Purer Is Not Always Better

In the 1970s, efforts were made to reproduce the baroque organ sound by making pipes that were pure lead, just the way it was done in the early baroque period – or so it was thought.

Turns out 18th-century “pure” lead was a lot less pure than 1970 pure lead, so the modern pipes came out too soft.

Cornell’s metal pipes are a lead-tin alloy, just as late baroque pipes were. The ratio of lead to tin, as well as the addition of minute portions of impurities, were carefully crafted by designer Munetaka Yokota to reproduce the tonal quality of Arp Schnitger’s Charlottenburg-Schlosskapelle organ, on which Cornell’s was patterned. Yokota’s casting method, and the entire pipe construction process, are based on his extensive research into baroque pipe-making techniques.

The more tin content in the pipes, the shinier the final finish can be. But while the surface finishing for modern pipes is done by machine, Cornell’s organ finish was done entirely with a hand scraper. “It’s an extremely time consuming process that requires experienced hands,” says Yokota.

The end result, while impressively shiny, is not entirely even. “This is because the pipe wall thicknesses have been hand-adjusted in order to obtain the best physical and acoustical properties for each pipe,” explains Yokota.