Is the SKX the lightweight gigging Hammond you've always dreamed of?
The sound of the Hammond organ is as popular today as it's ever been, and remains a staple component of so many different musical genres. But gigging with a genuine console tonewheel organ, with its massive weight and the potential unreliability of a complex electro-mechanical vintage instrument, is not for the faint hearted. Thankfully, there are numerous 'Hammond clonewheels' these days, most using digital emulation technology of one form or another, which deliver the right kind of sounds in a far more convenient package.
Arguably leading this 'clonewheel' field are the Hammond company themselves, a brand which is now owned by the Suzuki Musical Manufacturing Company, with several digital Hammond models to suit a wide range of requirements. The flagship is the seriously expensive but mightily impressive 'New B3 MkII', while the portable and expandable XK5 (reviewed January 2018) covers the serious traditional gigging Hammond player. Both of these instruments feature clever bespoke variations on multi-contact keybeds specifically designed to maintain the unique playing feel of a vintage Hammond, but at a significant cost. At the more affordable and versatile end of the scale is the 'stage keyboard' or 'SK' range, whose models use mass-produced 'waterfall' keybeds. While entirely suitable for the purpose, these keybeds do have a heavier and springier action than the real thing, but the benefit is a much lower price tag.
The Stage Keyboard models are intended to serve as multi-purpose keyboards for live stage applications. The core feature set is that of a Hammond tonewheel organ, but they also include a collection of pianos (acoustic and electric), clavichords, orchestral strings and other instruments, tuned percussion, string synths and other synth-based sounds, basses, choirs, and much more besides — courtesy of an updatable sound library system. So these are organs with extra sounds, as opposed to pianos or synths with organ sounds; an important distinction.
Originally, the SK line comprised the SK1 — a single-manual keyboard with 61‑, 73‑ or 88-key semi-weighted variants — and, for more demanding organ players, the SK2 with two 61-note manuals in the traditional arrangement. The SK2 was probably the lightest and most compact dual-manual Hammond ever produced. (Purely for completeness, I should also mention the XK‑1c which is another 61-note single-manual variant using the same technology, and the least expensive portable Hammond. However, it differs from the 61-note SK1 by omitting the extra voices functionality to make it a pure organ clone, hence being branded an XK model rather than sharing the SK moniker.)
Now, although the SK2 has been a very popular and capable instrument, some aspects of its design frustrated some players and discouraged...
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