Classic sounds

June 3, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

One way to appreciate the past is through the playing of its instruments.

Our friend, cellist Zuill Bailey, plays on a cello that was handcrafted when Bach was alive. Just the idea of keeping alive that instrument’s rich heritage is inspiring to me.

Move up in time a few hundred years and Octave Record’s recent purchase for the studio of a vintage 1947 Hammond organ has me equally excited.

The classic Hammond for which we are all familiar with the sound—remember Booker T. and the M.G.s?—is legendary. From soap operas to rock, the sound of the B3 is unmistakable. Just remember back to these songs featuring the Hammond: Procol Harum, Whiter shade of Pale, Gimme’ some lovin’ by the Spencer Davis Group, Hush by Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin’s Your time is gonna come, Mr. Moonlight by the Beatles, Time is tight by Booker T, Hold your head up by Argent, to name just a few.

The organ we acquired is a Hammond C3. The ones used in the above tracks is a B3. The difference? The color of the cabinet. B3 was Hammond’s designation for Bar (to be played in a bar) and C is for Church (to be played on Sunday). Internally they are carbon copies.

Octave’s Leslie, the spinning speaker that gives the Hammond part of its signature sound, was from a B3.

One of the defining characteristics of the Hammond organ is its classic sound. It was not an electronic organ as so many that followed were. Instead, the Hammond relied upon spinning tone wheels and a good dose of Hammond oil to keep the beast running.

The day the organ was delivered I filmed the experience and placed it into a video you can watch here.

The next Octave release you hear with this classic organ sound you’ll know the history behind it.

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35 comments on “Classic sounds”

  1. No love for Gregg? The Allman Brothers Live at The Fillmore East.

    In the right Music Hall Brent Mydland could run circles around Gregg Allman in his time with the Grateful Dead 1979-1990.

  2. Cellos, violins, pianos, organs, harps, clarinets etc, all these instruments seem to have evolved to an ultimate most optimized design. I wonder how the ultimate design of the loudspeaker will finally look (in some hundred?) years. 🙂 Obviously the IRSVs facing now the IRSV-killer FR30 didn’t yet reach this final design state.

  3. Hammond organs were standard fare in mid-20th century smaller churches in America that could not afford pipe organs. Most organists playing them were addicted to vibrato, which in combination with the Leslie speakers were supposed to simulate the tremolo and celeste effects of a pipe organ, but did so in a horrible way. Most organists were what I call “left footers” because they never learned to use both feet to play the pedalboard. They typically just rested their right foot on the volume control pedal. Also, they tended to play Hammonds like pianos without proper finger substitution that trained organists learn.

    Professional church organists when they had to play a Hammond (which they despised) would typically turn off the vibrato and adjust the tone controls to get a more convincing pipe organ sound. Untrained church organists would typically leave the tone controls in a preset heavy-vibrato, bloated mid-bass configuration, and were incapable of producing the full, rich pallet of sounds that the Hammonds were capable of. People were always amazed at how good the Hammonds could sound when trained, younger guest organists played them. But when the untrained regular organists were back on board, the sound returned to the boring same-o monotonous sound that gave Hammond a bad reputation.

    Digital pipe organs made by companies like Allen Organ, Rodgers, Alborn and Johannus replaced most Hammond organs in churches. Hammond B3 organs with Leslie speakers used to be plentiful and very cheap on Ebay. They have escalated in price in recent years due to renewed interest. Many digital keyboards can emulate the sound of Hammonds but have a much harder time producing the more complex sound of real pipe organs. Today the most realistic digital Hammond and pipe organ sounds come from digital organs and keyboards that use high-resolution digitally recorded samples of actual Hammond and pipe organs. The advantage of digital organs and keyboards is that they can accurately reproduce the sounds of more complex organs and also the reverb of the halls in which the organ samples were recorded.

    Audio tubes for electronic pipe organs, like Hammonds, were manufactured to strict quality standards and today are some of the best N.O.S. choices for tube rollers looking for inexpensive matched pairs with full range linearity.

    1. Hey. Terrific post here. Thank you.
      Also I can imagine a 300 B Tube being used in those Hammonds you described. 🙂
      Tube rolling is really cool bye the way. I’m just starting to get into it.

    2. A friend was the local Allen Organs man in Australia.
      Churches required a new organ, a real pipe organ “because the sound”,
      Their church elders chose an Allen organ, and with the speaker boxes behind the screen — nobody knew or criticized.

      1. In 1999 I owned an Allen organ and donated it to a church. It sounded wonderful in the church acoustic. More current models have improved (longer, higher-resolution, user adjustable) sampling, with real-time selectable intonations, so you can switch between organ styles, such as American classic, French, German baroque, English, Dutch,etc. on the fly. And like a real pipe organ, their notes can be individually voiced and tuned to suit the room and the owner’s taste. Another advantage is they stay in tune, not affected by room temperature and humidity.

        1. My English relative, on a visit here, met my Allen local agent mate.
          “I have an Allen Organ back home in my converted barn.”
          “Then here is a pile of punch cards you can use to expand its voicings”

          For the Pope’s visit here my mate was “invited” to lend an Allen organ.

          1. I remember those Allen Organ add-on voice punch cards…circa 1980s before floppy disks and CD-medium. The early digital pipe organs had limited RAM, ROM and computer processing power, so pipe samples had to be frugal in duration and were heavily processed for smooth looping. As memories, pipe sample quality and computer processing power improved, the digital organs sounded more and more like real pipe organs.

  4. I love the linage of music instruments. I’d say the Hammond B3 was just as popular to use as the Mellotron with in the bounteous genre that is
    Progressive rock. 🙂
    Very iconic with so much history.

    1. A few years ago, a local band came to the (National) park across the street from home. On Sundays in summer they had free concerts. The site burned down with the Woolsey fire. This band had a Mellotron. I went to them after their set and asked them about it. They were so excited to show it to me and talk. They were surprised someone knew what a Mellotron was. Not the easiest instrument to maintain.
      This Sunday, we have the first concert there in three years or more!

  5. If you enjoy the Hammond organ, you will love this group I discovered last week ( Delvon Lamar ORGAN trio ) from Seattle WA. Funky jazz at its best! Their latest album just released in April ( Live in Loveland ) is great.

  6. As a teenager we played the “Green Onions” album so many times that when you flipped it over you heard the A side music backwards and upside down. 😉

    1. Totally agree with you Peter.
      IMO Jimmy Smith was the man. The first jazz album I ever heard when I was 12 years old was Jimmy Smith “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf”.

      There are many excellent Hammond players out there now. Joey DeFrancesco comes to mind.

  7. Paul, as Peter Allen offered, Jimmy Smith was know for playing a B3, as were many other jazz keyboard players. In most cases, the bar reference was appropriate. Back in the 1960s just about any bar that offered live jazz had a B3 in house.

    Nice acquisition.

  8. Heartwarming for this B-3 lover who remembers all the sweat and cursing that accompanied transporting B-3/Leslie combinations to gigs. Dr. Lonnie Smith, Charles Earland, the incredible Larry Young and the list goes on and on. Hearing that power as a kid gets you hooked. As an aside, that lovely sound of a guitar through a Leslie before the ubiquitous and portable phase shifter is also much loved. Can’t wait for your first jazz organ release!

  9. Thanks to the few of you who mentioned the real players. Although Don Patterson and McDuff and McGriff and Shirley Scott should be in there too, along with my old friend Gene Ludwig.

  10. Hammond organs, at least the classic ones discussed here, did not have Leslies built in or included. Maybe I’m misreading or not remembering correctly, but Leslies were separate.

    1. CtA,
      I don’t have sleep apnoea, never have.
      My wife of 13 years, the one who named me ‘Fat Rat’, has never stated that I snore.
      I just had a late Saturday night is all.
      People can have an occasional late Saturday night without necessarily suffering a medical condition.

      It amuses me how often you get things wrong.
      You are text-book, classic Dunning-Kruger.

  11. There is more difference between the B3 and C3 cabinets than just the color. I’m pretty sure you can say the Hammond tone wheels work like a moving iron cartridge, as does an electric guitar pickup….the Nord company does a great job of simulating the sound of “electro mechanical” instruments which according to them include the Wurlitzer Electric Piano, Hohner Clavinet and Fender-Rhodes piano

  12. Nice and informative thread here!

    Back in ‘69 or ‘70, I played music with a gospel-rock-folk group (a modified Gibson EB-0). We scored a working Leslie, and I made up a wire harness to connect it to the guitar player’s ‘65 Fender Bassman amp, complete with foot pedal.
    He played a 12-string and would switch that thing in to great delights.

    PS he had a Phase Linear which he used to power the main speake.

  13. Back in the day, I was at the Ward Parkway shopping mall in Kansas City, MO. I was going down the escalator to the lower level with the doors to the parking lot where the car was parked. I heard “A Whiter Shade of Pale” blasting out of a Team Electronics store (remember them?). That Hammond organ line has been hard wired into my synapses for decades now. I had to go in to hear/see what was making this music. It was a pair of Altec Lansing Voice of the Theater speakers: compression driver into a big old free standing horn on top of a utility grey painted plywood cabinet with a 15 inch woofer powered by some (probably) Japanese receiver fed from vinyl. The salesman, knowing a sonic magnet when he had one, replayed the track 3 more times and a small crowd soaked it all in. Groove fatigue? Fugedaboudit. Was it audiophile? No. Was it glorious? Foxtrottin’ hey!

  14. Again, jazz is nice. But listen to Tarkus, or Toccata from ELP.
    And Roundabout or Close to the Edge from Yes.
    That is Hammond sound in progressive rock.

  15. Well, what an addition to what could be one of the finest recording studios today. The Hammond B3 has always resonated (haha) with me and in my music collection. Let’s not forget Steve Winwood as we remember the application of this wonderful instrument.

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