The Hammond organ is an electric organ, invented by Laurens Hammond and John M. Hanert and first manufactured in 1935. Various models have been produced, most of which use sliding drawbars to create a variety of sounds. Until 1975, Hammond organs generated sound by creating an electric current from rotating a metal tonewheel near an electromagnetic pickup. Around two million Hammond organs have been manufactured, and it has been described as one of the most successful organs. The organ is commonly used with, and associated with, the Leslie speaker.

334The organ was originally marketed and sold by the Hammond Organ Company to churches as a lower-cost alternative to the wind-driven pipe organ, or instead of a piano. It quickly became popular with professional jazz musicians, who found it a cheaper alternative to the big band. Jimmy Smith’s use of the Hammond B-3, with its additional harmonic percussion feature, inspired a generation of organ players, and its use became more widespread in the 1960s and 1970s in rhythm and blues, rock and reggae, as well as being an important instrument in progressive rock.

The Hammond Organ Company struggled financially during the 1970s as they abandoned tonewheel organs and switched to manufacturing instruments using integrated circuits. These instruments were not as popular with musicians as the tonewheels had been, and the company went out of business in 1985. The Hammond name was purchased by the Suzuki Musical Instrument Corporation, which proceeded to manufacture digital simulations of the most popular tonewheel organs. This culminated in the production of the “New B-3” in 2002, which provided an accurate recreation of the original B-3 organ using modern digital technology.

Hammond-Suzuki continues to manufacture a variety of organs for both professional players and churches. Other companies, such as Korg, Roland and Clavia, have also achieved success in providing emulations of the original tonewheel organs. The sound of a tonewheel Hammond can also be emulated using modern software such as Native Instruments B4.

B3and122lgMost Hammond organs have two 61-note (5-octave) manuals. Each manual is laid out in a similar manner to a piano keyboard, except pressing a key results in the sound continuously playing until it is released. There is no difference in volume regardless of how heavily the key is pressed, so overall volume is controlled by a pedal (also known as a “swell” or “expression” pedal). The keys on each manual have a lightweight action, which allows players to perform rapid passages more easily than on a piano. In contrast to piano and pipe organ keys, Hammond keys have a flat-front profile, commonly referred to as “waterfall” style. Early Hammond console models had sharp edges, but starting with the B-2 these were rounded, as they were cheaper to manufacture. The M series of spinets also had waterfall keys (which has subsequently made them ideal for spares on B-3s and C-3s), but later models had “diving board” style keys which resembled those found on a church organ. Modern Hammond-Suzuki models use waterfall keys.

Hammond console organs come with a wooden pedalboard played with the feet, for bass notes. Most Hammond pedalboards have 25 notes, with the top note a middle C, because Hammond found that on traditional 32-note pedalboards used in churches, the top seven notes were seldom used. The Hammond Concert models E, RT, RT-2, RT-3 and D-100 had 32-note American Guild of Organists (AGO) pedalboards going up to the G above middle C as the top note. The RT-2, RT-3 and D-100 also contained a separate solo pedal system that had its own volume control and various other features. Spinet models had 12- or 13-note miniature pedalboards with stamped steel pedals.

drawbar_overviewThe sound on a tonewheel Hammond organ is varied through the manipulation of drawbars. A drawbar is a metal slider that controls the volume of a particular sound component, in a similar way to a fader on an audio mixing board. As a drawbar is incrementally pulled out, it increases the volume of its sound. When pushed all the way in, the volume is decreased to zero.

The labeling of the drawbar derives from the stop system in pipe organs, in which the physical length of the pipe corresponds to the pitch produced. Most Hammonds contain nine drawbars per manual. The drawbar marked “8′” generates the fundamental of the note being played, the drawbar marked “16′” is an octave below, and the drawbars marked “4′”, “2′” and “1′” are one, two and three octaves above respectively. The other drawbars generate various subharmonics of the note. While each individual drawbar generates a relatively pure sound similar to a flute or electronic oscillator, more complex sounds can be created by mixing the drawbars in varying amounts. Some spinet models do not include the two subharmonic drawbars on the lower manual.

Some drawbar settings have become well known and associated with certain musicians. A very popular setting is 888000000 (i.e., with the drawbars labelled “16′”, “51/3′” and “8′” fully pulled out), and has been identified as the “classic” Jimmy Smith sound.

730px-Hammond-drawbars-plain.svgIn addition to drawbars, many Hammond tonewheel organ models also include presets, which make predefined drawbar combinations available at the press of a button. Console organs have one octave of reverse colored keys (naturals are black, sharps and flats are white) to the left of each manual, with each key activating a preset; the far left key (C), also known as the cancel key, de-activates all presets, and results in no sound coming from that manual. The two right-most preset keys (B and B♭) activate the corresponding set of drawbars for that manual, while the other preset keys produce preselected drawbar settings that are internally wired into the preset panel. Presets can be changed by rerouting the associated color-coded wires on the rear of the organ. Some spinet models have flip tabs for presets situated above the manuals.

Hammond organs have a built-in vibrato effect that provides a small variation in pitch while a note is being played, and a chorus effect where a note’s sound is combined with another sound at a slightly different and varying pitch. The best known vibrato and chorus system consists of six settings, V1, V2, V3, C1, C2 and C3 (i.e., 3 vibrato and 3 chorus), which can be selected via a rotary switch. Vibrato / chorus can be selected for each manual independently.

hammonddrawbarsThe B-3 and C-3 models introduced the concept of “Harmonic Percussion”, which was designed to emulate the percussive sounds of the harp, xylophone and marimba. When selected, this feature plays a decaying second- or third-harmonic overtone when a key is pressed. The selected percussion harmonic fades out, leaving the sustained tones the player selected with the drawbars. The volume of this percussive effect is selectable as either Normal or Soft. Harmonic Percussion retriggers only after all notes have been released, so legato passages sound the effect only on the very first note or chord, making Harmonic Percussion uniquely a “single-trigger, polyphonic” effect

Before a Hammond organ can produce sound, the motor that drives the tonewheels must come up to speed. On most models, starting a Hammond organ involves two switches. The “Start” switch turns a dedicated starter motor, which must run for about 12 seconds. Then, the “Run” switch is turned on for about four seconds. The “Start” switch is then released, whereupon the organ is ready to generate sound. The H-100 and E-series consoles and L-100 and T-100 spinet organs, however, had a self-starting motor that required only a single “On” switch.

It is possible to create a pitch bend on the Hammond organ by turning the “Run” switch off and on again. This briefly cuts power to the generators, causing them to run at a slower pace and generate a lower pitch for a short time. Hammond’s New B3 contains similar switches to emulate this effect, though it is a digital instrument.

F8zdz3nWFbQrwdkg5STdWEh57sDn3GpQR16gCDgD18yQBdWK5D3825kDbdXTbYpZBMany players prefer to play the Hammond through a rotating speaker cabinet known, after several name changes, as a Leslie speaker, after its inventor Donald J. Leslie. The Leslie system is an integrated speaker/amplifier combination in which sound is emitted by a rotating horn over a stationary treble compression driver, and a rotating baffle beneath a stationary bass woofer. This creates a characteristic sound because of the constantly changing pitch shifts that result from the Doppler effect created by the moving sound sources.

The Leslie was originally designed to mimic the complex tones and constantly shifting sources of sound emanating from a large group of ranks in a pipe organ. The effect varies depending on the speed of the rotors, which can be toggled between fast (tremolo) and slow (chorale) using a console or pedal switch, with the most distinctive effect occurring as the speaker rotation speed changes. The most popular Leslies were the 122, which accepted a balanced signal suitable for console organs, and the 147, which accepted an unbalanced signal and could be used for spinet organs with a suitable adapter. The Pro-Line series of Leslies which were made to be portable for gigging bands using solid-state amps were popular during the 1970s.

Lesliebox_AnimationLeslie initially tried to sell his invention to Hammond, but Laurens Hammond was unimpressed and declined to purchase it. Hammond modified their interface connectors to be “Leslie-proof”, but Leslie quickly engineered a workaround. The Leslie company was sold to CBS in 1965 and was finally bought by Hammond in 1980. Hammond-Suzuki acquired the rights to Leslie in 1992; the company currently markets a variety of speakers under this name. As well as faithful reissues of the original 122 speaker, the company announced in 2013 that they would start manufacturing a standalone Leslie simulator in a stomp box.

Early customers of the Hammond included Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Henry Ford, Eleanor Roosevelt and George Gershwin. The instrument was not initially favored by classical organ purists, because the tones of two notes an octave apart were in exact synchronization, as opposed to the slight variation present on a pipe organ. However, the instrument did gradually become popular with jazz players. One of the first notable performers to use the Hammond organ was Ethel Smith, who was known as the “first lady of the Hammond Organ”. Fats Waller and Count Basie also started using the Hammond. Organist John Medeski thinks the Hammond became “the poor man’s big band”, but because of that, it became more economical to book organ trios.

Keith Emerson
Keith Emerson

Jimmy Smith became a notable user of the Hammond in the 1950s, particularly in his sessions for the Blue Note label between 1956 and 1963. He eschewed a bass player, and played all the bass parts himself using the pedals, generally using a walking bassline on the pedals in combination with percussive left hand chords. His trio format, composed of organ, guitar and drums, became internationally famous following an appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957. Medeski says musicians “were inspired when they heard Jimmy Smith’s records.” “Brother” Jack McDuff switched from piano to Hammond in 1959, and toured regularly throughout the 1960s and 70s. Keith Emerson was inspired to take up the Hammond by hearing McDuff’s arrangement of “Rock Candy”.
Booker T Jones is cited as being the bridge from rhythm and blues to rock. British organist James Taylor said the Hammond “became popular [in the UK] when people such as Booker T & The MGs and artists on the Stax Records label came over to London and played gigs.” Matthew Fisher first encountered the Hammond in 1966 having heard the Small Faces’ Ian McLagan playing one. When Fisher asked if he could play it, McLagan told him “They’re yelling out for Hammond players; why don’t you go out and buy one for yourself?”  Fisher went on to play the organ lines on Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade Of Pale, which topped the UK charts in the summer of 1967. Steve Winwood started his musical career with the Spencer Davis Group playing guitar and piano, but he switched to Hammond when he hired one to record “Gimme Some Lovin'”.

Gregg Allman
Gregg Allman

Gregg Allman became interested in the Hammond after Mike Finnigan had introduced him to Jimmy Smith’s music, and started to write material with it. His brother Duane specifically requested he play the instrument when forming the Allman Brothers Band, and he was presented with a brand new B-3 and Leslie 122RV upon joining. Allman recalls the instrument was cumbersome to transport, particularly on flights of stairs, which often required the whole band’s assistance. Author Frank Moriarty considers Allman’s Hammond playing a vital ingredient of the band’s sound.

Jon Lord
Jon Lord

Deep Purple’s Jon Lord became inspired to play the Hammond after hearing Jimmy Smith’s “Walk on the Wild Side”. He modified his Hammond so it could be played through a Marshall stack to get a growling, overdriven sound, which became known as his trademark and he is strongly identified with it. This organ was later acquired by Joey DeFrancesco. Van der Graaf Generator’s Hugh Banton modified his Hammond E-100 extensively with customised electronics, including the ability to put effects such as distortion on one manual but not the other, and rewiring the motor. The modifications created, in Banton’s own words, “unimaginable sonic chaos.”


Rick Wright
Rick Wright

The Hammond was a key instrument in progressive rock music. Author Edward Macan thinks this is because of its versatility, allowing both chords and lead lines to be played, and a choice between quiet and clean, and what Emerson described as a “tacky, aggressive, almost distorted, angry sound.” Emerson first found commercial success with the Nice, with whom he used and abused an L-100, putting knives in the instrument, setting fire to it, playing it upside down, or riding it across stage in the manner of a horse. He continued to play the instrument in this manner alongside other keyboards in Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Other prominent Hammond organists in progressive rock include the Zombies’ and Argent’s Rod Argent, Yes’s Tony Kaye and Rick Wakeman, Focus’s Thijs van Leer, Uriah Heep’s Ken Hensley, Pink Floyd’s Rick Wright, Kansas’s Steve Walsh, and Genesis’s Tony Banks. Banks later claimed he only used the Hammond because a piano was impractical to transport to gigs.

Winston Wright
Winston Wright

Ska and reggae music made frequent use of the Hammond throughout the 1960s and ’70s. Junior Marvin started to play the instrument after hearing Booker T & The MGs’ “Green Onions”, although he complained about its weight. Winston Wright was regarded in the music scene of Jamaica as one of the best organ players, and used the Hammond when performing live with Toots and the Maytals, as well as playing it on sessions with Lee “Scratch” Perry, Jimmy Cliff and Gregory Isaacs. Tyrone Downie, best known as Bob Marley & The Wailers’ keyboard player, made prominent use of the Hammond on “No Woman, No Cry”, as recorded at the Lyceum Theatre, London, for the album Live!


Dave Greenfield
Dave Greenfield

The Hammond organ was perceived as outdated by the late 1970s, particularly in the UK, where it was often used to perform pop songs in social clubs. Punk and New Wave bands tended to prefer second-hand combo organs from the 1960s, or use no keyboards at all. Other groups started taking advantage of cheaper and more portable synthesizers that were starting to come onto the market. The Stranglers’ Dave Greenfield was a notable exception to this, and used a Hammond onstage during the band’s early career. Andy Thompson, better known for being an aficionado of the Mellotron, stated that “the Hammond never really went away. There are a lot of studios that have had a B-3 or C-3 sitting away in there since the 70s.” The instrument underwent a brief renaissance in the 1980s with the mod revival movement. Taylor played the Hammond through the 1980s, first with the Prisoners and later with the James Taylor Quartet. The sound of the Hammond made an appearance in hip-hop music, albeit mostly via samples. A notable exception was the Beastie Boys‘ “So What’cha Want”, where it was mixed into the foreground.

Jazz musicians continued to use Hammond organs into the 21st century. Barbara Dennerlein has received critical acclaim for her performances on the Hammond, particularly her use of the bass pedals, and has modified the instrument to include samplers triggered by the pedals.  Joey DeFrancesco embraced the instrument during the 1990s, and later collaborated with Jimmy Smith. He is positive about the future of the Hammond organ, saying “Everybody loves it. It makes you feel good … I think it’s bigger now than ever.”