The History Of The Hammond


Published in SOS October 1997
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People + Opinion : Industry / Music Biz

In these days of synths that stay in production for just a couple of years before being discontinued, respect is due to a keyboard design that's survived more than half a century of changing musical fashion and is still going strong. Hammond-lover ROD SPARK pulls out all the stops to bring you a personal organ odyssey.


Since my childhood there's always been a sound I loved but never managed to identify. I had a faint memory of hearing this sound in theatres and cinemas, but after playing guitar for a good few years in a band, I started coming across it again in '60s soul and jazz songs. At long last I discovered what it was: the Hammond organ.

These days, the mention of a Hammond is as likely to conjure up pictures of Blackpool pleasure beach as it is Jimmy Smith in full R&B flight. Cast aside the memories of Peter Fenn playing the Sale of the Century theme (that was actually a Yamaha anyway!) and read on. Hammonds play a much bigger role in modern music than the cheesy sound (that's probably a Farfisa anyway) playing in the background while you practice your double axel at the local ice rink.


My first Hammond was an X5, a portable model made by the Japanese in the late '70s. We called it a Hammondo. This was a very exciting instrument for me, having two decks of keyboards, a pedal board (something I've never used on a Hammond and never will, thereby omitting any mention of it from this article!), and drawbars giving almost infinite variations in sound. The drawbars actually emulate the pipes on a church organ, which is the job the Hammond was originally designed to do. They match up to the lengths of a church organ pipe and supposedly give the same sound -- pulling out the lower drawbar produces a deep sound similar to the largest church organ pipe.

In reality, the drawbar controls the level of harmonic or sub-fundamental introduced into the sound. The white drawbars are octave transpositions, the black ones are for third or fifth frequencies, and brown drawbars give the octave sub-fundamental and its third harmonic. If you don't understand this, don't worry -- I don't either; I just read it somewhere once! All you need to know is that these drawbars allow you to carve out your own trademark sound, which is something I'm still working on.


"The drawbars actually emulate the pipes on a church organ, which is the job the Hammond was originally designed to do."


The classic jazz organ setting (as used by Hammond supremo Jimmy Smith) is obtained by pulling out the first three drawbars and flicking the percussion switches for soft volume, third harmonic and fast decay. For the classic Hammond track 'Green Onions', Booker T used the same setting, but with the fourth drawbar pulled out too. Jon Lord does the same but prefers the percussion set to second harmonic. Many other Hammond players just pull all the drawbars out. No matter what, you'll still produce a unique sound, as every Hammond, even models from the same series, sounds different to its brothers and sisters.


Meanwhile, back at the main storyline... the X5 had a great sound but wasn't the best I'd heard. I was soon to learn that this was a solid-state Hammond. Early (real?) Hammonds have a generator which runs at 1800 revs per minute and drives a number of tonewheels (96 on a C3/B3, less on other Hammonds). These are small metallic discs, about an inch and a quarter in diameter, with high spots which spin past a system of electro-magnets, creating an alternating current corresponding to the equal temperament scale. This tone passes through a filter and can be controlled by the keyboard. Each key presses down on nine contacts which relate to the drawbars. All that's left is to amplify the signal and play through a speaker. My X5, however, didn't have a tonewheel and so wasn't authentic enough. It had to go!

I then managed to get hold of a T100, which was also a fairly modern Hammond, having been produced around 1967. However, it looked more like the real ones that proper bands used than the Joe 90 effort I had before. The T100 was a spinet-style organ -- basically an upright box with a bit sticking out near the top where the keyboard is! Take a look at the picture above to get my drift. It also had a spring reverb, giving it a great crashing sound when I threw it around. (I made up for my lack of playing ability by performing neck-breaking stunts on it instead.)

After a while, I began to wonder why my organ didn't sound as good as the classics -- apart from the obvious fact that I wasn't very good. It was then that I first met Graham Sutton, who had been a demonstrator for Hammond UK in the '60s and '70s. He told me all about the Hammond Organ to end all Hammond organs -- the father of them all, the C3 (or B3, which is the American version -- exactly the same Hammond but with four legs instead of a solid body. The C stood for Church, and the B was for the home). I had to get one! Unveiled by Hammond in 1955, it had made its mark in jazz circles by 1958, courtesy of the great Jimmy Smith, Jackie Davis, Fats Waller and Wild Bill Davis.

While down in Milton Keynes rehearsing for the UK version of The Who's Tommy, I popped in to see Graham for a chat and rather recklessly left with a C3. It was split into two to allow for easier carrying (although easier isn't the word that anyone who's helped me carry it has ever used) and was the bee's knees, the big boss sound. There was no messing now. This wasn't a poxy wee synth -- this was a man's machine.


The C3 and the other tonewheel Hammonds (the T500 was the last) were discontinued in 1974, due to mounting costs, and would be uneconomical to produce these days, due to the man-hours involved. Although he owned other, earlier Hammonds, Georgie Fame managed to get one of the last C3s off the line before production ceased. This was the end of an era which began in 1934 with inventor Laurens Hammond. At that time he was running The Hammond Clock Company of Chicago, though he had previously invented collapsible bridge tables and would later dabble with missile systems. Mr Hammond became interested in the Cahill Telharmonium, a late 19th-century instrument employing rotary generators to create electrical impulses, which were turned into sound by way of telephone receivers. The idea was to distribute sound over the telephone network, but this was soon abandoned because of the machine's weight (apparently it occupied several rooms) and complexity.


"The Leslie looks like a chest of drawers."


Nothing daunted, Laurens took the idea of the rotary generators and created a portable (for its day) organ. The 'Model A' Hammond organ was patronised by no less a personage than Henry Ford, who became the first buyer. The second model off the production line was presented to the then President of the USA, Franklin D Roosevelt, with George Gershwin being another early buyer. The model B, B3, C3 and M100/L100/T100 series all followed, along with countless other models (it would get very boring if I listed them all here) and since then many famous keyboard players have fallen in love with the Hammond. Players such as Georgie Fame, originally a jazz pianist, Jon Lord of Deep Purple, originally in the very hip combo The Artwoods, Keith Emerson of ELP and The Nice, well known for their banned version of 'America' and the abuse he gave his instrument.


If you ever come across a Hammond, perhaps in a studio you might be recording in, chances are you won't even be able to get it started! Not content with just having an on/off switch, the earlier Hammonds had an ignition-like switch to wake them up. One switch, helpfully labelled 'Start', needs to be flicked and held for 10 seconds (which is usually where I start praying that it will work). Then, keeping the Start switch held, you flick the 'Run' switch; this should start the Leslie horns spinning, providing a Leslie is connected). Hold the Start switch for a further 5-10 seconds and then let it go. Following a worrying, confusing and quite comical clunking, a whirring of wheels, a grinding of gears and a rumbling beneath your hands, Kazoom! The Hammond should now be ready to play.

Although all this might sound like a clever way of preventing unauthorised hands from playing your instrument, holding the Start switch sets the Hammond's generator running and allows it to reach the correct speed for those tonewheels. The Run switch is actually what powers everything else up. If the power is interrupted, even for a second, this procedure must be repeated, as the generator will wind down.

Other knobs and switches to play with on most Hammonds include 'Percussion', which I mentioned earlier. This isn't for adding a naff Bossanova rhythm track. It lends attack to the top elements of the sound and reinforces either the second or third harmonic, producing the familiar 'chink' sound common in Hammond-rich tracks.

Vibrato is a common effect present on most Hammonds. While vibrato isn't everyone's cup of tea, the C3 (Chorus 3) setting on the B3 and C3 is particularly nice (if working properly. After 20 years or so, the Vibrato unit really needs a good overhaul to stop it detracting from the sound rather than enhancing it).

Some of the later, 1970s transistor Hammonds also had rhythm units, which supposedly emulated a drum kit. Some Hammonds (such as my old T100) also had spring reverb. Originally invented by Hammond for their Church organs, this was so successful that Leo Fender bought the idea from Hammond and made it a feature on his range of guitar amps.

Your choice of Hammond may be dictated by the music you plan to play with it. The 'big' Hammonds, such as the C3 and B3 (full bodied 'console' organs, as opposed to 'spinet'-type models) are usually regarded as the classic Hammonds because all the famous players used them. Two drawbacks with them, however, are the fact that they're so big and heavy (expect to need four people, lifting a corner each) and the fact that the generator requires a precise 50Hz power rating, which I'll explain later. The spinet-style Hammonds, such as the L100 and M100, are smaller, but they can still give the classic overdriven sound -- and even if they don't, the amps can easily be tweaked to produce the desired effect.


Many Hammonds don't have their own speakers, and produce sound instead through the famous Leslie cabinet, which was invented by Don Leslie, quite some time after the Hammond was first invented. The Leslie cab was originally designed as a sound modification device rather than a 'hi-fi' speaker, which partly explains why putting anything other than an organ or guitar through it (Hendrix did the latter quite a lot) always sounds crap. The only exception is, perhaps, singing through it, which produces a nice megaphone effect. Minus the speaker, Del Amitri put most of their vocals through a 145 model Leslie amp for warmth.


"The drawbars allow you to carve out your own trademark sound."


The Leslie looks like a chest of drawers and has a 40-watt monophonic tube amplifier, an 800Hz 16(omega) passive crossover, a rotating treble horn, and a rotating bass speaker (at least, the classic 145, 147 and 122 models do). It can produce two distinct sounds: the 'Chorale' effect when the speakers rotate slowly, and the 'Tremolo' when they spin quickly. There is actually a third effect that can be coaxed from the Leslie: if you disconnect the slow motors (either by pulling the slow-motor connections out or by using the small black Leslie brake accessory plug), you can stop the rotors. Switching the Leslie from slow (which will now actually be stop) to fast makes the difference in sound much more exaggerated, and also allows the vibrato and chorus on the Hammond to shine through and sound much sweeter than when the Leslie is on the Chorale setting.

Unfortunately, the Leslie and Hammond usually take up half the space in a tour bus and are a roadie's nightmare (they can weigh a good 500 pounds).


I've been cursed many a time for the weight of my rig, but in my defence insisted that the Hammond/Leslie sound could not be emulated by a modern keyboard. This still holds true, though modern samplers can come very close when each note is played individually. Try a run of notes, though, and you can tell the difference. Most synths have a few organ settings which never quite get there; the slow Leslie effect can be almost passable, but the fast Leslie is next to impossible to reproduce, in my opinion. A closer contender is Korg, with their CX3 (or the double-manual BX3), made specifically as a small Hammond substitute in the late '70s. However, even this doesn't come close to the real thing -- I know, as I have one as a backup should my 30-year-old baby fail on me. In truth, though, the C3 is very rugged and only ever let me down once, when a valve fell out of the Leslie after it was placed on its side. I now always carry a spare set of valves with me.

I recently found out that pre-1968 Hammonds have white capacitors in their generator and vibrato line box, while later ones have red capacitors. The newer red ones allow for a much brighter sound than the white ones, and also last a lot longer. The difference in sound quality can be very noticeable to a player who is familiar with Hammonds. When Georgie Fame was playing in Scotland recently, a friend of mine who runs a Hammond hire company supplied him with a B3. Fame wasn't sure about the sound and thought it could be a lot brighter. The next day, my friend asked Fame what he had at home. When Fame answered that he had a 1974 C3 the problem was solved instantly. Fame's C3 would have had red capacitors, while my friend's B3 had white ones. Not many people would notice this difference, but the ever-professional Fame, having played Hammonds for nigh on 30 years, certainly did!


If you want to buy a Hammond now, values range considerably, from £100-200 for a battered old T100, to £6500 for a brilliantly preserved B3. The more common C3 would set you back about £2000. If you plan to gig with an organ you really need it split in two (horizontally!) and this can add £200-300 to the cost, depending on whether it has the pedal board and which model it is (some are easier than others to split).

I paid £1000 for my C3 and an extra £100 to have it split in two to allow for portability. Mind you, this was before Hammonds were back in vogue: these days the prices have jumped dramatically, as everyone wants one. You should look in the classified ad sections of keyboard magazines for people selling them, and also seek out the various dealers, who will always have a handful of Hammonds in stock. If you look around you might come across a church selling one, or perhaps a working men's club.

Remember when you buy a Hammond that it's nothing without its Leslie cabinet. You may have been lucky enough to get the matching Leslie with the Hammond, but chances are that if your Hammond has speakers, this was all the previous owner used. The Hammond will work fine and still make a nice sound, but it won't be the great sound you're after, and it won't be loud enough for gigging. When you do track down a Leslie, make sure you check the number of pins on the connector. The older ones have six pins, but the newer (generally transistor) ones have nine or 11 pins. I (like most) reckon valve Leslies have a much nicer sound than transistor ones, though it comes down to taste. Transistor Leslies can be a lot louder than their valve counterparts -- though, in fairness, most valve Leslies are more than loud enough. The valve amps (contained in the Leslie) are only 40W, but this is 40W by valve, so it's louder! Personally, if I've gone to the bother of getting a valve Hammond, I'd want it amplified by a valve amp. If you are not able to get a Leslie at the same time as you buy a Hammond (and Leslies are certainly harder to get hold of), and you find a Leslie at a later date, you must ensure that you get the right connection kit for your Hammond. If you don't, you risk blowing up the amp and possibly causing yourself injury. This really should be left to an expert to arrange for you, as there are over 20 different models of Leslie cab out there and several connection kits. Incidentally, brand new Leslie cabinets range in price from from £1300 to £2000.


In the late '80s, Suzuki brought the Hammond name, and a new entity appeared, Hammond-Suzuki, and you can still buy new organs made by the new company. But how do they match up? The Hammond Suzuki XB2, XB3 and XB5 have all the features which have become classic in the older Hammonds -- the drawbars, the 2nd/3rd percussion, the key click -- but they don't have that all-important grungy mechanical sound. They cost around £1400 for the single-manual, portable XB2, £8000 for the double-manual XB3, and between £4000 and £7000 for the XB5. It's a matter of taste, of course, but I don't think they're a patch on the old ones. Hook one up with a Leslie and you'll get a much better sound than any synth, but they ain't tonewheel.


Booker T and the MGs made a living out of it, James Brown gave singing a miss to play it on several ultra-funky tunes, Deep Purple wouldn't have been the same without it. Although there are others, the prominent purveyors of the Hammond these days are probably the German jazzer Barbara Dennerlein and Jamie Taylor from cool Mod outfit The Prisoners, now with his own Acid Jazz Quartet. The Hammond organ is the essential instrument for breathing soul into music, and long may it continue.



1935-38: Model A organ (the first!).

1935-38: AB (as model A, in B-series cabinet).

1936-42: BC (as AB, plus chorus, extra generator).

1938: B-A (as BC but could also be played with rolls of paper, similar to a player piano).

1939-42: C (as AB but with C-series cabinet).

1939-42: D (as model C but with Chorus).

1939-42: Novachord (72-note poly synthesizer).

1940-48: Solovox (3-octave valve-based monosynth).

1941-44: G (built for US Government and found in forces recreation halls. As model D but with reverb).

1948-51: M (home-style spinet with tonewheel generator, internal amp and speaker. Drawbars only, no presets of any kind).

1949-54: B2 (as B3 but without percussion).

1949-54: C2 (as earlier CV from 1945, but with additional controls for vibrato on either/both manuals, and for 'normal' or 'soft' overall volume).

1951-55: M2 (similar to M, above).

1955-74: B3 (a big box on four legs).

1955-74: C3 (B3's innards in C-type church case).

1955-64: M3 (similar to M, above).

1959-65: A100, 101 and 102 (as C3 but with home-style console. Had built-in sound system and reverb).

1961-68: M100 (home-style spinet with internal amp and speakers).

1964: Hammond UK set up.

1965-72: X66 (non-traditional Hammond console organ with top octave tonewheel generator).

1965-74: H100 (a biggie with all the trimmings. Mixed valve/transistor circuitry).

1967-72: L100 (spinet model with tonewheel generator and non-scanner vibrato).

1967-75: X77 (49-note arpeggiator, stereo reverb, variable reiteration and harp sustain).

1968-75: T100 (transistor spinet organ, vibrato, repetitive percussion voices, reverb).

3rd July 1973: Laurens Hammond dies.

1979-80: X5 (portable solid-state, single manual. Made by Nihon Hammond, who licensed the Hammond name in 1970).

1986: Hammond finally go out of business.

1987: Hammond Suzuki buy Hammond name and start to make XB range (The Organ Company of America had previously taken over the spare parts and servicing of original Hammonds).

NB: Hammond made organs with different finishes, so many models had relatives in the same family.



One interesting thing about Hammonds is that they should never go out of tune! The generator is set to run at the correct speed when it is provided with a 50Hz cycle power rating. This is the standard for UK mains power. In the USA the standard is 60Hz, so Hammonds are set to work off that. This is great for the majority of gigs, but can turn into a nightmare for outdoor gigs. When I first got my C3, I played an outdoor gig with it the very next day. Every second song or so, the Hammond would cut out and I'd have to restart it. The Hammond was taken straight back where I got it (at midnight!). After several hours, Graham Sutton, the vendor, could find nothing wrong with it, so I explained again what had been happening. "Ah!", he said, "an outdoor gig, with a power generator instead of mains". The power generator had occasionally been running below the 50Hz I needed, so the Hammond had cut out. All other equipment on stage was unaffected, as no-one else's gear was relying on straight 50Hz power, and transistors have a much wider tolerance. Since then I've played a number of outdoor gigs when the power from a generator has fluctuated, and the result is a variation in the pitch of the organ. If the power is 51-52Hz, the Hammond sounds sharp. It's very annoying, and applicable to all the big tonewheel organs.

At the same gig where the power problem first came to light, I was lucky enough to hear my Hammond being played by the keyboard player in the support band. The Hammond sounded awesome. This was the sound I was after, and I was dying to get on that stage and let rip. I wasn't prepared for the sound that greeted me when I got there. It just wasn't the same. This has happened to me on a number of occasions since, so I stopped worrying about it and put it down to miking techniques. Not so long ago, though, I discovered that Leslie cabinets give out AM and FM frequency components (providing that deflectors are still fitted onto the ends of the Leslie's treble horn). The Amplitude Modulation is apparent beside and some distance away from the Leslie. The Frequency Modulation, however, doesn't show up until you're a few metres away from the cab. As FM is much more pleasing to the human ear than AM, this explains why, when you're standing close to the Leslie (such as when you're playing the Hammond), it doesn't sound as nice as it does out front to the audience -- who are hearing the full effect. This knowledge is essential for a Hammond player's confidence and well-being!



• Jimmy Smith: The Sermon
• Jimmy McGriff: Pullin' Out the Stops
• James Taylor Quartet: Wait a Minute
• Groove Tunnel [yes, this is Rod's own band! Ed] : Liven Up!
• Brother Jack McDuff: Screamin'
• The Artwoods: 100 Oxford Street
• The Small Faces: The Small Faces (Green Circles)

• Jimmy Smith: 'The Cat'
• The Nice: 'America'
• Deep Purple: 'Hush'
• Hardin & York: 'Drinking My Wine'

Anything by Brian Auger Trinity, Booker T & The MGs, Groove Tunnel, Blue Note.



• Clive Botterill, Hammond Organ Service UK: supplies parts for, services and sells Hammonds and Leslies. Was the Production Director at the Hammond factory in Edgeware in the mid-'60s to late '70s.

T 01923 675782.

• Mark Trayner: runs Vintage Hammond Hire Scotland. Services, repairs and hires Hammonds and Leslies.

T 01333 422600.

• Graham Sutton: Hammond dealer, was a test engineer with Hammond in the early '70s.

T 01908 502425.


Special thanks to Mark Trayner for confirmation of facts and the swapping of anoraks.


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