Wiki: Organ Stops

Jingyi Xu

Organ stops are components that controlling the entrence of air from the wind chest into the pipes and creating the distinctive voices. Here are four main families of Organ stops: The Principals; The Reeds; The Flutes and The strings.
  • The Principals
  • The Reeds

The Reeds family are wildly different in their sound and construction. Their sounds made by vibrating reed when the air goes into the pipe. The reeds family imitative not only of reed instruments, but also trumpets. There are two subcategories of The Reeds Family: solo reeds and chorus reeds.

1. The solo reed can be used as a solo stop on a seperate manual, it usually doesn’t blend well with the flues. 

Common names of solo reeds:

Clarinet; English Horn; Regal

2. the chorus reeds blend well with the flues and they are generally louder. Besides, a chorus reed can also serve as a solo reed, but the solo reed doesn’t usually double as a chorus reed.

Common names of chorus reeds:

Bason; Clarion/Clairon; Oboe; Trompette

  • The Flutes
  • The Strings

Huilin Shen

Organ Stop(Register) is a series of organ pipes from the largest to the smallest, homongeneous in timbre and in tensity, each pipe correspoing to a key on the manual. A drawstop or stop-key on the console brings the series into play. These stops are divided into seven families, according to timbre. These families are: Diapason(Principal), Flute, Bourdon, String, Mutation, Mixture, and Reed. We are going to do the research about four families—Principal, Reed, Flute and Strings.

Here follows the list of the names of the stops in general use, classified in families.

  • The Principals 
    • Principal stops are non-imitative; their sound does not atttempt to imitate a particular instrument. The principal sound is the most characteristic sound of the pipe organ.
      • Principal (or Dispason, Open Diapson, Prinzipal *German, Montre *French)
      • Octave (or Prestant)
      • Super Octave (or Fiteenth, Doublette *French)
      • Quint (or Twelfth)
      • Mixture (or Fourniture *French, Plein Jeu *French, Cymbale, Scharf; followed by a Roman numeral indicating the number of pipes that simultaneously for a single note)


  • The Reeds


  • The Flutes


  • The Strings

Qianqian Xie

An organ stop is a component of a pipe organ that admits pressurized air (known as wind) to a set of organ pipes. Its name comes from the fact that stops can be used selectively by the organist; each can be “on” (admitting the passage of air to certain pipes), or “off” (stopping the passage of air to certain pipes).

Organ stops are sorted into four major types: principal, flute, string, and reed.

Principal  Principals are the main voice of the pipe organ. Principals, (specifically the Great principal chorus), are the backbone to the tonal body of an instrument. The total character of any organ is either, made by the success of a well-voiced principal chorus, or broken by the failure of an inadequate one.

Principals, unlike flute pipes or string pipes, are true organ pipes. They are not voiced to imitate any other instrument, but are indeed musical instruments in their own right. Their sound is clear, their tambour full and rich containing, in proportion, every harmonic in the natural series. Alone, a principal has complex voice comprised of strong fundamental tone and rich overtones. Used in conjunction with other stops, a principal blends and adds support, losing a little of its acuteness but retaining the strong fundamental. And built up with others of the principal chorus, (4? Octave, 2? Fifteenth, Mixture IV), they give us that classic “organ” sound that no other instrument can imitate.

Flute Flute stops attempt to imitate (to one degree or another) the sound of flute-class woodwind instruments, such as the transverse flute and piccolo.

For use in solo melodies, some flutes can be specifically voiced to be imitative, resembling the sounds found in an orchestra. These stops, which can be made of metal or wood, are found in either stopped or open variety. They can speak the note of their length (as found in open pipes), or emphasize the harmonic of the note (as is the case with harmonic flutes). Harmonic Flutes are pipes that have a small hole drilled at a point approximately halfway along the upper body of the pipe. This hole creates a node that emphasizes the natural octave sounding harmonic of the pipe. Constructed of metal and cylindrical in shape, these stops are commonly found at 4? pitch, but can also be found at 8? pitch. Other harmonic stops are Traverse Flute, often made of wood, Flute Octavian, Concert Flute, Orchestral Flute, and Zauberflute, that can be either harmonic or stopped.

String String stops attempt to imitate (to one degree or another) the sound of stringed instruments, such as the violin and cello. With their smaller scaling and narrow mouths with lower cut ups, string pipe tone is characterized by a weaker fundamental and stronger upper harmonics.

Strings are needed to round out the tonal palette of the organ. They add richness, texture and color to the ensemble with their distinctively refined tone. Used en masse, they can also simulate an orchestral string section in symphonic transcriptions. Softer toned strings, Dulciana, Dolce and Aeoline are used in moments of meditation and convey a “heavenly peace” with their dulcet, singing quality.

Reed Reed stops attempt to imitate (to one degree or another) the sound of brass instruments such as the trumpet and tuba, reed instruments such as the clarinet and oboe, and even the human voice.

Reeds belong to the family of beating reeds and produce their tone differently than the flute families. Reed tone is produced by the beating of a brass reed tongue, which is held tightly against the brass shallot. Wind pressure from the windchest sets the reed into motion. Once the tone is produced by this, it is further reinforced, colored and tuned by the resonator. This resonator can be of various shapes and sizes. Labial Reeds are the classification of pipes that produce imitative reed tone without the vibrating reed tongue. This tone is produced by flues pipes that have been voiced to emphasize specific harmonic characteristics to appear to resemble a reed pipe. (Labial Oboe, Saxophone).


Yingying Xia

Organ Stops

switches, when the stops are pulled out, it allows the air go into a sent of organ pipes. When the stops haven’t been pulled then, even you press the manual, you won’t get any sound.

Octave pitch lengths used in actual organs include 64?, 32?, 16?, 8?, 4?, 2?, 1?, 1?2?, and 1?4?, which also related to the organ stops. For example we have Bourdon 16′, Obeo 4′

An organ stop can mean one of three things:

  • the control on an organ console that selects a particular sound
  • the row of organ pipes used to create a particular sound, more appropriately known as a rank
  • the sound itself

Organ stops are sorted into four major types: principal, string, reed, and flute.

Principal or Diapason

Principal stops are non-imitative; that is, their sound does not attempt to imitate that of a particular instrument. The Principal sound is the most characteristic sound of the pipe organ; it is the sound which comes to mind in the context of traditional church music (such as hymns). While spellings and names vary by language and era, here are some common examples:

  • Principal (or Diapason, Open Diapason, PrinzipalMontre)
  • Octave (or Prestant)
  • Super Octave (or Fifteenth, Doublette)
  • Quint (or Twelfth; sometimes in the Flute category)
  • Mixture (or FourniturePlein JeuCymbaleScharf; followed by a Roman numeral indicating the number of pipes that play simultaneously for a single note; example: Mixture III,Oberton IX or Fourniture IV–VII)  



Flute stops attempt to imitate (to one degree or another) the sound of flute-class woodwind instruments, such as the transverse flute and piccolo.
Common examples:

  • Flute (or FlûteFlöte)
  • Gedackt (or Gedeckt)
  • Bourdon (or Bordun)
  • Subbass (or Soubasse)
  • Stopped Diapason (or Stopped Flute) — despite its name, the Stopped Diapason is a flute-class stop
  • Flûte Harmonique (or Harmonic Flute, Flûte Octaviante)
  • Concert Flute (or Flauto Traverso)
  • Piccolo
  • Rohrflöte (or Chimney Flute, Flûte à Cheminée)
  • Nachthorn (or Cor de Nuit)
  • Quintaton (or Quintadena)
  • Nazard (or NasardNasat)
  • Tierce (or Terz)
  • Larigot


String stops attempt to imitate (to one degree or another) the sound of stringed instruments, such as the violin and cello. Common examples:

    • Gamba (or Viola da Gamba, Viole de Gambe)
    • Voix Céleste
    • Violin (or Viola, Viole d’Orchestre)
    • Violoncello
    • Violone
Flue pipes
Flue pipes include all stops of the “Principal”, “Flute”, and “String” classes, and some stops from the “Hybrid” class.
Flue Pipes may be metallic or wooden. Metal pipes are usually circular in cross section; wooden pipes are usually square or rectangular, though triangular and round wooden pipes do exist. 
Reed pipes
Reed pipes include all stops of the “Reed” class, and some stops from the “Hybrid” class. The reed stops of an organ are collectively called the “reed-work”
 reed pipes, whose sound is driven by beating reeds, as in a clarinet. A reed pipe comprises a metal tongue (the reed) which rests against a shallot, in which is carved a tunnel.  
    • Reed stops attempt to imitate (to one degree or another) the sound of brass instruments such as the trumpet and tuba, reed instruments such as the clarinet and oboe, and even the human voice. Common examples:

      • Trumpet (or TrompeteTrompette, Clarion, Trompette en Chamade)
      • Posaune (or Trombone)
      • Oboe (or Hautbois)
      • Fagotto (or Basson)
      • Clarinet
      • Tuba
      • Cromorne (or Krummhorn)
      • Bombarde
      • Vox Humana (or Voix Humaine)
      • Dulzian
      • Cornopean
      • Ophicleide


Hybrid stops contain one rank of pipes which attempts to combine the tone qualities of two other classifications of stops, such as Principal + String, String + Flute, or Principal + Flute


Additional Info

Good work, team!  Quinquin and Yingying included the most comprehensive listing of all familes, and you should all read more below for your own learning of this particular topic.  One item left off the String family – the Celeste stop (any stop that has “Celeste” in the name) is intentionally tuned sharp to make a “chorus” effect with the paired string stop tuned to normal pitch. This makes it sound like a string orchestra, as opposed to one violinist. One of the most beautiful sounds on the organ.

As of Feb 2, I’m still missing this assignment from Ana. 




1 Things that I learned from the video below: (Four Organ Families of Sound – Allen Organs)

   Principal stops are well suited to accompany congregational singing in hymn choir.

   Flutes stops, which imitate various instruments of flute family. They produce warmer and rounded sound than the Principals.

   String stops are specially important for performance of slow and meditated organ music. It sounds subdued and much thinner than Principal and flute. The string stops often have a counterpart called celeste, which is a string stops that tunes slight sharp or flat of its unison counterpart.When these two stops combines, they produce warmer undulating tone.

   Reeds can be classified as solo reeds which has directive sounds and chorus reeds, which add power to the principal chorus. It can be accompanied by the string stops.


2 More stops names:

·  Combination of String + Principal:

  • Geigen Principal (or Violin Diapason)
  • Salicional
  • Dulciana

·  Combination of String + Flute

  • Gemshorn
  • Spitz Flöte
  • Erzähler

 3.Percussion stops unlike other organ stops, are not aerophones, but actual embedded percussion instruments. They can be tune or untune instruments for example, marimba and snare drum.


The Principals: “Organ Sounds” Foundation Stops, Doesn’t imitate other instrument sounds

Principal, Diapason, Open Diapason




Super Octave


Principal Flute

Open Wood


Horn Diapason

Italian Principal


The Flutes: Usually combined with the principals to create a warmer sound, Either stopped or open pipes, Pipes are either made of metal or wood


Open Flute

Harmonic Flute

Travers Flute / Flauto Trasverso

Hohl Flute

Rohl Flute

Claribel Flute, Suave Flute, Suabe Flute Lieblick Flute

Harmonic Claribel Flute


Double Flute / Doppel Flute Hautboy

Orchestral Flute

Concert Flute

Spindle Flute

Spire Flute

Chimney Flute

Tapered Flute

Wald Flute


Bell Flute, Bell Diapason

Flute Pavilion



Stopped Diapason


Stopped Wood

Echo Bourdon

Stopped Flute Quitatón / Quintadena / Quintade

Nason Flute, Tibia clausa

Sub Bass

Major Bass

Open Metal / Open Wood / Open Bass


The Strings: Most often 8′ stops, Imitates the string instruments,


Unda Maris

Cello Violloncello Celestes


Gamba Salicional

Gemshorn Geigen

Orchestral Violin

Cone Gamba

Violone Violes Celestes Viola d’Orchestre Violes Sourdines

Cornet de Violes


The Reeds: Sounded by a reed at the bottom of the pipe, Imitates reed instrument sounds as well as brass instruments

Tuba Tuba Clarión

Tuba Mirabilis Contra Tuba


Trumpette Militaire


Trombone Bombardon

Bombarde Tromba Contra Tromba

English Horn / Cor Anglais

Post Horn






Orchestral Orchestral Clarión





Anastasia Rege

I really enjoyed this resource! Anna Lapwood describes how the organ stops work, what the numbers mean, and the different timbral sounds you can achieve through stop selection and utilization.