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The Pipe Organ Industry In the United States and Canada


Robert R. Ebert*

The pipe organ builders have entered the 21st century as a vibrant, active, and busy industry. The industry consists of about 50 firms that regularly build new pipe organs and rebuild older instruments and over 200 shops that provide services from regular tuning to major repair and rebuilding of instruments. Industry sales total close to $70 million annually.

Each year between 100 and 120 new pipe organs are built in the U.S. and Canada. They range in size from two or three ranks to over 100 ranks. During the past decade, the general trend has been for new pipe organs to become larger. In the early 1990s the median sized (half larger, half smaller) new pipe organ was about 20 ranks. By 2002, the median sized organ was 26 ranks.

The types of pipe organs being built vary from year to year according to customer demand. However, over the past five years electro-pneumatic and various types of electric-slider action organs have each accounted for about a fourth of the market. Mechanical action organs account for about a third of the market, and direct valve electric action organs have about a one-sixth market share.

As has been true for centuries, churches are the primary market for new pipe organs. In a typical year 85% of new pipe organs are installed in churches. About 10% are installed in colleges, universities, and public auditoriums and about 5% are installed in residences.

In addition to building new pipe organs, an important part of the industry's activities is the rebuilding of older instruments. While an organ's pipes and cabinetry can last for centuries, some of the inner mechanisms that are subject to constant friction need rebuilding after several decades. Rebuilding and updating of older pipe organs (usually 40 years old or more) is an economical and musically effective way to extend the pleasure derived from a pipe organ for many decades. Often a rebuild, which gives a church a virtually new instrument, can be accomplished for a fraction of the cost of a totally new instrument. In a typical year about 100 major rebuilds of pipe organs are completed in the U.S. and Canada. In addition, each year many instruments have sets of pipes added and/or upgrading of the console and minor refurbishing completed.

The pipe organ often is called "The King of Instruments." Its sonority and inspiring majesty have led congregations in song for centuries. The industry committed to maintaining and enhancing that tradition is an industry of artists and craftspeople building instruments of enduring quality, beauty, and value.

* Robert R. Ebert prepares an annual statistical and economic analysis of the pipe organ industry for the Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America and the American Institute of Organbuilders. He holds the Buckhorn Endowed Chair in Economics at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio and is a church organist.

Copyright 2003 by the American Guild of Organists.
Reprinted by permission of The American Organist Magazine.

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