Hammond organ

The Hammond organ is an electric organ invented by Laurens Hammond and John M. Hanert and first manufactured in 1935. Various models have been produced, most of which use sliding drawbars to create a variety of sounds. Until 1975, Hammond organs generated sound by creating an electric current from rotating a metal tonewheel near an electromagnetic pickup. Around two million Hammond organs have been manufactured, and it has been described as one of the most successful organs. The organ is commonly used with, and associated with, the Leslie speaker. The organ was originally marketed and sold by the Hammond Organ Company to churches as a lower-cost alternative to the wind-driven pipe organ, or instead of a piano. It quickly became popular with professional jazz musicians, who found it a cheaper alternative to the big band. Jimmy Smith's use of the Hammond B-3, with its additional harmonic percussion feature, inspired a generation of organ players, and its use became more widespread in the 1960s and 1970s in rhythm and blues, rock and reggae, as well as being an important instrument in progressive rock. The Hammond Organ Company struggled financially during the 1970s as they abandoned tonewheel organs and switched to manufacturing instruments using integrated circuits. These instruments were not as popular with notable musicians and groups as the tonewheels had been, and the company went out of business in 1985. The Hammond name was purchased by the Suzuki Musical Instrument Corporation, which proceeded to manufacture digital simulations of the most popular tonewheel organs. This culminated in the production of the "New B-3" in 2002, which provided an accurate recreation of the original B-3 organ using modern digital technology. Hammond-Suzuki continues to manufacture a variety of organs for both the professional player and the church. Other companies, such as Korg, Roland and Clavia, have also achieved success in providing emulations of the original tonewheel organs. The sound of a tonewheel Hammond can also be emulated using modern software such as Native Instruments B4.


A number of distinctive Hammond organ features are not usually found on other keyboards like the piano or synthesizer. Some are similar to a pipe organ, but others are unique to the instrument:

1. Keyboards and pedalboard
Most Hammond organs have two 61-note (5-octave) manuals. Each manual is laid out in a similar manner to a piano keyboard, except pressing a key results in the sound continuously playing until it is released. There is no difference in volume regardless of how heavily the key is pressed, so overall volume is controlled by a foot pedal (also known as a "swell" or "expression" pedal). The keys on each manual have a lightweight action, which allows players to perform rapid passages more easily than on a piano. In contrast to piano and pipe organ keys, Hammond keys have a flat-front profile, commonly referred to as "waterfall" style. Early Hammond console models had sharp edges, but starting with the B-2 these were rounded, as they were cheaper to manufacture. Hammond console organs come with a wooden pedalboard played with the feet, for bass notes. Most Hammond pedalboards have 25 notes, with the top note a middle C, because Hammond found that on traditional 32-note pedalboards used in churches, the top seven notes were seldom used. Spinet models had 12- or 13-note miniature pedalboards with stamped steel pedals.

2. Drawbars
The sound on a tonewheel Hammond organ is varied through the manipulation of drawbars. A drawbar is a metal slider that controls the volume of a particular sound component, in a similar way to a fader on an audio mixing board. As a drawbar is incrementally pulled out, it increases the volume of its sound. When pushed all the way in, the volume is decreased to zero. Most Hammonds contain nine drawbars per manual. The drawbar marked "8'" generates the fundamental of the note being played, the drawbar marked "16'" is an octave below, and the drawbars marked "4'", "2'" and "1'" are one, two and three octaves above respectively. The other drawbars generate various subharmonics of the note. While each individual drawbar generates a relatively pure sound similar to a flute or electronic oscillator, more complex sounds can be created by mixing the drawbars in varying amounts. Some spinet models do not include the two subharmonic drawbars on the lower manual. Some drawbar settings have become well known and associated with certain musicians.

3. Presets
In addition to drawbars, many Hammond tonewheel organ models also include presets, which make predefined drawbar combinations available at the press of a button. Console organs have one octave of reverse colored keys (naturals are black, sharps and flats are white) to the left of each manual, with each key activating a preset; the far left key (C), also known as the cancel key, de-activates all presets, and results in no sound coming from that manual. The two right-most preset keys (B and B♭) activate the corresponding set of drawbars for that manual, while the other preset keys produce preselected drawbar settings that are internally wired into the preset panel. Presets can be changed by rerouting the associated color-coded wires on the rear of the organ. Some spinet models have flip tabs for presets situated above the manuals.

4. Vibrato and chorus
Hammond organs have a built-in vibrato effect that provides a small variation in pitch while a note is being played, and a chorus effect where a note's sound is combined with another sound at a slightly different and varying pitch. 

5. Harmonic percussion
The B-3 and C-3 models introduced the concept of Harmonic percussion, an effect that plays a second- or third-harmonic overtone when a key is pressed. The selected harmonic percussion fades out, leaving the sustained tones the player selected with the drawbars. The volume of this percussive effect is selectable as either Normal or Soft. Harmonic percussion retriggers only after all notes have been released, so legato passages sound the effect only on the very first note or chord, making harmonic percussion uniquely a "single-trigger polyphonic" effect.

6. Start / Run switches
Before a Hammond can produce sound, the motor that drives the tonewheels must come up to speed. On most models, starting a Hammond organ involves two switches. The Start switch turns a dedicated starter motor, which must run for about 12 seconds. Then the Run switch is turned on for about four seconds. The Start switch is then released, at which point the organ is ready to generate sound. The H-100 console and L-100 and T-100 spinet organs, however, had a self-starting motor that required only a single On switch.

Tonewheel organs

Hammond organs, as manufactured by the original company, can be divided into two main groups:

I. Console organs
The first model in production, in June 1935, was the Model A. It contained most of the features that came to be standard on all console Hammonds, including two 61-key manuals, a 25-key pedalboard, an expression pedal, 12 reverse-color preset keys, two sets of drawbars for each manual, and one for the pedals. The model BC was introduced in December 1936 and the consoles kept adjusting. In 1949 the B-2 and C-2 were introduced, in which vibrato could be adjusted and in 1954, the B-3 and C-3 models came out with the additional harmonic percussion feature. Most consoles do not have a built-in power amplifier or speakers, and so an external speaker cabinet is required. 

II. Spinet organs
Though the instrument had been originally designed for use in a church, Hammond realized that the amateur home market was a far more lucrative business, and started manufacturing spinet organs in the late 1940s. Outside of the US, they were manufactured in greater numbers than the consoles, and hence were more widely used. Several different types of M series instruments were produced between 1948 and 1964; they contained two 44-note manuals with one set of drawbars each, a 12-note pedalboard, plus an internal power amplifier and set of speakers.

Transistor organs

In the 1960s, Hammond started making transistor organs. The first organ that bridged the gap between tonewheel and transistor was the X-66, introduced in May 1967. The X-66 contained just 12 tonewheels, and used electronics for frequency division. It contained separate "vibrato bass" and "vibrato treble" in an attempt to simulate a Leslie speaker. Hammond designed it as the company's flagship product, in another attempt to replace the B-3 as the organ of choice. Unfortunately, it was very expensive, retailing for nearly $10,000 and, consequently, was never popular.


A. Tone cabinet
The authorized loudspeaker enclosure to use with a console organ was the Hammond Tone Cabinet, which housed an external amplifier and speaker in a box. The cabinet carried a balanced mono signal along with the necessary mains power directly from the organ, using a six-pin cable. Spinet organs contained a built-in power amplifier and loudspeakers, and so did not require a tone cabinet. The tone cabinet was originally the only method of adding reverb to a Hammond organ; reverb was not fitted to older organs. The most commercially successful tone cabinets were probably the PR series, particularly the 40-watt PR40.

B. Leslie speaker
Many players prefer to play the Hammond through a rotating speaker cabinet known, after several name changes, as a Leslie speaker, after its inventor Donald J. Leslie. The Leslie system is an integrated speaker/amplifier combination in which sound is emitted by a rotating horn over a stationary treble compression driver, and a rotating baffle beneath a stationary bass woofer. This creates a characteristic sound because of the constantly changing pitch shifts that result from the Doppler effect created by the moving sound sources. The Leslie was originally designed to mimic the complex tones and constantly shifting sources of sound emanating from a large group of ranks in a pipe organ. The effect varies depending on the speed of the rotors, which can be toggled between fast (tremolo) and slow (chorale) using a console or pedal switch, with the most distinctive effect occurring as the speaker rotation speed changes. Leslie initially tried to sell his invention to Hammond, but Laurens Hammond was unimpressed and declined to purchase it. Hammond modified their interface connectors to be "Leslie-proof", but Leslie quickly engineered a workaround. The Leslie company was sold to CBS in 1965 and finally bought by Hammond in 1980. Hammond-Suzuki acquired the rights to Leslie in 1992; the company currently markets a variety of speakers under this name. As well as faithful reissues of the original 122 speaker, the company announced in 2013 that they would start manufacturing a standalone Leslie simulator in a stomp box.

This is a short film about the history of the Hammond organ.

Notable users

Early customers of the Hammond included Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Henry Ford, Eleanor Roosevelt and George Gershwin. The instrument was not initially favored by classical organ purists, because the tones of two notes an octave apart were in exact synchronization, as opposed to the slight variation present on a pipe organ. However, the instrument did gradually become popular with jazz players. One of the first notable performers to use the Hammond organ was Ethel Smith, who was known as the "first lady of the Hammond Organ". Jimmy Smith became a notable user of the Hammond in the 1950s, particularly in his sessions for the Blue Note label between 1956 and 1963. He eschewed a bass player, and played all the bass parts himself using the footpedals, generally using a walking bassline on the pedals in combination with percussive left hand chords. His trio format, composed of organ, guitar and drums, became internationally famous following an appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957. "Brother" Jack McDuff switched from piano to Hammond in 1959, and toured regularly throughout the 1960s and 70s. Keith Emerson was inspired to take up the Hammond by hearing McDuff's arrangement of "Rock Candy". Booker T Jones is cited as being the bridge from rhythm and blues to rock. British organist James Taylor said the Hammond "became popular in the UK when people such as Booker T & The MG's and artists on the Stax Records label came over to London and played gigs." 

Booker T & The MG's-Green Onions 

Matthew Fisher first encountered the Hammond in 1966 having heard the Small Faces' Ian McLagan playing one. Fisher went on to play the organ lines on Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade Of Pale, which topped the UK charts in the summer of 1967.

Procol Harum-A Whiter Shade of Pale

Deep Purple's Jon Lord became inspired to play the Hammond after hearing Jimmy Smith's "Walk on the Wild Side". He modified his Hammond so it could be played through a Marshall stack to get a growling, overdriven sound, which became known as his trademark and he is strongly identified with it. 

Jon Lord talks about his Hammond organ sound

Van Der Graaf Generator's Hugh Banton modified his Hammond E-100 extensively with customised electronics, including the ability to put effects such as distortion on one manual but not the other, and rewiring the motor. The modifications created, in Banton's own words, "unimaginable sonic chaos."

Van Der Graaf Generator-Killer

The Hammond was a key instrument in progressive rock music. Author Edward Macan thinks this is because of its versatility, allowing both chords and lead lines to be played, and a choice between quiet and clean, and what Keith Emerson described as a "tacky, aggressive, almost distorted, angry sound." Emerson first found commercial success with The Nice, with whom he used and abused an L-100, putting knives in the instrument, setting fire to it, playing it upside down, or riding it across stage in the manner of a horse. He continued to play the instrument in this manner alongside other keyboards in Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Other prominent Hammond organists in progressive rock include Yes's Tony Kaye and Rick Wakeman, Uriah Heep's Ken Hensley, Pink Floyd's Rick Wright and Genesis's Tony Banks. Banks later claimed he only used the Hammond because a piano was impractical to transport to gigs.


The Hammond organ was perceived as outdated by the late 1970s, particularly in the UK, where it was often used to perform pop songs in social clubs. Punk and New Wave bands tended to prefer second-hand combo organs from the 1960s, or use no keyboards at all. Other groups started taking advantage of cheaper and more portable synthesizers that were starting to come onto the market. The instrument underwent a brief renaissance in the 1980s with the mod revival movement. Jazz musicians continued to use Hammond organs into the 21st century. 

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammond_organ