RODGERS ORGANS

 by Frank Pugno 

One of the most popular organs found in churches and homes alike is the Rodgers organ.  Their history includes the manufacture of both church and theatre organs. 

The all-transistor oscillating circuit was developed in 1956 by a team that included Rodgers Jenkins and Fred Tinker.  This was in conjunction with Tektronics, a company who had no interest in building electronic organs.  In 1958, Tektronics officers personally funded the creation of the Rodgers Organ Company with Jenkins and Tinker named the managing officers. 

Rodgers’ first organ was installed at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, but the Rodgers organ was not unveiled to the public until 1959. 

In 1961, Rodgers introduced the first single-contact keying system on any organ, pipe or electronic, and in 1962 introduced reed switch pedal keying.  However, Rodgers’ first completely transistorized organ, which completely eliminated vacuum tubes, also appeared in 1962, and thus, was the first solid-state organ in history. 

In 1965, the Rodgers Trio theatre model was introduced and became the largest selling three-manual organ of all time.  This model was manufactured with revisions in specifications over the years until 1982. 

1966 saw the first organ to use computer memory systems for its combination actions.  “Black Beauty”, a special Rodgers touring organ designed for Virgil Fox was built also that year.  In addition to the first computer system in an electronic organ, another historic landmark was achieved when the company built the first electronic organ designed to accept organ pipes in 1968.  This led to an agreement with Fratelli Ruffati, Italian pipe organ builders, and Rodgers became the first electronic organ company to represent and sell pipe organs in 1971.  In 1974, Rodgers purchased the records and design files from the Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ company, who went belly-up also in 1974.  Of great significance was the 1976 purchase of the Tellers/Lawrence Phelps pipe shop in Erie, Pennsylvania for the production of metal pipes for Rodgers organs.  Three years later, Models 200 and 205 were introduced, including two ranks of pipes in addition to the electronic voices and was designed for home or chapel use.  They finally jumped over in 1981 and built their first all-pipe organ for St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, Hillsboro, Oregon. 

Rodgers introduced its first lighted drawknob system in 1972 and has had mixed acceptance by professional organists.  A new level was set in 1973 when the Columbian 75 and Jamestown 100 were introduced for use in homes and smaller churches.  Their lower prices and smaller stoplists made them very popular.  Their quality was the same as the larger models. 

In 1974, Virgil Fox dedicated the five-manual Carnegie Hall organ in New York City, which was at that time, the largest electronic organ in the world.  Sadly, Carnegie Hall sold this organ at a later date. 

Rodgers then decided to take a shot at the home market and in 1975 introduced the Topper.  It was discontinued a few years later and the company stayed with their traditional designs. 

Rodgers became part of C.B.S. in 1977, but was divested in 1985 and purchased by Steinway Musical Properties.  In 1988, the Roland Corporation purchased Rodgers. 

Advancing into the high-tech realm, Rodgers was the first organ to use a microprocessor and added the MIDI capability into church organs in 1986.  LED stop controls, another Rodgers first, appeared in 1983. 

In the quest for real pipe organ sound, Digital Dynamic Wind and Random Detuning, along with velocity-sensitive keyboards were added to the catalog in 1992, and three years later Voice-Palette, selectable alternate stops that could be set on the pistons, was made available.  The Swell Pedal was modeled after the real action of a pipe organ’s, not only affecting volume, but the timbre as well. 

In the late nineties, Rodgers developed a stereophonic sample library of Aeolian-Skinner pipes.  You will recall from above that Rodgers bought Aeolian-Skinner’s records in 1974. 

In a great jump in the organ world, the Trillium 800 Series organs, with the world’s first quadraphonic organ-ambience/room-modeling system, appeared in 1999. 

And Rodgers continues in the new Millennium!    The Trillium 700 is designed as all digital or with pipes instrument.  The Insignia Series includes value-priced organs with features of the larger models.  The Insignia 537 is a budget model designed for residential use.  The MX-200 includes pipe organ and orchestral instrument samples.  The Allegiant models were developed for home, chapel and smaller church installations. 

In 2005, the Trillium Masterpiece was unveiled.  This series of eleven models consists of one to five manuals of custom digital and pipe-digital organs. 

Our discussion here closes with the 2006 Masterpiece Touring Organ.  It is a four-manual instrument and continues Rodgers’ fine tradition of organ building. 

Much of the information here was obtained at the Rodgers website at http://www.rodgersinstruments.com/

UPDATE 28SEP07

Hi Frank, 

I enjoyed the information on your organ web site.  In the Rodgers section you mentioned that they used a master oscillator design.  I’ve got a couple of early/mid 70’s Rodgers theater organs (Trio 322 Deluxe and a Trio 321B) both three manual and both were designed with two ranks (Tibia & Main) of independent tone generators.  Many of their other models added a complete celeste rank and I know that some of the larger theatre models had up to 7 ranks of independent generators.  I’m not sure about their classical organs but I’m assuming they used the same multi-rank, independent oscillators before they all started going digital.

 I was also fortunate enough to find a 1961 Gulbransen Rialto K at a moving sale.  Mine just has a single Leslie but it does have two ranks of independent oscillators (Tibia and Main).  I always enjoy seeing comments about them in print.  I’m still amazed at how good a sound they got from that old technology, great Tibia’s!

 Thanks again for your efforts toward providing organ information and promoting the organ!!!

 Gary Cervenka.

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