MIDI-fying the Viscount Pedalboard

So, I did manage to buy this Viscount Domus 8 analogue electronic organ, with a full 32-note pedalboard.

My Viscount Domus 8, here temperature adjusting after having spent the night outside.

It works great for practice, and the sounds are alright, but ideally I would like to play using the computer and the Hauptwerk software, which gives an awesome sound quality. What I need then is MIDI output from the organ console. Obviously, this old organ (built in 1979, I think) does not have MIDI output built in (modern, digital ones do). While it would be possible to MIDI-enable it using some electronics kit, I am not sure it is possible without damaging the organ. Since I do like it as it is, I’m reluctant to do that. And in addition it’s a rather large project (a lot of wiring and soldering to be done).

Since before I bought the Viscount organ I have two MIDI keyboards connected to the computer, which is running the Hauptwerk software. This works great for playing manuals only pieces. But it’s lacking a pedalboard. So what I wanted to do was to temporarily detach the pedalboard from the Viscount organ and to MIDI-enable it and connect it to the computer. Ideally, I would use the same connector that is used to connect the pedalboard to the organ. In this way, I wouldn’t need to alter the pedalboard in any way, just plug in something else than the Viscount organ into the connector!

Some research brought me to the MIDI Gadgets Boutique, which has many kits for MIDI encoding and decoding. It turs out that they provide an ideal product for my project (I suspect I’m not the first one to attempt this), the mpc32xrs.

The MIDI encoder mpc32xrs, from http://www.midiboutique.com

This MIDI encoder provides switch inputs for 32 pedal keys as well as some additional ones (more on those later).

The question was then how to best connect the MIDI encoder to the pedalboard. The Viscount organ has a PCB-based connector that fits in the connector on the pedalboard  (see picture below). If I could build a similar connector it would be a matter of plug and play, literally!

The original connector from the organ to the pedalboard.

Luckily, my father is an experienced electrical engineer and also a very clever man. He found a piece of “lab board” with copper lanes spaced exactly right. Since the spacing in the original connector is uneven in one place (one of the gaps in the connector is wider than one lane, but not as wide as two), it was not possible to create the connector in one piece, so I sawed three pieces of lab board and created three connectors that each fit into a slot of the pedalboard connector.

One part of the home-made connector

I used an old IDE-cable (I think) with 34 leads. The 34 pin standard connector fit perfectly into the MIDI encoder. Apart from the 32 pedal switch leads, there are two ground leads. Incidentally there are two connections to ground in the pedalboard connector as well, so I used both.

MIDI encoder connected

With the connector created and attached to the cable, it was just a matter of plugging in the MIDI encoder and the pedalboard and testing it. To my astonishment, it worked on the first attempt. I first used the handy utility MIDIOX to look at the MIDI output from the encoder, checking for bounces, non-working keys and so on, but everything worked perfectly. I then launched the Hauptwerk software, selected the proper MIDI channel, and tried it. It worked like a charm. Check out this video containing the very first testing attempt. The narrative is in Swedish, but I think you’ll get the general idea! 🙂

Now that I can play using the pedals as well, I am starting to think about how to best utilise the extra switch inputs on the MIDI encoder…

The completed setup

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8 responses to “MIDI-fying the Viscount Pedalboard

  1. Jostein Aarvik

    Hi – interresting to read about your organ!

    I, for myself, keep searching in the internet for someone who might help me find a spare part for my Viscount electronic organ.

    My instrument has the following technical specifications:

    Viscount electronic organ
    model: Domus/8
    110 240 volts: 80 watts
    Serial: 06502 (??)
    Year 1979

    The part that needs to be replaced is what I believe is called TRANFORMER or simply POWER SUPPLY. The organ simply stopped working one day when I was practicing and a bad smell (like before-starting-to-burn) spread in the room. I have taken the power supply to an electrician who has said this part is actually broken.

    I have already contacted the Norwegian retailer/dealer and was told, after they had written Viscount, that the factory in Italy can not provide spare parts for such an old organ. My hope is now that someone “out there” could be in posession of this part or know of an old organ which is no longer in use and from which I could buy the necessary part(s). I find that it is a great pity if I have to get rid of the instrument – I got it in 1981 as a present from my parents.

    Do you know of any person/place/web site I could turn to to find spare parts for my organ? I’d be very glad to hear from you!

    Yours sincerely
    Jostein Aarvik (jostein.aarvik@gmail.com)
    Bergen, Norway

    • Thanks! I’m glad you found my page.

      I totally agree, it would be a huge shame to retire such a nice practice instrument. While I do not have any spare parts to offer myself, I would highly recommend that you e-mail W D Greenhill & Co in the UK. (http://www.wdgreenhill.com/)
      They stock a large variety of spare parts for all kinds of organs (old and new). They also sell the service manual for the Domus 8 which can be very helpful when attempting repairs. Note that they do not keep their entire inventory on-line so you need to e-mail them and ask.

      Failing that, you could try posting to one of the international organ forums (such as organforum.com).

      Hope this helps. Good luck! Feel free to post back an update if you get any further!

      Best regards,
      Holken

  2. Jostein Aarvik

    Thanks again for your information – I’m really getting closer to getting my organ “up-and -go” again. I see that you have made a lot of technical rebuild on your instrument and that you even have an electrical engineer in your family; Would you happen to know the outgoing voltage of the transformer? I can only find information on the ingoing one…absolutely nothing on outgoing.

  3. Hi there!

    Great description. At my church there’s a lovely one manual, 5 stop organ but sadly it doesn’t have a pedalboard. I would like to purchase an old organ pedal board and fit with a midi system and play it with the organ. However, I have no idea how to proceed. I know nothing about electronics etc, but am very interested. I would like to do this as a summer project. Can I bother you for some advice in the future?

    Jordan

  4. Veli-Pekka Timlin

    Hello!
    I am building my old finnish made Nowel-organ to virtual organ.
    Pedalboard and manuals are ide-connected. I understood that i can convert it to midi. Is this possible?

    • Hi!

      Sure, I should think it is possible, especially if you can accept to disconnect the original sound modules and turn it into a midi only console. It should prove a bit more tricky to keep the original function and just add midi capabilities. But it could be done as well in some cases. I suggest you hook up with Jordan at http://www.midiboutique.com, he can give excellent advice and also has all the gear that you need for the midi enablement. You may need to order a service manual to get the schematics, for this I recommend W.D. Greenhill (see earlier comment). Good luck! And please post some info and pictures somewhere of your project!
      Holken

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