View Full Version : First steps towards a VPO

Dec-14-2008, 04:11
Dear friends,

I hope my first steps towards getting a virtual organ working will be of interest and encouragement to others who are thinking about doing the same. It's important to have some sort of target in mind, and my minimum requirement (for the moment,anyway) is to have two manuals plus RCO pedalboard (30 or 32 notes), a swell pedal, and some means of controlling registration from the console - not necessarily to control individual stops, but at least to select from a handful of combinations for each division.

Wishing to do all this on a shoestring budget, my first thought was to buy second-hand Casio or Yamaha keyboards on Ebay (making sure they had a MIDI OUT port, of course). As a first step, I borrowed my nephew's Yamaha PSR and bought a Mistar Midilink MIDI/USB adaptor from the local Maplins shop for £29.99. I tested this setup with Miditzer and with the Hauptwerk evaluation software. The results could hardly have been more disappointing! With Miditzer it only worked for a couple of minutes (sometimes only seconds) before everything seized up, and pressing "Esc" wouldn't fix it, the program had to be shut down and the USB cable pulled out to cure the problem. With Hauptwerk it was even worse - there was an out-of-memory error while loading the organ. It's possible that the adaptor wasn't fully compatible with Windows Vista, the main packaging said XP, and a "Vista compatible" sticker had been added later. Or maybe I just got a faulty one. I really should have taken it back to Maplins and demanded my money back, but I've been too busy.

To confirm that the adaptor was the problem, I ordered a different type from an Ebay seller (Maxexpress4u) for the princely sum of £3.98 plus £3.98 p&p. In spite of the low cost, this worked far more reliably, and I was able to hear the Hauptwerk "St Annes's" for the first time. I was now quite satisfied with the sound quality (even though my computer is a modest HP Pavilion Slimline with the soundcard it came with) but unfortunately the response left much to be desired. It wasn't just that there was a time delay - the delay seemed to me to be variable and it was extremely off-putting when playing. (By now, after reading this and other forums, I knew this problem was known as "latency").

I was still scanning Ebay for suitable second-hand keyboards, but the thought had occurred to me that a Casio or Yamaha was probably only capable of transmitting key-down and key-up messages, it would not be possible to use other controls for registration purposes. (To be honest, I'm still not absolutely sure about this). On the other hand, some of the dedicated midi controller keyboards give you assignable knobs, sliders and buttons which are ripe with possibilities. Buttons, in particular, seem very suitable for use as organ pistons. I had to have a 61 note model, of course, and not too expensive. I was drawn towards the M-Audio "Oxygen 61" with its 15 buttons, and luckily a second-hand one came available just at the right time, costing me £79 including p+p, compared to about £120 for a new one.

It was a simple matter to download a Vista driver from the M-Audio site, and the USB controller keyboard gave a very noticeable improvement relative to the Yamaha + adaptor. I could now play a traditional hymn tune or something similar quite satisfactorily. The latency problem wasn't completely banished though. It was virtually impossible to play "fast" (and I'm no virtuoso, believe me!) and anything fugal or with quickly repeated chords (eg opening of "Piece Heroique") was a disaster. I remembered reading something about the ASIO4ALL driver on the forum, and I decided to give it a try. After downloading, it appeared as an option under "Audio Device" on the Hauptwerk General Settings/Audio Outputs dialog box. Nearby, there was a button marked "Show device control panel" which was where I thought I needed to go in order to minimise the buffer size, but I was now out of my depth, and nothing I did seemed to improve the latency problem. My hopes were dashed again.

When I returned to the problem some time later, I spotted another setting farther down on the Hauptwerk dialog box: Buffer size (sample frames). I set this to the minimum value (0128) and hey presto! Suddenly everything was working like a dream. Joy, oh joy! So that is where I am at the moment - for an extremely modest outlay, I have two very nice, very different, single manual organs which I am very much enjoying (Sorry, Crumhorn Labs, I meant very much evaluating, of course!!). The next step will be to get a second keyboard working, and to find out how to make use of those buttons. After that, there's the bigger hurdle of the pedal board. If I can't find a second-hand one to midify, I may try to make from scratch (now where did I put that chainsaw?....) I will let you know how I get on. My sincere thanks to all who have posted on this subject.
Best wishes, John.

Dec-15-2008, 02:20

I have started building a two manuals virtual organ too, with a small 13 keys pedalboard.
Here is my video.


I hope it may be usefull to some of us.

Dec-15-2008, 03:49
Thanks Jean Paul - that was very useful to me, as I hadn't come across Roman Sowa before, but I've got a feeling I may soon be a customer!

Since writing above, my second M-Audio controller keyboard has arrived, again bought 2nd hand from Ebay. This one is a "Keystation 61" and I'm using is as the "Great" . It has weighted keys, so a better touch than the "Oxygen", but it lacks the buttons etc for controlling registration. However, with another keyboard stacked above it, the buttons would have been inaccessible anyway. So the "Oxygen" has become the "Swell" and its buttons will have to serve for both. I'm really very pleased with this arrangement. The fact that the two manuals have different touches could be seen as a defect, but organists used to playing old instruments with mechanical couplers can take such things in their stride!

Dec-15-2008, 14:04
Thanks both of you........ that was really informative.......

Dec-16-2008, 09:09
Check this video


Dec-17-2008, 03:03
Interesting - not exactly an elegant solution - but it works! Thanks, Alex.

Dec-17-2008, 13:26
hi all,

There is an interesting website where a description of how to build a VPO in a restricted budget is detailed.......

But i didn't understand the different softwares and their installation and all.


Dec-28-2008, 03:01
Thanks, that is a very interesting site. I hope to make a similar pedalboard myself, but I would prefer to make it to a radiating-concave pattern, if i can manage it. Thinking about the options for "midification" of the pedalboard, it seems to me that there are at least three different approaches:

(i) Connect the pedals to a keyboard mechanically
(ii) Connect the pedals to a keyboard electrically
(iii) Connect the pedals to a dedicated circuit board (eg Roman Sowa)

Of these, (i) is not a very elegant solution, and would be likely to suffer from adjustment problems. However, if it was possible to do it without actually modifying the keyboard, that would at least mean the manufacturer's warranty was not invalidated. Both of the electrical solutions have their pros and cons. (iii) has the advantage of being cheaper and much more compact, but on the other hand it requires a power source and a midi to USB convertor. That is why I'm actually feeling rather drawn towards solution (ii). I've been quite pleased with the two 61 note M-audio controller keyboards I've been using as manuals, so I may get a third 49 note model, and attempt to solder wires from reed switches on the pedals to the keyboard's contacts, as other people appear to have done successfully. The keyboard will have to be "butchered", of course, but it should be possible at the same time to convert modulation wheel, volume slider and buttons to become swell/crescendo pedals and toe pistons, and the USB output can be plugged directly into the computer, which will also provide power.

In a (rare) stroke of good luck, I've just been presented with a quantity of 19th century pew-backs removed from a local church. The timber is of "to die for" quality, and I think it would be rather appropriate to re-cycle it as organ pedals.

Dec-29-2008, 06:59
great what about the specification for pedals will you go for AGO????? if so, please post those specifications........

I think that your option (i) ( mechanical connection is good ) as your keyboard will be intact and protected from dust..........

Dec-29-2008, 07:16

I belive this site may also help you..........



Feb-11-2009, 00:36
Since my last post, I've bought yet another 2nd hand M-Audio controller keyboard - this time an "Oxygen 49" with the intention of adapting it for use with a pedal board. First, of course, I checked that it would operate the pedals "as-is" and it did so successfully in both Hauptwerk and Miditzer. (Actually, connecting a manual keyboard to the pedals is an interesting exercise in its own right - it allows you to play the pedal department in a way not normally possible, and I imagine it would also be a great way of introducing kids to organ playing, allowing two with keyboard skills to play an organ piece as a duet)

I started off with the misconception that I needed to set each of the three keyboards to output on a different channel, but this is not actually necessary since they each have their own USB port and the computer recognises them as separate devices, so now I have everything outputting on Channel 1 with each of the three keyboards with its default factory setting.

Yesterday I got down to the nitty gritty of dismantling the "Oxygen 49", and now I have run into a problem. Each key operates not one, but two switches. I'm only guessing now, but possibly the "velocity sensitive" ability depends on measuring the time delay between the first and second switches making contact. I hoped I would be able to connect the reed switch across one of these switches, and ignore the other one - but this does not appear to be possible. The note doesn't start to sound until both switches close, and doesn't stop playing until both are open. This presumably means I would have to fit two reed switches to each pedal - ie twice as difficult and half as reliable! If anyone with electronics knowledge has any ideas - please let me know...:confused:

Feb-11-2009, 12:16
Hi John,

How about one reed switch that connects to both Oxygen 49 connections? That way they both are 'open' or 'closed' at the same time? You might need to test the contacts for polarity of current so that you don't short the switches... just an idea.

Feb-11-2009, 17:59
Thanks, Graham. Yes, I was wondering about doing that, but it seems to me like it would be connecting things together that are intended to be separate, and I'm afraid of "blowing" something somewhere! I've really only looked at a single note so far, I think i should study the circuit board a bit more and work out what''s connected to what. I suppose it wouldn't be the end of the world to have two reed switches per pedal - no worse than midifying a manual keyboard. I still think this approach is worth exploring because potentially it will give me two or more swell pedals plus several toe pistons, it won't require separate power supply or MIDI to USB adaptor, and my experience so far has been that these keyboards are very reliable.

Thanks again for the links on pedal board construction you posted on another thread which were of much interest to me.
Best wishes, John.

Feb-12-2009, 00:49
Graham - after a further experiment tonight I think you were right about using a single switch, and I was just being over-cautious. It's looking more promising again now.
Thanks, John

Mar-17-2009, 02:56
I'm still pursuing my goal of a cheap "recession console" based on M-audio controller keyboards. Progress on the pedals has been slow, but I did test the feasibility of the plan by buying a few sample reed swiches and magnets and soldered the switches to three random notes of the M-Audio keyboard. It all worked fine, so the electrical side of the pedaboard is now sorted - at least in principle. The operation of the reed switches seemed a bit erratic at first, but I discovered there is a "dead point" near the centre and they work better if the magnet approaches offset towards either end. Unfortunately, I still don't have any pedals to midify! I've been looking out for a second-hand pedalboard, but no luck so far.

While I was testing the reed switches, it occurred to me that after connecting a 30 (or 32) note pedalboard to a 49 note midi keyboard I will have 19 (or 17) switches going spare. It seemed a shame they couldn't be put to good use - and indeed they can, because when I looked at the Hauptwerk setup menus more carefully I found that note on/off messages can be used as if they were stops or pistons. This has made me question my whole approach. At present I am I using three keyboards like this:

Swell - Oxygen 61
Great - Keystation 61
Pedals - Oxygen 49 (butchered)

I chose the "Oxygen" keyboards for swell and pedals because they have buttons which can be used as pistons. (The keystation has a superior weighted touch, but no buttons) Now, it seems I could have used a Keystation for the pedals too -and if had used a 61 note model, rather than 49, I would have had 31 spare switches - more than enough to provide pistons for all three divisions. That in turn means that I could also have used a Keystation for the swell, and improved the touch too. So, if I was starting again, i would simply buy three Keystation 61's, but for now, I must continue with what I have.

I'm not sure whether the abilty to use note on/off messages for other purposes is peculiar to Hauptwerk or is available in Myorgan too. I bet Graham knows the answer to that ........:)

Mar-17-2009, 08:06
He he he, yes I have the answer. MyOrgan can use Note On/Note Off messages too ;-)
You can set it in the ODF with the 'StopControlMIDIKeyNumber=nnn' parameter.

I have made my own MIDI board using PIC Microchips with 120 Midi note on/note off connections. This will leave me with a nice number of 'contoller' messages after midifying my 32 pedal AGO board.

Have fun!

Mar-17-2009, 21:27
That will give you a really useful number - enough for individual stop control presumably? I want Midi pistons, but I'm going to make do with the computer keyboard for stops at the moment.
Best wishes, John

Dec-14-2010, 20:15
I'm on the same quest as you. I have had a torrid time using two Yamaha PSR keyboards with Hauptwerk and Miditzer. I saw that Yamahas need their own midi-usb adaptor, the UX16-1 and bought one. It works ok. I also bought a cheap LogiLink USB Midi cable and it didn't seem to know it shouldn't work with Yamahas, and it does just as well, it seems. I am now waiting for a 37 key USB midi keyboard controller to arrive. This one is for me to configure as the 'pedalboard', then, if it works, I want to wire the key contacts to reed switches on the pedalboard I am about to make. I am just hoping I can plug these items straight into my USB hub. That's how I have the two keyboards, each on a separate USB port. The adaptors provide their own drivers.
I'll let you know how i get on.