We are currently seeking a good home for a c.1925 Estey style ‘T” Reed Organ, This is a “Fixer Upper” project for a person with an interest in this style organ. If you have any questions or are interested in the organ click here to email us.
The organ itself is 5’ high x 5-1/2’ wide x 2-1/2’ deep. Weight unknown, but it’s heavy. Other parts include pedal assembly, blower (vacuum) assembly, bench. The organ was used up until it was removed from the church in March 2020.
The S/N is 430097. Per pumporganrestorations.com/j._estey_organ_company.htm serial number list:
1920 – 418847
1925 – 430201
Photos and a video are available in the Gallery tab.
The history of the Estey Organ is somewhat murky, it is a combination of oral history and documented events. We were told that the organ came to Good Shepard Church, East Chicago, from the church in New Carlisle IN, which is between Laporte and South Ben, with perhaps a stopover at St. Alban’s Mission in Indiana Harbor. The New Carlise church, St. Mary’s, was actually moved to E. Chicago via barge, railroad car and horse drawn wagons to the East Chicago site in 1907-1908 or 1914-1915 depending on the source. The Good Shepard Organist said her grandmother remembers as a child seeing the horse drawn wagons pulling the church building from the railroad several blocks away to the final site. As noted above, the serial number would place the manufacturing date around 1925. All of the dates in the foregoing are much earlier than that. As they say “your guess is as good as mine”.
Here is an indpendant evaluation from someone who has restored a number of reed organs.
My impression of your instrument is that it has seen significant use but remains essentially intact and
has not suffered from amateur repairs or poor maintenance. All parts appear to be present, and
surprisingly, almost all reeds and notes speak. The case unfortunately suffers from an “antiquing”
paint job with off-white paint and gold edging (save for the left hand side which must have been up
against a wall in its former home).
Inside the case is an extraordinary amount of dirt and grime throughout the mechanism and bellows,
owing no doubt to its location in the highly industrial area of East Chicago and much of its life spent
in the era of coal-fired heating. Personally I have never seen a reed organ with this amount of greasy
dust and dirt coating every surface and reed. It is remarkable it plays as well as it does. As a result of
this dirt along with its age, the reeds themselves are significantly out of tune. Unlike slide tuned organ
pipes, or even an acoustic piano, reed organ reeds need tuning only every 40-50 years or so. Their
change in pitch is related to age, oxidation, and physical changes in the brass over time. So while
making a sound, your Estey does not really produce a musically pleasing sound due to its poor state
Being nearly 100 years old means that the perishable materials inside in the instrument –
like leather, felt, and cloth – have all reached the end of their useful lives. This material is used for
gaskets to seal up air conveyances and to quiet moving parts throughout the organ. Much of the
leather is crumbling and turns to dust when touched and felts have lost their suppleness, compacted
after decades of use.
The upper action of a reed organ refers to everything above the wind system. This includes the
sound-producing reeds, keyboards, stop action, expression shades, couplers, and all the moving
mechanical parts. This part of the organ must be removed and taken apart down to its smallest
components, cleaned, and perishable materials replaced with identical materials and adhesive
(including re-bushing of the keyboards/pedalboard). Wood components should be refreshed with
rejuvenating oil or reshellacked if necessary, with any cracks sealed. Reeds should be taken out and
cleaned, and all mechanisms returned to optimal functionality. These kinds of instruments are built
robustly and simply so it is relatively straightforward to disassemble and renew the numerous
components. However, it is imperative that for success, such work is carried out by expert hands.
Unfortunately, a large 2-manual Estey is not a good place to start for a hobbyist restorer or
The lower action of a reed organ is the entire wind system. These components on a pipe organ are
usually called “feeders” and “reservoirs.” Since American reed organs operate on suction rather than
pressure, these terms are properly converted to “exhausters” and “regulator” The entire assembly
can simply be called the bellows. The style “T” has four exhausters that draw air out of the large
regulator which maintains a constant rate of suction. This suction draws air through the reeds when
a key depressed and a particular stop is engaged. Further, a very old and perhaps original, fan motor
suction unit has been attached to the regulator, negating the need for the exhausters to be moved
mechanically. Estey provided a side crank to manually operate the exhausters, and frequently
provided an adjustable electric motor (under the brand name “Rimmer”) that moved the shaft. Your
Estey no longer has a crank handle to attach to the shaft protruding from the case side in order to
manually pump it, and it doesn’t appear it was ever fitted with a Rimmer pumping motor.
As with nearly every untouched reed organ of this age, the bellows, covered in a rubberized cloth,
have reached the end of their useful life. They must be air tight, ideally holding suction for a few
minutes. Further, the motorized suction unit is excessively noisy and if it were to be used, must be
located a great distance away from the organ with a large amount of sound baffling around it. The
motor appears rusty and in a somewhat deteriorated state. While it could be restored by a skilled
motor technician, there are currently much quieter and less potentially dangerous options on the
market. Another possibility it to reimagine the Rimmer moter system, which attaches to the crank
shaft which pumps the exhausters. I’ve seen some restorers use variable speed lathe motors that
replicate (in even better fashion) the original Estey Rimmer. This would be a significantly less
To restore the wind system, the bellows must be removed from the organ, old bellows cloth and
leather valves replaced with identical material and adhesives, and tested for air tightness. A new or
restored suction unit or cranking mechanism as mentioned above would make the instrument usable
by an individual without the need for a pumping assistant.
As mentioned earlier, the case is not in original condition. However, due to the simplicity of the style
of construction, with square edges and no decorative filigree, it is eminently restorable. The case is
of white oak, and baring some cracked panels on the top of the instrument, routine dirt, and an
improvised hinge mechanism for the music rack, it is in acceptable shape.
My recommendation to you is that a thorough restoration of the interior components of the organ –
both upper and lower actions – is the only reasonable course of action for good stewardship of time
and resources. The organ is mostly useable as it stands now, but it in no way will remain working in
this capacity for much longer. The problems related to age and excessive dirt will only increase and
worsen. The organ will neither be very reliable to play as the leather, felt, and bellows cloth continue
to deteriorate, nor enjoyable listen to due to its tuning problems. These can be wonderful musical
instruments, with great tonal expression and sturdy tone for leading hymn singing. It is currently far
from that optimum. An example of a near-identical organ to yours and one in almost ideal condition
can be found in the following video link. This is an Estey Style “G,” the sister model to the “T.” It is
expertly played and shows the power and subtlety of a restored Estey reed organ.
Unfortunately, there are no half measures that would guarantee you success either, due in part to its
compact size and the interconnectedness of all its components. To address any of the issues above it
must be taken apart. The fragile state of the perishable materials would only be exacerbated by trying
to put them back together partially restored. Likewise, a fully restored wind system drawing in air
through a dirty upper action would simply draw dirt and debris into a refreshed system.
Of lesser importance is the casework. At best it would benefit from a thorough stripping and
refinishing. It is possible such work is even within the skillset of an amateur woodworker or
hobbyist furniture restorer. The ideal would be a professional refinishing. At the very least perhaps a
light sanding and fresh coat of dark paint (dark brown or black?) would give it a fresh appearance
complimentary to your church interior. With guidance and some basic direction, a skilled volunteer
might be able to accomplish this.
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