Charakter of the tone of a pipe

I've played the organ in many hundreds of churches in Europe. Each organ has its own character, which is determined also by the acoustics of the Church. The first play is an acquaintance with the organ; the organist learns about the typical character of the organ. I never take sheet music to the church; by improvising an organist will better discover the character. Usually, the console is in the vicinity of the pipes is, so that the organist has a direct contact with the sound of the pipes. He can play only nuanced if the moment of playing a note falls together with the moment of hearing the sound. In the same condition the sound of the sample must comply, direct sound, what not is blurred by the reverberation of the church.

If an organist at the console in the church presses a key, the tone begins with a short overtone and then it builds up quickly to the full sound. The flow of the wind let it fluctuate; that brings vitality in the tone.

These musical phenomena give a specific character to the tone; it inspires the musicians to play with it. The character is best heard on a short distance from the organ; on larger distance it is disguised by the reverberation of the church. A microphone on a short distance can record this character in a sample. Unfortunately, the microphone is often placed at a considerable distance to obtain a stronger reverberation.

The spot where the microphone picks up the sound for the sample is crucial for the perception of the organ at home via Hauptwerk. The sample manufacturer must choose the place where a balanced ratio of direct sound and reverb can be heard. It goes best with a microphone on a short stretch of the pipe, a sample with little or even no hall is called a dry sample. A second microphone is a little further from the pipes of the organ can set the reverberation in a second sample. It's called a wet sample. In the Hauptwerk organ, the organist himself can determine the balance between them.

Instead of a second sample, also a reverb from the Lexicon MX300 can be selected. The quality is absolutely identical to the hall of the church. The main difference is the huge selection of reverb to spaces, from small churches to large cathedrals, with free to choose acoustic properties.

Sound examples

A sound example is a good tool for voicing of the samples. Often, there is a CD of the organ for sale, but they are not always usable as a comparative material, because the register is used in conjunction with other registers. Sometimes there is an organ on Youtube presented a sound performance, which registers one by one to hear. A very usable sound presentation can be found on the Arp Schnitger organ in Norden. Principals, flutes and reeds are presented here in short compositions.

Voicing the samples

An organ is a loud-sounding musical instrument, made for a large area where these loud sounds can fit in the large room. This large volume should be reduced to a volume that is acceptable in the living room or a study.

It is a law of physics that a reduction of the volume has a much greater impact on the higher notes than on the low. The hearing has no linear progression, pitch and volume are the determining factors. So it has more influence on the overtones of a sound as on the basic tone.

A sample must be voiced to get the sparkling tone that sounds so transparently in the church. A smaller space reduces the dynamics. The difference between loud and low registers must be reduced. The volume of a trumpet must be weakened more than the sound of a flute.

The Principal 8' is the most important register and its volume should be the norm in a Hauptwerk organ. The volume of the other registers is set so that the proportions make the same sound impression as in the large room of the church.


1. No. 13 The transition frequency has a fixed value for the different sample suppliers, but not every sample manufacturer chooses the same value. The value range is between 0.3 and 2.0. Changing this value does not immediately has an audible effect, however, it determines how much the sounds can change with the Boost sliders.

2. No. 15 with the High frequency Boost Equalizer the character of the pipe sound in the sample can be improved. The church is a room with great dynamism. The character of the pipe is not the fullest, due to the lower volume in a living room where the dynamic conditions are much smaller. That can be corrected by the boost. How to do that, I will show in the Hauptwerk Practical Guide and I give examples of the corrections with images of the sliders in my own organ. Since it concerns corrections of the samples they can be adopted unchanged.

3. Nr. 3 controls the Brightness, de clarity of the sound.

4. Nr. 1 controls the Amplitude, the loudness of the sound. The brightness- and amplitude settings are dependent of the speakers and the acoustics of the room. The influence on the sound is lower than has been set with the boost equalizer, but deviations caused by speaker and environment can be compensated very well. With good listening to the changes of the sound, the organist learns how it sounds best on his own organ.

Thousands of pipes I have voiced and gained much experience. I transferred this experience with lessons to beginning organ builders. With pipes you cannot experiment endless, but it goes well with samples. If it's totally disappointing, with a reset everything returns to the starting point.

Voicing is a lot of work, but absolutely necessary. Many times have I organists demonstrated that there is no difference between a good voiced sound sample and a pipe of my chamber pipe organ beside it. See page

The Hauptwerk Practical Guide the voicing process is explained comprehensively and examples from practice are showed.

Voicing samples for Hauptwerk

Each organ is always built for a particular church. The acoustics of the room is a determining factor for the diameter of the pipes, which is similar to the sound. The voicing of the pipes is done in this room, so acoustics and sounds are balanced. If because of the acoustics some sounds are too much amplified, the volume is reduced. Is the sound too much muted, then the voicer gives more clarity and a larger volume. So forms organ and acoustics a unit.

Proportional decreasing

A move of the organ to another church has big consequences. If the space is much smaller, the voicing must be adjusted drastically. The sounds recorded in the sample represent the sounds in the church. For the application in the living room, the volume must be reduced, but a reduction of the total volume will make the gentle register inaudible and the reeds remains still too loud. The sounds must be reduced proportionally so that the Viola can be heard and the Trumpet shall not sound ear deafening.

Voicing the samples is necessary

Many players of a Hauptwerk organ have too much faith in the sample maker and expect he has brought the sounds in balance already. It is a too difficult task since he does not know the new environment. Each room has its own influence on the sound; parquet floor or carpet, curtains or blinds are large areas. They affect both reflection as absorption of sounds. The organist must voice the samples themselves until a tone from the speaker corresponds to the sound of the pipe.

Options for the voicing

With the mouse on the register and the right mouse button pressed the voicing can be reached. There are 15 options for each key of the keyboard to customize the sound, but only four are important for voicing the sounds.
In the order in which of they are used:

13. transition frequency
– determines the effectiveness of the boost
15. high boost equalizer – emphasizes the character of the sound
03. brightness – adjusts the brightness of the sound
01. amplitude – for a smooth course of the volume