Recently we were contacted by Mark Warchol, an engineer who worked for Opsonar. He was involved in the early development of the Orchestron Model A. I conducted a brief email interview with Mark, and Robert got a chance to meet him in person. Here he is posing with Robert’s Orchestrons.
Q: Can you give us some biographical info and how you came to be involved in Miner Industries / Opsonar?
Mark: I graduated from Penn State in 1974 with an associate degree and was looking for work in the audio world. Before Opsonar I had been repairing amplifiers for three local music stores since I was sixteen. I also ran a PA company with a friend of mine that worked at Opsonar on the assembly line. Mark Garvin had just left Opsonar and I replaced him as the R&D engineer.
Q: What do you remember about the formation of Opsonar?
Mark: Not much actually, I remember some of the names but Jim Spaihts (engineering manager) acted as the go between with the front office. I was up against a deadline to finish the design and build 5 prototype Orchestrons for Vako.
Q: Can you describe the equipment and inventory that was transferred to the New Kensington plant from California?
Mark: There were pallets of experimental electronics that had apparently been sold with the company to Miner Industries. A lot of experimentation had been performed on multi-track tape 24-36 apparently as a variant of the optical track system. Since there were no technical people from California the best we could do was speculate as to the intention.
Q: What was your primary work related to the Optigan?
Mark: I trouble shot problems with Optigan® organs that the line technicians had problems with. This was usually very rare as the normal MO was to swap sub-assemblies to get a problem solved. My main role was to develop the Orchestron. There were fundamental changes in the sensor wiring to help reduce the “crosstalk” by reordering the tracks. This helped by making the bleed over less objectionable by making the adjacent tracks harmonic.
Q: What can you tell us about the origins of the Orchestron?
Mark: I don’t know who actually came up with the idea but I suspect it was Mark Garvin. How exactly he fit into the picture I’m not sure. Garvin was at least working on the prototype Orchestron when I took over. Why he left I don’t know for sure. I am also not sure if there was an earlier prototype before the five I built. My guess is there was at least one.
Q: As far as you know, how many Orchestrons were made by Opsonar, over what time period?
Mark: Jim Spaihts and I talked about this and there were “40 units” produced by Miner Industries. It is however unclear if that included the 5-6 prototypes or if that was the “production run.”
Q: What were your personal feelings about the Orchestron at that time, both in terms of the technology and how it was being marketed?
Mark: I though the Orchestron was pretty cool. At the time the Mellotron was the “synthesizer” of the day. You could have the sounds of a full orchestra at your fingertips. Of course it weighed as much as a full orchestra and cost even more, LOL. The Orchestron potentially would have solved both of those problems. The timing however was a bit late…
Q: Do you know anything about how the Orchestron eventually switched over to the Model B Talentmaker style chassis?
Mark: Miner Industries was having problems and eventually went bankrupt. I went back to university to finish a BS and in that time 1974-1976 the New Kensington factory was closed and the Estey/Opsonar/Orchestron lines moved to their toy factory in Bronx, NY. Shortly after the move they declared bankruptcy. My guess is that Vako went to Chilton to build more chassis for the Orchestron.
Q: What do you recall about the end of Opsonar/Optigan® and Miner Industries?
Mark: Actually as the last question. I worked with Jim Spaihts again after graduation at a different company and this is what I remembered along with looking up the court records of the bankruptcy. Rob Klembus worked there until it closed in New Kensington and after as a contract employee (from New Kensington) working on the drafting work for the designs. He may be able to fill in some blanks…
Q: Do you have any Opsonar-related items leftover in your archives?
Mark: I have an original “California” service manual and a few odds and ends components.
Many thanks to Mark for filling in some blanks for us!