Greg Lewin Music

Organ Projects.

9 Westgate, Bridgnorth, WV16 5BL, UK
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Two manual Nicholson Console from Oldbury Grammar School

This instrument was built by Nicholson & Co Ltd for Oldbury Grammar School, Worcestershire in 1954. It was removed prior to the demolition of the school in 2015 and was offered for sale after several years in storage - latterly in less than ideal conditions. The pipework went to an organ builder and I acquired the console parts.

Details of the instrument can be seen on the National Pipe Organ Register.

I plan to use the components and the rather nice oak panelling to improve my Hauptwerk set-up. As the keyboards are almost identical to those on my current console, I may combine the two pairs to make a monster 4-manual instrument.

The console arrived home in two car-loads. Everything was very dusty, damp and a bit mouldy so the oak panelling was put into the shed which houses the central-heating boiler to dry out. The more delicate components were brought into the indoor workshop to dry and be cleaned.

The Keyboards

The keyboards were very dirty.

The original wire contacts were dirty and badly spark-damaged - so they were removed to make way for an optical switching system more suitable for 5 volt operation.
The keys were dusted and the coverings cleaned with a damp cloth. Minor repairs (re-glueing of detached coverings etc) were made. The key-springs were modified - removing the contact end and creating space for the key shutters of the new system.

Circuit boards were made up for the new optical switching system (two boards for each keyboard).

The Pedalboard

The pedalboard had broken where the tension of the toe-springs had found a weakness in one of the joints of the frame. The worn out wire contacts were removed and the whole pedalboard dismantled before being cleaned and repaired. The individual pedals were cleaned and then lightly sanded - removing what appeared to be many years of spilt school dinners.
In the photograph below, the pedals on the left have just been sanded, those on the right are still to do. The picture doesn't do full justice to the improvement!

Apart from one spot of water-damage, the pedalboard cleaned up very nicely. A final coat of french polish completed the renovation.

The original 15 volt wire-contact switching system was replaced with reed switches and magnets - which seem to work quite reliably at 5 volts. Reed switches are much simpler to fit than the optical system which I will use for the keyboards. I have used both before and both seem equally reliable. The switching will be controlled by an updated version of the Arduino-based system which I have used before.

The pedal sweep had earlier been temporarily reassembled along with the pedalboard and the lower console parts while I considered how to proceed.

At this stage, I concluded that my original idea of building a four-manual console was impractical and I decided to go for three keyboards. To accomodate this I have rebuilt the sweep to accomodate a choir pedal and a choir to pedal stud. As I already had some matching toe studs, I took the opportunity to increase the swell and pedal divisions to eight studs each.

The original brown linoleum covering of the sweep and swell pedal had dried out, warped and broken and so was discarded. It was replaced with a second layer of 3-ply clamped and glued to the first layer - making a very strong base for the toe studs.

The new top layer was stained with a medium oak stain and then varnished. The studs and pedals were attached and wired in. The studs were provided with a 15v supply to help ensure reliable action. An electronic buffer section was added to reduce this to the 5v required by the microprocessor system.

The finished pedal section is now fully MIDIfied - so it has its voice again and can operate Hauptwerk. It begins to look quite smart!

The Swell and Choir Pedals

The original swell pedal had been designed to operate a physical swell box.

It was converted so that it now operates a variable resistor - to supply the microprocessor with the necessary control signal. The code for the Arduino needed to be adapted to change the variable voltage from the pedal to a series of MIDI control signals.

The photo shows the converted pedal mounted on a block of scrap wood. This design works well at present but I suspect that I may need to replace it with something more robust in the future.

The Organ Table.

Two of the oak panels recovered from the organ casework were chosen to function as the main sides of the table. These were fixed to the sides of the pedal sweep. Two strong horizontal members were fixed between the side panels to carry the frames on which the keyboards sit. At this stage it was possible to temporarily re-assemble many parts of the original console to get some idea of the possibilities.

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11th January 2020