Is Hammond’s XK-5 the best lightweight ‘clonewheel’ organ money can buy?
The Hammond console tonewheel organ and Leslie speaker has been a standard feature across a range of different musical genres for more than 70 years, and that’s a lot of heritage and status, mostly associated with the B3 model that was introduced in 1954 (although the C3 and A10x variants employ exactly the same sound-generating components, and only really differ in their case styling).
However, the earliest B3s have been around for 63 years now and even the youngest are over 40 years old (production ceased in 1974). At more than 140kg (310lbs) these vintage megaliths are just too big and heavy for most players (or their roadies) to want to cart around to gigs, and increasingly they are becoming far too precious, delicate, and valuable as well. Consequently, there is a strong market for lighter and more convenient ‘clonewheel’ organs, and a variety of manufacturers have tackled this market over the years with varying degrees of success. Arguably king amongst these is the Suzuki Musical Instrument Corporation, which acquired the remnants of both the Hammond and Leslie companies in the late 1980s. Their first ‘digital Hammond’ was launched in 1986 as the ‘Super B’ under the Hammond-Suzuki brand, and the technology and accuracy of emulation has progressed substantially through the XB- and XE-Series models, culminating in 2003 with the flagship ‘New-B3’ which I reviewed in Sound On Sound in the July 2003 edition.
This imposing instrument sounds, plays and looks almost exactly like a vintage B3, but hidden away in a pull-out drawer by the player’s right knee is a digital display and controls to change myriad sound generation parameters allowing a wide range of customisation. At the heart of this beast is a ‘virtual tonewheel generator’ called ‘VASE III’ and this adopts a modelling approach to replicate the intricate characteristics of the tonewheels, the vibrato/chorus scanner, the percussion generator, the expression pedal and valve amplifiers, and the all-important Leslie speaker — as well as a variety of more modern effects and reverbs.
VASE III — albeit with several beneficial enhancements — also sits at the heart of more recent portable Hammond-Suzuki organs, including all of the XK and SK ranges (except the new XK-5). And those enhancements were later reintroduced back into the ‘New-B3’ flagship in its current MkII form. I am pretty familiar with VASE III as I use an XK-1c Hammond as part of my live keyboard rig, and I have compared it directly with my own 1961 Hammond A100 and Leslie 122RV speaker. In my view, this technology sounds remarkably faithful to the real thing, recreating almost all of...
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