The original Hammond Organ was designed and built by the ex-watchmaker Laurens Hammond in April 1935. Hammond set up his 'Hammond Organ Company' in Evanston, Illinois to produce electronic organs for the 'leisure market' and in doing so created one of the most popular and enduring electronic instruments ever built.
Hammonds machine was designed using technology that relates directly to Cahill's 'Telharmonium' of 1900, but, on a much smaller scale. The Hammond organ generated sounds in the same way as the Telaharmonium: the tone weel. The tone generator assembly consisted of an AC synchronous motor connected to a geartrain which drove a series of tone wheels, each of which rotated adjacent to a magnet and coil assembly. The number of bumps on each wheel in combination with the rotational speed determined the pitch produced by a particular tone wheel assembly. The pitches approximate even-tempered tuning.
The Hammond had a unique drawbar system of additive timbre synthesis (again a development of the Telharmonium) and stable intonation - a perennial problem with electronic instruments of the time. A note on the organ consisted of the fundamental and a number of harmonics, or multiples of that frequency. In the Hammond organ, the fundamental and up to eight harmonics were available and were controlled by means of drawbars and preset keys or buttons.
There were many varieties of the Hammond organ, some designed for home use, some designed for church use, and some designed for live gigs and studio recording. But the most popular variety, and the one still commonly in use today is the Hammond B-3/C-3. This organ has two 61 note keyboards (manuals), sometimes called the swell (top) and the great (bottom), a variety of built-in special effects (including percussion effects, several different chorus and vibrato effects, and adjustable attack and decay effects), 9 preset keys for both manuals (the inversely white and black keys on the bottom octave of each manual), two sets of nine stops (drawbars) for each manual, a full two octave set of foot pedals with two pedal drawbars built in to the console, a volume pedal (expression pedal) built into the base, a solid walnut body with 4 legs and base, a built-in stool, and it weighed in at over 400 pounds.
The organ needed an external speaker in order to be heard, and it also needed one specially designed that had rotating speakers, so that the vibrato effects in the organ could come out. Besides, the organ had a special multi-pin output that could only be connected to a tone cabinet, a conventional amplifier would never have worked. The Hammond company actually designed several tone cabinets of their own, but they never caught on as well as the similar model produced by the Leslie corporation, which simply sounded better anyway. Like the organ itself there were a lot of varieties of these speakers, but one of the most commonly used models was called the Leslie 122, which stood around six feet high, and had two rotating treble horns at the top of the cabinet, a bass woofer inside, and another pair of rotating horns at the bottom. The rotation of the horns were continuous, and they only had two speeds, fast and slow. When moving slow, which they most often do, is when the clean, pure organ sound comes through. But when the fast switch is activated on the console of the organ, the speakers pick up speed, eventually going as fast as they can, and that is the classic huge Hammond vibrato sound. A Leslie is really something to hear close up. It is a very loud and a very powerful sounding speaker.
"I was using a Hammond Organ, not perhaps as the people at Hammond would wish it to be used - producing different kinds of feedback and other things. I came up with quite a few uses for the organ which of the Hammond Organ Company didn't realise. We used to take the organ back to be repaired at the shop in London. They've been repairing my stuff for ages, but when the television thing came out, they said 'Oh no, we're not touching your stuff anymore. Now we see what's happened. You don't respect your instrument, go to someplace else and have it done'. We had that sort of rejection.
Occasionally I'll use my left hand on the L-100 and my right on the C-3. There's no percussion on the lower manual of the C, and in things like Tarkus it's useful to play the ostinato on the upper manual of the L-100 with the percussion on and also play the upper manual on the C-3 with the percussion on. You get more distinction. If you'd done that on just one organ, the percussion wouldn't happen. My favorite setting is the first three drawbars pulled full out with the percussion on the third harmonic. The vibrato is chorale 3. Depending on the acoustics of the hall, I'll add a slight touch of the top drawbar. I like a tacky-sounding organ. One that spits a bit, you know. I'm still searching for the ideal organ sound. It's still a bit too hard at the moment. I got sounds of that organ the manufacturers never even dreamed of."
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