Industry Profile: Wersi Electronics
The story of the German Company of Wersi Electronics began in 1968 when the priest from St. Goars on the Rhine asked a well known young electronics expert in the town, Reinhard Franz, to repair his electronic organ. Wilhelm Franz, his older brother, quickly recognised the potential of setting up a business in the field of electronic music. They both worked intensively on the idea of developing an electronic organ with the newest technology down in the cellar of their parent's house in Werlau. Soon the first Wersi organ was made and in 1969, the Company premises were established in the small town of Halsenbach near the Lorelei Rock on the river Rhine.
Here, the team of young engineers produced electronic organs as do-it-yourself kits with easy-to-follow assembly manuals. The idea of building a home electronic organ not only appealed to the German public, but quite unintentionally from the outset brought the Wersi kits to many people who initially could not play, as well as to the enthusiastic hobbyist and professional musician.
The last ten years have seen the continued development of the company, with a second factory built in 1974 for constructing the cabinets and larger mechanical parts. A third factory is now being erected to cope with the increased production and marketing of Wersi kits to many parts of the world.
Wersi now employs over 300 people and has nine retail outlets in the Federal Republic of Germany, nine distribution offices in Europe and the USA as well as ten worldwide representatives. In the UK, two companies provide the personal service that is needed for kit sales and aftersales advice: Aura Sounds Ltd. in Purley, Barnsley and Birmingham; Electro-Voice Sales Ltd. in Rickmansworth, Nottingham and Ipswich. In many respects, their commitment to customers is a long standing one, for the larger kits are often built over a considerable period of time.
For the future, Wersi plan to sell more of their kits in Africa, South America and Australia. Reinhard Franz has only just returned from promoting his products in Tokyo at the first German 'Musik Messe' in Japan, where organ kits seem to be unheard of.
Today Wersi offers a whole range of kits for electronic music making, from the portable 'Entertainer' single-manual organ at £250 to the huge 'Galaxy' organ costing £7,546. The concept of the Wersi kit is to provide modules that are built individually with little or no electronic knowledge. All the small component parts come in separate numbered packs that are referred to in the step-by-step instructions. These modules are then easily wired together through factory prepared multi-wire harnesses, thus eliminating one of the biggest chores in organ construction. Finally, nearly, all of the cabinets are hand-made at their second factory in Halsenbach.
In terms of sound and materials, the Wersi organ and range of speakers, mixers and sound processors represent high quality although the proof of this was best shown to me when I visited their German showrooms and factories recently.
The friendly hospitality of the German company was more than evident during the whole of our two day visit (accompanying me was Arthur Griffiths of Aura Sounds Ltd). In the main factory we visited the drawing office, component packing departments, circuit board manufacture and despatch areas. At the second factory was the huge cabinet assembly plant and large component storage including ready-made instruments which have 'laser-assisted' component board assembly. Here too, are the research and service departments. Finally, we returned to the sales offices and showrooms.
One of the most important criteria for the company's success in its attention to the supply of best quality components. All electronic and mechanical parts are tested thoroughly. Often, special grade ICs from Texas, Motorola, Phillips and others are prepared for Wersi to ensure that the specification of their kits is maintained.
From the start, integrated circuits were used in kit designs, one of the first chips being ITT's SHA110 device. The full organ range was restructured from the beginning of 1977, covering 1 to 3 manual concert instruments that utilise TTL, CMOS and LSI technology. In all, some 45 patents exist for the circuitry including the 'Sound Computer' which enables up to 64 registration switch settings on the organ to be electrically programmed with EAROMs (Electrically Alterable Read Only Memory) for instant recall at the touch of a button. Literally every switch and tab on the organ from sustain, delay, vibrato to Leslie speaker has a DC control voltage to enable this. Microprocessors will certainly become part of Wersi organ technology for facilitating control of rhythms, voicing and registration.
The electronic keying circuitry is also patented and produces clean sounds from multiple registration and virtual silence otherwise (better than 65dB over the whole instrument at full volume) plus variable attack and sustain — a joint development by Wersi and Texas Instruments.
Wersi's chief engineer, Wilfried Dittmar (also a classically trained organist!) and his team often produce add-on extras to the standard kits that immediately up-date the models. Recent additions include a 'breathy' flute stop with noise filter control, a stereo noise gate that shuts down outputs in between playing, a realistic metallic cymbal, improved snare-drum and the Pianostar S2000 (reviewed this month).
Features such as 13 harmonic drawbars, rhythm tempo presets, drum break emphasis, key click, arpeggios, glissandos, contracussion, multi-preset registration, polyphonic octave slide, transposition, slalomatic, full auto-accompaniment, string orchestra and electronic rotating baffle effects all help to make the Wersi organ as commercial as possible.
Wersi developments include original circuit board mounting stop tabs with self-cleaning contacts, BBD chorus and choir effects, power amps, cabinet construction allowing highest option kits to be implemented at a later date, sine (cascaded filtering) plus square and sawtooth waveforms simultaneously providing basic sound sources, sealed pedal contacts, and MOS-LSI tone generators normally silent until pressed.
As the photographs will show, most of the organ kit main parts are produced in the Wersi factories including circuit boards, woodwork, plastics, metalwork, wiring harnesses, panel and tab legending and even the manual printing. All this attention to quality that Wersi provides comes at a price — the first 2-manual with pedals organ kit, the Cosmos, costs £1,499 and the popular Helios costs around £3,500. Still, if you buy the Galaxy ready-assembled it's £20,450! The Toccata and Classica instruments are for the church organist and the Combo portable should interest the gigging musician. Many of the instruments were ably demonstrated by Hady Wolff in the immaculate showroom, extracts of which are on E&MM's Cassette No. 3.
At the end of our tour I spoke to Horst Hoppe, the Chief Sales Manager. He stressed their need for more manufacturing and storage space and talked about their planned 400-seater auditorium for demonstration concerts as well as a secondhand organ shop. Visitors frequently come to the showrooms and concert tours in many countries are given by Franz Lambert, Kurt Prina and Jimmy Smith, with Klaus Wunderlick also a frequent Wersi performer. French assembly manuals are now complimenting the German, English, Dutch versions already available.
I'll leave the last word to Herr Hoppe who commented 'Much to my own personal regret, there are no magazines similar to E&MM here in Germany. I think there should be great interest in this magazine and like E&MM, we specialise in the field of electro-music and see a great opportunity to offer kits for the layman, giving them many possibilities for enjoying their leisure hours by building their own musical instrument.'