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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: “Home organ?”

January 1, 2007

Dear Michael,

First, I was happy to find that Pipedreams is on the web as I don’t have a station in the area which broadcasts it. My question–are there organs with less than 5 stops? If you are building a home [$180,000] with the bedrooms on an open balcony–How large an organ could conceivably be included? Floor space of 20x30—two manuals? 15 stops? More or less? How do you get in touch with the Organ Clearing House where older or used organs are available?

Richard Arends
Mars Hill, NC

Dear Richard,

The smallest pipe organ (sufficiently small to be held on ones lap, or with a strap carried in procession) includes but a single rank of pipes (you cannot get any smaller…)


…and the size goes up from there.

As for your imagined ‘home organ’, it all depends on the cubic volume of the space, and your willingness to absorb sound. Height of the room is a factor, too. A properly designed organ of 15 stops could be voiced to be tolerable in a small space. On the other hand, some of the beauty of ‘organ tone’ is connected to the resonance of the room in which the organ plays. Packing a lot of instrument into a small space with no ‘acoustics’ is not, for my ears, all that much fun.

A good ‘practice instrument’ could have only a single stop per keyboard (with mechanical action), or only two or three ranks (with perhaps a dozen ‘unified’ stops) if an electric-action instrument.

The Organ Clearing House actually lists some very nifty instruments (last time I looked) that were designed for small church or studio installation.


Remember that the tuning stability of a pipe organ is directly related to the stability of the temperature of its location. Also, longevity and consistency of function is related to sufficient humidity. And then there is the matter of dust. Owning a pipe organ is a delight, but also a responsibility.

Good luck!



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