Electrokinetica The Electro-mechanical Museum

347 & 348 - The 1940s models

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Although Compton built a small number of electrostatic instruments before the war such as the Electrone model 2 of 1938 and the iconic Theatrones for cinema applications, the Electrone principle came into widespread use when they began to supply electric church organs during the immediate post-war period. Beginning in 1947 with the model 347, they tapped into the market created by rebuilding and refurbishing during the years of recovery. The 348 made its debut the following year, as a less-highly specified offering for smaller buildings and those with more modest budgets. These two models remained on sale for a decade as the standard classically-voiced Electrone product. As with all things in the organ world, the quantity produced was not great, perhaps 250 in total. Despite being cheaper than a pipe organ in both intial cost and ongoing maintenance, the price of a 347 was not far short of that of an average house, ensuring that an electronic organ purchase represented a significant investment for a church. The tradition of craftsmanship so well established in organbuilding was upheld in the consoles, which for both models were almost identical to those of their piped counterparts. The generator system and most of the action was housed in a robust and imposing external cabinet, connected to the console by a conventional multicore cable. The conservative and solid design of these models was doubtless intended to appeal to prospective purchasers torn between their preference for the traditional, dependable pipe organ and the pressing requirement for economy.

For those seeking a higher specification instrument, Compton offered custom-designed ‘Special’ Electrones such as those installed in 1948 at BBC’s Maida Vale studios and in 1951 at the Royal Festival Hall, London; the Free Trade Hall, Manchester and Rowton Castle, Shrewsbury. Specials usually had larger and more elaborate generator systems designed to offer better tonal fidelity and variety, allied with consoles of up to four manuals.

The multi-rank generator system

Model 347 tone generator

Model 347 tone generator

348 generator stator

348 generator stator

The 347, 348 and many Specials use generators capable of reproducing pipe-like tones directly from their waveform electrodes. The 348 employs an intuitively simple system akin to that of an electronic sampler - the sounds to be generated are already completely formed and encoded within the generator. Just two tone colours or 'ranks' are present, Flutes and Diapasons, each of which has an individual waveform per octave in each generator that takes the place of exactly one pipe in a conventional extension organ. The larger model 347 has 5-inch double-sided generators each equipped with 26 waveforms, comprising four ranks each of between five and eight octaves. These are not however intended to represent particular stops in themselves, but to provide versatile tonal building blocks that can be blended at different pitches and in different proportions under the control of the voicing circuitry. Thus many more stops can be emulated than could be individually encoded in generators of practical size. The type 350 generators used in the 1951 Manchester Free Trade Hall Electrone, also 5-inch double-sided units, have no less than six separate ranks in each generator set, provided in duplicate with one set (for the Swell) running an octave higher than the other.

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