spinet organ

Hammond organ

The Hammond organ is an electric organ which was invented by Laurens Hammond in 1934 and manufactured by the Hammond Organ Company. While the Hammond organ was originally sold to churches as a lower-cost alternative to the wind-driven pipe organ, in the 1960s and 1970s, it became the de facto standard for jazz, blues, rock music and gospel music.

The original Hammond organ used additive synthesis of waveforms from harmonic series made by mechanical tonewheels which rotate in front of electromagnetic pickups. The component waveform ratios are mixed by sliding drawbars mounted above the two keyboards. Although many different models of Hammond organs were produced, the Hammond B-3 organ is the most well-known type. In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, the overdriven sound of B-3 (and in Europe, the C-3) organs were widely used in progressive rock bands and blues-rock groups. Although the last electromechanical Hammond organ came off the assembly line in the mid-1970s, thousands are still in daily use.

In the 1980s and 1990s, musicians began using electronic and digital devices to imitate the sound of the Hammond, because the vintage Hammond organ is heavy and hard to transport. By the 1990s and 2000s digital signal processing and sampling technologies allowed for better imitation of the original Hammond sound.


American engineer and inventor Laurens Hammond filed U.S. Patent 1,956,350 for a new type of "electrical musical instrument" that could recreate a pipe organ–type sound. The invention was unveiled to the public in April 1935 and the first model, the Model A, was made available in June of that year. The organ was first used for popular music by Milt Herth, who played it live on WIND (AM) soon after it was invented. The Hammond organ was widely used in United States military chapels and post theatres during the Second World War, and returning soldiers' familiarity with the instrument may have helped contribute to its popularity in the post-war period.

Hammond had intended his invention to be an affordable substitute for pipe organs, as a replacement for the piano in middle-class homes, and as an instrument for radio broadcasting. However, by the 1950s, jazz musicians such as Jimmy Smith began to use the organ's distinctive sound. By the 1960s, the Hammond became popular with pop groups and was used on the British pirate station Radio 390. In Britain the organ became associated with elevator music and ice rinks music. However, the overdriven sound of the Hammond gained a new image when it became part of 1960s and 1970s rock with artists like Steve Winwood, Keith Emerson, and Rick Wakeman.

Hammond tonewheel organs are preferred among many vintage organ enthusiasts, the most popular models also having tube amplifiers. Some of the later Hammond models combine tonewheel generation with solid-state amplifiers, with the latest models of that era being fully solid state. Hammond is now owned by Suzuki Company. Hammond-Suzuki makes digital organs that replicate the tonewheel organ sound (see "Clones" below).

Tone generation

Additive synthesis

The original Hammond organ imitated the function of a pipe organ's ranks of pipes in multiple registers by using additive synthesis of waveforms from harmonic series to generate its sounds. The Hammond organ's individual waveforms are made by mechanical tonewheels which rotate in front of electromagnetic pickups. Although they are generally included in the category of electronic organs, original Hammond organs are, strictly speaking, electric or electromechanical rather than electronic organs because the waveforms are produced by mechanical tonewheels rather than electronic oscillators. Hammond organs use 96 tonewheels. Five of these are blanks, only present in order to balance out the rotating mechanical sub-assemblies. Thus the tonewheel assembly generates 91 frequencies, which are all that are required for the entire organ. The appropriate frequency outputs, nine per key, are routed to the key contacts for each note on the keyboards.


The component waveform ratios are mixed by sliding drawbars mounted above the two keyboards, which operate like the faders on an audio mixing board. When a drawbar is incrementally pulled out, it increases the volume of its component waveform. When pushed all the way in, the specified component wave form becomes absent from the mix. The labelling of the drawbar is derived from the stop system in pipe organs where the physical length of the pipe corresponds to the pitch produced. Hammond drawbars are set up in groups of nine arranged as follows:

16' 1 octave below fundamental
8' fundamental
5 ' a fifth above fundamental
4' 1 octave above fundamental
2 ' 1 octave and a fifth above fundamental
2' 2 octaves above fundamental
1 ' 2 octaves and a major third above fundamental
1 ' 2 octaves and a fifth above fundamental
1' 3 octaves above fundamental

Each of the drawbars has a range of 0 (off) to 8 (full on) and can be modified in real-time, allowing changes to be made while a song is being played. A given combination of drawbar settings creates a unique timbre, and is referred to as a registration. Registrations are notated using a 9-digit sequence where each digit corresponds to the level of its respective drawbar.


In addition to drawbars, many Hammond tonewheel organ models also include presets, which allow defined drawbar combinations to be made available at the press of a button. Full Console organs such as the famous B-3 and C-3 models have a number of reverse coloured keys (naturals are black, sharps/flats are white) to the left of each manual, with each key activating a preset. The two right-most preset keys (B and Bb) activate the corresponding left or right set of drawbars for that manual, while the other preset keys produce pre selected drawbar settings that are internally wired. The far left key (C), also known as the cancel key, de-activates all presets, and results in no sound coming from that manual.

Other Hammond models such as the M-100 and L-100 series have flip tabs for presets, situated across the top of the organ. The left hand flip tab reverts to the tone set by the drawbars. Some models such as the M, M-2 and M-3 spinet organs have only drawbars, and no presets, but after market products such as the Duet Sixteen, manufactured by the now defunct Electro Tone Corporation can be added to give preset functions.


Another facet of the distinctive sound of the Hammond is the harmonic percussion effect. The term "percussion" does not refer to a drum-type sound effect. Instead, it refers to the addition of the second and third harmonic overtones, which can be added independently to the attack envelope of a note. Those harmonics then quickly fade out leaving the tones which the player has selected using the drawbars. Older Hammond models produced before the 3 series organs (such as the B-2 and C-2) do not have the harmonic percussion feature. Aftermarket percussion effects can be added using devices from Trek II and from the Electro Tone Corporation.

Key click

Hammond organs have a distinctive percussive key click, which is the attack transient that occurs when all nine key contacts close, causing an audible pop or click. Originally, key click was considered to be a design defect and Hammond worked to eliminate or at least reduce it by using equalization filters. However, many performers liked the percussive effect, and it has become part of the classic sound that modern imitators of the Hammond organ have tried to reproduce.


Although Hammond designed its own set of speakers, many players prefer to play the Hammond through a rotating speaker cabinet which, after several name changes, became known as the Leslie speaker, after its inventor Donald J. Leslie (1913–2004). The Leslie system is an integrated speaker/amplifier combination in which sound is emitted by a rotating horn over a stationary treble driver and a rotating baffle beneath a stationary bass woofer. This creates a characteristic sound due to the constantly changing pitch shifts that result from the Doppler effect created by the moving sound sources. It 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. During the 1970's, the Chicago, Illinois audio team of David J. Walat, P.E., and Paul Di Matteo, a musician by trade, were well known within the music industry for the modifications they made to Leslie cabinets. Their replacing the original transducers with an 18 inch woofer and dual high frequency drivers proved popular for high power stage applications. Examples of their work toured the world with bands such as Uriah Heep, Kansas and Procal Harem.

Keyboards and pedalboard

The manuals of the Hammond organ have a lightweight construction, which allows for very rapid passages to be executed with more ease than on a weighted keyboard, such as a piano or pipe organ. Additionally, the "waterfall" style keys of early Hammond models make effects such as palm glissandi possible. Later models, starting with the M-100 and L-100 series, were produced with keys colloquially known as "springboard" keys.

Hammond organs come with a wooden bass pedalboard for the feet, so that the organist can play basslines. Hammond organ bass pedalboards do not usually have a full, 32-note American Guild of Organists (AGO) pedalboard going up to a G (3rd leger line above the bass clef) as the top note (see AGO pedalboard). Instead, a 25-note pedalboard, its top note a middle C, or a 30-note pedalboard, its top note the F above middle C, is often used. Several Hammond "concert" models, the RT-2, RT-3 and D-100 had 32-note AGO pedalboards. As well, they also contained a "Solo Pedal Unit" which provided several 32', 16', 8', and 4' voices for the pedal. The solo pedal unit used oscillators, similar to those used in Hammond's "Solovox."

Tonewheel organ models

Hammond tonewheel organs can be divided into two main groups: the Console models, such as the A, B, C, D, and R series, which have two 61-note manuals and the smaller Spinet models, such as the M, L, and T series, which have two 44-note manuals. Production of tonewheel organs stopped in the mid 1970s. Hammond organs made after this time use electronic tone generation. Examples of these organs are the J/K/N series, the Hammond Aurora, and the Hammond Concorde.

Console organs

A / AB

Production years: June 1935 – October 1938


Production years: April 1959 – December 1965

Production of model A100 still continued after 1965 in the United Kingdom under Hammond's licence.

Internally identical to the B-3/C-3, but also included a built-in speaker and reverb for home use. Many players bypass the internal speakers and run the A100 through a Leslie. The Hammond company essentially took the same organ and put it in three cases:

  • The A100 was marketed as a "home" console, since it had a built-in speaker.
  • The C-3 was marketed for church use, because of its "privacy" panels, which hid the organist's—often a woman's—legs when the organ was positioned in front of the congregation.
  • The B-3 was marketed for musicians who wanted to use a separate tone cabinet.

B-2 / C-2

Production years: December 1949 – December 1954

B-3 / C-3

Production years: January 1955 – 1974

In the decades after their introduction, the B-3 and C-3 were used heavily in the Gospel, jazz, and blues genres and as theatre organs, providing live music between feature films or at public stadiums and ice rinks. The difference between the B-3 and the C-3 is purely cosmetic. The B-3 sits on four spun legs, so the organist's feet are visible from the front of the organ. The C-3 is covered on the front and sides which prevents the audience from seeing the organist's feet. This allows playing in a skirt while facing the audience.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the B-3 was used in jazz bands (Walter Wanderley) and in organ trios, such as Jimmy Smith's organ trio. In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, the B-3 and C-3 were widely used in rock bands ranging from Latin rock groups such as Santana, to progressive rock groups such as Procol Harum, Yes (C-3), Styx, Kansas, Emerson, Lake & Palmer (C-3, L-100), Boston, Pink Floyd, and Eloy to blues-rock groups such as The Allman Brothers Band (B-3), Deep Purple (C-3), the transcendant B-3 sound of "Gimme Some Lovin'" by Spencer Davis Group, and Elbernita Twinkie Clark of The Clark Sisters is dubbed as the "Queen of the Hammond B3".

In the 1980s and 1990s, the B-3 continued to be used by many churches and also bands from a range of styles, including gospel, rock, hard rock, jazz, blues, and "jam" bands. This organ was also a favorite of renowned Grateful Dead keyboard player Brent Mydland as well as Page McConnell of Phish, Danny Federici of The E Street Band, and Tom Scholz of Boston. In the 1980s and 1990s, lightweight "clone" organs that imitated the sound were increasingly used to digitally recreate the B3's sound as a more portable (and less back-breaking) substitute, especially in live touring settings. Nevertheless, in the 2000s, some organ trios such as the Ken Clark organ trio still perform with vintage B-3 organs.

New B-3
In 2002, the Hammond company (now known as Hammond-Suzuki) relaunched the B-3 as the 'New B-3', a recreation of the original electromechanical instrument using modern-day electronics and a modern sound generator system. The New B-3 is constructed to appear like the original B-3, and the designers attempted to retain the subtle nuances of the familiar B-3 sound. Hammond-Suzuki promotional material claims that it would be difficult for even an experienced B-3 player to distinguish between the old and new B-3 organs. A review of the New B-3 by Hugh Robjohns called it "a true replica of an original B-3 . . . in terms of the look and layout, and the actual sound.

The New B-3 was used by well-known B-3 players such as Jimmy Smith and Joey DeFrancesco, who both played a New B-3 on the collaborative album 'Legacy' released in 2005 shortly before Smith's death. Neal Evans of Soulive also plays a hammond B-3, using it to produce both the organ and bass lines for the group's soul based music. Additionally, Evanescence used the new B-3 organ in almost every song of their album The Open Door, released in October 2006.. Hammond-Suzuki went on to release a portable version of the New B-3, the XK3 as well as a new version of the C-3 model.


Production years: Jan 1955 – 1973

Spinet organs

Two 44-note offset manuals, built-in pedals, internal speakers and amplification.


Production years: 1948–1951


Production years: 1951–1955


Production years: 1955–1964

M-100 series

Production years: 1961–1968

L-100 series

Production years: 1961–1972

T series

Production years: 1968–1975

V Series

The V series organs, such as the Hammond Cadette, were designed for beginners, and as such, they had no drawbars. Hammond intended that beginning organists could learn on the instrument and buy a better organ once they had learned the basic techniques. Like the Spinet organ, the Cadette had two offset manuals with a one-octave bass pedalboard and an expression pedal (for controlling the volume). The sound produced by these organs was different than the sound produced by most other Hammond models. The upper manual had three instruments (flute, reed, and strings) and the lower manual had two instruments (tibia and cello). The pedal also had an instrument tab (for bass and accent). There was no Leslie, only a reverberation knob. The V series organs came with Auto Rhythm, which had seven different rhythms, a Cancel button at the far left, Synchro Start, and volume and tempo knobs. There were two tabs for vibrato (Light and Full). This series was built by Yamaha for Hammond.

Chop organ

A Hammond Chop is a slang term used to refer to any Hammond organ which has been modified to fit into one or more roadcases for easier transportation. Moving an unmodified Hammond organ generally requires special lifting equipment, a van and several people. The different components of a "chopped" Hammond may still have the same total weight as a regular instrument; however, by "chopping" the organ into separate sections, it becomes easier to lift the components and fit them into a regular-sized vehicle.

There are generally two methods of "chopping" a Hammond organ. The first is for players who do not use the bass pedals: The internal speakers and bass pedals are removed and any components in the base of the organ (reverb chamber, power amp, power supply, etc) are moved to the upper half of the organ, above the tone generator. The swell pedal can either be replaced by a volume knob on the front of the console, or placed in its own box with an appropriate plug connecting it to the rest of the organ. The entire lower half of the cabinet is cut off below the tone generator and a piece of wood is bolted to the underside. A folding stand or folding legs is then added.

The second type is for players who use the bass pedals: Again, internal Leslie unit and internal speakers are removed. Anything in the "middle" section is moved to the bottom or top. Components in the bottom that stick up rather far can be mounted in a different position or above the tonewheel, i.e. reverb chambers or heatsinks. Then, using appropriate bracing, the middle part of the chamber is cut off above the base and below the tone generator. Boards are bolted to the bottom of the upper part and the top of the lower part. The wires must be cut and soldered/connected to multi-pin plugs for easy removal and assembly. Aluminium or steel tubes are usually used to hold the console section up from the base.

Performance techniques

Manuals, drawbars, and effects

Pianists and synthesizer players who begin playing the Hammond soon realize that authentic performance practice involves a lot more than playing the notes on the keyboard. Hammond players vary the timbre of both manuals in real time through a combination of changing drawbar settings, engaging or disengaging the vibrato and chorus effects or percussion settings, and changing the rotating Leslie speaker system's speed setting. As well, performers obtain other effects by setting the Leslie's amplifier to maximum output (and controlling the effective volume using only the organ's volume pedal) to add overdriven distortion or growl for certain passages, or by briefly switching off the organ's synchronous run motor, which produces a wobbly pitch-bend effect.

There are playing styles that are specific to the Hammond organ, such as palm glissandos, rapid repetition of a single note, tremolo between two notes a third apart (typically the 5th and 7th scale degree of the current chord), percussive drumming of the keyboard, and playing a chord on the upper manual, then sliding the hand down to duplicate the chord on the lower manual. Artistic use of the foot-controlled volume pedal is an important facet of performing on the Hammond.

Bass pedalboard

Tom Vickers notes that after Jimmy Smith popularized the Hammond organ in jazz, many jazz pianists “...who thought that getting organ-ized would be a snap...” realized that the “... B-3 required not only a strong left hand, but killer coordination on those bass foot pedals to really get the bass groove percolating. In the 1950s, the organist Wild Bill Davis told the then-aspiring organist Smith that it could take over a decade just to learn the bass pedals. Jazz organists such as Jimmy Smith developed the ability to perform fluent walking-bass lines on the bass pedals, mostly on ballad tempo tunes. He played up-tempo bass lines with his left hand, augmented by occasional taps in the bass pedalboard. Barbara Dennerlein performs basslines on her bass pedalboard.

Many jazz organists from the 1950s/1960s era and from more recent decades perform the bassline for uptempo songs with their left hand on the lower manual. Organists who play the bassline on the lower manual may do short taps on the bass pedals-often on the tonic of a tune's key-to simulate the low, resonant sound of a plucked upright bass string. Playing basslines on the manuals may make the bass lines more light and fluid than if they are played on the bass pedals, especially for uptempo tunes. As well, playing basslines on the lower manual makes it easier to perform grace notes.

Clones and emulation devices

Due to the difficulties of transporting the heavy Hammond organ, bass pedalboard (a B-3 organ, bench and pedalboard weighs 425 pounds/193 kg) and Leslie speaker cabinets to performance venues, and due to the risk of technical problems that are associated with any vintage electromechanical instrument, musicians sought out a more portable, reliable way of obtaining the Hammond sound.

Electronic and digital keyboards that imitate the sound of the Hammond are often referred to as "clonewheel organs". Some early emulation devices were criticized for their unrealistic imitation of the Hammond sound, particularly in the way they voice the upper harmonics and in their simulation of the rotary speaker effect. Refinements to Hammond emulations eventually led to the development of relatively lightweight electronic keyboard instruments such as the Roland VK-7 and the Korg BX-3 and CX-3 (and even Hammond-Suzuki's own XB-2/XB-5 models), which produce a fairly realistic recreation of the original Hammond tone.

By the 1990s and 2000s digital signal processing and sampling technologies allowed for better imitation of the original Hammond sound, and a variety of electronic organs, emulator devices, and synthesizers provided a reproduction of the Hammond tone, such as the Clavia Nord Electro keyboard. Hammond Suzuki USA currently markets numerous home, church, and professional models that digitally reproduce the sound of vintage Hammond tonewheel organs. Some sophisticated emulation devices have algorithms that recreate some characteristics of vintage Hammonds, such as "crosstalk" or "leakage" between the tonewheels and the sound of the Leslie speaker cabinet.

Currently, there are numerous B-3 clones on the market, from full-size, dual keyboard behemoths with real Leslie cabinets from Hammond/Suzuki, to inexpensive Casio WK series home keyboards that actually have a "tonewheel organ" function built in, to allow the user to simulate changing drawbars on the fly. Between these two extremes are numerous models from Hammond, Korg, Roland, Clavia (Nord Series), and virtual synths – notably the B4 by Native Instruments – computer simulations of every B-3 nuance down to key click, tonewheel leakage, dirty contacts, type of tubes – virtually any variable can be accommodated, though many aficionados consider them inferior to a real Hammond. The vintage synthesizer emulation software Bristol includes, among other organs, an emulation of a B3 which is called the Bristol B3.

An article from Keyboard Magazine that reviewed electronic simulations of the Hammond sound claims that some aspects of the vintage electromechanical Hammond are not accurately reproduced by clones and emulation devices.

Memorable Hammond performances

The sound of the Hammond organ can be heard in rhythm and blues pieces such as "Hello Stranger" (March 1963) written by Barbara Lewis with backup by The Dells. The Hammond B-3 organ can be heard in 1960s surf music, where the spinning Leslie speaker created distinctive special effects. The Hammond sound was a key part of the mystical soundscape of the 1967 Procol Harum song, "A Whiter Shade of Pale" , in the Bach-like introductory measures played by organist Matthew Fisher (who actually played an M-102 ). Except for a few months in late 1976 and early 1977, Procol Harum has always (and still does after 40 years) appeared in concert with a Hammond. It was also popularized in Steve Winwood's soaring, animal-like "Gimme Some Lovin'" with Spencer Davis Group, in The Small Faces' mod anthems All or Nothing and Itchycoo Park by Ian McLagan, and in the instrumental song "Green Onions" by Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and the MGs.

Hammond organs are also widely used in 1970s progressive rock music bands such as Pink Floyd's Rick Wright (First on a Hammond M-100, and later on a C-3); Emerson, Lake and Palmer's Keith Emerson (L-100 and C-3); Genesis's Tony Banks (a Hammond L-122 and later a Hammond T-102); and Yes' Rick Wakeman (C-3). It also sparked the interest of the keyboard players in early heavy metal music bands such as Deep Purple's Jon Lord (C-3), Uriah Heep's Ken Hensley, and Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones.

In the 1990s, Rob Collins of The Charlatans integrated the Hammond organ back into British rock 'n' roll. The song Wierdo (1992, #19 UK charts) opened with a solo Hammond riff that returned at each chorus.

In several sketches by Monty Python's Flying Circus Terry Gilliam plays a nude organist who provides a fanfare on a Hammond L-100 in "Blackmail" and "Crackpot Religions Ltd" as well as Terry Jones, for the opening scenes on the third season. The British adult comic Viz had (or has) an occasional strip featuring 'Captain Morgan and his Hammond organ'. The strip's plot usually revolves around the crew sighting a treasure ship or similar lucrative opportunity, which they then miss due to the eponymous captain insisting on first spending some time serenading them with a selection of tunes played on said organ.

The fictional character Arnold Rimmer (from the BBC TV science fiction-comedy series Red Dwarf) is a big fan of Hammond organ music. He is particularly fond of an artist by the name of Reggie Wilson (a satirical reference to Reginald Dixon), whose Hammond organ albums include "Lift Music Classics" (in British English, a "lift" is an elevator) and "Funking up Wagner". Rimmer has also taught the Skutters to play the Hammond organ, and on the series, every Wednesday night is "Amateur Hammond Organ Recital Night". None of the other crew of the Red Dwarf spaceship particularly enjoy Rimmer's taste in music.

Tori Amos used the Hammond B3 organ extensively in her 2005 album The Beekeeper.

See also


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