THE CONN ORGAN
By Frank Pugno
Charles G. Conn, a noted Indiana figure and politician, founded C. G. Conn, Ltd. in 1875 in Elkhart, Indiana. The company became famous for their quality line of fine band instruments. They manufactured their first electronic organ, the 2-D Connsonata, in 1947. Their first commercially successful organ was produced in 1951. In 1955, the Artist model was introduced as the Model 700. This instrument had two 61-note manuals and 25 pedals. The manual stops were all at 8’ pitch and produced octave and mutation pitches through a myriad of couplers. All pedal voices were 16’ with an 8’ coupler. This system of coupling made the Artist a harmonic synthesis organ, but the couplers affected all voices rather than just the flutes. Interestingly, there were separate tremolo oscillators for each manual, and they both ran at different speeds. In 1957, Conn revised this model to the Artist Model 720 and made the change to a 32-note pedalboard. They improved the keying system to provide voices at the various pitches and reduced the couplers to the traditional ones found on a pipe organ.
Conn used an independent tone generator for each note and employed special keying circuits to slightly slow the attack of the notes, imitating the slight delay of a pipe organ. This intentional slow attack and bold voicing of the Conn organ produced an instrument that bore an uncanny resemblance to a pipe organ that would appeal to customers in the mainstream commercial market. The Conn organ was famous for its string tone; if you closed your eyes, you’d think a real violin was playing. As the years progressed, many features that the home organist wanted were also included, such as Chimes, Piano, Sustain, Repeat Percussion and more. There were features that were Conn exclusives such as Stereo Expression, Phantom Bass, Calliope Tuning and the Tone Modifier (controlled by pistons). The One-Man Band played rhythm instruments at the touch of a pedal or lower manual key or chord; it also included automatic rhythm and spontaneous rhythm instrument buttons. Voices could be channeled to percussion or repeat percussion with the Fun-Master. The flute or tibia stops could be increased in volume and the organist could select settings to increase these in bass, treble or all. Widely known was the Chorus stop which slightly mistuned the organ simulating the pipe organ, which is never perfectly in tune. They also had sets of pipes, which were actually speakers and could be attached to any model.
Conn was a popular and formidable competitor in the electronic organ market. They produced organs of every size, suitable for homes, churches and places of entertainment. Spinets included the Caprice, Minuet and Theatrette. The Theatrette came in 2-manual and 3-manual versions. Console organs (25 pedals) included the Rhapsody, Serenade and Theatre models. The 640 Theatre was Conn’s first theatre model in 1963. The concert models (32 pedals) were Artist, Classic and Theatre. In addition, there were three-manual organs with 32 pedals in both church and theatre organ style. Conn also manufactured custom organs. McMillan & Co., a publisher of textbooks for school use, bought Conn Organ in 1969. This transaction did not include the rest of the Conn operation, which continues to operate today continuing the great tradition of Conn band instruments. In 1979, Conn was one of the first big organ companies to go out of business, but it was taken over shortly thereafter by Kimball Piano & Organ Company, and soon the whole organ operation of Kimball and Conn passed into oblivion. You can tell a Kimball-Conn organ by the square pistons, Conn’s were round.
Don Baker played on Conn when a theatre pipe organ was not available and was a representative for them. Don Kingston also represented Conn. Priceless are the 7-inch Conn organ demonstration records played by Mr. Kingston and narrated by the great Franklin MacCormick. George Wright recorded two albums on the Conn organ as well. Orchestra leader Frank Cammarata recorded a very well circulated record on which he performed on the Conn Classic, and Conn used this record as a demonstrator for years.
2-D Connsonata 580 Theatrette
621-F Serenade 640 Theatre with Fun-Master