John Smith Organs

The Busker Organ

Back in Victorian days, when there was no TV, radio, record players, or CDs, the only music that people heard was that provided by the church organ, the local fiddler or perhaps brass bands.   Occasionally there might be a concert in the Town Hall, or someone playing a penny whistle, but - musically - the world was much quieter than today.   It would be a great novelty therefore, when visiting the local village or town, to hear music provided by a busker carrying his 'magic' box, and to see a monkey being used to collect money.

There were a number of companies - mainly on the Continent - who produced the organs used by these buskers, and some have survived and are still in use today.   When John made his version for his grandson, he retained the use of a paper roll, punched with holes, to provide the 'music', but simplified the design, by using the holes to control the air flow to the organ pipes directly, rather than by using valves.    This simplification, and the use of balsa wood for the pipes, makes construction of the organ a relatively simple task.   There is one critical feature of organ pipes, however, and that is the size of the gap through which the air is blown to make the pipe sound. John solved the problem of getting this correct by the clever use of small pieces of cardboard cut from a cereal packet!  The Busker organ is designed to be as light as possible, with its handle easy to turn as the instrument is carried around.  The handle works the bellows inside the case, and also controls the movement of the paper roll.

Any reasonably practical person can build the Busker, and the package supplied includes instructions, drawings, and a video.   A minimum of machinery is needed - although a small bandsaw and pillar drill would be advantageous - and the methods used are fairly basic. Some previous experience at making things (ideally working models)  basic woodwork skills, and the patience to cut out all the little bits that have to be stuck together, does help. You need to be prepared to read and follow the instructions, and to watch the DVD to get the final details.   You also need to be able to work from basic drawings - if you need full engineers drawings with every small detail shown, then this package is not for you!  There are 14 A4 pages of instructions, and 18 A4 pages of  drawings.   Along with the DVD or Video, there is a paper test roll.

The adjacent picture shows a
fairly simple case design.    Hover on the picture to hear it playing

The only aspect of the construction that might cause a problem to someone without metal workshop facilities is the fabrication of the crank used to operate the bellows.   If needed, help with this can often be supplied by the local model engineers club, or the metalwork department of a local school or college.   Alternatively, there are companies who offer various parts used in the construction of the Busker, as ready-made items - such as Roll Cutter - and these are listed on the Links page.

No details are given for front panel or case finishing, as this is left to the individual builder.  You will see in the DVD that the organs can be made successfully using cheap, easy to work materials, but there is much scope for the advanced hobbyist to incorporate more refined engineering or exotic woods.   Pictures of a variety of Busker organs, and others designed by John, can be viewed in the John Smith Photo Gallery on Melvyn Wright's site.   Melvyn is a music arranger who gets the best out of a restricted range of notes, and who supplies punched paper rolls suitable for John's organs - see the Links page.  He also has a page devoted to Articles about the John Smith Organs, which contains lots of useful tips and hints from other people who have made John's organs.