Acoustic Bass Register for Street Organ
by Roland Tremblay (030421 MMDigest)

The so called "Acoustic bass" register of pipe organs is designed to improve bass notes. For example, using a 16' note with a fifth above,  you hear a "virtual" note which sounds one octave below, in the 32' range.  That note, softer than the sound of a real pipe of corresponding size, is used in small organs, where doubling bass pipes would take too much space.

You can listen to an MP3 example ("Phantom Bass revisited") at:

This tuning in fifth is similar to the Power chords of Rock guitarists, that get their "oomph" from the notes perceived one octave lower.  I personally use dulcimers in a medieval ensemble; they are tuned in the same fifth relationship (C3-G3-C4), which results in a sound more impressive than one would expect.

"Acoustic bass" in mechanical organs?

In MMD (1998), Ron Schmuck wrote: "I have found over years of tuning fair organs that the builders often built-up sound by adding one pipe in a mixture which was tuned a forth (or fifth) higher than the note being played. (...)  If two notes at an interval of a fifth are played together (C & G), a note one octave below the lower note will be heard.  Many people feel this combination of two notes played a fifth apart produce a better sound than one pipe playing the octave below."

My question to organ experts: Do you know small portable organ models using "bass helpers"?

I simulated this acoustic bass effect with the medieval tune Sumer is icumen (Summer's comin') in a Midi file (Sumer26G.mid) with the Alderman 26-note scale going down to G (around 196 Hz, like many busker organs).  To each one of the 4 basses (G-A-C-D) I added the fifth (D-E-G-A) voiced at a lower volume.  Even if we perceive just a "dark hue" around the bass notes, I find it useful.

Of course, arrangers can use the fifth pipes already existing in the accompaniment section of any scale.  But these notes, sounding at the same volume as the bass pipes they are helping, add a less subtle padding.  I use them sparingly, e.g. on the accented beats, in Mancini's Baby Elephant Walk, on a Raffin 31-note scale.

Roland Tremblay, Montreal
21 Apr 2003 20:05:47 -0400

Sumer26G.mid (4 kb MIDI file)

02 May 2003