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Legendary Instruments

Hammond B3 - Flying V - Les Paul - Leslie - Moog - Stratocaster - Telecaster - White Falcon - Wurlitzer


Hammond B3

 The Hammond Organ is an electric organ invented by Laurens Hammond in 1934 and manufactured by the Hammond Organ Company. While the Hammond organ was originally sold to churches as a lower-cost alternative to the wind-driven pipe organ, in the 1960s and 1970s it became the preferred instrument for jazz, blues, rock music and gospel music. Although many different models of Hammond organs were produced, the Hammond B-3 organ is the most well-known model, and in the '60s and '70s, the overdriven sound of the B-3 was widely used in progressive rock bands and blues-rock groups. The last "electromechanical" Hammond organ came off the assembly line in the mid-1970s, yet thousands are still in daily use.

Hammond B3 with Leslie Speaker
Hammond B3 with Leslie Speaker

 American inventor Laurens Hammond's "electrical musical instrument" that could recreate a pipe organ–type sound was unveiled to the public in April 1935 and the first model, the Model A, was on the market in June of that year. The organ was first used for popular music by Milt Herth, who played it live on the radio soon after it was invented. Hammond had intended his invention to be an affordable substitute for pipe organs, as a replacement for the piano in middle-class homes, and as an instrument for radio broadcasting. In the early 1950s jazz musicians began to make use the organ's distinctive sound and by the 1960s, the Hammond became popular with the blues, rock, and pop genre groups. The overdriven sound of the Hammond gained a new image when it move from the church/roller rink to the rock stage and became the instrument of choice by '60s and '70s rock artists like Steve Winwood, Keith Emerson, Jon Lord, Billie Ritchie, and Rick Wakeman.

 The original Hammond organ sound was created by mechanical Tone-wheels which rotated in front of electro-magnetic pickups, and the resultant waveforms were mixed by sliding drawbars that were mounted above the two keyboards. The vintage Hammond organ is heavy and hard to transport so in the 1980s and 1990s, musicians began using electronic and digital devices to imitate the sound of the Hammond and in the 1990s and 2000s digital signal processing and sampling technologies allowed for better imitation of the original Hammond sound.

Tone Wheels

  The original Hammond organ imitated the function of a pipe organ's ranks of pipes in multiple registers by using additive synthesis of waveforms from harmonic series to generate its sounds. The Hammond organ's individual waveforms are made by mechanical tone-wheels which rotate in front of electromagnetic pickups. Although they are generally included in the category of electronic organs, original Hammond organs are, strictly speaking, electric or electro-mechanical rather than electronic organs because the waveforms are produced by mechanical tone-wheels rather than electronic oscillators. Hammond tonewheel organs are preferred among many vintage organ enthusiasts, the most popular models also having tube amplifiers. Some of the later Hammond models combine tone-wheel generation with solid-state amplifiers, with the latest models of that era being fully solid state.

 The keys of the Hammond organ have a lightweight action, which allows for very rapid passages to be executed with more ease than on a weighted keyboard, such as a piano or pipe organ. Hammond organs have a distinctive percussive Key click, which is the attack transient that occurs when all nine key contacts close, causing an audible pop or click. Originally, key click was considered to be a design defect and Hammond worked to eliminate or at least reduce it by using equalization filters. However, many performers liked the percussive effect, and it has become part of the classic sound that modern imitators of the Hammond organ have tried to reproduce. Additionally, the keys found on the earliy Hammond keyboards do not have extruding lips or edges, ("waterfall" style keys), making effects such as palm glissandi possible. Later models, starting with the M-100 and L-100 series, were produced with keys colloquially known as "springboard" keys, which as the term suggests, were keys having the traditional overhanging lip.

 Another facet of the distinctive sound of the Hammond is the harmonic Percussion effect. The term "percussion" does not refer to a drum-type sound effect. Instead, it refers to the addition of the second and third harmonic overtones, which can be added independently to the attack envelope of a note. The selected percussion harmonic(s) then quickly fade out, creating a distinctive "plink" sound, leaving the tones which the player has selected using the drawbars. The percussion retriggers only after all notes have been released, so legato passages only have a percussion on the first note. Older Hammond models produced before the 3 series organs (such as the B-2 and C-2) do not have the harmonic percussion feature. Aftermarket percussion effects can be added using devices from Trek II and from the Electro Tone Corporation.

 Hammond organs come with a wooden bass Pedalboard for the feet, so that the organist can play basslines. The Hammond organ featured a 25- note  pedalboard, its top note a middle C, or a 30-note pedalboard, its top note the F above middle C. Several Hammond "concert" models, the RT-2, RT-3 and D-100 had 32-note AGO pedalboards. As well, they also contained a "Solo Pedal Unit" which provided several 32', 16', 8', and 4' voices for the pedal. The solo pedal unit used oscillators, similar to those used in Hammond's "Solovox." Hammond spinet models (L, M, T, etc.) had 12 or 13-note miniature pedalboards. Hammond did offer a model with a 32-note radial arc Pedal Clavier. It was the Grand 100 (G-100) and was manufactured from 1963 to 1965. It was the biggest organ Hammond ever made.

 The Hammond Drawbars give the player control over the combination of fundamental and harmonic frequencies. Whereas in a traditional pipe organ, pipes of differing size/volume, but of the same pitch, will be selected to accentuate the harmonic frequencies of a particular note, on the Hammond this effect is accomplished with the drawbars. The component harmonic frequencies of an individual note are mixed by sliding drawbars mounted above the two keyboards, which operate like the faders on an audio mixing board. When a drawbar is pulled out, it increases the volume of its harmonic. When pushed all the way in, the specified harmonic becomes absent from the mix. The labelling of the drawbar is derived from the stop system in pipe organs where the physical length of the pipe corresponds to the pitch produced.

Draw Bars

Hammond drawbars are set up in groups of nine arranged as follows:

Pipe Length
Harmonic Frequency Produced
16 feet 1 Octave below fundamental frequency
5 - 1/3 feet Fifth above fundamental frequency
8 feet Fundamental frequency
4 feet 1 Octave above fundamental frequency
2 - 2/3 feet 1 Octave and a Fifth above fundamental frequency
2 feet 2 Octaves above fundamental frequency
1 - 3/5 feet 2 Octaves and a Major Third above fundamental
1 - 1/3 feet 2 Octaves and a Fifth above fundamental
1 foot 3 Octaves above fundamental frequency

 Each of the drawbars has a range of 0 (off) to 8 (full on) and can be modified in real-time, allowing changes to be made while a song is being played. A given combination of drawbar settings creates a unique timbre, and is referred to as a registration. Registrations are notated using a 9- digit sequence, (Bass Violin 16' 145 431 000), where each digit corresponds to the level of its respective drawbar. In addition to drawbars, many Hammond tonewheel organ models also include presets, which allow defined drawbar combinations to be made available at the press of a button. The registrations for various predertimined settings can be found HERE.

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