Don Johnson's Website

My Personal 'Stuff'

My second
crank organ
- 'Topsy'

Click on this picture to hear me playing my earlier 'Busker' organ
(double-click to stop)

The design for this organ - and the smaller Busker organ I built previously, came from John Smith
You can find out more about this man's wonderful work here

(It's a whole new world!)

Below are some pictures of  the construction

Basic frame, with bellows and drive wheel from an old mangle

Accompaniment windchest valves

Base Pipe Jig

Base Pipe Jig - loaded ready for glueing one side

Underside view of lower 4 bass pipes in position

Top view of lower 4 bass pipes

Higher 4 bass pipes in position on unfinished main windchest, and accompaniment pipes on their own windchest attached to central divider

Lowest of the counter-melody pipes being checked for position

Counter melody pipes nearly completed and being tried for size

Work starting on fitting and wiring the pallet valves in  the completed main windchest

All valves fitted and wired   (Are there always one or two that involve repeated lid removal and replacement to get them to seal properly?)

Beginning to look like the real thing! Cutting bits off the open pipes to tune them is going to make me feel I'm committing an irrevocable act!

2 sets of 22 Melody Pipes
Oh! What fun making all these!

Melody pipes (not quite finished) in position

Rear Melody pipes clamped, and front row "Velcro'd
So much tidier !

Interface and Palm Vx player linked up - and it plays!!

Interface finished - using an 18V battery stolen from a cheap strimmer for power
(Later changed to standard 12V battery)

Interface tidied
(Initially tried a 12V battery but it wouldn't operate accompaniment valves reliably.  Later, when a 12V battery was used, a voltage booster was added to give about 16V)

Click on the
picture to see a video of me playing China Boogie by Peter Griffiths
( find him here )

My case is plain and simple - but to varnish or paint ?

No more exciting at the back

Well, Varnish won, plus a little decoration on the front.
Topsy, stage 1, is now finished, and sounds wonderful! 

John Smith deserves a Knighthood!
What was that about a Glockenspiel, drum and triangle - or turning off Celeste ?
Hmm - they will obviously come a little later, in Stage 2!

As shown in the adjacent picture, the back view has changed.  John S warned of problems with 18V running, and recommended sticking with 12V if possible.  So I removed the springs on the valves for the accompaniment windchest, hoping that gravity and pressure would give OK sealing - they do! -  and the valves now work OK on 12V.  This means I can use the larger capacity  7Ah Powercube, which should give longer playing time per charge
(Later changed to standard 12V battery and voltage booster).  

Whilst modifying the windchest, I included a perspex cover.  This was partly so I could how the valves performed under pressure, but also so that an audience can see the valves operating - assisted by a couple of blue LEDs

Page Top

A Trolley to transport Topsy.
Hopefully stable enough - if I'm careful!
(Redesigned . . . see later pics)

Click on the adjacent
picture to see a video of part of 'Duelling Banjos'
transposed for Topsy
The blue-lit section shows some of the valves of the Accompaniment windchest operating behind their perspex window
All the pipes have been reasonable well tuned now, and the two sets of melody pipes tuned 'celeste'.
I think it sounds great - and better in real life than through the video system on my little camera.

I nearly forgot the opening top lid, but it has now been added, plus some green interior illumination

A public performance
- at a Rotary Charity BBQ

Click on the
picture to see a short video

In the adjacent frame is the front of the - unfinished - display, which adds coloured lights to the organ sounds.
The video does not do it justice, as the camera cannot accept as wide a brightness range as the human eye, so some of the lighter colours appear as white
The odd effect in the centre of the top row is due to reflection from a fluorescent light

The completed Colour Organ display on top of Topsy - which now has  decorative tops added to the Melody pipes (made from the tops of old-fashioned clothes pegs)

Well, the original trolley was NOT stable enough!  A redesign with more - but smaller wheels - to ensure that the support points were OUTSIDE the organ was neccessary. 
A stroke of luck with the handle - it was the frame of a seat being junked, and fitted perfectly.
The new wheels also enabled the base to be enclosed, providing some useful  storage space.

The rear cover has now been replaced with a sheet of plastic - a reflection at the top right shows it IS there.   This should enable spectators to see more of  'the works'.
The additional connectors for the colour organ cables have been included, which made for a slight re-arrangement of some of the other components.

I finally got around to improving the look of Topsy - the previous attempt to decorate on a 'brown' background was pretty poor
Looks a lot nicer now, with some 'canal art' decoration
Also some new handles - that don't cut into my hands when lifting in and out of my car!

With some percussion

. . . and smart new cover!

John Smith supplied me with a nice motor and a speed control board to run Topsy automatically.

The adjacent picture shows the motor unit attached and playing.
Click on it for a video)

I've not yet connected microswitches to the reservoir so as to fully utilise the speed control board to relate motor speed to 'puff' needed.

But, as mentioned earlier I later added a voltage booster in the form of a small DC/DC converter that raises the operating voltage to about 16V, and makes the solenoids operate much 'snappier'.

Click here to see Video of Topsy being used for
collecting with Inner Wheel - Avril in the middle

If you would like to make your own Topsy, or any of the other hand-cranked organs that John Smith has designed, visit his website for details of the different organs, and the prices for his plans that enable practically anyone to make one.

To give a glimpse of the internal construction of a Topsy, click here for a video about the major components.

Page Top