C. B. Fisk

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For the Union general, see Clinton B. Fisk.

C.B. Fisk, Inc. is a company in Gloucester in the U.S. state of Massachusetts that designs and builds mechanical action pipe organs. It was founded in 1961 by Charles Brenton Fisk (1925–1983), the first American organ builder to build significant tracker organs in the 20th century. His study of early American and European instruments led him to return to mechanical action and to set a new course for American organ building. He modeled his shop on collaborative enterprise, launching the careers of four other North American organ builders and providing the foundation for those who carry on the company he founded.[1]

About Charles Brenton Fisk[edit]

Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fisk loved music and grew up tinkering with hifi equipment. He was a chorister at Christ Church on Cambridge Common where E. Power Biggs was Choirmaster. Charles showed such intelligence as a young man that when he was drafted during WWII, he was sent to Los Alamos where he worked for Robert Oppenheimer on the Manhattan Project. He was 18 years old. After the war he attended Harvard and Stanford, majoring in nuclear physics, and worked briefly at Brookhaven National Laboratories, but during his Stanford years decided to pursue a career in organ building.

He apprenticed himself first with John Swinford in Redwood City, California, and then with Walter Holtkamp, Sr. in Cleveland, Ohio, who was at the time the most avant garde of American organbuilders. He went on to become a partner and later sole owner of the Andover Organ Company. In 1961 he established C. B. Fisk near his childhood summer home on Cape Ann in Massachusetts.

Charles Fisk's style of leadership, modeled after the team of scientists he worked with on the Manhattan Project, involved his co-workers in the day-to-day decisions about the concepts and construction of the instruments. The same people who were drawn by Charles Fisk's ideas carry on his work and share their insight and experience with another generation of organ builders after his death in 1983.

About the company[edit]

Just two years after the installation of a major pipe organ in Auer Hall on Indiana University's Bloomington campus, the Jacobs School of Music acquired a second major instrument built by C.B. Fisk. The acquisition makes the school home to three Fisk organs, the largest number of instruments by the builder in any one location in the world. The third, known as Opus 142, is a three-manual, six-stop, practice organ installed in 2012 in the Music Addition practice facilities.[2][3]

The workshop attracted young co-workers who combined their talents in music, art, engineering, and cabinet making to build organs that redefined modern American organ building. Always experimenting, C. B. Fisk was the first modern American organ builder to abandon the electro-pneumatic action of the early twentieth century and return to the mechanical (tracker) key and stop action of historical European and early American instruments. The Fisk firm went on to construct what were at the time the largest four-manual mechanical action instruments built in America in the 20th century, first at Harvard University's church in 1967 (awaiting installation at a Presbyterian church in Austin, Texas[4]), then again at House of Hope Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1979.

The company has also built a number of instruments based on historical organs, among them one at Wellesley College patterned after North German organs of the early 17th century, one at the University of Michigan in the manner of the Saxon builder Gottfried Silbermann, and a three-manual instrument at Rice University modeled on the work of the 19th century French master builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. The large four-manual dual-temperament instrument at Stanford University's Memorial Church uses modern technology to combine many different aspects of historical organ styles. The firm built concert hall organs for the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Minato Mirai Concert Hall in Yokohama, and Benaroya Hall in Seattle. In 2003 C. B. Fisk built a five-manual organ for the Cathedral in Lausanne, Switzerland, the first American organ to be made for a European cathedral.[5]

In its 50 years C.B. Fisk, Inc. has completed over 90 instruments in 23 U.S. states, Switzerland, Japan, and South Korea.[6]


  1. ^ "Company - About Us | C. B. Fisk, Inc". Cbfisk.com. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  2. ^ "Jacobs School of Music Acquires Significant Pipe Organ for Alumni Hall". Indiana University. April 20, 2012. Retrieved July 20, 2013.
  3. ^ "Instruments | C. B. Fisk, Inc". Cbfisk.com. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  4. ^ Ireland, Corydon. "What a set of pipes | Harvard Gazette". News.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  5. ^ "Instruments | C. B. Fisk, Inc". Cbfisk.com. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  6. ^ "Instruments | C. B. Fisk, Inc". Cbfisk.com. Retrieved 2013-12-30.

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