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  QUESTION: Leaded pipe organ pipes gave the most consistent result over a range of frequencies, and were the easiest to work, 21 Jun 2004, South Australia

From what I know, gum Arabic is the sap of an acacia tree that grows in that region. By mixing in powdered chalk, you get whiting. Osama Bin Laden probably either owns land that provides this resource, or has political control of this region.

The answer to which material gives the best sound depends on what you think the sound should be like. The paper I referred to compared the properties of several materials. The end conclusion was that the leaded pipes gave the most consistent result over a range of frequencies, and was the easiest to work. (Pipes are fine tuned by cutting bits away with a knife, and bending various bits - something that needs a soft malleable material)

Buying an organ is not like buying a car. The start of the process is long and protracted negotiations with the builder on what the organ will look like, how many pipes it will have, which stops and so on. As a result, if you wanted to have a lead free organ, you could get one. (The builder would protest, it would cost more and some stops might sound different, but you could have it). These days pipe making is a specialist activity in itself, so lots of organ makers buy these in ready made. (Probably as much for OH&S reasons as for the skill involved)

ANSWER: 21 Jun 2004

This is fascinating stuff Michael - thanks for letting me know. So do you happen to know of an organ pipe manufacturer who, however many years ago, decided to make anything BUT lead pipes, for the sake of their workers? Or does every organ pipe manufacturer also manufacture lead pipes in order to stay in business? How many organ pipe manufacturers are there in the world anyway - are we talking thousands, hundreds or dozens or less?

Elizabeth O'Brien

ANSWER: 15 Feb 2011, Hazelwood Park, South Australia

Dear Elizabeth and Michael,

Regarding the question above about lead in organ pipes: metal organ pipes are usually made of a tin/lead alloy varying from 10% tin 90% lead to 90% tin 10% lead. 25% tin is a usual alloy. Larger organs have mostly metal pipes plus some wooden pipes for their tone. Copper and zinc is sometimes used for some large expensive pipes for cost reasons. Tin/lead has the great advantage that because of its low melting point it can be cast into sheets on a flat table and is soft enough to be easily worked and easily soldered up with lead tin alloy. Whilst there is a famous organ in Copenhagen with all wooden pipes, it is a rarity. If organs were restricted to wooden-only pipes, they would only be very small instruments. Organs from the oldest from the 14th century, to the present, have mostly lead/tin pipes. To ban lead in organ pipes would destroy totally a 600 year old craft tradition and the music that results and I believe the collapse of western civilisation.

Richard Schaumloffel Harpsichord and fortepiano maker. Email Address

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