organs cost?

These days, new pipe organs cost in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 thousand dollars per stop. There are many variables, such as whether the instrument will be placed in chamber(s) or in a free-standing case. How elaborate will the console be—drawknobs or stoptabs, plastic or ivory keys, simple or frame-and-panel construction, etc. Many churches save some of the cost by the re-use of carefully-selected materials (usually pipework) from the existing organ or elsewhere. Or sometimes the rebuilding of an instrument located by the builder, or an organization such as the Organ Clearing House.

How long does it take to build a pipe organ?

Churches must be prepared to wait several months before the new instrument arrives. It is understandable that after the fundraising has been done, they would be anxious for the organ to be installed. Once the contract is signed, the organbuilder’s work is just beginning. Parts must be gotten on order, designs finalized. And most likely he is still completing the instrument(s) ahead of you. In many instances, there are things that need to happen at the church itself. Chambers may need to be constructed, carpeting removed, floors or walls painted, etc. Also arrangements may need to be made for electrical hookups and lighting. If needed, arrangements can be made for an electronic substitute to tide you over.