Introduction to the Goulding & Wood slider chest action

Many factors contribute to the sound of a pipe organ. Certainly the quality of pipe work and the manner in which it is voiced plays an essential role. So too does the acoustic environment of the instrument. Another vital characteristic is the chest action. Frequently, ample attention is paid to the first two issues with only a passing regard given to the third. Even more commonly, organists and organ builders focus on key action—is it mechanical or electric—without any regard to the operation of the chest mechanics. At Goulding & Wood, we believe that our chest action is among the finest built today and that our uniquely designed slider chests contribute greatly to the success of the sound of our instruments.

Slider windchests are as old as stops themselves. Throughout modern organ building, the slider chest has been redesigned and refined by builders working in Europe and America. The efficiency and simplicity inherent in this system have long been recognized for their contribution to the long term viability of an instrument. Slider chests have few working parts to wear out, and when the time for major maintenance comes, access and scope of work are optimum for easy restoration.

The tonal contribution of matrix layout is perhaps its greatest merit. In a slider chest configuration, all pipes of a stop are lined up in a row. The rows are aligned so all pipes of any one pitch are in a column. Therefore the middle C pipe of a Trumpet would be in line with the middle C pipe of the 4' Principal. The columns sit atop channels which fill with air when the corresponding note is played at the console. Only the pipes whose slider is in the on position (as controlled by the draw knobs) will play. And when several registers are drawn, they all "breathe" together from a common wind supply. This imparts a blend and focus to the sound, producing an ensemble reminiscent of an accomplished choir or orchestra.

Key action is an important facet in organ design. Direct, mechanical links enable organists to sensitively control the shading of the chest action. However, this benefit is largely constricted to intimate pieces from the repertoire. Both bombastic pieces (Widor's Toccata) and accompaniment (be it hymns, anthems or service music) require far less nuance in the subtle phrasing of individual notes. Service playing benefits from detached consoles, providing sight lines and the ability to watch directors, or even direct from the keyboard. With tracker organs, keys that are removed from a direct mechanical linkage lose the sensitivity which is the hallmark of a good tracker action. What remains is the cumbersome issues of mechanical couplers, lack of sub- and super- couplers and complications in laying out and maintaining the organ. Electric action has been stigmatized by some of the unreliable and maintenance unfriendly systems of the fifties and sixties. But reliability has much more to do with the quality of craftsmanship than the type of action. Further, the use of digital controls and fiber-optic cables has produced electric action of unprecedented reliability, flexibility and projected longevity.

At Goulding & Wood, our focus has always been on instruments informed by the needs of liturgical musicians. While we spend great energy ensuring our organs can render the rich repertoire masterfully, our fundamental concern is the ability of our instruments to accomplish all aspects of liturgical music - solo and accompanimental - with excellence. We feel that the marriage of slider wind chests with reliable electronic key action provides the greatest tonal and practical benefits available to organists today.

Read about the design of the slider chest action