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The Hammond Story

The story behind the organ behind the Hammond sound

Two hundred years after Bach established the bass patterns that were to dominate all popular music, Gary Brooker and Procol Harum proved that organ music and Bach are still the single most pleasing sound to the human ear. "Whiter Shade Of Pale" dominated the charts in 1967 and finally proved to be the biggest hit of a decade that included the Beatles. The tune was a re-working of the classic Bach descending bass line established in "Air On A G String" and the instrument Gary used was a Hammond organ, an instrument a fraction of the size of the organs Bach knew in Hamburg, Leipzig and St. Petersburg but with facilities and tone variation many times greater than those old wind blown instruments.

After the discovery of electricity and its laws, man attempted to re-create the magnificence of these mighty instruments in a compact package, but it wasn't until Laurens Hammond patented the tone-wheel generation system in the 1930s that the electric organ industry was created.

The raw energy of the guitar groups that were thrown up when war-babies reached adolescence sought new forms of musical expression and by the middle sixties the "group" was giving way to the "band" and for the first time young musicians approached the Hammond organ to see what they could get out of it.

For decades, established jazz players like Jimmy Smith had been digging into the range of tones offered by Hammond organs, but players like Georgie Fame, Zoot Money and John Mayall took the instrument back to its roots and started using it more percussively that ever before. It's ironic, however, that the biggest selling organ record used the classic choral organ sound that is a perfect electronic reproduction of the magnificent "choral" sound of the giant pipe-organs. Part of the "Hammond" sound must, of course, be attributed to the Leslie rotary speaker cabinets which have been used with the organs for many years. The sound produced by the organ is treated electro/acoustically to exactly resemble the reverberation of phasing sequences that the huge pipe organs used to produce.

The acoustic pipe organ reached its zenith between 1904 and 1932. In the latter year an organ was installed in Convention Hall, Atlantic City which had seven manuals, 1,233 stops and 32,882 pipes. Imagine trying to get that on stage at the Hope and Anchor? Obviously there had to be an alternative.

Laurens Hammond at the Model "A" Hammond Organ, c. 1935

Laurens Hammond was born during an age of inventors. Just as poets were the superstars of the romantic age, and rock 'n'roll players today's superstars, the inventors dominated the last 30 years of the last century and the first 30 years of this.

Born in 1895, Hammond was educated in Europe. Fortunate to have a privileged background, he chose to pursue scientific studies and at the age of 14 had designed an automatic gearbox to eliminate gear changing for the newly-invented horseless carriages.

At 16 he had obtained his first patent — for an improved barometer — and he went on to design and improve the gadgetry that the electric and electromechanical age was making possible.

Returning home to the United States he took a job working for the McCord Radiator Company and only left at the outbreak of World War 1.

After serving in France he set himself up in business as an inventor, his first marketed product being a tickless clock. He had placed the usual clockwork mechanism inside a soundproof box.

Despite many other inventions in the 20's — some zany, like a 3D film projection system! — it was clocks that were to dominate his commercial life.

The depression in 1931 affected even the Hammond company and it was during the dark years of the early thirties that Laurens Hammond created an industry. In 1618 an Englishman, Robert Hooke, had demonstrated that musical tones could be created from a cog wheel and a sliver of card. The toothed wheel fastened to a revolving shaft gave a distinct pitch when a card was held against it.

The Hammond tone wheel generator

Since that time inventors had sought to use the system of tone generation as a basis for music re-production: All had failed until Laurens Hammond took up the challenge. The basis of his work was the same electric motor that powered his clocks. It was constant and reliable — a fact that was to make a major contribution to Hammond Organs. Because he was seeking new ways to use this motor he started to work on tone production from a turning wheel. He had great success and he adapted Hooke's original idea to make a small wheel with a patterned edge which revolved in front of an electro-magnet rather than against a card. By winding a wire round this magnet he invented a pick-up capable of producing a tone that could be amplified and tuned.

Playing around with the keyboard part of an old piano, Hammond realised that if the player could select multiples of the tone-wheels to be connected to a single key, the tone-variation possibilities would be endless. This was the basis of the draw-bar system of tone selection that is still used on some Hammond organs today and this — combined with the tone wheel discovery — put the Hammond company years ahead of any rivals.

The patent for the organ was rushed through in record time and news had leaked long before any production models were available. Henry Ford and George Gershwin each took delivery of an organ from the first batch and by 1935 orders were rapidly building up for Hammond Organs.

After Pearl Harbour, Hammond Instruments turned their attention to war work but they still produced organs. A GI model was introduced and this followed troops all over the world, providing entertainment.

After the war, the organ began to take on the shape that is recognisable today. Most important, the vibrato effect was added as opposed to the pre-war "tremelo". This period was also a turning point for the American organ market. Although the instruments had mainly sold to musicians and institutions, many were finding their way into homes and it was realised that there was a vast market for a compact organ suitable for home entertainment. The design team at Hammond built a small organ and called it the Hammond "Spinet" Organ. It was a revolution. For years and years the piano had been the instrument to have in your home. It was a status symbol that represented wealth and it provided real entertainment in the days when everybody was making their own music. The organ was a natural successor. The rich American public latched on to the idea and in six years more spinets had been sold than all other organs previously produced. With its instinctive flair for selling, the American music trade rapidly organised Hammond Societies where players could meet and discuss their mutual interest and as well as promoting music, they also promoted sales.

The next big step was the "easy-play" Hammond organ. The professional musicians were not neglected, but while their instruments were becoming highly sophisticated, the domestic market was responsible for producing an organ "anyone could play". It was the Hammond Chord Organ, an instrument that offered beginners the facility of holding a chord whilst playing a melody. Special diagramatic music was developed and a potential buyer walking into a music store could believe that he could play. Taking the marketing of early sewing machines as an example, dealers offered a limited number of free lessons to buyers and an explosion took place.

A Hammond x-5 Portable undergoing final landed quality test

The fifties was period of consolidation for Hammond. The company name had become synonymous with electric organs. Like Hoover, Hammond was to be found in the dictionaries and despite many competitors anxious to jump on the bandwagon, the program of research and development undertaken by the (now) rich company kept them well ahead.

Their products had traditionally been the sombre looking things all organs were, but the home market demanded more. More exotic woods were demanded for cabinetry and dashes of colour began to appear on the manuals. If organs were to be in the home, housewives wanted them to look like items of furniture.

By the early 1960s the moderately priced L and M series of organs had been introduced. These formed the basis of the British beat boom's organ market and Wardour Street in Soho was filled with the throb of the Hammond and the Leslie cabinet during 1963 and 1964.

Meanwhile steps were being taken to ensure Hammond a larger share of the U.K. market. Back in 1935 Boosey and Hawkes Ltd. of London had been Hammond's first export customer so it seemed natural in 1958, when dealer restrictions eased, that B & H should carry on importing the organs.

The market grew and by 1964 it was obvious that Hammond deserved a full-scale operation if the U.K. and Hammond (U.K.) was born, a joint venture between the Hammond Corp. and Boosey and Hawkes. For the first time retailers U.K. were able to get an unrestricted supply of Hammond organs.

In the heady days of the boom there just wasn't any other organ to have in your band. Players advertised themselves as "Hammond-organists" and immediately found as much work as they could handle and despite a few portable electric organs produced, every band — almost without exception — wanted a Hammond organ in the line up.

Major recording studios bought a Hammond as standard equipment — that still applies today — and if you wanted an organ on your record, then it would be a Hammond.

By 1966 the Hammond electric organ had become electronic. The X-66 console organ was launched with the ultimate technical specifications. It was incredibly expensive at over £5,000 and it used transistor technology to the ultimate. There is an X-66 currently being repaired in Hammond workshops in London and the number of discrete transistor circuits incorporated in the instrument has to be seen to be believed!

Then came Gary Brooker crashing through the charts with "A Whiter Shade Of Pale". No one suggested that it was a significant organ record — it was far more than that. But it is true that the most important single item on the recording was the organ sound — and that was the Hammond sound.

Despite the boom of the transistor, the late sixties revealed the shortcomings on conventional wire and solder circuits. Although cumbersome valves had gone and reliability and miniaturisation was improved, the transistor pushed electronic technology forward so fast that it virtually spelt its own doom by illustrating other possibilities. Oddly enough the answer came from the Moon.

Critics of the U.S.A.'s frantic attempt to prove a dead President right, might say that the NASA expenditure on manned space flight is aptly described as lunacy. But it is now certain that the spin-off benefits from that period of artificially-forced scientific development will have repercussions that will go on reverberating down the decades. The particular development that pushed music truthfully into the space-age is the Large Scale Integrated Circuit.

Man had proved himself capable of designing circuits he could not build because of the physical limitations of his component.

The Hammond x-5

The basic problem was of connecting transistor to transistor. It was proved that the transistor itself could be produced only 1/64th in size but if wires had to be attached to it then it had to be considerably larger. Just as printed circuits have eliminated component wiring in standard assemblies, it was considered that a photographic etching process might be able to reproduce a printed circuit of a comparable size to the transistor itself. By photographic reduction it was discovered possible that highly controlled sterile conditions could produce circuits infinitely small and infinitely reliable. The integrated circuit was born — all connections were integrated.

The L.S.I. is far more that just a stepped-up version of this idea. L.S.I. places transistors side by side on a wafer-thin disc and it was made possible by the development of a transistor 50 times smaller than previously thought possible.

Hammond latched on to L.S.I. and, using the knowledge developed by NASA who relied on L.S.I. to get their boys back from space, started work harnessing the incredible new power to the problems of electronic music.

The result is today's range of electronic organs. It is more extensive and each organ contains greater sophistication on tone variation and effects that would have been thought possible even ten years ago. The X-66 represented the ultimate transistor achievement; today there's an organ with all the capabilities of the X-66 and more, which sells for less that the X-66 did in 1966. That's proof of the value of technology.

The heart of the tone generation in a modern Hammond is an L.S.I. 1/8th inch square that effectively does all the work that the masses of tone wiring and tone-wheel did in the old organs. The sound generated is identical — the cost far less.

The latest evidence of L.S.I. advancement is the new Hammond portables. 40 years after the first models were introduced, Hammond have produced their first portable organs. The X-2 and X-5 organs are aimed precisely at the professional and semi-pro musician and L.S.I. has allowed Hammond to put all of the Hammond sound into a portable instrument.

The Hammond Concorde

Today the range of Hammond organs on sale in Britain offers a wider range of alternatives than ever before. The organs are manufactured both by Hammond in Chicago and Nihon Hammond in Japan and Hammond (U.K.) operate a strict franchise basis with their dealers.

Getting an agency to sell Hammond organs is an extremely difficult thing. Dealers have to evince that they are fully able to service buyers before and after the sale and they have to demonstrate they are keen to take the organ out to the people as well as to welcome the people to the organ. It's also important that there aren't any dealers competing closely in the same area as cut-throat competing inevitably makes the customer suffer.

Today's range consists of the Dolphin, the Dolphin De Luxe, the Cougar, The Phoenix 1200 series, the T-500, the X-2 and X-5 new portables, the Monarch, the Grandee, The Regent and the Concorde.

The Concorde is the flagship of the Hammond fleet. It's an instrument which offers the ultimate in tone variation. Its features includes original harmonic tone-bars, poly-synthesis percussion, acoustic tremelo, sustain, vibrato, reverb, cassette player/recorder, preset-voices, automatic rhythm and automatic accompaniment.

The reason for the continuance of Hammond's success story does not lie with the instruments alone. Managing Director Tony Kilbey and Sales Director Keith Beckingham are, to say the least, vigorous in their approach to marketing and there is a large team of demonstration organists which include such luminaries as Bryan Rodwell, Robin Richmond and Keith Beckingham himself.

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Rod Alexander (Fender Soundhouse)

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Daisy: 2

International Musician & Recording World - Copyright: Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.


International Musician - Sep 1975

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman


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> Rod Alexander (Fender Soundh...

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