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:
Here’s a recording I did with the Neo Ventilator into Garageband, with just a touch of eq added.
I recorded the two channels coming out of the Neo Vent into a stereo track, although I may be a better approach to take two mono channels, so the width can be varied easier for a stronger effect. Not quite happy yet with the slow and fast speeds of the rotors nor the rampup time, I’ll have to experiment with that some more.
Jim Alfredson has done a great review of the Neo Vent, and seems to be able to record a more pronounced effect from the pedal, I’ll have to try and figure out what he’s doing different.
Jon Lord (‘Deep Purple’) gives a demonstration on how he got his signature sound, and demonstrates it playing the organ solo from ‘Highway Star’.
Billy Preston on the Hammond B3. Includes imitations of J.S. Bach and Ray Charles. SOund quality isn’t great, but still worth watching.
Tony Monaco is a great Hammond A-100 player with a winning personality, who shares a lot of interesting information for organ players. You can also find some cool instructionals on his web site.
In a previous post I outlined how to get a line level from a Hammond tonewheel organ. The next step in the chain is to get a Leslie simulation going to get the raw Hammond sound transformed into the sound we all know and love – the Hammond and Leslie combination.
I’ve experimented with two alternative approaches, one using hardware in the form of a Leslie simulator pedal (in this case a Neo Ventilator II), and one using software, going through an interface into a Macbook Pro.
Using the Neo Vent is easy, just plug in the (padded) line out into the Vent, twiddle knobs to your liking, and you have a stereo line out that adds the Leslie simulation to the sound. The Neo Vent simulates the effect of a recorded Leslie, and the result is very good. You can either feed a mixing desk with the signal, and take your headphones out from there, or use a headphone amp to drive your headphones directly for ‘silent’ use. You can also take it into your computer through an interface, and apply other effects as desired, and record with it directly as well.
The second option takes the line out from the Hammond to an audio interface (my CI2+) that makes the signal available to a computer. Line level is less of an issue here because most interfaces let you trim the level of the input signal down to a usable level. I use a Macbook Pro to host DAWs – you can use Garageband (both for just listening and for recording), Logic (same, but with more control over the recording aspects), or Mainstage (very good for live playing, but not that great for recording, although there are some basic functions to do so). Garageband comes free with your Mac, so that is the cheaper option, but it has some limitations.
All applications mentioned make it easy to use plugins, from compressors to equalisers to overdrive and Leslie-simulators, and even amp modeling if you’re looking for that massive distorted drive.
Two plug-ins are of particular interest: the Spin Control pedalboard control and the Rotor plugin.
The Spin Control offers basic Leslie modeling, with a choice of Leslie types, control over acceleration, slow and fast speed, and drive. It generates a nice Leslied signal, from clean to quite aggressive overdriven sounds.
The Rotor plug-in is just that, a very clean rotor emulation, with a choice of Leslie types and mike positions. It gives a very clean emulation without and growl or distortion; this can be added by using an overdrive plugin before the rotor. The rotor on its own drops the output volume down quite a bit, it is probably anticipating to be used with a (loud) overdrive stage and/ or amp stage in front of it.
For a mildly saturated every-day Leslie sound, I like the Spin Control the most; the rotor is usable for very hard overdrive situation beyond what Spin Control can handle
On Garageband, no midi-based automation is possible, so you cannot use a pedal to steer the chorale / tremolo switching in real time, but adding the modulation in later is possible through automation.
Logic does have the possibility to use midi-based triggering, and you can set up a pedal or button to handle Leslie switching in real-time. I’m still trying to figure out how to implement latching, but push-to-fast, slow when released works very well out of the box.
Mainstage has an easier way of setting up latching or non-latching use of pedals and buttons and is more geared towards pure live playing, and does this very well, but lacks in recording features. It also features the Spin Control and the Rotor plugin.
So what works best? I like the sound I get from the Spin Control, feeding in the Hammond line-out directly; it has a more edgy, more saturated sound than the Neo Ventilator, which makes is well suited for Rock, Funk and Pop. The Vent excels at the traditional jazzy Leslie sound. I sometimes use the Rotor in extreme ‘Jon Lord’ type settings, but find it otherwise too cold to be of much use, but for recording, the Spin Control is my go-to solution for that Hammond and Leslie sound for now.
Edit – the Vent is really growing on me, and gets a much warmer drive going when you push it hard. It’s essential to feed it a signal that is of just the right level, just before the vent’s red light starts clipping. Don’t use the soft setting on the Hammond, this takes off some of the edge. This gives a very good tone that responds to the pedal well when dialled in properly. And you can use a real Leslie switch…
The ‚Marriage made in heaven‘ for any Hammond tonewheel organ is the Leslie cabinet. The 122, 147 or 251 are probably the most common for consoles, many others are available. However, if you find yourself in a situation similar to mine where it is not possible to blast a Leslie at full tilt, there are other options to still enjoy playing your tonewheel. In this section I’ll explain the setups I’ve been experimenting with, and why I settled on my current setup.
Using a silent setup also makes it a lot easy to record the organ into a DAW, which is also part of my standard setup, and it avoids the tricky (and expensive, due to the need of three microphones) miking of the Leslie cabinet). I use this approach to record tracks for posting to Wikiloops.
First of all, to get a usable signal from your Hammond, you will need to install some kind of line-out. There a few ways to accomplish this that I know of:
The traditional method is to take a wire from one of the G-Terminals (there are two, any one will do) on the preamp and another one from ground, and attach them to a standard mono TR (guitar) cable. This will give you a signal that can be used to feed into a Leslie 3300 or a number of Leslie clones (it works well with my Elkatone 600). Unfortunately, this signal is much to ‘hot’ to feed into modern equipment like a Neo Ventilator.
Surprisingly, my interface had no problems with it, probably because it has a have a variable preamp-level adjustment. The interface I am using for this application is nothing special, a Steinberg CI2+ which has 2 inputs (2 x line/mic combo) and a switch / knob that can generate midi signals).
To be able to use modern pedals, like the aforementioned Neo Ventilator, you’ll have to pad the signal down to a more manageable level. This can be done by building what is known as the ‘Motion Sound’ line-out, which involves two resistors and a capacitor, or one resistor, a potentiometer and a capacitor for a variable level.
As a quick fix, I used a cheap mixer I had lying around (Behringer MXB 1002), which worked fine to pad down my hot line-out to something more palatable to the Neo Ventilator II. The recommendation is to set the output level such that the red overload led on the ventilator lighs up, and then back it up ever so slightly to just stop this from happening. This gives good results, and pretty much makes a variable output adjustment a necessity to easily find the right level.
I’ve now switched to a small passive mixer (ART SplitMix4) since using a full mixer is really overkill, the ART brings the level down nicely to a standard line level and is completely passive, and does not introduce any noise.
I’ll discuss the next part of the chain in another post.
“The best B-3 is an A-100” – this is a statement occasionally found on the web. It seems to imply that a Hammond A-100 organ is really the same organ as the legendary B-3, with additional features added. The A-100 is often considered as the ‘home’ version of the B-3/C-3 tone wheel organs. The cabinets of the A-100 models were targeted for home use: no locking top, the addition of built-in speakers and reverb, and a wider selection of wood finishes and stylings. Today, the A-100 series organs have become increasingly sought after since they are usually well kept and less played than B/C-3 organs often owned by churches or professional musicians. The slimmer profile of the A-100 cabinet is often preferred over the B-style cabinet for taking it on the road, and makes it easier to get into a home by virtue of its smaller depth, which makes it easier to negotiate doors and corners.
The first A-100 organs were produced in in the USA in 1959. They used the necklace type reverb. The A-100 was the first tone wheel console to include a built-in reverb. In the early 60’s, different models of the A-100 featuring a different cabinet style were issued:
- Traditional A-100. Available in red mahogany and light walnut
- ‘Contemporary’ A-101. Available in grey and brown mahogany and translucent black
- French Provincial A-102. Available in dark and light cherry. Features curved front legs
- The C-3 cabinet was adapted to contain the A-100 speaker system, creating model A-105. Available in light oak and dark walnut. Has a back panel and a locking top
- The A-122 in Patina Walnut (from 1964). Available in aged walnut. A slightly modified version of the A-101
- The Early American A-143 (from 1964). Available in maple.
Leslie speakers were sold in matching colours and wood types, but not by the Hammond Company, they were sold directly by Don Leslie’s company, Electro Music.
The A-100 series was discontinued in 1965. The A-105 remained in production until the very last tonewheel organs were made in the mid 70’s. Since the A-105 was still around after 1965, the parts needed to make it , like the speakers, power amplifier and other core components were too, so A-100 series organs were being produced until 1975 in the U.K., Denmark, Belgium and Germany. The models produced under license in Europe were adapted to run using the locally prevalent 200V / 50Hz power supply.
Type: Hammond A-102 (A-100 Series). US Model (117V).
Uses a converter to get from 220V / 50 Hz to the required 117V / 60 Hz.
- Fluted vibrato knob – 1962 and older
- Small Hammond script (very much faded) – 1935 – 1965
- Pilot lamp by the start switches – 1961 and later
- AO-28 transformer color black – from mid 1962 (silver up to mid-1962)
- Non-engraved drawbars. Engraved drawbars are used on organs built from 1969
The serial number, 22535, slots in between two other organs on the tonewheel general list that were both identified as 1963 production units.
Speaker serial AO-23232-0 18658 285315 shows a ‚3‘ for the last digit of the year. They are Rola speakers, produced in the 15th week of 1963.
The coding scheme for the speakers is XXXYWW where XXX is the company EIA code (Jensen = 220, Rola = 285, Heppner = 575), Y is the last digit of the production year, and WW is the production week. 285315 would be a Rola speaker made in the 15th week of 19×3 (you have to figure out which decade using other information).
Hammond used Heppner, Rola, Jensen, and Magnavox alnico speakers as tuned pairs. One speaker has a ribbed cone and is voiced for the low end of the organ’s tone spectrum and the other one has a smooth cone and carries the mid tones.
Color: Dark Cherry.
As far as I can tell everything is original, with basic maintenance done, like replacing the original power cord, and the addition of a Leslie kit (6122 with line out written on the added panel with the line-out and 6-pin Leslie 122 connector, labeled as ‘Leslie 428-13 Tremolo Control Terminal Box’, which is mounted inside the organ), half-moon switch (Chorale / Tremolo) and a switch to toggle between the internal speakers or the Leslie, or both. The Leslie socket had been rewired to accept a 220V power connection to power a Leslie set up to European specifications.
Here’s some more pictures from a few years back that was used in an advertisement to sell the organ locally in 2015.