Hammond Organ Clones & Rigs
True fans of the Hammond B-3 sound will often settle for nothing less than a Hammond B-3 organ... this encompasses models C-3 and A-100 in particular and several similar consoles, naturally, coupled with a Leslie Speaker, such as a 122, 147, 31H, or my fave, the 21H (among others.)
20 years or so ago, the first of a series of "new generation" Hammond Clones began coming out. Most were a step in the right direction, but generally awful feeling and awful sounding in comparison to the wondrous lines out today -- they could; however, be used to make-do, especially if run through a Leslie.
The first time I ever saw one used it was when I went to see Albert Collins at the old Chestnut Cabaret in Philadelphia. His organist (Billy Nunn?) sounded phenomenal, actually.
I believe he was playing an XB-2.
The release of the XB-2 was of historical incidence, because at the time, the Hammond Organ had fallen into almost total obscurity in mainstream music... It was the post Yamaha DX-7 era of midi and sampling. Even big, bulky retro analogue synths, which now fetch a pretty fortune were viewed as garage junk. I actually bought a Rhodes at the time for $150.00, a Hohner D6 clav for under $200, and the store even offered to give me a Moog, but pointed out what utter junk it was. (If I only kept them until today!)
Around 1999, the B3 clone wars ante was upped with an organ that had single manual waterfall keys... I believe it was the XK2. Prior to it I had owned Hammond Suzuki's XB-1. My opinion of the XK-2 was that it felt pretty good, but was utterly lacking in balance and balls. In general, I did not feel comfortable playing it, although some of my first gigs were on an XK2 with a Motion Pro speaker. --Back then Chorus/Vibrato and Leslie emulation were terrible on the units -- so bad that I felt the units sounded best with those features turned off.
A major step in the right direction was the NORD ELECTRO 71, which in my opinion was the first to get the Leslie, Chorus and Vibrato right. Although it was a long call from sounding and playing exactly like a real Hammond, it was the type of keyboard that I felt was acceptable to play on a gig if making do was an absolute necessity. --I also used it on a couple of tracks on my "Man With A Groove" album, was a factory demonstrator for the unit, and my tune "Sugar Ala Bossa Funk" was featured on the front page of the manufacturer's website for a considerable amount of time. In general I liked it, but no -- it was no replacement for the real deal. (This is me playing an original blues through, what I recall was a Fender Twin Reverb amp!) --As I recall, downsides of the NORD ELECTRO 71 were upper end shrill, (like most clones) difficulty balancing right hand upper manual/left hand lower manual split and it didn't have the same responsiveness as a real B-3 (ruling out certain types of smears and slaps.)
Other units by other companies came out too, but my attitude at the time was that my first choice was a console, second choice a chop, third a NORD ELECTRO.
About 2004 I had my beloved A-100 chopped. The job, unfortunately was done by a yokel. Even if it wasn't, I deeply regretted it. Sometimes moving one big clunky piece of furniture is far easier than moving many... and found that the unit, a gutted Hammond A-100 that sounded and played beautiful was, in essence, more technically stable and easier to move in its original form.
As an additional point, around 2002, I began touring Europe extensively, I learned the hard way that you can have the best Hammond in the world, but if they stuck you with one of those crappy solid State Leslies, you might just as well be playing the worst piece of crap on Earth. (Maybe things have improved, but I always had problems with the shrilly upper rotors on most of the solid states.)
Speaking of solid states, one modification which I had NO REGRET making on my A-100 was getting a solid state pre-amp from TREK II. It juiced the bass, and made the pre-amp less prone to technical issues.
A major problem; however, that took a lot of the joy out of owning the Hammond was indeed finding reliable and honest technicians, and it was for that reason alone that I prayed and prayed for a day that the perfect, then unimaginable digital clone would come out. All in all, reliance on technicians, some pricy, some unreliable are what turned me off of relying on vintage Hammonds as much as I would have liked to. Oh how I envy those organists who actually took Electronics in High School, played with their Radio Shack kits as kids, and can actually maintain their own organs.
The New B3-P
It must have been around 2006 that I bought a B3-P. My opinion at the time was that it was still pretty "heavy" for a portable unit and a major pain in the ass to take apart and put together... Hammond definitely had made a major step in the right direction with the chorus/vibrato, but like many of their products at the time, was utterly lacking in balls... especially when it came to "shout" type playing I thought it had a "digital wheeze". (This is me playing a B3-P at one of my old sessions at CRAWFISH in Tokyo.)
Clavia Nord C1 and C2
Having virtually given up playing, something wonderful happened about a year after I got the clunker... Clavia released the C1, and wow, was it amazing!!! A double manual Hammond clone that weighed only 16kg. and felt and sounded remarkably good. It was further improved with the release of the C2, and most recently with a system upgrade that has it sounding so close to a real Hammond that I've actually fooled a number of experts. In addition, when I play it, I feel like I'm playing a musical instrument, not a digital emulation of one. --Recent features, such as improved key click and Leslie mic'ing have made a great unit sound even better. --My only criticism of the C1/C2 were issues with the speeding up and speeding down of the Leslie, but overall, the onboard Leslie is good enough that I've done recordings on it using direct lines into the mixing board, and have forced people to listen pretty damn closely to tell the difference. --Now, properly EQ'd and set up, the difference is barely distinguishable, having lead me to the preference of gigging using my ever-reliable incredibly lightweight C2. The exception to the rule is when organ rentals are available, but keep in mind that often the cost of an organ rental supersedes the actual pay of an organ gig. The result is that many players who play organs are more techies than musicians, and sometimes it shows. (This most definitely is not always the case.)
Finally, the question arises, when people go to see an organ show, isn't it a real organ that they wish to see?
I have two opinions on this. First, Hammond Suzuki's concept in recent years has been to release a series of increasingly competitive clones that look more and more like B3's, with very beautiful and convincing furniture. On the other hand, I am sold on the sound, portability and "brand integrity" of Clavia's products, so have remained a loyal customer, despite a personal issue with their ownership.
Other brands exist too. I can not offer comment on them as I haven't really played those other rigs, though I do have Native B4 loaded up on my computer, and have always loved it when I need to quickly throw some organ over a track into my LOGIC PRO via my M-AUDIO keyboard.
In the end, my personal belief is that if the gig has a budget that will allow for a B-3 rental, I am all for it. But if its a gig I'd have to turn down because the budget does not warrant renting, let alone moving a very heavy organ, my Clavia C2 with the Pedal Keys 27 is my first choice. In addition, I strongly feel that while 10 years ago it was true that analogue equalled warm, and digital = cold and mechanical, that certain is NOT the case any more. It is amazing even without a good Hammond Organ controller what Native Instruments software coupled with Logic Pro can do that was virtually unimaginable in a digital studio only 6 years ago unless you filtered everything through vintage analogue equipment.
Here's what it all comes down to...
On choosing the right that's right for you...
It is my personal opinion that no matter what the unit is, its greatest limitation is the ability of the player to bring out the sound. As an example, a weak player who plays a vintage 1957 B-3 organ as if its a piano, is not going to sound any better just because its a real stock model B-3, even if there are two rotating 31-Hs next to it. On the other hand, a skilled player can take virtually any half way decent clone and get some pretty good sounds on it. The difference is that a select number of master players will be able to do things on a stock model organ that can't be done on most digital Hammonds. In so far as the C2, the only thing I miss majorly is the old Groove Holmes motor stall trick. *The digital draw buttons are navigable if you know how to use them, and if you can't, there's always the NORD C2D.
On making it sound good...
Another note is that people often forget that no two Hammonds ever sounded EXACTLY the same, and it was not uncommon, even back in the day for some to sound LOUSY due to being recorded and mixed by engineers who had no idea what they were doing. The result of this is that in some situations you can actually get a better sound direct mic'ing a better clone into a mixing board, than having a yokel engineer TRYING to mic the Leslie. This is always something to consider.
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