The ‘Fotosonor’. La Société Française électro-musicale, France. 1955.


The ‘Fotosonor’ was a photo-electrical organ built in France during the 1950s and was designed to replace a traditional pipe organ liturgical music. Several models of the instrument were built;


The moveable tone units and amplifier of the Fotosonor Choir Organ

The ‘Choir Organ’ was a large traditional wooden panelled , two manual church organ. This modular version had up to eleven optical tone units – each unit reproduced the sound of a traditional organ; Drone, Flutes, Trumpets and so-on. The large tone units were housed in a separate moveable cabinet so that only the ‘traditional’ keyboard part of the instrument was visible.

The two unit Fotosonor ‘Quatre Jeux’

The ‘Deux Jeux’ and Quatre Jeux’ were of a more modern metal-clad design each with two or four tone units respectively. In this design the tone units were integrated into the keyboard part of the instrument alongside an amplifier and loudspeaker system. The manufacturers also suggest that a turntable “…can be easily incorporated to accompany the organ, allowing the study of liturgical works in general; particularly Gregorian chant, choral singing hymns”

The four unit ‘Quatre Jeux’

The pipe-organ sound of the Fotosonor was generated using a photo-electrical technique; rotating glass discs printed with looped sound-waves interrupted a light beam trained on a photo-electrical cell thereby generating a reproduction of the tone ‘recorded’ on the disc. This had the added benefit of the organist being able to ‘update’ the instrument with optical recordings of new sounds.



‘Fotosonor’ Promotional booklet. La Société Française Electro-musicale. 23 Rue Lamartine, Paris 9.

Minshall Organs. Burton Minshall, Canada/USA. 1946

Minshall Organ
‘Mt Vernon’ Minshall Organ

The Minshall range of electronic Organs were designed by the ex-radio repairman Burton Minshall (Born; Dereham Township, Oxford, Ontario, Canada 9th aug 1907 . Died; 10 Feb 1957 aged 49 ).  These electronic tube organs were an early post war design – targeting a new and affluent US middle class and competing with tone wheel, pipe and reed based organs. Numerous electronic organs were produced during the 1950s in what became a fiercely competitive market, eventually dominated by companies such as Hammond, Conn and Gulbranson (who in turn were forced out by heavy competition from Japanese integrated circuit designs in the 1960s).

minshall_01 copy

Minshall’s design was originally intended  as a home build project. This first amateur design eventually lead to the establishment of a successful organ manufacturing company selling mainly to churches and funeral parlours as well as the home organ market.

Minshall’s original plant in Ontario Canada moved in 1946 to Brattleboro, Vermont USA due to the proximity of Estey Organ Co – a well known and established manufacturer of reed organs. In 1947 Minshall’s company merged with Estey to form ‘Minshall-Estey Organ Inc’ where they continued to produce electronic organs based ion Minshall’s designs until 1954 when Minshall severed ties with Estey.

The Minshall company finally came to an end in 1955; Burton Minshall became ill, sold all of his shares in the company and eventually died in 1957.

Vacuum tubes of the MNinshall OPrgan
Tone generator cabinet showing the vacuum tubes and speakers of the Minshall Organ (image copyright Swartko)

The Instruments produced sound using 52 vacuum tubes mostly 12AU7s or 12AX7s – using 3 tubes per tone generator, one as a phase shift oscillator and five sections as RC frequency dividers. The Minshall Organs, which were considerably cheaper than similar competing models, had a reputation for unreliability and problems with pitch drifting of the overheating tubes.

 Minshall Sales Brochure

Article from ‘Mechanix Illustrated’. May 1954.


‘Manufacturing the Muse: Estey Organs and Consumer Culture in Victorian America’. By Dennis G. Waring

‘Mechanix Illustrated’ Magazine. May 1954. H.W.Kellick

the ‘Clavier à Lampes’ or ‘Piano Radio Èlectrique’ Joseph Armand Marie Givelet, France. 1927

Armand Givelet , the engineer and physicist at the radio laboratory at the Eiffel Tower in Paris produced his first instrument the ‘Clavier à Lampes’ in 1927 as a way of solving audio technical problems at the radio station. Because microphones of the time were of poor quality, it was impossible to record or broadcast decent quality sound. Givelet’s response was to build an electronic organ that could be directly injected into the transmitter without using microphones. The resulting instrument, the ‘Clavier à Lampes’ was a monophonic vacuum tube keyboard instrument.

The ‘Clavier à Lampes’ was premiered in Paris in 1927 and taken on tour to the United States starting with the Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia on June 9th 1927.

Loudspeakers and valves of the 'Piano Radio Èlectrique'
Loudspeakers and valves of the ‘Piano Radio Èlectrique’

Images of the ‘Clavier à Lampes

Armand Givelet Biographical notes

Armand Givelet (born:21 07 1889 Reims France – died:09 11 1963 La Varenne St-Hilaire, St-Maur-des-Fossés) was originally  an engineer in the French military during the First World War but  soon recognised the potential of Lee De Forest’s triode technology. He founded the first Radio Club in France and the T.S.F. engineering school. Givelet became a recognised authority on radio technology and  inventor who held many patents for radio and broadcast equipment as well as his work with electromechanical (tone-wheel) and valve based electronic musical instruments; His particular contribution w as a stabilised audio oscillator that used much less power than traditional triode circuitry.

Givelet’s first complete instrument was the The monophonic “Piano Radio-électrique” unveiled in 1927. A meeting with the organ Builder Eloi Coupleux in early 1929 began a life-long collaboration that produced some of the earliest electronic organs – designed primarily for church and religious music. The largest of the Coupleux-Givelet instruments was built for “Le Poste-Parisien” – withs 200 oscillator tubes producing 70 different timbres or stops. Despite their unique features, The Coupleux-Givelet organs were rapidly made obsolete by much smaller and cheaper organs such as the Hammond Organ. Only four organs were sold by Coupleux-frères to churches in France.

Givelet also wrote theatrical works under the pseudonym Ch. de Puymordant.


Olivier Carpentier ‘L’Aventure industrielle des frères Coupleux, 1900-1935’ Préface de Douglas Heffer, éditions de l’Inoui, 2004.

La Vie et les ondes : l’oeuvre de Georges Lakhovsky / Michel Adam et Armand Givelet, [1936]

Le Genie Civil February 7, 1928

Le Monde, 1989-07-21, p. 23