Category Archives: Instruction

The Hammond Drawbars secrets revealed

The drawbars on a console Hammond or the clonewheels can be a source of much confusion. They are also sometimes called tonebars, and they are used to shape the sound.

Each drawbar is marked with a number in feet. As an example, the first (brown) drawbar is marked 16′. This terminology is borrowed from pipe organ technology, where this number actually describes the length of the pipe that is used to get a certain tone.

Every drawbar has 8 settings, which indicate how much of a particular drawbar’s tone is added to the final signal, with 1 being the softest, and 8 being the loudest. When the drawbar is pushed in all the way, no sound from this drawbar is used in the final sound.

On a console, you will have 5 groups of drawbars, two for the lower manual and two for the upper manual, each of which consist of 9 drawbars, and one for the bass, which has two drawbars.

Drawbar colors
There are three different colors on the drawbars, brown, white and black.

The fundamental, ‘core’ tone is created by the first white drawbar. The other white Drawbars are octave intervals of the fundamental tone of increasingly higher pitched notes.

The brown drawbars are the two ones to the left, and these produce harmonics below the fundamental tone. The first brown Drawbar is the sub-octave of the fundamental Drawbar. It is “one octave” lower in sound. The second brown drawbar is the “sub-octave” of the third harmonic. Pulling the brown drawbars makes the tone deeper and fuller.

The black drawbars introduce dissonant harmonics, which serve to color the tone and give it character.

Lower manual settings

The lower manual can be used either for playing walking bass, or comping chords. For the former, 808000000 works really well; add more of the 2nd drawbar to get a heavier, more ‘growly’ tone. This setting is not ideal for playing chords on the lower manual, since this makes the sound often too muddy. 008800000 seems to work better for chords down below, or you can just play them higher up the keyboard if you want to switch between walking and comping.

It is often is suggested to turn off V/C when using a walking bass – I think it can work either way, depending on the mood of the song. You can also turn off the bottom rotor to get that ‘Memphis’ sound, which also works well with walking bass lines.

Using the Leslie

Using a Leslie efficiently and effectively can be quite challenge – to get the best result, you may have to adjust you drawbar settings to get the most out of your Leslie fast setting (or, alternatively, to tame it down). If you use the Leslie on fast on your typical Jimmy Smith setting (888000000 / 808000000), you will get a very limited, subtle Leslie effect, even with the rotors on fast; if you want the highs to swirl prominently, you will have to add the higher drawbars. To stay with the Jimmy Smith idiom, try 800000888 on fast, and you’ll see what I mean. You may have to adjust your playing style to get the most out of the more extreme settings.

Some players seem to like introducing some reverb before the Leslie to get a different sound, this is something to experiment with.

On the portable side

On the portable side, here’s a nice video of the Elkatone 610, which I use if I want to bring a ‘Leslie’ out. Not quite the real thing, but spins the air just fine, and gives a much better 3D-effect than most simulators, especially the high rotor works very well. Crossover is different, and the lower speaker gets the full signal. Fits into the boot of my car, and works well with the hot output of a Nord C1.

Miking a real Leslie

LESLIE_1221 (1)

The Hammond tone-wheel organ was invented by Laurens Hammond in 1935. The Leslie tone cabinet was built by Don Leslie in 1940. “Leslies” are speaker cabinets made of solid wood with louvres to let the sound out of the top and bottom of the cabinet and with two rotors that spin and project the sound out into the surrounding space.  In essence they are sound modification devices, more like musical instruments than speakers, designed to add to the sound of an instrument by introducing a 3D Doppler effect.

Apparently Don Leslie offered his speaker and cabinet design to Laurens Hammond, but this gentleman didn’t like the sound of a Hammond through a Leslie at all. Hammond dealers were prohibited from selling them in the early days.

Even without advertising, the Leslie was much appreciated and increasingly used by organ players,  and by the mid-50s what most people considered to be the Hammond organ sound was actually the sound of a Hammond organ amplified by  a Leslie tone cabinet.

The moving sound of this winning combination has something special about it. And it still moves players and listeners alike.

The Hammond and Leslie brands continue on today and are owned by Hammond Suzuki USA.  To the aficionado, the original organs, the best known of which are the B3, C3 and A-100, are still the greatest and there is a thriving market for vintage Hammond organs  – and Leslies sixty years after they were first introduced.

Recording  a Lesie is an art in itself, and there are may ways of approaching it. There’s a nice article on some of the options for doing this  on the Shure website, Miking the Legendary Leslie Tone Cabinet. More information can be found at how do you record a Leslie speaker and Miking the Hammond and Leslie.

Another cool video, which shows footage of a clinic on recording the Hammond: