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Building a Wersi.


Thoughts and observations from a 'Wersi builder'


Club Member Thomas Shevels tells us his story

1] Discovery

I well remember my first sight of the Wersi Helios. It was being demonstrated by the late, great Klaus Wunderlich on the BBC Pebble Mill @1 lunchtime magazine programme. I think it was late 1979, I was aged 27. 


At the time my organ was a Viscount M70 [well ahead of its time for the era]. But it sounded more like a toy compared to this impressive instrument now before me on the box! So I set about finding out everything I could from the several organ magazines then available [this was the pre-internet era!] and discovered two things: it was an expensive proposition, but amazingly, these organs could be built by almost anyone for about half-price [yes, I too found this somewhat unbelievable]. As if by devine providence, the very same instrument was going to be shown at a local fair in Birtley, Tyne & Wear! So I went along and was even more amazed to hear a number of local organists extracting the self-same sounds live, as had Klaus. So it was no fluke or multi-tracking trickery.  This bore further investigation.


I managed to contact one of the two suppliers, Electrovoice [from Rickmansworth] and at second demo in Newcastle [the other supplier being Aura Sounds Barnsley]. I took the plunge and sent for the first 5 kit packs and kit pack 15 [the Rhythm unit], opting for the home spinet design, the W2S.  These duly arrived in several very large boxes, with the cabinet shell which was already constructed, though it did require the metal and wood shelving to be added.


2] Prior knowledge and skills, required tools.

I was assured by the salesman that most people could construct these organs if they followed the instructions carefully. The only knowledge required was basic familiarity with using hand tools and perhaps a little basic electronics to recognise such things as resistors, ICs and other components. All items were in numbered packets. The extensive construction manuals told you which bags to open, when and where each item had to go. The tools required were a fine pointed soldering iron, a set of flat and cross-headed screwdrivers, snips and pliers, a light  hammer [don't ask!] and some small spanners. I also added a laboratory clamp stand to hold the boards etc.  Being employed as a lab technician also helped enormously. I also joined the newly formed North-East Wersi Enthusiast Society [NEWS]. As a taster, I bought a Tandy multimeter kit and constructed for myself the only required test equipment.


3] Getting started.


Opening Kit Pack One, I discovered hundreds of components in little plastic bags and loads of other bits and pieces including a whole drum of solder. Oh dear, what had I started?
Still, lets start at the very beginning,  a very good place to start. The first instruction was clear enough: Switch on your soldering iron! Well, you couldn't get much simpler than that! So I proceeded to work through each line of the text. Each kit [15 in all] produced a module to go into the cabinet.  Kit One was the main Power Supply, distribution board and main transformer. The pads on the circuit board were quite large [they got smaller over time!] and the power wiring harness and components equally chunky. So it went together fairly easily. This gave me much needed confidence.


4] The work goes on.


Kit Two was the tone generator and main gating boards. This was the most daunting of the early kits, containing the board that split the tone generator's output into single notes to route to each key or pedal. There were thousands of components and an equal number of wires and plugs. There was a second wiring harness which would not have looked out of place in a telephone exchange - hundreds of ends to be stripped, tinned and then soldered into place! This took many evenings of patient work [the neighbours wanted to know 'What is he doing up there in his room every night'? from my mother!


5] When things don't work.


I was particularly fortunate that there were no faults on this board. Imagine if you can a baseboard around 12x9 inches, full of holes, 72 vertical boards fitted into this with 16 vertical wire bits to solder into these holes, 8 sideways connecting wires and then 64 long wires to be threaded through each of the 72 boards horizontally right along the board. If there was a fault, one had literally to cut out the offending board to fix it then re-install it!  Luckily, few faults occurred throughout the build and they were usually fixed by a call or two to Electrovoice.

I soldered [sorry!] on and eventually completed the first 5 kits. Then came then fun of installing each kit into the cabinet. A large diagram showed where each board went and each was fixed down using a very clever system of mounting cleats. Next came the pre-prepared wiring harness. Finally,  the shelving was added above the playing table base; this was a set of hinged metal shelves and stop boards finished in dark slate grey and printed with various names for some sections of the instrument such as Upper, Lower, Pedal, Rhythm, Piano,  etc. I now had a playable drawbar organ with a state of the art rhythm unit.


6] The next stage.


To finance the purchase of the rest of the organ, I sold my M70 and robbed the bank. A gift from my enthusiastic grandfather also added to the pile of cash needed. A few kits were also bought by my parents. These later kits 6-14, came from Aura Sounds as Electrovoice had failed. They also supplied me with another extremely useful 'commodity': their Engineer, one Colin Howe, the only genius I know. He could fix most faults over the phone, simply and quickly. I did avail myself of his services on a few occasions. The back-up provided by him and Aura Sounds [Alex + Ellen Govier] was exemplary. I do wish they were still Wersi suppliers now.


7] The finished article.


So, it was now late 1982 and the Helios was finished [or so I thought]. It looked great and we all know how great it sounded. It sometimes appeared on the BBC Organist Entertains programme and was immediately recognisable, the other organs paling beside its crisp sounds. Having parted with a large wad of cash, 500 hours building and several pints of sweat over nearly 3 years, I was the proud owner of an even Mightier Wersi Helios.


8] The build goes on.


Then a new set of Kits were produced. A Guitar kit, a Piano Arpegiator  [great fun!],  a key klick kit [ a 2" square board to re-introduce the annoying key click found on early Hammonds after they had spent years and thousands trying to get rid!!] and even a board to quell mains spikes from popping the speakers! I set to and installed all of these.  A little later came a new Rhythm unit, the CX1. I never bought this, as rumours of a new generation of Wersi's were rife. These were the Delta, Gamma, Beta and Alpha. But I was not impressed enough so  I hung on to the Helios.


9] Several years passed.


The CD line organs then appeared. I was really impressed by the sound of these and they were still in kit form. So once again I took the plunge and part exchanged the Helios [Mam+Dad were amazed! -all that work? ]. The biggest difference this time was the speed of construction. The Helios took 500+ hours, the Wega only took 50 hours or so. Everything was on IC s with  ready prepared ribbon cables. There was a card slot which took a credit card-like device which had a whole new set of sounds or rhythms in its embedded chip.  One odd thing that occurred concerning the roll top lid. This was a set of 2" wide pre-cut slatted MDF boards fastened together underneath using plastic hinges. After constructing this, I offered it up to the cabinet whereby it proved to be 2mms too wide. Now, would you dare to try to trim 2mms from veneered MDF slats without ruining them? Neither did I. I called Aura sounds who could not believe it either. What to do? They said could I find a cabinet maker who could shorten the whole lid and send the bill to Aura?


Luckily we had a church organ maker not 2 miles away, so we set off to ask him for help. He was reluctant at first, but after pointing out Aura would replace it if he failed he popped it into a vice, sharpened his plane and fixed the job at no charge! You don't find craftsmen like that very often. The Wega CD was a very imptessive organ. But there were a few problems after a while, notably with the card slot. I had to relace this after a while as the contacts became worn with constantly changing the cards, and the battery on its circuit board also failed twice. Eventually to solve this problem, Wersi produced the Tower kit which contained 12 of these cards, 6 pre-programmed and 6 of my own cards were downloaded to its memory. In addition, each card cost 80 [some more] so collecting them all would prove expensive. One card I acquired contained the hits of ABBA backing tracks which I still miss to this day. The Golden Gate kit was a late addition [it pre-dated the OAS system somewhat] but I thought this was too expensive for what it achieved.


10] Conclusions


Of course, when the OAS organs appeared, I had to have one! So again all that work was sold off to finance the new Verona, along with a windfall.  I still enjoy hearing both the Helios and the CD line organs on various discs. The OAS organs are of course only available factory built, but given what goes on inside, perhaps that's just as well; besides, I don't think I could cope with all that work. It is useful to have many of their sounds stored within the new machine so we can still access the unique Helios sound.  The only other things I really miss are the Arpegiator on the Helios and Bolero rhythm on the Wega!!!