While driving up to Seattle I remembered that I had once ordered wood from an Austrian organ builder living in the area. It was a good opportunity to visit, acquire some good European violin wood, check out the organ shop and meet Markus Morscher who I’d heard is a singular character.
Markus grew up in Austria working with his father, a fine woodworker. He went on to learning organ building, and some twenty odd years ago came to Oregon to join the company of Pasi Organ Builders in Roy, Washington. The company is located in an old school building, mostly in the gym. There are only three employees including the owner, and they produce an average of one organ a year.
The fancy pipework, typically English style, is decorative and has no tonal effect
Markus showing me the furnace where the lead for the pipes is melted. The pipes are made from sheet lead and by pouring the sheet themselves, they can control the wall thickness as appropriate to the size of pipe being made.
The sheet making process is amazingly simple: the molten lead is poured into one of these boxes (rotate the box 90 degrees CCW to use) which is rested on a long marble slab. The trailing edge of the box is slightly raised so that as the box of molten lead is dragged along the table, a sheet of lead is deposited. The lead then has to be beaten, because in its newly cast state it is porous, rather like a sponge, which is tonally disadvantageous.
Mandrils for shaping the metal pipes. Some of these are 12 feet and longer, beautifully tapered.
Pipes ready to ship
I can’t remember the name of this board, but it is the heart of the system for distributing wind to the pipes which will be mounted vertically above. It is the first thing that gets built. An error in design or construction here can be really difficult to fix later. The stack of wooden pipes stored against the back wall have been salvaged from a restoration job. The largest organ pipes are made of wood for tone and because at the larger sizes, lead can’t support its own weight.
Organ reeds, like those in an accordion, give a different tone. In the front are small organ pipes. Markus said that these weren’t the really small ones which could be about an inch long, playing notes so high that most people cannot hear them.
Back to Markus’ house where he keeps the violin wood. One of Markus’ passions in life is American muscle cars – he told me he owns about forty. His house is built above a five bay garage packed with cars, parts and tools.
This Plymouth 425 is one of only four made.
The wood at last! This is what I came for: maple backs milled in Austria by an old friend of Markus’ who went into the tone wood business. The Maple is good European, very even quality, very well milled and seasoned. The tops were in another room, also excellent quality from the Austrian mountains. Split or sawn, they tend to have a wider grain width which I rather like; it can give a lot of character to a fiddle.
I took twenty sets. Some good wood and some good memories.