I've long wanted a MIDI-based virtual organ. The pipe organ is
very well suited to digital sampling technology, and in the last few
years some very fine products have appeared that make it possible to
have something like very large, beautiful pipe organs at home.
This is the story of my virtual pipe organ.
I built my organ around the remarkable dedicated pipe-organ simulator software Hauptwerk
. Other options are available (look here
for a good list), but Hauptwerk does the most complete job, and there is an amazing collection of sampled organs for Hauptwerk.
When building the physical setup for my virtual organ I had to solve a few problems:
- Limited space.
- Running the organ on my deskside computer that is used for many
other purposes, including non-organ related music production.
Larger organs require large amounts of memory (I have 32GB) and I
don't want to buy 2 deskside computers.
- At least three manuals, with the physical relationship between
keyboards being something like those on a real organ (an AGO spec can be found here). This means
that the keyboards should be very low profile, and mounted very close
- Limited woodworking skills and experience: I bought my first circular saw for this project!
- (relatively) Limited cost.
I focused on functionality rather than looks. A basic approach of
MIDI keyboard controllers with home-built stands has worked out nicely.
Here is the result, both in the context of my computer
workstation and closeup on the organ (click on any figure for larger
- The keybards used are three Korg K61s which have a very nice electronic-organ feel (a CME M-Key is shown as the third keyboard in the pictures, which has since been replaced by a third K61 to get the 5 octaves).
Unfortunately the K61s are no longer available except used. The keyboard/music stand is homebuilt, described here in more detail.
- The pedalboard and bench are from Classic MIDI Works, and are well worth the cost.
- The Behringer FCB1010 is used for swell/crescendo pedals and foot switches, and mounted on a homebuilt stand.
- Thumb pistons are simulated by the X-Keys Stick, which happens to fit perfectly under the K61 keyboards.
- The display for the organ is an LCD monitor mounted on an
articulating arm, so it serves as a 3rd screen when doing computer work
and swings over to the organ when playing there.
- The table is an IKEA Galant, perfect for the pedalboard and nicely adjustable in height.
- A USB trackball controls the screen, and a numeric keypad provides some extra buttons for controlling Hauptwerk.
The organs I have for Hauptwerk are
If you have Kontakt or Gigastudio, a cheaper alternative is the PMI
Baroque Organ, a smaller but very nice-sounding modern baroque organ.
This is what I was playing before I got Hauptwerk. This is
just a collection of samples, but Nils Liberg has created a nice Kontakt script
that allows you to select registrations (I wrote my own scripts and
software for key switching and manual aslection, but it is dedicated to
my system and not ready for sharing). Hauptwerk does a much
better job simulating organ sound and dynamics, so if you don't already
own Kontakt or Gigastudio you'd be better off buying Hauptwerk.