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Pipe Organ Prices 2

By Charles Hendrickson
Copyright 2003 The American Guild of Organists. Used with permission.

In the February 1985 issue of THE AMERICAN ORGANIST, the topic of pipe organ prices was discussed.  The difficulties of pricing by rank and the costs of various types of organ design were addressed.  This new article will expand on one specific aspect of pipe organ pricing-the cost per rank or stop.  In order to understand this inappropriate method of pricing, two stoplists are analyzed.

Bourdon 8'
Principal 4'
Quintadena 4'
Nasard 2 2/3'
Octave 2'
Waldflute 2'
Octave 1'
Mixture IV 1'

Gedackt 8'
Rohrflote 4'
Principal 2'
Blockflote 2'
Terz 1 3/5'
Quint 1 1/3'
Siffibte 1'
Cymbel III 1/3'

Pommer 16'
Bourdon 8'
Choral Bass 4'
Open Flute 2'
Flute 1'
Mixture III 2'
Schalmey 4'
Principal 16'
Gemshorn 16'
Prestant 8'
Harmonic Flute 8'
Octave 4'
Mixture IV 2 2/3'
Trumpet 16'
Trumpet 8'

Violone 16'
Diapason 8'
Gamba 8'
Open Flute 8'
Octave 4'
Fourniture III 2'
Bombarde 16'
Trompette 8'

Prestant 32'
Spitzflote 32'
Principal 16'
Violone 16'
Mixture III 8'
Contra Posaune 32'
Trumpet 16'

Each design has two manuals, 23 stops, 30 ranks, and 1,569 pipes.  They each have the same action (your choice of tracker or electric), and each is free-standing with the same number of manual keys and pedal keys.  Each has the same number of pistons, console gadgets, and couplers.  In other words, from the standpoint of normal pricing procedures, these are two identical instruments.  If we were to ask a firm how much they charge per stop or rank, we would be told a given amount, which, supposedly, applies to both stoplists.  This simply cannot be!

Realistically, Stoplist No.1 might cost about $250,000 to build.  Even at 30 ranks, it is a very small physical design and could even be a house organ or fit in a small chapel.  Stoplist No.2, however, is a monumental design requiring 40 feet in height, vast casework, a huge blower, an immense facade for the Pedal 32' and Great 16' principals, and sizable structural requirements and space needs.  The cost might exceed $850,000! Since both stoplists have the same number of stops, ranks, and pipes, but Stoplist No.2 is more than three times as expensive as Stoplist No.1, how can we justify applying a price per rank analysis to this situation.  It is pointless except to show how misleading such computations are.

Hardly any other large, expensive product is priced by the unit.  Pianos are not sold by the price per string.  Houses are not sold by the cost per room.  Most large-scale items are individually priced by the cost to build the complete project.  Pipe organs should also be so priced.  I don't know how far back the idea of quoting a price per rank goes, but it became a widely used gauge, and a staple of investigation by many in the organ world.  We are dealing with a much-ingrained concept.  Currently, some builders have stopped quoting a price per rank or stop, and defer the question of price until some design elements are in place, and then quote a total price for the instrument.  I hope that this approach will expand.

I anticipate criticism relating to the supposed unlikely possibility of anyone ever building Stoplist No.2.  Certainly, Stoplist No.1 is much like organs built 30 years ago, but Stoplist No.  2 is an unusual design.  I think there might be a few builders who would want to build Stoplist No.2 or something like it.  It's not that Stoplist No.2 is unlikely, it simply has not been asked for yet.

The only valid method of pipe organ pricing depends on at least a preliminary concept in hand.  The number of ranks, stops, and pipes, along with console gadgetry is somewhat inconsequential compared to the larger cost influences of casework, tonal goals, physical size, materials, engineering, location (chambers or exposed), and the general direction of the entire instrument.  If an organbuilder is reluctant to quote a price per rank for an unspecified instrument, it may be that the possibilities cannot be entirely imagined and priced from a quote book.  Actually, the total price will not be completely available until all details are agreed upon and delineated.  The sooner that price per rank or stop disappears from our organ vocabulary, the more valid will be our interpretation of costs and design. 


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