Hammond: 1934 to Present








Let's talk a little about these really old Hammonds that everyone loves so much. We always hear about the B3, but there are other models very similar like the C-3 and A-100.

From 1934 to 1974 the Hammond organ was an electromechanical device, it was not electronic. Prior to Laurens Hammond almost losing his clock company there was no such thing as an electronic keyboard. All keyboard instruments prior to Hammond were acoustic. You had the acoustic piano, the harpsichord, the reed organ, the pipe organ, the accordion... But there was no such thing as an electronic organ or a keyboard that you plug in and play.  So you can say that the Hammond is the father of the modern day electronic keyboard, and from that standpoint it's a it's a remarkable innovation.

When you consider that some of these instruments are 50, 60, 70 years old and are still playing, it's pretty amazing.  It's only now that they're starting to die out because they are very old. I don't have anything 40 years old that is electronic. You know, we throw away televisions after a decade.  Keyboards that you buy typically have a lifespan of 15 years max.

The Hammond organs that you hear today being used in rock and jazz and gospel even don't sound like they did when they were new. They're not playing up to spec, but they are still playing. The late gospel singer and composer Andre Crouch has won nine Grammys in gospel music and Lord only knows how many awards in all the years.  He was the watershed personality in gospel music, and his comment to me when he was trying to produce the album Mighty Wind, was that he was really flustered because the B-3 that they were using just did not sound right. He was looking for the clean sound of the Hammond organ, but what he was getting was a sound you would hear at the beginning of Oye Como Va by Santana with that distorted growl.  A sound which is loved in rock and roll but being totally honest if that's the way a brand new organ would have sounded on the showroom floor in 1936 nobody would want it.

Tell me about the new Hammond B-3 called the Portable B-3.  It's no longer electromechanical.  What's the engineering like on that instrument and how does it differ from the original B-3?

So on one hand we have to produce an instrument to make all the sounds people love from a rock and roll standpoint, but at the same time the instrument has to be faithful back to the original sound as if it weren't all out of alignment with failing capacitors and stuff inside getting old and causing these distortions.

It's an interesting problem that Hammond faces.  They have to build an instrument that can sound just like a brand new 1967 or 1966 B-3 that can also sound just like a fifty+ year old instrument that has had the dickens beat out of it.

You have prejudices and expectations about what Hammond music is supposed to sound like. It already has the variable of a phenomenal number of drawbar combinations all producing drastically different sounds, and then you add to it variables of aging and leaky capacitors diodes and resistors that are out of specifications and tubes that are marginal.

The old B3 has an electromechanical sound source that has a tone generator that is made up of an AC synchronous motor driving a gear train spinning 91 different little beetles creating 91 different pitches and all of those pitches are pre amplified by the pre amplifier in the organ and the draw bars, through miles of wire, connects all of those 91 pitches to each, by way of the draw bars to the Keys and so each key is capable by way of those tiny draw bars of creating nine different pitches on the one key.  The degree to which you pull that bar determines the intensity of that particular pitch with the volume of that particular piece on that key. So you have fundamentals, you have the eight, four, two and sixteen on drawbars that are the same pitch. Middle C on the organ with the 8 foot draw bar pulled out is truly middle C. By the same token, if I play the A above middle C with that eight foot drawbar pulled out, I'm actually getting A440. But if I pull it out to 16, it's an octave lower.  If I pull it out to four, I'm getting 880 because I've actually cut it in half.

And then you have the harmonics.   Harmonic draw bars have a harmonic of that fundamental.  So you have the fundamentals and then you have the various harmonics and they all exist on that one pitch or that one key. So the original Hammond organ did this by way of wires and it did it by way of preamp that fire the electromechanical tone generator.

Today we have substituted the electromechanical tone generator with an electronic digital generator reproducing the ninety one pitches. It's the same as the old tone generator, but the draw bars on a new B-3 do exactly the same thing as the draw bars on a vintage organ or mixing those pre-amplified pitches, the same way as on the original organs.  There are nine wire contacts on those keys grounding to the nine bus bars that traverse the entire keyboard just like on the very first Hammond Model A.

And so you get that same key click because we're grounding and completing the signal the same way the signal was completed back in 1934. We're not having to fake the key click because it's the real thing that you're hearing. because we have a digital sound source but that basic circuit path is the same. But we've got rid of the motor, the oil, the gears and the little wheels, but the basic concept internally is the same. And because it's a digital source we have some added features like the ability to move up and down pitch wise to tune and transpose.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.