The purpose of Comprehension Engineering

Mark Weber is concentrating on helping clients be more successful with their production. He uses data collected on the production line to build a database of failures. These failures are aggregated into groups. The Pareto chart of these groups indicates the most costly failures and the most egregious group is submitted for failure analysis. Failure analysis results in design changes or screening that improves production yield. Throughout this process Mr. Weber uses six sigma tools to help understand the nuances of the data. His Masters degree in Electrical Engineering helps him design and implement specialized test equipment to monitor production problems. His experience in multiple engineering disciplines allows him to understand many different production scenarios and help comprehend solutions.

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Uniflex system computer selection

You’re right, Uniflex is neither a big footprint nor a high-demand user of resources.  Most of the “work” is offloaded to the chamber and console interface boards.  I don’t know what the Fluidsynth requirements are, but I can try to find out for you.  Fluidsynth would drive the decision on computer hardware.

Yes, you can mix pipe and “external” sounds.  Uniflex has great MIDI handling, so you can use external MIDI voices or products like Hauptwerk, and Fluidsynth is directly supported.

Dick Wilcox is fond of the Hewlett-Packard all-in-one touch-screen models, and they’ve been very satisfactory.  I’ve only used one of those on two installations which run Hauptwerk along with Uniflex, and they’ve performed just fine.  The key is the memory requirements of Hauptwerk – or, in your case, Fluidsynth.

I always recommend sticking to major-brand factory-built computers – Dell, HP, etc. – rather than something you put together yourself.  I think it’s worth doing it that way for a number of reasons.  Of course, if whoever is “feet on the ground” with regard to ongoing support is comfortable with a homebuilt, that’s probably fine too.

My recommendation is that you outfit the computer with a solid-state drive, which doesn’t have to be huge.  Figure in the amount required for your Fluidsynth instance, then double the result and you’ll be in great shape.  I’d also add an external “traditional” drive for backup purposes.  RAM requirements would be dictated by the Fluidsynth system.

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Uniflex board worksheet

I’ll send you some Excel sheets in the format I use.  They are macro-enabled templates, which you should install in your Excel templates folder.

Do I read your spreadsheet correctly in that it appears some of the chests have been wired from both ends, so the pin assignments don’t run sequentially?  If that’s the case it’s OK, but you should know because it takes more time to build the definition file in those cases.  In those cases, the cost may be higher.  Depending on how many ranks there are, if there are only a couple it probably won’t be much, but if all the manual chests are done that way, it can more than double the time it takes to configure each rank and that can really run things up, because I can’t use any of the shortcuts which would otherwise be available.

I didn’t notice any entries in the Stop Tab action sheet.  There’s one important wiring point to consider here: keep each Stop Action Magnet (SAM) – or or pair of on and off magnets, if it’s an air console – together.  There’s a good reason for that.  Whether you’re dealing with SAMs or magnets, you will never fire more than 50% of the outputs at a time (you can’t have a stop turn on and off at the same time).  Keeping the on-off pairs together on the same chip assures that you won’t run over the collective output current of which the chip is capable.

Also, when you’re assigning board addresses, follow this sequence for future supportability purposes:

Console Inputs:  Boards AA – AP

Console Outputs:  Boards BA – BP

Chamber 1 Outputs: Boards CA – CP

Chamber 2 Outputs: Boards DA – DP

Chamber 3 Outputs: Boards EA – EP

Unenclosed traps and the like can go on any of the chamber boards, just try to keep them all together if possible.

Here’s the worksheet I mentioned.

You’ll notice what might appear to be inconsistencies at first glance.  On the chamber output sheets, we don’t bother with note names except on Offsets and ranks on manual chests where the lowest chest note is something other than C, such as a Diapason (the bottom 18 notes from 16’ C are on offsets, so the chest will begin at F#).  Ranks where the offsets are single-octave (12 notes) are just numbered on the manual chest.

Wurlitzer percussions, most of which run G – G instead of C – C, are just numbered despite not starting on C.

You’ll also notice some entries called “Spare.”  It’s a good idea to leave some spares in case a cable gets damaged, or you have a chip failure where only one pin goes out (rare, but it can happen).  The spares will give you someplace to move the wire, so they aren’t typically wired in advance.  Just be sure to leave a wire in the bundle, wrapped up at each end.  (Hint: on a chest spare, put the spare at the far end of the cable.  If you have to use it, you can pull it back through the bundle to the point at which you need it before you cut it to length, and everything will still look “factory new.”)

If you need more sheets than what are there (you almost certainly will) just use the “Move or Copy” function to make the additional sheets.

Uniflex worksheet

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Photos of historical Uniflex output boards

128 pin positive common ouput board


128 pin negative common ouput board


96 pin negative common output baord

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Steps to complete Uniflex project

do have another question and this is about the next steps we have to take. What I know is hearsay and I would like to firm it up. These steps are modified for our particular project. 

This is what I think needs to be done. 

1) Finish the documentation describing the organ.

2) Send it to you for a quotation.

3) You make the definition file

3.5) We finish the wiring.

4) We buy a computer

5) We get software from Dick Wilcox. With this software we can check to make sure the organ is wired as expected. This software will not play the organ yet because we do not have a license and dongle.

6) We buy the license from Dick Wilcox

7) We play the organ. 

Does this seem right to you?

Regarding the license. The license is priced at $.75 per pin (input and output). Does the pin count come from the definition file? Can we have a definition file for the whole organ at the beginning but only pay for part of the pins now and the rest later?


First, your pricing is a bit off.  The license is $1.75 per pin for the first 3,300 pins, then $1.25 per pin beyond that – unless this is an upgrade from an already-licensed Uniflex 2000 system. For that, you’d need to talk to Dick Wilcox.

I’ve attached an Excel worksheet which will tell you how much of what you need and it has current pricing on it.  If you fill that out you can just subtract out what the system calculates for pin requirements and costs (if you already have enough) and that should leave you with a pretty solid figure for budgeting.


The worksheet is based on current 128-pin boards, but it’s the pin count that’s important, not the number of boards. Keep in mind the number of spare pins the system calculates will be different depending on whether you have 96-pin or 128-pin boards.

You can separate out the purchase of hardware and licensing.  That’s pretty common – people will buy the hardware, sometimes even in stages (I have one client right now who has only bought the hardware for one chamber; his console is being rebuilt and the other chamber is still in the construction phase), then buy the license when they’re ready to take it live.

The software has a Demo mode which is usable for testing the console and the logic in the definition file.  No license is needed for that.  For testing the chambers, we can use a standalone power supply (you’ll have the wiring disconnected from the boards for testing).  You will have already tested the magnets and wiring for dead shorts.

The console is always tested without the boards or power supplies connected to start with, because we’re looking for wiring mistakes which have the potential to blow out chips.  Once that’s clean, we can plug in the boards.

There is no dongle any more.  That was a relic of Uniflex 2000.  It was actually a proprietary interface board, and also held the license file.  That’s been replaced in Uniflex 3000 and the new 4000 by the console and chamber interface boards, which are connected to the computer with a simple Cat5 network cable.  The license file is tied to the serial numbers of the interface boards.

The pin count is based on the connected boards, and that’s how you would license it. If you have more boards than you need, you don’t have to license the extras – you just won’t connect them in.  But you wouldn’t license a fraction of a board.

The one thing some folks miss is MIDI, if you’re going to use it – Each MIDI channel is the equivalent of 128 pins.  Dick allows some number of MIDI channels with the system, but I don’t know what that number is (it’s never been an issue where I’ve needed to find out).  Beyond that, if you add MIDI channels in the definition file, the license-checking portion of the software will hiccup and say “Too many pins” and your system won’t go into Run mode.  So there is some interaction between the physical boards and the virtual pins in the definition file.


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Pianocorder and MIDI and driver boards

OK Mike. I have a couple other questions.

This customer would like to control an upright piano from the organ console. This piano has a pianocorder in it. I did find this interface but it does not seem that it would interface well to the uniflex. It controls the piano with an audio out from the computer to the piano. Do you know of a way that people interface the pianocorder to the uniflex?

On the subject of interfacing, I saw a diagram that says the uniflex will work with a synthesizer like Qsyth. I am familiar with using that in a Linux system but not in a Windows system. Is it possible to have Qsyth have a ll the right settings and voices at boot up so that it does not need effort when started? DO you simply use the audio output from the computer?

One more basic question about the Uniflex system. Do the output boards drive high or low (maybe they do both)? Should the other side of he magnets be wired high or low? We kinda fell into a partially completed project and don’t have the right documentation.



Is it a PianoCorder brand unit, or something else?  PianoCorder was a tape-based system which was discontinued about 30 years ago.  If you’re speaking generically, any piano system that accepts MIDI input should be just fine with Uniflex.

QSynth is a graphical front end for Fluidsynth.  I know Fluidsynth runs on multiple platforms, including Windows, but I haven’t worked with it.

There are Fluidsynth types for Units and Ranks, which pretty much mirror the structure of MIDI units and ranks.  Based on that, I’d say that they should work the same way.  Just as with any rank or unit, physical or otherwise, you need to set it up in the definition file, and to use it you need to have a function to interface the stop to the rank/unit.  So it isn’t any more practical with Fluidsynth to make those voices available “on the fly” as it is with any other rank type.

Looking at the Fluidsynth website, I wouldn’t expect any problems with having the right configuration settings at startup, which should be part of the computer’s boot process.

As to audio output, you need a sound card attached to the computer.  There are some internal cards, but most that we use with Uniflex are external, and the smaller ones are USB connections.  That will convert the output from Fluidsynth or any other program to an output signal to go to an amplifier, which will then go to the speakers.  Again, not having worked with Fluidsynth, I can’t say how flexible it is in terms of directing the output to a specific amplifier channel.

There are also larger ones with use a dedicated interface card in the computer (MOTU has some which fall into this category). In that case, you need to be sure that the computer will accommodate the interface board’s required form factor.  As computers become more compact, options become more limited.

The Uniflex boards are available for either negative- or positive-common.  Negative common is more common (no pun intended).  If you’re buying new boards, the difference is easy to spot: Current generation negative common output boards have 128 pins (16 connectors) and two fuses; positive-common boards have 96 pins (12 connectors) and no on-board fuses.  Input boards are also available in either form, and I think they are marked either negative or positive common.

It doesn’t much matter for the chambers whether you use positive or negative common.  Of course, there’s a difference in how much work you’ll need to do in order to properly fuse things.

The console, on the other hand…. If you’re using the air combination system, then you can use either – again, you’ll have fusing issues to deal with.  But if the console is using electric stop actions (SAMs) you’ll need to match the polarity of the SAM.  Peterson SAMs are marked (-) or (+) on the circuit board. Syndyne SAMs are marked on the permanent magnet – negative common has a daub of white paint on the magnet, positive common has none.  All I can tell you about Reisner magnets is your best bet is to replace them with Syndyne or Peterson….


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