So, what does V/136 mean anyway?

V/136 – the short version: Five manuals (keyboards) and 136 ranks (here's an example!)

So, what’s a manual? And what’s a rank? Here’s a short (read: “not comprehensive”) list of terms all organists know before they sit down to the organ!

It is one of the keyboards of an organ console, and it usually corresponds to a division of pipes.

a group of pipes of various pitches, usually containing an ensemble that will blend and contrast with its neighbor divisions. Most divisions are playable from a single keyboard, but can be played on other keyboards through the use of couplers. On some larger instruments, some divisions might be designated as floating divisions. “Floating” means they do not have a “home” keyboard, but are played on any keyboard through the use of couplers.
A division of pipes is usually a roomful of pipes; one common exception – the pedal division, which may have pipes scattered through all of the other divisions.

Couplers are designated as inter-manual and intra-manual.
Intra-manual couplers usually add the octave above or the octave below the drawn stops. In the case of the unison off, it silences the stops at their unison pitch; the unison off is usually drawn in conjunction with another coupler that raises, lowers, or transfers the pitches of the stops to another keyboard. Intra-manual couplers are usually found within in the stops of the divisions they affect. For instance, on a stop-tab console, most intra-manual couplers are to the right of the division’s row of stop-tabs. On drawknob consoles, the intra-manual couplers usually appear as drawknobs at the top of each division’s drawknobs.
Inter-manual couplers allow stops to be transferred to keyboards (or pedals) other than the “home” keyboard on which a division normally plays. On a stop-tab console, most intra-manual couplers are to the right of the division’s row of stop-tabs, next to the intra-manual couplers. On most drawknob consoles, the inter-manual couplers are usually located in the center of the console, between the upper-most manual and the music desk. Inter-manual couplers usually allow the transfer of stops from one division to another at their original unison pitch (8’ couplers) and also the octave above and below (4’ and 16’ respectively).

A rank is a set of pipes. On most American organs, the keyboards are 61 notes, 5 octaves, from CC to c’’’. The pedal keyboard is usually 32 notes. Depending on the historical model, some keyboards and pedalboards might be shorter. The exception to this rule in the other extreme is the organ console for Atlantic City Auditorium, which has 88, 76 and 61 note keyboards. If a rank plays the whole range of the keyboard (most do), then it will have the same number of pipes as there are notes on the keyboard. When a stop is drawn (via drawknob or stop-tab), it activates a set of pipes that play when the organist depresses a key on that division’s keyboard.
Some stops activate multiple pipes per key. When a stop-knob is engraved with a Roman numeral, it usually indicates the number of pipes that play per note when that stop is drawn. A Mixture IV-V indicates that four pipes will play when a note is depressed in one range of the stop, and five pipes will play in another range of the stop. Most of the time, mixtures (known by a number of names, but usually identifiable by the Roman numerals) use higher-pitched pipes that add brilliance to the lower notes of the keyboard and body to the upper range of the keyboard.

one or more ranks activated by a drawknob or stop-tab. A stop can sometimes be several ranks, meaning more than one pipe plays per note. In the “good ol’ days” (c. 1400) before stops, the organist had no way to select which stops played – all of the stops played all of the time (blockwerk) – thus eliminating any validity to the complaint “The organist is playing too loudly!”

On each stop-tab or drawknob, there is usually a pitch designation to each stop. Unison pitch for the keyboards is 8’ and for the pedals, 16’. When an 8’ keyboard stop is drawn, the pipe that is played from middle C on the keyboard will correspond in pitch to middle C on a piano. The A above that will be around 440 Hrz. (as in “A-440”). The 8’ designation is used because the bottom pipe of that rank, if it is an open pipe, will be approximately 8’ in length. The octave above it will be approximately 4’ in length, and the octave below that will be approximately 16’ in length. Placing a stopper at the top of the pipe will double its speaking length, so an 8’ stopped pipe will speak roughly the same pitch as a 16’ open pipe.

Flue: The way sound is produced in most of the pipes in an organ. Flues produce sound in much the same way a flute or recorder produces sound. Air is blown across a hole and the length of the pipe determines the pitch at which it will speak. Tuning the pipe is usually effected by raising or lowering a sleeve at the top of the pipe, moving the stopper at the top of the pipe, or manipulating a scroll cut toward the top of the pipe.

Reeds: The most brilliant (and usually, the loudest) stops on a pipe organ are generated by reed pipes. Reeds generate sound much in the same way as a single reed instrument, such as a clarinet. A vibrating reed is set into motion by compressed air inside the pipes “boot,” it vibrates against a tube that is flat and open on one side (shallot), and that sound is amplified by the pipe above it (resonator). They are tuned by adjusting the length of reed that vibrates (by moving a tuning wire that presses up against the reed) and also by lengthening/shortening the length of the resonator. By manipulating both of these, the same pitch can be maintained, but the reed can be made to speak louder or softer – known as regulation.

Family: There are four families of stops (Flutes, Principals, Strings, Reeds) that are divided into two main categories of how their sound is produced (flues and reeds). Within the flue category, there are three families of stops. The stops that usually have the least harmonic development (weakest overtones) are the flutes. The stops associated most with “organ” sound are the principals, which have a more evenly tapered harmonic development. The strings are the brightest of the flues, usually having a stronger set of upper harmonics with relation to the pipe’s fundamental pitch.

Knobs located to the sides of the keyboards, arranged on stop-jambs. The stops are activated by pulling the drawknob out, usually 1-2 inches. The knobs are usually grouped in divisions that correspond to the keyboards. On a typical American three-manual organ, the Pedal and Swell division drawknobs would be located to the left of the keyboards, while the Great and Choir divisions would be located to the right of the keyboards. Typically, the flue stops are located toward the bottom of each division grouping, and are usually arranged with the lowest pitches at the bottom and the higher pitched stops toward the top. The reed stops and intra-manual couplers are usually located above those.

Serve the same function as drawknobs. Actuated by depressing the tab. Tabs can be found either above the keyboards or to the sides of the keyboards.

Pedals: The “keyboard” located just above the floor and which are played by the organist’s two feet. The pedal keyboard is usually arranged in the same arrangement as the manuals (using naturals and flats/sharps), but because they are played by the organist’s feet, each key is much larger, there is more space between each key, and there are fewer of them. Most American organ consoles have between 30 and 32 pedal notes, while most keyboards are 61 notes. Most pedal keyboards correspond to the bottom two and a half octaves of the keyboards (from CC to g). Most of the pedal stops reinforce the 16’ pitch of the division, which speaks an octave below the 8’ pitch of most manual divisions. The largest and longest pipes of the organ are usually found in the pedal division.

Combination actions –
Since most organs have more stops than the organist has fingers, a mechanical or electronic aid allows the organist to pre-set combinations of stops, assigning them to a button (called “pistons”) or a knob just above the pedalboard, to be actuated by the feet (called “toe studs”). Sometimes, the toe studs duplicate some of the pistons, allowing the organist the option of recalling a setting using either the piston or, if a finger is not free, using a toe stud. With the advent of computers, the organist can set all of the pistons and toe studs on an instrument several times over. When an organist says “Our instrument has 256 levels of memory” – it means they can reset all of the combinations on the instrument 256 times.

Expression –
Some divisions of an instrument are enclosed in a room that has only one outlet, and that opening is covered with a set of “swell shades” – large boards that swivel open and closed in a motion that resembles very large and heavy Venetian blinds. In much the same way Venetian Blinds would control the amount of light that enters a room, the swell shades would control the amount of sound that leaves the pipe chamber and enters the main hall/sanctuary. The opening and closing of the shades is controlled by large, wide pedals at the center of the organ console and just above the pedalboard. They resemble the gas and brake pedals on a city municipal bus.

More advanced stuff (that not EVERY organist needs to know, but might be helpful):

Hrz. –
the number of times in a second a pipe vibrates, giving us a sense of pitch. A stop that speaks at 8’ pitch will correspond to those same pitches on a piano. Middle c will be approximately 256 hrz. (or 256 vibrations per second). The a above that would be approximately 440 hrz. The bottom note of that stop would vibrate at about 64 cycles per second. A 16’ pipe, one octave below that would vibrate at about 32 cycles per second, while a 32’ pipe, one octave below that one, would vibrate at about 16’ cycles per second.

The character of each stop is determined by the pipes construction and manipulation (voicing). Each parameter of the pipe has an effect on that pipes speech and its harmonic train, or overtones. Each pipe has a set of harmonics which usually include the
fundamental (the perceived pitch of the pipe),
its second harmonic (the octave above that)
third harmonic (the fifth above that)
fourth harmonic (the octave above that – 2 octaves above the fundamental)
fifth (the third above that – 2 octaves and a major third above the fundamental)
sixth (2 octaves and a perfect fifth above the fundamental)
seventh (2 octaves and a flatted seventh above the fundamental)
eighth (3 octaves above the fundamental)
Harmonics above the eighth harmonic usually get progressively weaker as they ascend. They also are close to or past the threshold of human hearing in their pitch, and are sometimes referred to as “transients.”
The various pitches found on an organ that are not unison are designed to reinforce the harmonics of the unison pitch.
The strength of the harmonics in relation to its fundamental give each pipe its tonal character; according to this character, organists and organ builders classify these stops in their various families. 
The different terms harmonic vs. overtone, refer to roughly the same thing, only one pitch difference. The fundamental is the first harmonic. The octave above that is the second harmonic, or first overtone. The fifth above that is the third harmonic, or second overtone. You get the drift!

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