Some Very Notable Conn Organs
Including the “Timbers” (Velsy Special) Organ, A Custom 25
Pedal Spinet Model 580
And A Massive 3 Manual Drawstop Electronic/Pipe Organ
See notes at end of page regarding Conn’s demise
Probably the best known of the special Conn organs
is this Custom built Conn Theater organ.
This particular Conn organ
has a bit of a story that is quite interesting. Recently it was listed on
eBay but I never did find out if it had been sold. The story begins about 5
years after I left the mid-west area to move to California to enter into a
partnership in the organ retail business. I kept up many of the friendships
that I had acquired while working with the Conn organization back in Indiana. The majority of those friends were either
in the engineering or service departments both at the Elkhart plant and down
at the Madison, Indiana facility. I enjoyed friendships with many of the
marketing department personnel also, but was more involved with dealers throughout
the country as a liaison for funding resources and also preformed for
demonstrations and concerts. When the company went through a take-over
(1969), I decided to move out west.
pictured above has had a metamorphosis’ of names including some we cannot
mention here. As I recall, (and anyone is free to contact me if they have a
different recollection of those days) this project was originally brought to
the company by our dealer in the area, George Martin for his client Robert
Velsy. Velsy was a college professor at the University of Wisconsin at the
Platteville extension campus. He also owned a very nice supper club called
the “Timbers Restaurant” in Platteville, Wisconsin. This was a “cut above”
restaurant in that they featured some excellent food at very moderate
prices. Velsy also was a noted chef
and could prepare food with the best of the chefs in the upper mid-west area.
first heard of this project in probably 1972 or ’73, it was called “Martin’s Folly.” I suppose
so named for the dealer that brought this to Walter Behnke’s attention. Then
it became the “Velsy Special” as the purchaser became known. But because of
the “zillions” of problems associated with this monstrosity, it also had
quite a few other names for reference by the crew back at Elkhart. And
remember, the company (Conn) had itself recently gone through its own
internal problems. Many thought the company should have been developing newer
and advanced products like a digital system and not waste time on this
project for a single user.
the technical information I have previously posted on the ConnArtistes Yahoo
group web site after receiving many inquires about this particular organ:
Well, just when you think you are done
with something here, all kinds of
requests come in for more information. So I guess what I will do is post what
information I have on the special Conn organ for the Timbers Restaurant in
Platteville, Wisconsin on my web site with a few more pictures I have. Most
the technical information is taken from engineering drawings that were sent
me way back in the early 70s after I left the old or “real” Conn organization
move west. There were two schools of thought about this instrument as I
mentioned before. The old-timers that were still on board with the company
at opposite ends of thinking when it came to a large project like this. Many
thought it would be better had Conn directed the money and resources to
organ improvements such as a new digital system. Allen had already introduced
their MOS system and many in our engineering department thought we could and
should get started on our own digital system as it was believed that digital
would be the wave of the future.
(Which it evidently was!)
When this project was first launched it was considered by some in marketing
this installation would draw so much attention to the Conn organ that the
company would get a boost in sales for years to come. As that did not
materialize as planned and the fact that the digital organ was improving
with each new generation, Conn sort of ended up with old technology and a
chance to retain their supremacy both in the institutional and home markets.
There are quite a few old “Conn” men who felt this “boondoggle” project was
beginning of the end. They had wanted the R&D efforts directed towards
digital race or at least towards an organ most people could afford. A lot of
time effort, and funds went into this one organ.
The owner of the restaurant, Bob Velsy was, or I should say is, as the eBay
listing seemed to imply that he is still around, a very pleasant person. He
very affable and fun to be around. I think I remember that he told me he had
Conn 650 or 651 with about 15 sets of pipe speakers on that previous organ.
may have even had a set or two of real pipe ranks on that installation also.
friend and our organ dealer in that area was George Martin who was really a
great salesman for Conn. Somehow he talked Conn management and Wally Behnke
into designing this installation for
The information I have is from some old friends back in Indiana with whom I
kept in contact after moving out west. I can only see one set of initials on
of the documentation and those are “DT.” We had, as I recall, some engineers
with those initials, Dan Townsend, Del Thorpe, and Don Terry. I have no idea
sent these back in late ’73 and I doubt anyone could tell me to this day the
source of the information.
The organ had 188 stops and the equivalent of 16 ranks including Concert
Tibia Clausa, Solo Tibia, Flute Celeste, Violin, Viola d’ Orch, Gamba, String
Celeste, Diapason, Clarinet. Kinura, Oboe Horn, Tuba, Orchestral Oboe, Post
Horn, Tuba and Vox Humana. As I said before, it also had a pedal rank (16’
Tibia) from the Palace organ in South Bend. Because of the many, many audio
channels (44) Wally configured notes that could come of from almost anywhere
that it was more than just a stereo effect. (Almost qudraphonic) In the same
chord the “D” could sound from behind you, the “F#” from the left, the “A”
in front and the “C” from the right in a D7 chord for example. It was very
interesting and the celestes were very “unusual.” It produced a very unique
tremolo effect also.
Back to the drawings – there are or were 14,699 diodes for coupling and four
triac switching units. It also shows a total of 3050 transistors! Compare
with your Conn Model 651! One sheet shows total output at 1760 audio Watts
doubt anyone ever used close to that. It also had a fully computerized
system which was cutting edge in that day. There were three expression shoes
one crescendo pedal. Don Baker assisted in the original voicing. He also
recorded for Conn at the time.
I remember it had about 15 or 20 pistons but they reacted differently from
regular pipe organ piston in that some were used to increase volume like some
later Conn models would do. I think also there were few black pistons but I
don’t remember exactly their function and the paper is very blurry so I can
see where the wires terminate. The toe studs on the left side duplicated the
generals and the toe studs on the right activated Toy Counter effects. There
were also a bunch of special effects hooked up like the usual train whistles,
bird whistles, Sleigh bells, siren, etc, along with a Wood harp, Marimba,
(repeating) Orch Bells, Chrys, and Glock. I am sure there was more but I just
don’t remember and that section really has to be cleaned up more to make it
readable. I had travelled from Minneapolis to Platteville several times with
good friend, Clyde Olson, who had rebuilt the Knabe player piano which could
played directly from the Conn console. During these trips Clyde would fill me
Some of the workings of this organ.
Minneapolis was of course my hometown and
I had family and many friends in the
music business in that area and I would visit as
often as I could..
Located in the center of the console on the back rail was the rhythm unit
control (which was the same as used on a 651 or 652 or 653) and I recall
that was a dumb place for it. I was
too used to the lower left cheek block. During
my visits, I was always called upon to
spend at least an hour “concertizing” as of
course any visiting organist was prevailed upon to do. The former Disneyland
organist who I think was more local played it during several of my visits.
was pretty good too! Hector Olivera had said one night that he thought the
string ensemble was as good as it gets for an electronic organ of that day
would agree. Many great organists did visit in the first year or so and most
were complimentary about the sound. Velsy himself was a pretty fair organist
his day job was that of a college professor at the nearby U of W extension.
the way, his restaurant also was very top rated by several associations, so
was indeed a very talented guy in many areas. Every time I visited, he would
wearing a white tux for his
performances. I am trying to upload a couple of pics
but have not been successful so far. I will
try to add a page about this organ on
my web site later. I
never realized that there would be so much interest or I would
have done so earlier.
It would be well to remember that this particular instrument will most likely
never sound that well anyplace else as, just with most pipe organs, it was
especially for that location. As most know, it is very rare that a pipe organ
sounds as good as it did in the original location. When and if purchased, the
new owner should also buy every piece of amplification equipment and the
of wiring for the next install. ---Posted to the Connartiste
Yahoo Group July 6, 2010
Here are a few more pictures:
On the left is a picture
of Bob during one of his performances. I am not sure who is at the console in
the right hand picture but as I recall it was not Bob. It is hard to see, but
the Knabe piano my friend rebuilt is just to the left of the console. While
this was the largest theater style organ built by Conn, it was not the
largest organ by any means.
There were several
Conn/Tellers installations which usually had very large Klann consoles and up
to 30 or more pipe ranks. I did notice
one four manual console when I was back there in the early 70s but I have no
idea where it was shipped. Unlike today’s electronic/pipe organ combinations
these were very difficult installations to keep in tune and properly
regulate. Tonal finishing was always a challenge and I remember many
situations with the driver boards over the years. The organ business has certainly made a lot
of advances over the past 60 years! The unit I have at my church has over
thirty ranks and uses two consoles, the Moller three manual console up in the
balcony (or organ loft) and the Rodgers 960 console with full MIDI down in
the sanctuary. While there are some issues at times, those problems are
nothing like what we went through in the 60s and 70s. (Thank God!)
I have a few other
pictures of some famous Conns that may be of some interest so I will post
This was a special 580 which belonged to a guy named
Dean Peden as I recall. Note the toe pistons.
I think he also had MIDI installed. Nice looking and
very nice sounding. Love the music rack!
Here is a 25 pedal Conn
580 with full MIDI and classical sound modules. Very innovative!
This was my old Connsonata
821C for practice while studying with Dr. Edward Berryman
Probably late 50s early 60s
as I recall. Actually a good sounding classical organ.
My first Conn was a
Connsonata Model 2D which I bought in the late fifties after I realized that
while I liked my Hammond
for club work, it was not as suitable for classical studies. Below is a
picture of a 2D model.
Model 2D Originally sold in 1950. I bought mine used after I was
discharged from the U.S.
Army (Korean Service) and could not afford a new one.
I later had a Conn 830 and
here is a pic of the setter board pulled out. I think this
would be about 1962 or so.
It had a great sound and was fun to play and could
provide the challenge for
classical my studies with Dr. Edward Berryman.
You’d be surprised at the
sound of these things when you add about six of the Conn
Speakers. This was just
before Conn partnered with Don Leslie to build licensed
systems for the Conn
This is a Conn system
ready for shipment back at the plant in about 1968. I
remember it was a 901 with
licensed Leslies for a large church locally.
Here is the console front
view of the 901. Those old Polaroid’s are beginning to fade.
This is a model 905
installed in a church. We also made this in a drawstop console.
Very special Conn three manual concert draw stop
organ with special built console and a
lot of audio channels. The actual spec is bigger
than the theater organ above and also was
capable of controlling many ranks of pipes. I don’t
recall where it was installed but I do
remember Dick Ellsasser playing the dedication. (Very
brittle Polaroid and not the best scan.)
Keep checking back as from time to time when I come
across some more old pictures, I will add
them to my Conn “memory page.”
happened to Conn?
Well, you might hear a lot of different stories
about that. Probably the best description is the account offered by historian
Margaret Downie Banks a college professor from South Dakota who researched
the project. Her website is referenced below for you to peruse.
“The Greenleaf family
successfully led C. G. Conn Ltd. for 54 years until the firm, estimated to be
worth $35,000,000, was sold to the Crowell-Collier MacMillan Company, known
primarily as a book publishing company, in April 1969. According to Leland
Greenleaf's obituary in The Music Trades, Lee, at the threshold of his
retirement, "recognized the danger of a takeover threat" and began
negotiations with MacMillan after Conn's earnings and the price of its stock
were "severely depressed" in the late-60s.
The MacMillan era (1969-1980)
might be called Conn's decade of dispersal. The corporate headquarters were
moved out of Elkhart for the first time in its history (at which time
virtually all the company's historic records were deliberately destroyed) and
relocated in Oak Brook, Illinois. The Conn Organ Division was moved to Carol
Stream, Illinois, reed instrument manufacture was relocated in Nogales,
Arizona, the Conn Guitar Division and the company's student brass production
were shipped to Japan, while the Scherl & Roth subsidiary continued
production in Cleveland. Selmer bought Conn's new brass factory in Elkhart's
Industrial Park (now the Vincent Bach plant). The old Conn plant, built in
1910, was sold to Coachman Industries. All but a small portion of this
17-acre factory site between Beardsley Avenue and Greenleaf Boulevard was
razed in 1979. Unfortunately for Conn, the labor-intensive manufacture of
musical instruments was foreign to the MacMillan Co., not to mention
unprofitable in comparison with their other holdings. Subsequently, Conn's
historically fine reputation in the field suffered dramatically during the
Actually, Professor Banks is pretty charitable in
her assessment of the MacMillian era. One of the Wikipedia posters was far
less kind but far more accurate when he wrote the following:
In 1969 C.G. Conn Ltd. was sold to the Crowell-Collier MacMillan
Company. Under their ownership the company's prestige declined further,
because of company executives in
charge who were not familiar with instrument manufacturing and their
customers, and as a result of a sales
force who knew nothing about what they were selling. By 1971, high
costs, competition and union labor
pressures forced the company into drastic measures. In that year the
corporate offices were moved to Oak Brook, Illinois, and during the following
year the Conn Organ Division was moved to Carol Stream, Illinois, the
woodwind manufacture to Nogales, Arizona (formerly the Best Manufacturing
Company, a maker of student-line saxophones purchased by Conn in the 1960s),
and the Conn Guitar Division and all student-line brass instrument
manufacture to Japan by Yamaha.
In 1980 the company was sold to Daniel Henkin of Kansas City,
Missouri who had served the company as
an advertising manager. In that year Henkin sold the organ division to
Kimball under the name of Conn Keyboards.
There will always be differences of opinions, of
course, as to why the Conn Organ Division went down and there was no one
reason but a combination of factors starting with the take-over in 1969. As
one who was there and lived through both eras (Greenleaf & MacMillian) I
can say with certainty that in this case it was much better in the “good old
days!” Conn organs were certainly some of the best electronic organs ever
produced and their quality rivaled that of any manufacturer at the time.
Perhaps the only other equal or maybe even slightly better analog organ of
the time was built by the Associated Organ Builders of Auburn, Washington.
They did not to my knowledge build a Theater Organ, however.
Bob Eby’s Artisan Organs Company of Los Angeles (and
later of Newport Beach as “Newport Organs”) did sell excellent three and four
manual Theater organ kits which were very popular in the early 60s. He also
marketed some outstanding ITO classical organs both in kit form and plant
manufactured. Unfortunately for Mr. Eby, Conn decided to bring out their
vacuum tube theater organ models 640, and especially the 645, to the market
in 1964 which essentially put Artisan out of business. In their heyday,
Artisan did offer some very nice looking consoles and the kit builder could
use “off-the-shelf” type components of any desired quality. For example,
Herberger-Brooks keyboards were available through Eby, but the builder could
use either better or lesser quality products if he desired if he had limited
funds. The same was true for the mechanical and electronic components. Some
of those old Artisans
were cheaply put together but there were many that
had very high quality components and were very desirable for pipe organ
combination projects. Eby sold the “Artisan” name to a Northern California
company who later moved up to Washington and they are still in the business
today with high quality ancillary products for organ enthusiasts.
Another viable kit organ of the day and sort of a
“knock-off” of Bob Eby’s Artisan was the Devtronix which could also be built
to taste. Many of their consoles are still functioning today as either VPOs or
combo pipe/electronic organs. They had a ¾ size Wurlitzer console (like a
260) that was really neat and I almost ended up buying one for myself.
Schober also had a kit organ available but it was marginally
accepted and required a fair knowledge of electronics
to build but their owners loved them.
Some other organs of the day would include the
Rodgers, which was just beginning and offered a fairly nice looking home
model solid state theater organ but it never stood up to the Conns of the
day. Allen was mostly popular with the “classical set” as their theater
organs (and I owned one) really were pretty thin sounding. Thomas had an AGO
Theater organ that looked great but was plagued with service problems.
Baldwin’s Cinema models never sounded even close to any theater organs I ever
heard. And the Minshall organ sounded like a cat mugging a canary in Central
Definitely for the 60s and early 70s era, Conn was
the leader in organ business.
Press Bear for MIDI
Press Teeter-Totter to see Larrie and Tanya!