The 1864 William A. Johnson Opus 161, Piru Community United Methodist Church Piru, California, Part 3

October 2, 2018

Michael McNeil has designed, constructed, and researched pipe organs since 1973. He was also a research engineer in the disk drive industry with 27 patents. He has authored four hardbound books, among them The Sound of Pipe Organs, several e-publications, and many journal articles.

Editor’s note: Part 1 of this article was published in the August 2018 issue of The Diapason, pages 16–19. Part 2 was published in the September 2018 issue, pages 20–25.


We continue with the description of the Swell and Pedal stops of Johnson Opus 161 along with data on their scaling and voicing. In the final installment we will graphically analyze the scaling and voicing data of the Great and Pedal divisions, comparing them to the Great principal chorus of the 1863 E. & G. G. Hook organ formerly at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Boston.


Swell division


8 Open Diapason


The Open Diapason is the first stop from the front of the chest. The pipes from C–F# are stopped wood, bass G to tenor E are open wood, and tenor F to the top are all planed common metal. The effective scale of the bass of this stop is larger than the Great 8Open Diapason in the façade. The photographs show how mouth height is used as a voicing variable; it is virtually a constant 22 mm in all of the open pipes from bass G to tenor E.


16 Bourdon

There are no data on the pipes of this stop, which play from tenor C. Some of the tenor pipes are tubed off and are placed at the sides, outside of the swell box. Note the classical construction of the stoppers.


8Stopped Diapason

There are no data for this stop.

8Viole d’Amour

The fourth stop on the chest, the Viole d’Amour plays from tenor F with no grooves and no common bass with the 8Stopped Diapason. The pipes are all planed common metal. The ears are very large and serve as the only tuning device. Many pipes showed crimping in the neck (red arrow in Figure 11) where the top resonator bell meets the main tapered resonator, presumably a means of tuning, and probably done by the factory. This is the softest stop in the organ. The flueway depths are generous, and the toes are very constricted, the method by which the extremely low power was obtained.



The fifth stop on the chest, the 4Principal consists of tapered zinc resonators with planed common metal feet from low C to tenor E, and planed common metal cylindrical resonators for the remainder of the stop. It is scaled and voiced very delicately and combines well with either the 8Stopped Diapason or the 8Viole d’Amour. The mouths of the bass pipes from low C to tenor E are very high and arched.



The sixth and last stop on the Swell chest, the Hautboy was found with extensive damage, which was repaired on mandrels. The photograph of the unrestored Hautboy pipes and the author was taken around 1976 in the workshop at Rancho San Julian, Lompoc, California. The original compass is likely tenor F, as all pipes from this point are made of planed common metal. Original flue pipes with Reuter slots were made from c#′′′ to g′′′. Pipes were found in the positions from C to tenor E, but these are later additions; they have spotted metal bells, zinc boots, shallot end cuts with positive angles (the Johnson shallots have negative 7 degree angle cuts, see Figure 13), Reuter tuning slots in the bells, and crude miters. All of the Johnson reed resonators are cut to dead length with no slots or scrolls (see Figure 12). Johnson shallots from tenor F are made of copper; the shallots of the spurious bass pipes are brass.


Pedal division

In the tradition of Samuel Green, Johnson greatly widened the scales of the Pedal 16Double Open Diapason. The diagonal measurement yields an effective scale diameter of 390 mm, or +9 half tones, an extremely wide scale for a modestly-sized organ. Johnson was probably well aware of the bass inefficiency of the vast majority of American churches, past and present—the bass simply passes through the thin wood and plaster walls of these churches. The mouth width scale is nearly +5 half tones. There are two indications that Johnson drove these pipes with copious wind: the flueway depth is an extremely generous 2.5 mm and the mouth height, or cutup, is an even more generous 85 mm. A cutup of this magnitude represents a normal scale value of +11 half tones, and this, more than any other variable, shows Johnson’s desire for a bass tone that was powerful and tactile.

The largest 18 pipes are laid out, front to back, at the sides of the Great, nine to each side; the remainder are laid out behind the reservoir in chromatic order, making three separate windchests. The stop action is a ventil to all three chests. This is a classically constructed and voiced stop. It has no nicks, no arching to the cutups, and no extra ear extensions, beards, or rollers. As a result, it has superb blend and speech characteristics. The photographs show details of its construction and layout.

Notes and Credits

All photos, drawings, tables, and illustrations are courtesy of the author’s collection if not otherwise noted. Most of the color photos were unfortunately taken by the author with an inferior camera in low resolution. David Sedlak used a high quality camera, lenses, and film to produce the high-resolution color photos of the church and its architectural details; these are all attributed to Sedlak.

To be continued.

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