The last years of Compton organs

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Re: The last years of Compton organs

Postby Lucien Nunes » Thu Dec 27, 2012 1:03 am

I think Richard's reference to the RFH and FTH instruments is specifically in the context of the difference between the way the Compton and Makin firms (not the individuals) exploited the technology available to them. Compton knew the desirability of multiple generators, generators with variant pitches, etc. as seen in those specials mentioned, which were actually quite early instruments presumably made under the direct control of LB, WF and JT. But that was as far as the commercial utilisation went. AFAIK no Electrones made at Acton had the additional generators that Richard describes to 'fill in the gaps'. In the later years, when one might have expected them to pull out all the stops to give the electrostatic system every chance of competing against its rivals, there seem to have been very few organs even with dual generators.

This ties in with Graham Dukes' point although the latter needs clarification. Graham might have been referring to the introduction of the 7-octave 2.5" generator into classical instruments in 1957. Until then, the standard off-the-shelf classical Electrone range (discounting diminutive instruments such as the 354) comprised only two models, the 347 and 348. Both of these used 5-inch external generators with integral harmonic content in their waveforms - see the EK pages for detailed descriptions They had some significant shortcomings, greatest of which were perhaps the high background noise level and the 348's very limited tonal scope, however they were clearly intended to provide full-bandwidth harmonically rich sound within the system's practical limitations. In 1952, the 'Melotone' model 352 2m console organ was introduced, intended for light music only, using the 2.5" internal generator system. This was a return to the additive synthesis principle of the early experiments and the original cinema Melotone, but due to the small size of the generators the highest frequency available was B7, i.e. below 4kHz. Clearly, no-one at that point was under any illusion that this was capable of properly recreating pipe tones, regardless of the names on the stopkeys of the 352.

More below...
Last edited by Lucien Nunes on Thu Dec 27, 2012 1:49 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Lucien Nunes
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Re: The last years of Compton organs

Postby Lucien Nunes » Thu Dec 27, 2012 1:48 am

To quote the 352 brochure page on home installations:
'Primarily designed for entertainment music it can (with discretion) be used for playing standard organ music. The specification is adapted without extra cost if this is needed.'
In 1957, the year Compton died, the 357 was launched, basically a 352-variant that took the above idea to its logical conclusion and provided a regular romantic spec. No improvement to tonal fidelity, 2' stops still run out of harmonics at treble C and the serious limitations of relying solely on even-tempered pitches still apply. For a brief period, it was advertised (alongside the 348 and 348A) as a 'smaller' alternative to the 347, but then the older models dropped out of view. Whether by coincidence or intent, within a few years of the loss of JC and JT and the arrival of AL, suddenly we have an explosion of stock models all based on the 2.5" generators. 357CS, 357CT (baroque), 357CP (pistons), 363 (updated CP), CH/2, Sonata, and the entertainment models HE/1, HE/2, HE/3 & Palladium. Even a few Specials used them, such as the splendid 3m Draper model, a truly versatile instrument that could have been a flagship product if only it had had a bit more oomph in the generator department. The only stock organ offering better generator performance was the 361, so rare that I have no real evidence that more than one was ever made. And what do you know, the 363 is now the 'Concert Model', the only direct replacement for the 347. To quote from its brochure:
'Basically a large, straight organ, the 363's advanced specification provides not only a wealth of true organ tones but also a wide selection of orchestral voices'
'... a full complement of mixture work on each manual ... the 363 is an obviously superior instrument to the expert ear; the voices are true, pleasing and, so to speak, Compton hallmarked.'

This hyperbole of course relates to those same generators and tonal limitations that ten years earlier were not really recommended for playing classical music at all. In the endgame, more similar models appeared or new names for old models: 364, Cantata, Canzona, but if you didn't want a Special or a stock model so costly and scarce it might have just as well been a special, you were stuck with your 4kHz top end. If this was an attempt to split the market and sell more specials, I think it flopped because most extant Electrones are from this mould - and theirs is the reputation that lives on. Makin took the 7-octave 2.5" generator and reworked it to give 8 octaves, and then optionally (Richard is investigating) ran it at double speed, probably like having the cotton wool pulled out of your ears even with just the single set of sines.

So, to sum up Graham Dukes' point, it was not so much a matter of simplifying the generators but to take an existing basic design and market it for applications to which it was quite unsuited, instead of promptly developing and using thoughout the range a better successor to the obsolete but worthy 347 and 348 multi-rank generators that gave the Electrone its foothold in the postwar market.

Black was always meant to be a phase. The neutral phase.
Lucien Nunes
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Re: The last years of Compton organs

Postby MusingMuso » Thu Dec 27, 2012 12:04 pm

Dear Lucien,

Many thanks for taking so much trouble and going to so much effort with these replies. It is genuinely appreciated; not least because my knoledge of electronic things is quite basic and I still have a lot to learn.

From what you have said, and putting on my business hat, I can't help but think that all this is rationalisation by another name....perhaps a sign of impedning company failure. Those electrostatic generators, requiring precision engineering, must have been very expensive to produce, and in the 1960's especially, wage costs were spiralling upwards. When I look back at my formative years as an organist, the name Compton Electrone was not one which was at the forefront of my mind, yet the name Hammond was, in spite of the fcat that they were actually a very synthetic sound. I suspect that the Hammond publicity and marketing machine was well oiled, and if I recall correctly, their sales in the Uk were handled by well established music shops such as Boosey & Hawkes. They certainly had a lot of road-shows, with the likes of Ena Baga performing at public concerts, and presumably others such as Brian Rodwell.

Compton were much less organised and perhaps not so cash rich, and I think I once met Michael Foley, who was the organist at Holborn, where one of the last important Compton pipe jobs was installed. He was, so far as I know, responsible for sales, and I met him because I knew John Ball, who was a brilliant virtuoso classical AND light organist; just as much at home on a church, theatre or electronic. We went ot the same school, but I lost touch with him and he seems to have disappeared below the radar.

Reading between the lines, I suspect that ater Arthur Lord, (perhaps even during his tenure), they were quite happy to get rid of the pipe-organ side and make whatever money they could from the Electrones. That would certainly explain the mini-exodus of the pipe-organ staff after 1960, when Arthur Lord moved on.

Something of general interest which I discovered last night turned out ot have a fascinating connection with both the earliest years of Compton, and the final years of Compton.

When John Compton started work in organ-building, it was with a company called Halmshaw of Birmingham, who were situated very near the school grounds of King Edward VI Grammar School where Compton was head boy. Checking out Halmshaw, I discovered that they had emigrated (?) from their native Yorkshire to Birmingham, and the company had originally been in Dewsbury, nr Wakefield. Lo and behold, I discover that a certain Mr S W J PIlling, an industrialist and organ enthusiast, had a Halmshaw organ in his home at Bolton, which was then moved to his new home in Mirfield (very near Dewsbury), and eventually to another Pilling residence, Weston Hall, Brough in North Humberside (then East Yorkshire). I haven't made the connection yet to the point of being beyond doubt, but this MUST have been the father of John Makin Pilling who bought the Compton remnants and established the Makin Organ company.

With almost cruel irony, it appears that whenever John Compton was asked to "re-build" a Halmshaw instrument, he scrapped all the pipework! Not much respect there, one suspects.


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Re: The last years of Compton organs

Postby highlandelectrone » Thu Dec 27, 2012 3:03 pm

Hello again

I must apologise - now that I have re-read it perhaps cam over as muddled as I was commenting on both Makin instruments and Compton instruments.

Yes, the RFH,FTH and Rowton Castle instruments were Compton specials built around 1952 - I have some factory paperwork relating to them which details the assignment of the 6 ranks available on the 350 generators. There is not much further info on the Rowton Castle instrument, and I suspect it was lost in the big fire shortly after it was installed.

As Lucien already knows, I have a Compton Makin 2 manual (which appears to be a modified Compton 357) and the generator rack from the 3 manual Makin from St Faiths in Maidstone, which was on of the last electrostatics. I have not had the 2 manual running so cannot comment on it as yet, although it looks like the generators are run at double speed and perhaps have an extra octave on the generators.
I have had the big 3 manual rack running but not in any way that I could assess the output.

To Colin, a properly sorted Electrone sounds good - obviously ones with multi rank generators sound better. I have a 347 which sounds very nice and quite pipe - like, especially in some of the softer registers. The big ex FTH instrument sounds very good, especially with some reverb added. Obviously the quality is/was proportional to the cost - two sets of multi-rank generators work really well. The 32' registers are fantastic - really powerful and solid. The celestes are good too.

Unfortunately, this instrument is not playing at present, but as soon as I have it running again I will make some recordings. I do have a couple I made previously, but they were just taken off the speaker lines via attenuators and there is some serious distortion due to the solid pedal tones.

Anyway, enough for just now - there are midi decoders to finish assembling and there is a bottle of red wine beckoning to me!

Bye for now

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Re: The last years of Compton organs

Postby highlandelectrone » Fri Dec 28, 2012 8:14 pm

Hi all

For interest, I have uploaded a clip of the ex Free Trade Hall instrument. Lucien has already heard this one but it does illustrate some of the nice sounds available.


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