Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Thomas Californian 250,260,261,262,263,& quadraphonic spinets & '287 Californian Theatre'

First let me say that the Thomas Californian in all it's splendor can be heard on the Cardinal Record entitled Harry Wach 'Californian Here I Come'. . 
Harry rips up on this record! It is pure organ heaven. He is a true master in the same league as players like Klaus Wunderlich.
 The Thomas Organ Company is a very 'musician involved' company. They were among the first to use transistors in consumer spinet organs. Thomas invented delayed vibrato ( my Wurlitzer 625t theater organ has it on the Orbit synth). Another Thomas first was delayed percussion. The T-1 ( or TL-1, L is for Leslie) which came on the scene in 1960 had controls for both rate and speed.
   The Thomas Californian 250 came onto the scene in 1970-71. It had a simple bass drum/snare rhythms in 2/4,3/4, and  4/4 times. Also connected to this ultra simple rhythm section was auto accompaniment where accents on the lower keyboard would sound on the even beats and the bass pedal depressed would play the 5th higher note than the one every other beat- alternating between the two notes. If the pedals are not played, the drums turned down, and the tabs depressed for only the accents to play on the lower keyboard, one can play The Who's 'Don't Get Fooled Again' very convincingly. All of the Californian spinets have the same 12 oscillator card tone generator systems. According to the popular ' ORGAN LIST  ' the Californians ( except the 287, it's TOS see def.) are 'I.C. divider'. Yes, it is integrated circuits (IC's), but in a very minimal way. Each of the 12 oscillator cards have two 5003 6-pin Motorola op-amps, 3 transistors and a 'silver cube' tuning coil. These are all lined up next to each other with 'Molex 10-pin' connectors. For division of the 16,8,4 footages there is a very long narrow PCB ( printed circuit boards) with (4 sub-PCB's per note each 4 transistors)X 12. So this is 16 transistors per note! And that's not including the initial oscillator cards for each note described previously. All of these transistors haven't even gotten to the voicing board, percussion board, pedal division board, ultra cool 2 X 'tremulent' boards+ single voltage control board for the tremulents eight photo resistors and lightbulbs, ( the Californians are stereo or quadraphonic has 4 of these I'm fairly sure. If you know different correct me please.), and finally pre-amp board. The pedal on all of the Californians, including the 287'Theatre' houses the stereo amplifier and volume controls. The transformers are also on this pedal . Servicing a Thomas is extremely tech friendly. There is a chart inside the organ lid showing PCB layout and trimmer potentiometer adjustment. The upper key manual lifts and there is a 'stick' on the left to hold it up while doing repairs.
     The Californian 261 has a more sophisticated rhythm section, but is essentially the same as the 250. I've got a 250 and a 263. The organ key voicings, tremulent, and key percussion ( from L to R the 4 perc. tabs are 'Mandolin', 'Harpsichord', 'Piano', and 'Accordion') are identical on all Thomas Californian organs except the 287 Theatre. In fact, I will get into a thorough description of the 287 Theatre soon.
   The Cal 262 and 263 have built in Wah Wah from the people who invented wah wah ( or as it also called, 'wah' singularly). There is an extra box located next to the pedal assembly which houses the components for the wah. The potentiometer for the wah is also housed in this box. There is linkage on the opposite side of the volume pedal to accommodate movement of the wah's potentiometer. The circuit design is not unlike a Thomas Cry Baby wah pedal. The volume pedal doubles as the wah pedal. After max volume the wah range begins and moving the pedal further increases the wah's frequency. It does take a little practice adjusting to the combination.volume/wah on the foot pedal. I've thought of making a couple of modifications to the pedal and wah. The first would be to put a volume bypass control so that the organ volume could be set to a predetermined level with a knob located under the key desk. Then the wah could be used without any volume drops at the front end of the travel for the wah pedal.Switching back to the stock configuration could be as easy as flipping a switch. Another modification would be to make the wah reversible so that it would operate backwards. If a momentary button were located under the key desk then interesting wah/reverse wah effects could be done by the left hand pressing the momentary button while soloing on the swell ( upper) keyboard with the right hand.
The 263's ribbon controller is a very cool little addition which I will explain in the future.


  1. Hello Paul,

    I am interested in reading more information regarding the Californian Theatre 287. In your article you stated "I will get into a thorough description of the 287 Theatre soon." I am unable to locate your posting of such: Did you post it?

    Additionally, I just donated my parents Thomas Californian Theatre 287 to an Assisted Living facility in So. California yesterday. Upon turning it on it appears it may need some servicing, e.g., hum when vol sliders are turned up; cannot increase peddle vol much; need an instruction manual; probably have to contact a service rep to service it if I am unable to figure out how to get everything working (this may just be my lack of knowledge of how to use the instrument).

    So, if you would be kind enough to shed some light on the above I would be most grateful as will the 68 elders in the Assisted Living facility of which many play keyboard instruments and are excited that one is now available for use.

    Thank you for any assistance.

    Warmest regards,


    PS. If it is of any assistance I will secure the serial number and other related info.

  2. Hi Paul, my query is as yours, about the 287. It has stopped working , but no fuse blowing. I really love its sound and desperately looking for any knowledge to help. Cheers, Mars

  3. I want to sell my Thomas organ 262 Californian with rhythm system - Paul would you have any idea how much it would be worth? It is in very good condition! Thank you for any input you can give.

  4. Where is fuse located on the Thomas California 263 organ

  5. Where is fuse on the Thomas California 263 Organ
    Please reply to

  6. There is a 287 for sale in auction in UK
    and also a 289

  7. Is there a reset button on 287 California theatre organ?

  8. where can i get service manuals for the 263b (j4) rythm part and pedals dont work on mine
    thx in advance