Cost of building, and Value of the JS Busker Organ

by Aldo Laus

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Why are Grinder Organ prices so high?
These notes reflect some issues that came to my mind during my periodic job of construction of the busker organ and I decided to share them with other enthusiastic builders.

Before to decide to build a J.S. organ, I browsed around in various sites of producers of finished grinder organs. Being new to this technology I was amazed by the prices quoted for these products. Even the prices for the few kits available were quite expensive in absolute to me. Therefore I started to getting interested in the technology of these machines to understand better their architecture, technology and reason of the quoted costs.

Needless to say that the entry point for the beginner of the grinder organ resulted immediately to be the J.S. busker organ project that, even if with some limitation with respect to more professional machines, represents an ideal platform for experimentation. It was therefore studying and building this organ that I understood the reason of the prices quoted by the manufacturers of grinder organs. I am still working at my instrument, after all, the amusement is also to build it besides to play it some future day.

Since the beginning after the first impact with the kit of information received from J.S. I started to make some arithmetic which is described below. The figures are based on my own interpretation of the design of the instrument, in fact the project that you receive leaves to your imagination some portion of activity which results in a personalization of the result. Let's see the various main parts and the single pieces necessary to be built or sourced:-

To build 20 organ pipes you need to prepare 18 pieces for each pipe for a total of 360 pieces.

The whole air pump system consisting of two bellows and the reservoir needs 91 pieces, subdivided in 29 x 2 for the bellows and 33 for the reservoir.

And now a look into the box: the main walls count 54 pieces including the lid, the two rolls and all their related mechanism involves 34 pieces, the tracker itself is done with 49 pieces, this gives a total of 137 pieces.

The external container with all accessories requires about 20 pieces.

The overall total so far is 608 pieces, which to some extent represents an approximation (my instrument is not finished yet), therefore, considering also something missing and something to be redone a realistic figure seems to be 650 pieces.

Excluding a very small number of well defined off-the-shelf items, like bolts and screws, the majority of the above pieces have to be obtained one by one from pieces of plywood or balsa cut to measure, adjusted carefully, glued etc.

Let's now make some evaluation on time required to do the whole job:-

This is only an assumption but my guess is that in the average each piece requires a working activity of say 5 minutes. I do not analyze here, but I assume included, the various activities of project study, drafting of the actual construction drawings with actual measurement, cutting, refinishing, assembly and glue, time to go shopping for the materials etc.

Another portion of time is to be dedicated to organ tuning which I believe would require a few sessions.

Paper roll is not included in the bill, assuming this item is sourced from Melvyn or any other reputed supplier, otherwise, if have to build the puncher, additional related time is to be evaluated. I do not have elements so far as my organ is not yet finished therefore this issue is not yet a problem.

So, 5 minutes x 650 pieces = 3250 minutes, which corresponds to about 54 working hours. Assuming that you may dedicate 5 hour per week, the whole job could last for two and a half to three months. If at this point you want to make a cost consideration, using a specialized worker tariff (plumber or carpenter) of 50,000 lire /hour (in my domestic currency, equivalent to about 16 pound), you obtain a total of 2.7 million lire, something less than 1000 pounds. The cost of the material is very much less, being in the range of 10 to 20% of the assumed cost of work.

Does it make sense to you all above? Notwithstanding this exercise I continue to work on my little organ very conscious now of its high overall value.Anyway I decided not to take records of the time actually dedicated to the job because, being a pleasure, I don't care and, in any case, nobody will pay me the above figure because my organ will not be put on sale when finished.

Editor's footnote:
That's a very interesting analysis of the costs involved. You make some interesting points, but don't forget that professional organs are much more complicated than the John Smith Busker organ. Professional organs incorporate a valve system which amplifies the signal to each pipe, enabling the use of music which is much narrower. There is a considerable amount of work involved in building this part of the organ and adjusting it - which is the reason that John Smith (rightly) chose to use a much simpler system for the beginner. Commercial organs often use multiple ranks of pipes as well, resulting in a greater variety of tones and louder volume.

On the whole, I think that commercial organs are good value for money, considering the enormous amount of work involved in the construction. The only way that some builders can sell them as cheaply as they do is because they make multiple organs at the same time, to cut down the cost of production.

Your calculations are very interesting though, and fellow builders will no doubt be pleased to learn that their finished organ could be worth more than they realised - MW.

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