About three years ago a California church contracted with a West Coast Hauptwerk assembler to purchase an organ based on PC tone generation technology.  The instrument was never delivered.  The church suffered a significant loss of funds.

Purchasing an instrument from a small organ assembler is risky.  While the builder’s concerns should be for instrument reliability and long-term support, these undercapitalized companies instead often use funds collected for one customer to pay other bills.  This type of financing typically ends badly for customers.

While the church in this Case Study never received the organ, the builder delivered the instrument’s speaker cabinets, pictured below.  The outrageously quality demonstrated in these photographs speaks for itself.

It is difficult to understand why a church would risk purchasing an organ that is supposed to last for decades from a “garage-type” assembler.  Often this is the result of a personality at the church pushing an agenda that is not be in the best interest of the congregation.

27 thoughts on “A Case Study: “Virtual Organ” Never Shows Up

  1. Similar story here in Manila. The so called organ installed and worked 2x and died. They call us as installer wont come and fix. Most awful constuction. They out p125,000 which is about $3500 but a lot of money for poor Catholic church

    1. That is really sad! What is even more sad is you have guys out there pushing this “virtual organ” stuff,claiming it sounds better than ANY Allen organ(or any other digital organ for that matter) you will ever hear,…but reading this tells another story,and why I won’t ever go with anything like this! NO church should ever allow themselves to be talked into this “virtual organ” garbage!

  2. How sad! This is why I WILL NOT have Hauptwerk,…very low quality,and very questionable reliability! And who’s to know if I would ever receive my instrument? I’ll play it smart and stick with Allen!

    1. Actually the quality of Hauptwerk….software program platform only…..is very top notched. The organ sets are separate and purchased accordingly…..which runs on the Hauptwerk program “platform”. I agree, unless the organist of said church is a computer geek or”tinkerer” they should stick with a well known organ brand. But broad brushing Hauptwerk as poor quality is showing your ignorance both in technicality and operation of said mentioned. Reliability? Again that has nothing to do with the Hauptwerk platform….rather the computer OS and specifically how it is set up….including hardware. Most of the HW users I know try to get away with little as possible when it comes to buying the right computer hardware and doing their research before putting such a complicated project together. Most, not all, think it’s some sort of “plug and play” program……which it is not! Yes, for some of us that are talented in elctronics AND computers who also have an ability to play the organ, it works great for us.

      1. Your resorting to name-calling indicates a curious motivation and it is not relevant for readers. Future postings will not be allowed if this is repeated.

        Your point about an organist’s need to be a “computer geek or tinkerer” to realistically use the Hauptwerk platform is accurate. However, this reality is not transparently shared by sellers of related products. In fact it is purposely camouflaged.

        Attempting to separate the Hauptwerk program from the entire solution, which includes other software and hardware, does a disservice to readers. It is the quality of the total system that should be of concern to consumers. Using this metric typically indicates a poor result, see links below. Add the financially weak state of suppliers of “virtual organs”, including one that just shut down this month, and as they say: Buyers beware!




      2. To those of you disparaging Virtual Hauptwerk Pipe Organs it is so sad to hear that your head is stuck in the sand like that of an ostrich!!! I have continued to listen to new Allen, Rodgers and Viscount organs and at this point in time I must say that none have impressed me tonally as much as most of the Virtual Hauptwerk Pipe Organs I have listened to.
        Yes, a buyer must beware of support and longevity of a custom Hauptwerk organ, however most of the components being used in Hauptwerk organs are fairly common and easily obtainable.
        I must agree with those individuals who have been stuck out in left field with an instrument that has been poorly designed, assembled or built, there is no reason for this to happen if the research had been taken to verify the builder and their reputation!!!
        While living on the Central Coast of California (San Luis Obispo County and Santa Clara County as well I was aware of several instances where churches hired novice organ builders with high expectations but minimal qualifications and skills to build pipe organs for their church sanctuaries. It is with deep regret and remorse that I saw these endeavors fail and the churches themselves loosing thousands of dollars!
        To those of you considering replacement organs for your sanctuaries or new installations I urge you to go out on “YouTube” and listen to many of the fine VPO instruments being played by professional organists! To hear the beautiful reproduction of many composers and their works I ask you to listen to Rob Stefanussen who owns and plays a Virtual Hauptwerk Pipe Organ. He does not consider it inferior or a toy and has played numerous pipe organs including the Tabernacle Organ in Salt Lake City!!

        1. There are inaccuracies in your argument that need clarification.

          Sound is subjective. You mention hearing different brands of organs, but you do not mention how you experienced these instruments.

          While parts may currently be available for certain components of VPO instruments, VPO assemblers cannot guarantee parts availability at any time in the future due to relying on third party manufacturers. Martin Digital appeared like a legitimate business only to close and leave many organs orphaned and contracts unfulfilled. Without a proven track record and corporate stability, the buyer needs to understand the inherent risk of purchasing a consumer-grade product from a company that cannot guarantee service or long-term sustainability of their products.

          Your arguments could lead to dangerous purchase practices for churches who might consider a VPO instrument as a viable option for their church. By spending a church’s stewardship on an instrument that is not sustainable is not only a bad investment, but also a detriment to the church’s music program and their future financial considerations.

  3. ORGAN-EDITOR,…what has the church done in the meantime? Are they going to replace with an Allen,or have they already done so?

    1. The church in question, after their unsatisfactory experience with the virtual organ builder, decided to compare the major digital builders, and after comparing Allen and Rodgers, chose Rodgers, they now have a Rodgers organ.

      1. Their first organ decision (mistake) cost the church’s parishioners a great deal of money. The results of their second decision still needs to play out.

      2. Rodgers?,…at LEAST it will be better than that “virtual organ” deal that went south on them! Rodgers do sound good,..but my main qualm with them is the shoddy construction of the console,..not up to same standards as Allen!

  4. Hi,

    My name is Thomas of Organtechnology and we build Hauptwerk powered virtual pipe organs for homes and churches, to the customers specifications and budget. We are as unhappy as you are when we hear these horror stories because they affect every one in the VPO business but shouldn’t.

    Building a Virtual Pipe Organ is more like building a pipe organ than it is an electronic organ, in that it requires matching the Pipe Organ recordings to the space and the Console to the organist and the church. The process also takes time and there needs to be a clear understanding of the needs of the customer by the builder and the needs of the builder by the customer so as to make every one happy. It is because of this that we build our VPOs one at a time.

    The VPO consists of three sub system which are interrelated, the MIDI Console, the sound engine computer and the amplifier and speaker system. All must be tailored to the space, desires and budget of the client. This takes time, care and knowledge of what the worship service needs are and how the final product is to be cared for as time goes on. The properly constructed VPO turn on with just the push of a button and a short (usually less than 2 minutes) wait before it is ready to play. When it does play, it sounds really really good.

    Actually we build organs like Allen does! Allen piles a bunch of parts and subsystem at a cabinet and assigns a single assembly technician to that organ to finish it. We do the same thing. We start with a new console shell or re-purpose an older shell which we call a ‘donor organ’ and connect the keyboards or replace them with Fatar keyboards, connect all of the switches from the pedals, keyboards, pistons and toe studs to the MIDI system and install the sound engine computer and software and then add the speakers and amplifiers and test the organ extensively. We then ship the organ and the installer to the client and help with the installation of the organ.

    We call our purchasers clients because after the installation there is a warranty relationship which remains.

    1. Virtual Organs are not built by actual organ builders, but instead assembled by individuals or small companies with little investment. This is the main advantage of Virtual Organs, a benefit to the assembler. However, businesses with little capital have a poor track record for long-term customer support, which is expected of a church organ.

      You list three components of Virtual Organs: MIDI Console, sound engine computer (PC) and amplifier/ speaker system. Each is purchased from different suppliers making long-term support problematic. The hardware and software in the MIDI system and PC will not be supported at some time in the future. Like most consumer products, they are designed to be thrown away if they become defective, a strategy that keeps the initial price low.
      Your state: “Actually we build organs like Allen does!”. This is an inaccurate claim. For example:

      • Allen builds consoles, tailoring them to individual customer needs. Your company does not.
      • Allen builds most subassemblies including the tone generation system and its software to not only control quality, but to facilitate long-term customer support. Your company does not build these assemblies, but instead purchases them from third party suppliers and then “piles a bunch of parts and subsystem at a cabinet”, as you indicated.
      • Allen has made a substantial investment for parts inventory to support organs long into the future. We are not aware of any organ assembler that takes this step.

      Your company’s website includes the following in its mission statement: “Because it is a modular, software based organ system, it grows with you and never becomes obsolete. This system requires minimal maintenance and can be serviced by any competent PC technician should the need arise.” This claim is not supportable. Claiming that a PC and operating system, which Virtual Organs depend on, will not become “obsolete” doesn’t match reality. First, PCs are only designed to last a few years. In addition, operating systems are supported for a set period of time after which the PC and operating system need to be replaced. In addition, in the case of a virtual organ, there is no guarantee that the organ’s current software will work in the new environment, irrespective of the additional costs involved.

      This Blog includes information about Virtual Organs and micro organ builders. The best consumer is a well-educated consumer.

      1. Your response is most reassuring,organ-editor,…not to mention dispels the claims made by the “virtual organ” assembler,and tells the absolute truth in your response to them! And that is why I will NEVER EVER consider a Hauptwerk “virtual Organ”,…EVER! I see absolutely NO ADVANTAGE to having a Hauptwerk “virtual organ” set up vs. a REAL organ like an Allen!

        1. Dewey – I don’t mean to sound so offensive, but you obviously have limited experience as an organist. I play a large Allen, have played other Allens and Walkers in the past, and based on my experience would emphatically state my Hauptwerk installation is superior in sound in all respects. The major weakness of the Hauptwerk system is that it’s not as simple as turning on a switch. The average organist could easily be overwhelmed by the technical side of such a system

          1. This comment is an example of hyperbole and puffery too often promoted in the industry. Claiming one organ system “is superior in sound in all respects” over another indicates a motivation outside of objective comparison. Allen organ digital voices are played and compared on a daily basis and in the same rooms and on the same consoles aside of windblown pipe ranks. Few musicians can tell the difference. Claiming that some other tone generation system is “superior” and in “all respects” better than pipe organ sound does not withstand the test of objective reality.

            Given the author’s comments one would have to conclude that voicing plays no role in a successful organ installation, i.e. the technology is the only aspect of quality pipe organ sound produced digitally. Preposterous!

    2. I was with ya till you claim Allen is a parts combiner,,,,,,,,,,, uh no,,,, they make everything except maybe the plastic key covers and draw knob faces and tabs. as I didn’t see an injection molder in their tour videos but WHO KNOWS wouldn’t surprise me if they did it would only take a 50 ton injection molder to make small parts as those. BUT,,,, everything else is made under their roof including keyboards. Do you make your own consoles and keyboard amp chassis and wind your own transformers? and all? I am sure now though Allen is running switching power supplies and digital amps but still. I like the idea of virtual organs for the hobbyist or you have a beautiful pipe organ console and you want to make it into something. but till the technology improves , it doesn’t belong in a church where they RELY on the organ. I can see it now. the church has a wedding and the organist is about to play and the windows 10 computer has that circle going and going tying to boot up the computer and he’s like “WAIT FATHER THE ORGAN HASN”T BOOTED UP YET!” For the home and the hobbyist they are great. but not in a church. and especially a Windows 10 computer NO THANKS HATE windows 10 can’t even run my laptop not alone a full sized organ. When the technology gets reliable I will convert my old Baldwin 641 into a virtual organ for fun. because it’s analogue and it is unrepairable due to unavailable parts and was hit by lighting and so it’s a 800 lbs boat anchor but to beautiful to junk.. but for a serious situation Allen all the way or pipes

  5. I agree,…such claims are preposterous! Hauptwerk is NOT superior to Allen in sound,…never will be! Such claims do not hold up,…and as the organ-editor said,…claiming that some other tone generation system is “superior”,and in “all respects” better than pipe organ sound does not withstand the test of objective reality. I’m just a beginning/amateur organist,..but I can tell you Allen is WAY better than Hauptwerk,…which is only PC based. What if the PC goes out of date? PC will only last 7 to 10 years,whereas an Allen can go to darn near 70 years and still be working. Not to mention Allen’s unmatched customer support,longevity,and reliability. Will Hauptwerk go that long? Not anywhere near it!

  6. Let me also add that Hauptwerk will NEVER be superior in sound to that of real wind blown pipes!

  7. May I also add that what may work on Windows 7,…may not work on,…or be combatible with,…Windows 10. I wouldn’t use it in church applications,…not reliable enough. Give me a REAL organ,..give me an Allen!

  8. Hauptwerk is great for what it is. someone that wants an organ and can’t afford a new one. it has it’s place. I have an old Baldwin C601 no one will service it and it is almost not working at all. I gutted it and there are so many wires and circuit boards it was ridiculous . So I want to midify it and use Artisan as they run on Linix (SP?) but that is fine to ogive a wonderfully built console a new life. I wouldn’t dare use it in a serious worship situation. but for the home why not. But windows is horrible and I have to reboot this computer 5 ,6, 7 times each day. For a church or a theatre Allen only and if I was a priest I would demand an Allen and ONLY an Allen. they are the best they are very reliable my old MOS I ( I found that out talking to Allen) still works and can still get parts if I need to and it is almost 40 years old and still sounds very realistic for such old technology. But I love my old Baldwin and it is one of the rare real well built consoles not quite as good as Allen but a world of difference from the garbage I see on here. But yes Windows 10 SUCKS hate it with a passion.. If all digital organs ran on that. I would stick with acoustic piano

  9. Interesting points. Each instrument type has its own space

    A pipe organ is what all the others seek to replicate. Yet it’s is the most expensive (up front and over its life). Buying one from a small builder can be as risky as the small type of business that is the subject here

    An Allen, Rodgers, Johannus, Phoenix, etc all use microprocessors and dedicated hardware/software to reproduce sampled pipes. Much less cost than a pipe organ, less to maintain and generally a long life (again based on the company building it)

    PC systems also reproduce sample sets, but on an open platform. Very flexible options for hardware (purpose built or using repurposed electronics/pipe). Lower cost again. Can build yourself (if you have the right knowledge and interest). PCs are constantly upgrading, but if the platform does what you need, unless it fails you can continue with i. Or upgrade PC hardware is not hard to source.

    Each one has a different place and serves different needs with different cost structures. How you define “better” or “superior” is based on your own needs, resources and abilities. The companies that make them can also vary greatly.

    Blanket statements are hard to substantiate on all sides

    1. I have to agree with you,Alex,….each instrument type has it’s own space/place,..and the pipe organ is what the others seek to replicate. Pipe organs a HUGELY expensive,…both in upfront costs,and over it’s entire life span with tuning and maintenance. To me,…”virtual organs” ran by your everyday home PC are more for hobbyist,…however,…NOT the best option for churches. Organs such as Allen and Rodgers who use dedicated hardware/software to reproduce sampled pipes are BEST. Digital organs cost LESS than a comparable pipe instrument,less to maintain,and most cases,…depending on builder,…as you say,…have a generally long life span. My choice has to be Allen as they have the MOST experience in the digital organ field,…starting in 1971 with their first digitally sampled organ. They have improved their sound and and advanced their technology throughout the years,..and continue to do so. Even more impressive,…at least to me,…is Allen Organ Company’s unmatched long term customer support,very high quality construction,and able to support organs long out of production with service parts,…up to 70 years,…and their reliabilityfor which they are also known for.

  10. For the home I would go virtual cause if it goes out no one is relying on it and you know,,, that the organ will take a dump on you at a funeral or a wedding certainly not during practice when nothing is coming up. no no no…. it has to want to push up daisies when you really really need it. At the home you have a really really nice organ console like my Balswin what’s better letting it go to the dump and all that beautiful wood rots away or….. repurposing it for a home practice instrument heck yeah and that is where Haputwerk and J Organs belong in the home. in a theatre or church no I would if I was a priest (wish to God I was another topic for anther forum) I would demand Allen and nothing else. PERIOD there are no other organs at this time I would consider as a second choice. By the way. I WISH WISH WISH Allen would buy Lowrey could you imagine what a home organ that would be?

  11. I am horrified to come across this posting as I too have contracted with “a West Coast Hauptwerk assembler” for an organ that, according to their schedule, should have arrived by now. I have heard nothing from them for 2 1/2 months and my emails and phone messages go unanswered. I have invested a huge amount to date and am having a lot of sleepless nights. Did the church in question pursue legal action? Were any of the funds recovered? Does anyone familiar with this builder know anything about their current whereabouts? Any input is greatly appreciated.

    1. We are sorry you have encountered this problem. We suggest you contact a lawyer for assistance. Unfortunately addressing this issue after a contract is signed makes this more complicated. One of the reasons for this Blog is an effort to inform customers in advance of making a purchase decision.

      Should you wish to help others avoid this type of problem it would be informative to list in your response the supplier how has not met their contractual obligations.

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