A popular organ, especially in the 1950's and 1960's, commonly used today in many bands. Hammond B3 organs usually have two 61 note keyboards with drawbars, and the B3's are noted for their sweet swells, vibratos,and a handful of other special effects. Ever wonder what kind of organ they used in that funky tune on the radio? It was probably a B3.

The Leslie tone cabinet, an external speaker, usually accompanies the B3 organ (normal amps don't really work with the B3).

Laurens Hammond, founder of the Hammond organ, was not a musician, apparently. He could not play the organ that he built and he was said to be tone deaf. However, he did have help; during 1930 Laurens hired musicians to help him create the Hammond organ.

Great soul jazz organists who favored the Hammond B3.

  1. Jimmy Smith -- Simply the greatest organ player of all time. One of those rare musicians that as soon as shem begins to play, you know who it is. In fact, Smith's organ tone is so well known that many new keyboards come with the Hammond B3 sound preset to Jimmy.
  2. Richard "Groove" Holmes -- The name fits. The grooviest of the organ players (though some would argue that McGriff was funkier. Groove has been sampled by just about every crate digging hip hop act out there.
  3. Jimmy McGriff -- Almost as technically adept as Smith, almost as funky Groove. Anything you find by this guy is going to groove.
  4. "Brother" Jack McDuff -- Multi-talented session organist who could play in almost any genre. Didn't make as many "solo" records as the three listed above, but probably has more recording credits than all three of them.
  5. Hank Marr -- Sadly underrated organ player on early James Brown tracks.
  6. Shirley Scott -- Funky female organ player. Often more subtle than her male counterparts, she'd lull you into a groove and then come swinging with some nasty funk hook that'd hit you in the head but shake your rump.
  7. Booker T. Jones -- Head of the funkiest hit machine of the 60's Booker T. and the MGs, the house band at Stax Records and the definitive example of the Memphis Sound. Perhaps not the organ player that some others on the list we're, but he wrote the songs.
  8. Wild Bill Davis -- Early adopter of the Hammond. A bit rougher around the edges than the other players, but props go to Wild Bill for starting it all.
  9. Bill Doggett -- Three words... "Honky Tonk Popcorn". Ooh dat's funky, dat's just funky.
  10. Johnny "Hammond" Smith -- Late 60's and early 70's organ funk. The guy could just flat out play, and letting Bob James arrange your stuff is probably a good idea.
As a keyboardist, I adore the sound of the B3; it is the mack daddy of electronic keyboard instruments, representing an essential part of the sounds of gospel, blues, soul, R&B, country, rock, pop, ska, and countless other genres. If there is such a thing as aural sex, there is no doubt a B3 somewhere in the mix.

As a musician who has to play multiple venues, however, it would be remiss of me not to mention the only drawback of integrating a B3 into your live sound: you need a pack elephant (or a burly gang of roadies) to move the thing. This logistical difficulty created the market for B3 and Leslie simulators; whether these in fact measure up to the original is a subject of furious debate among audiophiles and musical purists alike.

The arguably most famous Hammond organ model, built from January 1955 through 1974.

This one pretty much defines the feature set of a Hammond:

Variations:

  • A-100 etc. -- home organs, console style, with built-in amp and speakers
  • B3000 -- a 'portable' model (119.3 kg)
  • C-3 -- a B-3 in a church model case
  • C-3G -- same as C-3, with a built-in speaker
  • New B3 -- 2002 remake with sample-based tone generation
  • XB-3, XB-5 -- earlier digital B-3 look/soundalikes

Some data from the Hammond / Leslie FAQ.

MYTH:  B-3 SOUNDS BETTER THAN THE C-3 AND A-100 SERIES

All three of these organs are built with the same "tone wheel" components.  The term "Hammond B-3" is the "legacy" name that most people use to refer to the sound of these instruments.  

Similar to guitars, no two Hammond organs sound the same.   

During the early 1960's, slightly different parts (capacitors, etc) were used to manufacture the tone generators and amplifiers due to what was available, obsolete, or considered "superior".  Considering the original design for the Hammond Organ dates back to the 1930's, it should be expected that technological advancements will provide superior parts that are safer and more reliable.  Many people have a preference for newer or older parts because they believe a brighter or more mellow tone will be produced.  

The difference in tone is arguable, and marginal at best.  The "magical" sound of the Hammond organ is a result of the following process (similar to an electric guitar):

(1) TONE GENERATOR --> (2) PRE-AMP --> (3) OUTPUT-AMP --> (4) SPEAKER

The signal from the tone generator is altered as it passes through the electronics inside of the amplifiers.  The characteristic (or quality) of this tone was then projected with specific speakers (and cabinets) that were also responsible for the "style" of the Hammond sound.

It is more likely that any changes or modifications to the output-amp or speaker/cabinet will change "The Hammond Sound".  These changes are often discovered after a repair or modification has been made.  A new solid-state amplifier that powers a new polypropylene speaker will more accurately reproduce the tone generated from the Hammond's preamp.  This sound will be brighter, and less pleasant to listen to.

With that considered, many purists will study the new Suzuki-Hammond products and will compare them to the vintage Hammond B-3 "sound".  A popular and affordable product is Hammond's XK-1.

I have found that the "new" Hammond products sound authentic when played through a vintage Leslie cabinet, or through the "line in/phono" jack located inside of the Hammond organ.  I have also found that sending a "vintage" Hammond's signal through modern speakers or keyboard amps sound harsh and offensive.

Most people that are critics of the new Hammond products are probably playing them through speakers and amps that do not "shape and mold" the signal in a style similar to the process mentioned earlier in this blog.  I will, however, agree that the "action" or response of the new keyboards feel heavier and more rigid.  

 

The HAMMOND XK-1 is a synthesizer that replicates the Hammond sound.  The technology used to manufacture the XK-1 is very similar to the technology used to manufacture the "NEW B-3".  What are the differences?  The purist will not feel comfortable playing a synthesizer on a keyboard-stand.  The purist has reflexes trained to locate the original buttons, knobs, and controls which are used to form their technique.  

The purist, however - may not have a van to move a B-3 (new or old).  The XK-1 will fit in the backseat of a car, and has a weight no more than 45 pounds.  The XK-1 is approximately $1,500 while a "NEW B-3" is $25,000.  A vintage A-100 with a Leslie speaker should cost no more than $5,000 and will require maintenance and repair.

Personally, my XK-1 sits in the corner until it is needed for travel.  I forfeit the sound produced by a Leslie speaker cabinet for the convenience of portability.  The best feature of the XK-1 is it's ability to be carried down a flight of stairs by one person!

If you're a person that is trying to understand the "magic" of the vintage Hammond sound, I hope that your next step will be to learn about "valve" (or vacuum) tube amplifiers and how they replicate sound when used with specific speaker arrangements.  Most of the information pertaining to guitar amplifiers is also general to Hammond organs. 

 

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