by Frank Pugno
(New Sept. 2007)
William Wallace Kimball founded the Kimball Organ Company in Chicago in
1857, manufacturing reed and pipe organs. He
developed portable pipe organs that used three ranks of free reeds to replace
the longer pedal pipes. Kimball
also did one of the rebuildings of the great Mormon Tabernacle organ in Salt
Lake City, Utah. In the silent film
era, Kimball built many theatre pipe organs and they may still be heard across
the land. Of course, we all know
Kimball for its line of fine pianos and they also manufacture furniture.
Pipe organ manufacture ceased in 1942.
In 1959, Kimball was purchased by the Jasper Corporation and moved to
Jasper, Indiana. The name was
changed to the Kimball Piano and Organ Company in 1961.
In 1961, Kimball came out with its first electronic, or rather electric,
organs. These instruments used a
photo-electric cell generator amplified with vacuum tubes, and were not
successful. The tone was
deplorable! A few years later, they
went to all transistor technology and made a mark in the home market.
Kimball carried a full line of organs from the small one-manual Swinger
80 to the full-featured console Xanadu.
The instruments had good sounding flutes or tibias, a very realistic reed
section, very articulate percussion stops and was one of the first to develop
the symphonic-type string tones with built in celesting.
The mainstream tones could have been voiced better and the diapason was
terrible (several home organ manufactures missed the boat on that one).
The built-in Leslie gave the tibias a true theatre organ sound. The Entertainer was a division of stops that included
one-finger chords, Swinger-Bass, Solo Chord and other Easy-Play features.
In 1979, the Conn Organ Corporation went out of business, but Conn still
continues to make band instruments to this day.
Kimball bought the organ corporation almost immediately and manufactured
organs under both the Kimball and Conn names.
You can tell a Conn organ made by Kimball because the thumb pistons on
Conn were round. Kimball replaced
them with square ones. The
Starbrite, Starmaker, Strummer and 3-manual theatre Model 653 were the Conn
models introduced by Kimball to the best of my knowledge.
Kimball stopped making organs in 1983 and pianos in 1996, but continues
to make their line of furniture and fixtures, as well as piano cabinets for