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Considerations in purchasing Hammond B3 (vintage) vs. XK5 for recording.

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Considerations in purchasing Hammond B3 (vintage) vs. XK5 for recording.

Postby claz » Tue Jul 14, 2020 11:46 pm

Greetings! 1st post here. (Disclaimer: I'm not sure if this is quite the right location for this topic, but it has a recording angle...)

Near where I live are a vintage Hammond B3 and an A105 available for purchase at about $2500 USD. The A105 comes with a PR40 tone cabinet; the B3 has a speaker, model as yet unknown.

This is good timing, as I'm a keyboardist looking to add a Hammond to my home studio. However, while I'm a Hammond appreciator, I'm not an expert, hence my turn to this forum for some advice.

My intended use is (1, primarily) to record playing and singing concurrently, and (2, secondarily) to simply have the instrument available for the enjoyment of a musical family.

As for why I'm weighing against an XK5: I need (I believe) need the capabilities of the multi-contact key system for percussive effects and expression. Feel is paramount.

The vintage instrument will be about $3k after being moved, and assuming some minor maintenance, while a full XK5-based system (2nd manual, pedalboard) would run about $8k.

Things I don't know include the added versatility of the XK5 (both of tone and recording methods [DI, MIDI]), the maintenance involved in the vintage instrument, and probably everything else there is to not know about Hammonds.

Both my intuition, my wallet, and my inclination lead me to the A105 or B3, but as this is a major purchase in any case, I'd be grateful for any opinions on the suitability of each for intentions (1) and (2) above. Other thoughts welcome.
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Re: Considerations in purchasing Hammond B3 (vintage) vs. XK5 for recording.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed Jul 15, 2020 1:10 am

claz wrote:The A105 comes with a PR40 tone cabinet; the B3 has a speaker, model as yet unknown.

The A105 incorporates speakers anyway, so I guess the PR40 is just for some additional volume and Low-end weight. But it is a straight fixed speaker, whereas the classic Hammond sound requires one or more Leslie rotary speaker(s). And of course, many classic rigs combine both a PR40 and Leslie 122 (or other Lelie models), as the combination of both station and moving sound is a great effect.

Anyway, if you go for the A105 be prepared to spend extra on a Leslie -- normally a 122. And you will need to find out what speaker is paired with the B3.

Hopefully you are aware of just how physically large a B3 and Leslie combo is! The A105 has a shallower case, but it's still a big instrument. The A105 and B3 are identical in terms of their electronics, controls, and sound capabilities. The only difference (apart from the woodwork) is that the A105 has built-in speakers and reverb. That said, every Hammond sounds slightly different because of their electronics ageing, and repairs/maintenance performed over the years. So it's really important to try before you buy!

I'm not an expert, hence my turn to this forum for some advice.

There are a lot of great specialist Hammond resources on the web and it would be well worth reading up to fully understand what you're potentially getting into.

Any console Hammond will be at least 50 years old and most are over 60 years old. Although they are well built, they do need regular careful maintenance and care, and if the electronics haven't been fully rebuilt in the last 20 years it will need a major overhaul in the very near future -- there are a lot of electrolytic caps that need to be replaced for starters!

And then there's all the mechanics of the generator and Leslie, too! There are good specialists around, though, and spare parts are generally available, but there will be ongoing running and repair costs to bear in mind.

As for why I'm weighing against an XK5: I need (I believe) need the capabilities of the multi-contact key system for percussive effects and expression. Feel is paramount.

The XK5's key-bed is very, very good and extremely close to the feel of an original console organ. It has a triple contact system, with each of those sounding three pitches, emulating the nine contacts of the original very weel and the playing effect is virtually indistinguishable from a console organic terms of feel and percussive actions. I was extremely impressed and got on with it very well (I own an A100 from 1961). You really should try it for yourself, but I wouldn't have any reservations about it.

The vintage instrument will be about $3k after being moved, and assuming some minor maintenance, while a full XK5-based system (2nd manual, pedalboard) would run about $8k.

I'm not sure if the Hammonds youre looking at are fully serviced from good dealers, or as seen from private sellers, but if the latter your maintenance budget may need some expansion. And there's the cost of a good Leslie 122 to add on for the A105 (and possibly for the B3 too).

Either way, it is vital that you check out the instruments in person to make sure that everything works as it should and sounds good. (For example, you need to check every pitch on every key to check both the generator and the contacts). Some Hammonds are bright, some are dark, some are grungy, some are very clean sounding... It all depends what you expect and want...

Things I don't know include the added versatility of the XK5 (both of tone and recording methods [DI, MIDI]), the maintenance involved in the vintage instrument, and probably everything else there is to not know about Hammonds.

The XK5 is inherently more versatile than a classic console organ, as its core sound can be tweaked quite comprehensively for dark/bright/grungy etc -- and you can recall different setups at a press of a button for different songs, which you cant do with an original console organ!

The XK5 also includes some additional inboard effects that you won't have with a classic Hammond, too. The internal Leslie effect is excellent for recording, and live gigs, but it's not the same as a big mechanical Leslie speaker throwing sound around the room. Of course, you can add a modern Leslie XB122 to the XK5, but will push your budget even higher! The MIDI facilities might also be useful for your recording activities... And the XK5 is a lt easier to lug around if you plan to gig with it!

Perhaps more importantly, if you're planning on recording vocals at the same time as playing, the XK5 has the advantage of being silent, whereas the console Hammond is effectively an acoustic Instrument -- and a loud one at that -- which makes recording simultaneous vocals a lot more challenging.

Both my intuition, my wallet, and my inclination lead me to the A105 or B3, but as this is a major purchase in any case, I'd be grateful for any opinions...

There is undoubtedly something very special about a real console Hammond with a big Leslie. I adore mine... But I've had to spend a fair bit of money on it over the years, and it would have been a lot more if I hadn't been able to a lot of the electronics work myself. And I could never gig with it. For that I use a modern Hammond SKX (I couldn't justify the cost of the XK5), and while it's not quite the same experience, it sounds excellent, it plays well, and it's a lot more practical!

Hope that helps.
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Re: Considerations in purchasing Hammond B3 (vintage) vs. XK5 for recording.

Postby The Elf » Wed Jul 15, 2020 9:38 am

Having been through similar angst recently...

Heart = real Hammond
Head = modern simulation

My head eventually won the battle here. I still sigh from time to time, but I know what I'm missing and it doesn't trouble me too much.
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Re: Considerations in purchasing Hammond B3 (vintage) vs. XK5 for recording.

Postby Zukan » Wed Jul 15, 2020 10:08 am

Moons ago I sold my Hammond and replaced it with a Voce. very good but not quite the same. I know this does not help anyone.
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Re: Considerations in purchasing Hammond B3 (vintage) vs. XK5 for recording.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed Jul 15, 2020 10:20 am

I guess it comes down to what you want as opposed to what you need.

If you just want a good Hammond sound there are several very good virtual instruments now, and if you need a physical instrument there are several good keyboards out there from a variety of manufacturers. I use a Hammond XK-1c in my studio rack which does the job, and an SKX for more complex stuff when I need two keyboards and drawbars for each manual.

But there's something special about the electro-mechcanical nature of a real console (or spinet) Hammond. The mechanical noises it makes, the smell, the unpredictability.... :lol:

Just be prepared for the inevitable ongoing maintenance requirements of a 60 year old instrument.
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Re: Considerations in purchasing Hammond B3 (vintage) vs. XK5 for recording.

Postby The Red Bladder » Wed Jul 15, 2020 3:53 pm

Hugh gave you some golden advice on Hammonds in general. I used to service Hammonds in my misspent youth, so here are my additional tips -

If you have never played a Hammond - I do mean a real one - take someone with you who has played a Hammond and is 100% familiar with the beast to try it out. For the best price, it should have the bench, a pedalboard and a tube-driven Leslie (with that funny half-moon controller fitted to the organ) and of course it has to be fully working and not making funny noises.

Tips - if a few drawbars do not work that is GREAT! It just means that the wire has come off at the back and you have to solder them back on - but it's a great way to argue-down the price.

If it buzzes a bit, that too is a pretty good way to argue-down the price. Chances are, it's just the hum-balance gone out. Take the back off and find the damn thing and twiddle once you get it home!

Make sure it's been recently oiled with pukka Hammond oil before buying or even trying it out. Again, the back has to come off to do this.

NEVER tip them up or lay them on their sides, The oil drains out and gets on the tubes and smoke will billow out and other nasty things can happen. As there is an open small oil
container inside, that is a really stupid thing to do - but as the old German saying goes "Against stupidity the gods themselves do battle in vain!"

They take about five seconds to start-up and a quarter of an hour to settle, so when test-driving, leave it alone for a while.

If you can't find someone who knows their way around a real Hammond, check that all those presets work (black keys) and then push all the drawbars in and pull the drawbars out one at a time to test.

Last but not least, there are still loads of old real Hammonds out there, C3, B3, A100 and all the others, esp. in the US.

Leslies to go for - 122, 147 & 145.

And before you ask NOTHING plays like a real hammond keyboard from the 50s and 60s!

http://www.theatreorgans.com/hammond/fa ... monds.html

http://www.tonewheelgeneral.com/agelist/agelist.php

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Hammond_organs
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Re: Considerations in purchasing Hammond B3 (vintage) vs. XK5 for recording.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed Jul 15, 2020 5:10 pm

The Red Bladder wrote:Leslies to go for - 122, 147 & 145.

In case the numbers mean nothing (and there are a lot of different Leslie model numbers), the 122 was the model designed specifically for the Hammond Console organs (B3, C3, A100).

It's a big, 41-inch tall box, (and 29x20.5 inches in floor area) with a fantastic bass response, and it has a balanced audio connection (type 6H) with the fast/slow (tremolo/chorale) speed change control being sent as a phantom voltage on the audio lines. As a result of the way the electronics work, there tends to be a slight lag between flipping the Leslie speed switch at the organ and the speed change being activated... but that's part of the fun! ;-)

There are three variations of the 122: the straight 122, the 122V, and the 122RV. Externally the V and RV models have extra louvres below the top horn louvres on the two sides. Inside the dividing shelf for the horn rotor is set a little lower in the cabinet to accommodate an extra amplifier...

The RV model has this second amplifier which drives a reverb spring, and powers a single 6x9 speaker (reverb-only) feeding through one of the side louvres (the other side is sealed off internally). The V model doesn't have this spring line, amp or speaker, but could (back in the day) be retrofitted with them. The original 122 doesn't have the height in the top section of the cabinet to accommodate the reverb amp...

The 147 model (also available as a 147RV model with reverb) looks identical to the 122 from the outside, but it was designed for use with non-Hammond organs. Consequently, the front end circuitry of the (valve) amplifier is slightly different to the 122 -- it has an unbalanced input and uses a different connection interface (6W). The speed switching is performed separately and more directly.

These models can be used with a console Hammond, but it requires a different interface adaptor at the organ. Some players prefer the more responsive speed change of these models, but I can't say it ever bothered me!

And finally, the 142 and 145 are the 'compact' equivalent versions of the 122 and 147, respectively in a 33-inch tall cabinet, with the same floor area. The 142 has the 6H balanced input configuration and is a plug-in replacement for the 122; the 145 is unbalanced (6W) and is swappable for the 147. These smaller cabinets have a slightly reduced low-end response.

There are also 'decorator style' versions which are in a horizontal landscape format instead of the portait style of the 122 etc. They also have cloth grilles and look more 'vintage hifi'. These cabinets are much lower still at 30 inches tall (with a floor area of 40x20 inches). The internal components are all the same, with the 222/222RV equating to the 122, and the 242 to the 142. Similarly, the 247 and 247RV equate to the 147, and the 245 to the 145. These decorator models aren't very popular, and tend to be used for scavenging spare parts for the more popular 'standard' versions.

The original Jensen treble compression driver in these models is quite delicate and easily destroyed if overdriven too much. They are no longer available and good original command high prices. There are modern and more robust equivalents, but afficionados claim they don't sound as good... The 15-inch bass drivers are pretty robust.

The bass rotor bearings tend to wear out and get very rumbly, and the rubber 'clutch' rings on the motors go hard and slip... but replacements are fairly easily available. The amp(s) are straightforward, but the electrolytic capacitors will need replacing if not already done, and the organ-Leslie cable and connectors should be checked very carefully as it carries mains and audio. The console Hammond was not grounded as standard, and there is exposed metalwork (particularly under the keyboard shelf) that can become live under certain fault conditions! Sensible dealers will replace the original mains power connector with an IEC and provide proper grounding to make the organ a lot safer!
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Re: Considerations in purchasing Hammond B3 (vintage) vs. XK5 for recording.

Postby Folderol » Wed Jul 15, 2020 5:13 pm

Serious question to the O/P
Have you actually played a real B3?
As I mentioned here some time back. I had the opportunity many years ago when asked to restore one that had been abandoned in church hall side room. It took quite some time, so I really got to know the beast.

After all these years I remember it with great fondness, and if I had both the money and the space I'd love to own one. Without being melodramatic, I found the sound, smell, feel, was an experience that simply can't be emulated.

P.S.
Good point Hugh made about the oil - catches lots of people out. I was lucky an organist friend warned me. He also told me how to start it :tongue:
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Re: Considerations in purchasing Hammond B3 (vintage) vs. XK5 for recording.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed Jul 15, 2020 5:46 pm

It was Andrew (RB) that mentioned the oil, but it is a good point.

You can tip a console Hammond onto its left or right hand side up to about 45 degrees as an aid to carrying and moving the beast, but never up to 90, and never lay it down on its back!

Also, the generator should be bolted down before the organ is moved as it is suspended on springs in normal use to reduce mechanical noise. The generator weighs a lot and once that starts moving around freely on its springs all manner of damage can be done. The locking bolts should be retained in the generator.
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Re: Considerations in purchasing Hammond B3 (vintage) vs. XK5 for recording.

Postby The Red Bladder » Wed Jul 15, 2020 7:15 pm

I only mentioned the oil because someone brought an M3 into the studio (we have an A100 with 145) and smoke started billowing out of the damn thing.

We switched it off and used ours. I didn't know people could be that daft - he was a lawyer!

I hear that he has become a judge since then.
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Re: Considerations in purchasing Hammond B3 (vintage) vs. XK5 for recording.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed Jul 15, 2020 7:31 pm

I believe the phrase is, 'educated beyond common sense'... :lol:
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Re: Considerations in purchasing Hammond B3 (vintage) vs. XK5 for recording.

Postby blinddrew » Wed Jul 15, 2020 9:52 pm

Isn't that the definition of an intellectual? ;)


Actually I think that was someone educated beyond their intelligence.
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Re: Considerations in purchasing Hammond B3 (vintage) vs. XK5 for recording.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed Jul 15, 2020 9:55 pm

:lol:
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Re: Considerations in purchasing Hammond B3 (vintage) vs. XK5 for recording.

Postby claz » Wed Jul 15, 2020 10:54 pm

To all that replied: thank you. Your perspectives have helped tremendously.

In particular, thanks to Hugh: I am conscious of the time it takes to both read and respond so thoroughly, and it does not go unappreciated. Your experience has helped temper my optimism about the ownership of the vintage instrument (not a bad thing; I prefer my optimism tempered).

I should note that, for my use-case, it's not authenticity I need, but rather to fill a hole in my instrumental arsenal. I'm a composer, sometimes at the piano, sometimes at the desk. I love my acoustic pianos; something about their responsiveness and immediacy lets the instrument disappear.

On the guitar (on which I'm amateur), one can vary the tone from pitched to noise, tone to percussion intuitively, via touch; it is the ability to achieve that on a keyboard instrument which attracts me to the Hammond. And, of course, the feeling that I'd been struck by lightning when hearing its capabilities and seeing how naturally they were effected.

Perhaps there are other keyboard instruments with which I could achieve the same intuitive, real-time tone shaping, but I confess I do not know them. Aftertouch is wonderful, but it is something more like *initial* touch that I am after.

I am excited for the debut of the Osmose Expressive-E in that regard, but I have yet to find a synth/sound combo that responds to touch the way I need for my purposes, or that doesn't take me out of the focus and immediacy of Acoustic Land, despite its limitations.

While I have no conclusion as of yet, I hope to visit the A105 shortly, and I will bring with me the knowledge you all have so kindly shared.
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Re: Considerations in purchasing Hammond B3 (vintage) vs. XK5 for recording.

Postby Sam Spoons » Thu Jul 16, 2020 10:11 am

Hugh Robjohns wrote:I believe the phrase is, 'educated beyond common sense'... :lol:

At least at the of the day he had been "tainted by experience" :D
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