John Brombaugh

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John Brombaugh
JB w pipes 2011-06-16.jpg
Brombaugh testing an organ pipe,
16 June 2011
Born (1937-03-01) March 1, 1937 (age 81)
Dayton, Ohio
Alma mater University of Cincinnati

John Brombaugh (born March 1, 1937) is an American master pipe organ builder known for his historically oriented tracker action pipe organs.

Personal life and early training[edit]

Born in Dayton, Ohio, Brombaugh (related to the Brumbaugh families) first heard a Hammond organ while in the fourth grade and was “mesmerized” by the combination of organ and electronics,[1] a combination that would shape his career. Brombaugh has degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Cincinnati (EE, 1960) and Cornell University (MS-EE, 1963) specializing in the field of acoustics, in particular musical acoustics.

After college graduation, Brombaugh worked as a development engineer for the Baldwin Piano Company. His charge “was to develop a method to produce electronic chiff and to design an artificial reverberation system.” For the former, he extensively studied the construction of organ pipes, while the latter included ideas pioneered in the Hammond organ.[2] Brombaugh also secured seven patents with the Baldwin Organ Company. [3]

As a lifelong lover of classical music, especially as he heard ancient European organs on recordings - e.g. E. Power Biggs' The Art of the Organ and Helmut Walcha's of J.S. Bach's music on the Schnitger organ in Cappel, he became an apprentice under the two leading American tracker action pipe organ builders, Fritz Noack (1964–1966) and Charles Fisk (1966–1967) and then served as a journeyman (Geselle) with the Rudolph von Beckerath firm in Hamburg in 1967–68 to complete his training, especially in making reed pipes. While in Hamburg, Brombaugh used every opportunity to study the many historic organs in northwest Germany and adjacent Netherlands.

In June 1968, he established his own firm, John Brombaugh & Co., in the farmlands west of Germantown, Ohio, his hometown; this sole proprietorship eventually became a partnership including George Taylor, John Boody, Herman Greunke and others. In 1977, the partnership dissolved in a friendly way when Brombaugh moved his firm to Eugene, Oregon under the new name, John Brombaugh & Associates, Inc. that continued until completing its final instrument in summer 2005. He built 66 organs that are located in 23 states, Canada, Sweden and Japan and was a teacher to many upcoming younger builders, e.g. Bruce Shull, Michael Bigelow, Charles Ruggles, Paul Fritts, Munetaka Yokota, Bruce Fowkes, Trent Buhr, Karl Nelson, David Petty, Aaron Reichert. A grant from the Ford Foundation in Spring 1971 enabled Brombaugh to do intense study of about 100 historic organs in Germany, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy and he has continued his studies at all possible times since.

Organ building style[edit]

The majority of Brombaugh organs are tuned in a "Well temperament." This enables them to play music composed in any key but, compared with Equal Temperament, favors the central keys used in most organ literature of all periods. Since its introduction in 1978, the "Bach" temperament by Herbert Anton Kellner has become Brombaugh's standard tuning, though several of his organs are tuned in 1/4 Syntonic comma Meantone where their primary intention is for historically oriented performance of the organ literature older than that of Johann Sebastian Bach's. Many of his easily movable small positives have transposition capabilities to facilitate their playability at different pitches; these (excepting his Op. 2 that was made during his apprenticeship with Noack) are his only instruments tuned in Equal Temperament.

Although he has been interested to recover and use many of the lost concepts from the ancient organ-builders (e.g., they only use mechanical key action), he also considers himself a builder of this time who is amenable to the use of the best current construction methods and the use of ideas necessary for the convenience required by organists of our time. For example, his Opus 35] - an organ of 3,250 pipes, 3 manuals and pedal with 46 stops that was dedicated on Pentecost 2001 at the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois (of which congregation Abraham Lincoln and his family attended, and Mary Todd Lincoln was a member) - is a synthesis of historical and modern techniques.

Among John Brombaugh's contributions to modern organ-building are:

  • the first use in modern times of an unequal temperament for tuning a large pipe organ in North America - on his Op. 4 at First Lutheran Church, Lorain, Ohio that was dedicated by David Boe [1] in June 1970. The temperament used was Andreas Werckmeister's IIIrd temperament, Werckmeister's first inventive departure from the ancient Pythagorean or Meantone tunings. This temperament has since been used on many new organs worldwide. [2]
  • general absence of plywood in the construction of his instruments, especially in the casework and by the earliest return in 20th century organ-building (beginning in 1968) to using only solid wood for the windchest tableboards.
  • consistent use of fine architectural concepts and details for his case designs, for example, those described by the renowned Renaissance artisan, Andrea Palladio and those found in instruments made by the late Gothic builders. He has also been interested to develop designs with suitable modern styles where appropriate, not just to work only making historically governed copies.
  • the first use of hammered pipe metal in modern times in the United States, also done for his Op. 4 for Lorain, Ohio.
  • beginning in 1970 with his Op. 4 for Lorain, Ohio, consistent use of "wedge bellows" in all of his work to provide a slightly unstable winding that gives the organ a more musical character or "life." A few of Brombaugh's instruments have the mechanism needed so the organ's wind could be produced by foot pumping its bellows - the norm before electricity (or other energy sources) could take over this rather boring job.
  • beginning in 1970, development and use of an electronic "tuning machine" having a CRT display that can be set for any temperament and a reference pitch variable over a 4:5 ratio; the device provides an accuracy of 1/5 cent or 0.1 Hz and also has a filter settable to observe the various harmonics individually so all pipes of compound stops (such as the Mixtures and Cornets) may be very accurately tuned.
  • the first use worldwide of the high lead content pipe metal alloy such as was found in the work of Hendrik Niehoff in 16th century northwestern Europe for his Op. 19 at Central Lutheran Church in Eugene, Oregon.
  • among the first uses of Meantone tuning in a major new organ in the United States, (along with Charles Fisk's organ at Houghton Memorial Chapel, Wellesley College and Gene Bedient's organ at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL) for his Op. 24 organ for Fairchild Chapel at Oberlin College that was dedicated in September 1981 by Harald Vogel. Meantone organs in North America remain very rare.
  • the general use of "vocale" voicing of the pipes to achieve the tonal beauty so common to the organs in and prior to Bach's lifetime.
  • first installation into Continental Europe since the 1930s of a new pipe organ built in the United States - the Meantone organ for the Hagakyrkan in Göteborg, Sweden, dedicated by Harald Vogel on March 8, 1992.
  • first use of the Ruckpositive in a major concert hall organ - by using two Ruckpositive divisions to the left and right so the organist is not hidden from view of the audience in the Toyota City, Japan, Op. 37 instrument inaugurated by Harald Vogel on November 11, 2003.


  • Montgomery County, Ohio, Brombaugh won design prize awarded to Montgomery County high school students; his home design was built for 1955 Home Show, at the county fairgrounds.
  • Ford Foundation, 1971, awarded for financial support to study historic organs in Europe.
  • University of Cincinnati, College of Engineering Distinguished Alumi Award (1981)[4]
  • Oregon Governor's Arts Award (1996)[5]
  • University of Oregon's Distinguished Service Award (2006)[6]

Brombaugh Organs of Note[edit]

Location City Opus Year
Trinity Lutheran Church, LCMS Ithaca, New York, USA 2 1966
First Lutheran Church Destroyed by fire August 28, 2014 [3] Lorain, Ohio, USA 4 1970
Ashland Avenue Baptist Church Video on YouTube [4]
Church closed Oct 2006, moved to Sacred Heart RC Cathedral,
Rochester, NY, for use by Eastman Rochester students, [5] [6]
moved again to St. Michael's RC Church, Rochester, NY
in 2014 installed in Schroeder Hall at Sonoma State University [7] [8]
Toledo, Ohio, USA

Rochester, New York, USA

Rohnert Park, California, USA
9 1972
Private residence practice organ Nebraska, USA 12b 1973
First Methodist Church Oberlin, Ohio, USA 15 1974
Grace Episcopal Church Ellensburg, Washington, USA 16 1974
Central Lutheran Church [9] [10] Eugene, Oregon, USA 19 1976
St. John's Presbyterian Church [11] Berkeley, California, USA 20 1979
St. Mark's Episcopal Chapel, UConn [12] Storrs, Connecticut, USA 21 1979
Christ Episcopal Church Tacoma, Washington, USA 22 1980
St. Paul's Lutheran Church Durham, North Carolina, USA 23d 1977
Fairchild Chapel, Oberlin College Oberlin, Ohio, USA 25 1981
Southern Adventist University Collegedale, Tennessee, USA 26 1986
Hagakyrkan [13] Göteborg, Sweden 28 1992
Iowa State University, Music School Recital Hall [14] Ames, Iowa, USA 29 1987
Pilgrim Lutheran Church Beaverton, Oregon, USA 30 1987
St. Barnabas Anglican Church Victoria, British Columbia, Canada 31f 1988
Christ Church, Christiana Hundred, Episcopal [15] Wilmington, Delaware, USA 32 1990
Lawrence University Memorial Chapel Appleton, Wisconsin, USA 33 1995
Duke University Memorial Chapel [16] [17] [18] Durham, North Carolina, USA 34 1997
First Presbyterian Church Springfield, Illinois, USA 35 2001
Toyota City Concert Hall [19] Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, Japan 37 2002
Florence Henry Memorial Chapel, The Highlands
(Brombaugh's final instrument)
Seattle, Washington, USA 38b 2005


  1. ^ Ferguson, Homer A. III (2008). “John Brombaugh: The Development of America’s Master Organ Builder.” Doctoral thesis, Arizona State University (unpublished), p. 6.
  2. ^ Ferguson, Homer A. III (2008). “John Brombaugh: The Development of America’s Master Organ Builder.” Doctoral thesis, Arizona State University (unpublished), p. 14.
  3. ^ Ferguson, Homer A. III (2008). “John Brombaugh: The Development of America’s Master Organ Builder.” Doctoral thesis, Arizona State University (unpublished), p. 73.
  4. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ "Governor's Arts Awards (1996)". Oregon Arts Commission. Retrieved 2009-04-23. 
  6. ^ "University Awards - John Brombaugh". University of Oregon. Retrieved 2009-04-23. 
Owen, Barbara (2001). "Brombaugh, John". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 4 (2 ed.). New York: Grove's Dictionaries. ISBN 1-56159-239-0. 

External links[edit]

the Westfield Center conference in Eugene, April 2010, celebrating Brombaugh's influence on modern organbuilding
Rochester, NY, October 2006, describing the state of the Pipe Organ in America in our time
Niehoff-Dropa (1551, 1714) organ at the Johanniskirche, Lüneburg, Germany and a photo of his Op. 37 in Toyota City, Japan