There is always the question as to what is the difference between a pipe organ and an electronic organ. Is an electronic organ simply cheaper than a pipe organ but capable of producing the same sounds and doing the same work? I am often asked whether it is good stewardship to spend money on a pipe organ.
This is not a case of denigrating electronic organs but trying to achieve a realistic comparison between the two.
The first thing to consider is the life of the two instruments. Have a look at the pipe organs listed in this site and look at the age of some of them. They are still functioning well after 120 years. How long will electronic componentry last by comparison? How long do the speakers of your sound system last or when did you have to repair your computer? By comparison, the wood and metal in the pipe organ (the sound system) can last forever with care. The felt, leather and any electrics are designed to be replaceable but the basic pipe organ is a lasting piece of valuable furniture.
With modern sampling from pipe organs, many electronic instruments are claiming to come close to the original sound, especially in good acoustics. But pipe organs produce their sound not through speakers, but rather by pipes being blown by wind. It is a totally different system. The whole organ can be thought of as the speaker. This requires less stops in a pipe organ to produce the same volume and spread of sound. Also, by having individual pipes for every note of every stop, every pipe is a speaker in itself. Just like the instruments of an orchestra.
CD’s have not killed-off live performance. There is a real experience in hearing the sounds being produced in front of the listener that were never achieved by a recording. A recording merely gives a hint of what the real sound was. In other words, why have a copy when you can have the real thing.
Pipe organs evolved to accompany congregational worship and singing. Often they are seen as being old-fashioned and not flexible for modern services. The pipe organ is still the best way to support people singing in a group with its ‘surround’ sound. They only need one person to play them. The real problem is that people approach the pipe organ thinking of limitations rather than looking at versatility. We have designed organs to fit in with modern Audio Visual equipment and to look exciting in new buildings.
Pipe organs have been built for the last 600 years in their present form. Here in Queensland, pipe organ building has had a continuous history of over 110 years. Rather than selling goods manufactured and produced from overseas, we make and produce them here locally. We will always be able manufacture spare parts for any pipe organ
There has always been a fascination with the internal mechanism of an organ, how the connection from the key makes the pipe play. This is what also motivates us as organbuilders. It is the feel of a good, sensitive action that brings the organ alive. Well-made action makes for good music.
The gap between the cost of pipe organs and electronics is narrowing all the time. Electronic organs are becoming more sophisticated and the amplification systems are becoming larger. A restored and relocated pipe organ can be placed in a church for under $A100,000. A new pipe organ for a home can be made for under $A70,000.
When looking at a cost comparison, always remember to look at the life of both instruments. Pipe organs do not look so expensive when you realise that they will outlast at least two electronic organs.