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Get a sound like a Hammond B3 Organ with Leslie 122 Speaker for less than $700 (and some other options)
The famed pairing of the Hammond B3 Organ and Leslie 122 Speaker
The pairing of a Hammond B3 Organ and Leslie 122 Speaker has, arguably, been established in music folk-lore as the ultimate for producing a nearly infinite variety of organ tones complementary to a range of musical genres.
Purchasing the equipment to produce this sound can be expensive - a vintage Hammond B3 Organ and Leslie 122 Speaker outfit will typically cost in excess of $12,000 (in good serviceable condition). Even a great vintage alternative (a Hammond C3 [which has all the functionality of a Hammond B3, but with different and heavier cabinetwork]) is still expensive - outfits with a Hammond C3 Organ and Leslie 122 Speaker will be only a little less than $6,000 for those in good serviceable condition. Due to the age and construction of the Organ and Speaker, too, there will be considerable and ongoing maintenance and repair costs for a vintage outfit.
Getting a great Hammond-like sound from new equipment, however, need not be outrageously expensive - depending on the tonal sacrifices you are prepared to make. For those interested in recording (and playing) through a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), the easiest replacement would be a Hammond Organ and Leslie Speaker plug-in (there are a range of these available for download on the internet and ultimately, the choice of plug-in will be determined by the individual needs and requirements of end-users) - this is a great option for home and studio recording, but it does not typically translate well to live applications. Most musicians needing to perform live would do well to consider a few of the other lower cost options including:
- the cheapest option (with greatest tonal sacrifice) - an "Old School"/"Ghetto" approach that would utilize twin 61-key keyboards and a Digital Leslie Pedal (this would produce a couple of dozen discreet organ profiles [plus hundreds of other digital instrument profiles]) - this would cost a little under $600;
- the second cheapest option (that possibly provides the best "bang-for-the-buck") - a twin keyboard set-up using Casio's CTK7200 (for a twin 61-key layout) or WK7600 (for a twin 76-key layout) keyboards (these Casio keyboards have drawbar-type functionality, inbuilt Rotary speaker emulation, in addition to 50 discrete drawbar voices [and over 750 other voices]) that would cost a little under $700 for the CTK7200 option and a little under $900 for the WK7600 option;
- the next less expensive option for those committed to the full drawbar experience - that would utilize a Crumar GSi DMC-122 (a dual manual drawbar MIDI controller) loaded with VB3 Version 2 and matched with a Digital Leslie Pedal - this would cost a little under $1,900;
- an intermediate option - that would utilize a Crumar Mojo "clonewheel" organ matched with a Digital Leslie Pedal - this would cost a little under $2,800; and
- a more advanced option - that would utilize a Hammond XK3 modular system (effectively producing the functionality of the two upper manuals of a Hammond B3) matched with a Digital Leslie Pedal - this would cost a little under $4,500.
Fortunately, for those who are utterly committed to the genuine fully functional experience of a Hammond B3 and Leslie 122 Speaker, Hammond and Leslie produce new models (although the Hammond is controlled by digital tonewheels). The pricing for a Hammond XK3 Vintage System and Leslie 122 Speaker would be a little of $10,000.
Read on to research the options further.
The Hammond B3 and Leslie 122 Speaker
Listen to any playlist of songs from the 1960s onwards and you will hear the influence of this brilliant combination of the Hammond B3 Organ and Leslie 122 Speaker in short time. This combination (or, its tonal equal, the Hammond C3 Organ with Leslie 122 Speaker) was used by some of the greatest musicians and bands of the period, including (but not limited to), the following:
- John Lord ("Deep Purple);
- Gregg Allman ("The Allman Brothers Band");
- Rod Argent ("The Zombies" and "Argent");
- George Fame ("George Fame and The Blue Flames");
- Isaac Hayes;
- Doug Ingle ("Iron Butterfly");
- Booker T Jones ("Booker T and the MGs"); and
- Steve Winwood ("The Spencer Davis Group", "Traffic" and "Blind Faith").
For reference, above and to the right, we have provided a YouTube link to a live performance of "Time is Tight" by Booker T and the MGs featuring a Hammond B3 (with matching Leslie 122 Speaker) played by Booker T Jones.
Key features of the Hammond B3 Organ include:
- two 61 note keyboards (known as 'manuals');
- a variety of built-in effects, (including 'percussion', chorus, vibrato and adjustable attack and decay effects);
- 9 preset keys for both manuals;
- two sets of nine stops (drawbars) for each manual;
- a full two octave set of foot pedals (with two pedal drawbars built in to the console);
- a volume pedal (expression pedal) built into the base;
- a solid walnut body (with 4 legs and base);
- a built-in stool; and
- a weight of over 400 lbs.
Features of the Leslie 122 Speaker include:
- a height of 41 inches (1,000 mm);
- separate motors for chorale and tremolo;
- a 40 watt tube amplifier;
- a balanced signal (making it well adapted to recording); and
- a weight of over 100lbs.
In addition to being highly regarded for the tones produced, believe it or not, this combination was also once considered to be the most portable of the Hammond options available to organists.
All the features of the Hammond B3 are shared with the Hammond C3 (which otherwise was shipped with different cabinetwork [which was also heavier than that of the Hammond B3]).
The superb tonal qualities of the Hammond C3 are heard in the extended solo by Rod Argent in "Hold your head up" (for reference purposes, we have shown a link to the YouTube video of Argent's "Hold your head up" on the right).
Prices for genuine vintage Hammond C3 organs with matching Leslie 122 Speakers are generally lower than those including a Hammond B3 with good serviceable condition outfits being available for less than $6,000.
Understandably, modern bands (and, in particular, keyboard players) will not consider a 500+ lbs rig to be portable - and the price-tag associated with this combination is equally daunting.
Factor in other issues such as the ongoing maintenance involved with electronics that are now over 50 years old and this "holiest of holies" is - for most - impractical, unaffordable and ultimately, unattainable.
Twin Casio CTK7200 or WK7600 keyboard setup
In reviewing the options available, let's start with what may provide both best value for money and sound for keyboard players looking to create a Hammond/Leslie-like sound on stage.
This brilliant option provides a dual-keyboard experience (with dual 61-Note keyboards in the case of the Casio CTK7200 pairing or dual 76-Note keyboards in the case of the Casio WK7600 pairing), the capacity for independent Rotary Speaker simulation control for each keyboard, "live" drawbar-like control over Organ sounds for each keyboard (using the keyboard's sliders) which includes the potential to add 2nd and 3rd harmonic percussion elements, access to 50 pre-set drawbar organ emulations, in addition to over 750 other voices.
Casio's CTK7200 and WK7600 both feature nine strategically placed sliders on the front panel (to activate these, you just press the Drawbar Organ button and start playing). The sliders allow you to control the level of each harmonic overtone to produce a powerful and rich organ sound. Rotary speaker effects and percussion control are all instantly accessible - and for the final touch, you can dive deeper into edit mode to customize key click, overdrive, rotary speeds and more for the ultimate drawbar organ experience.
Both keyboards have weighted keys (to provide for touch sensitive play - this is worth noting for those who prefer a "waterfall" playing experience), extensive on-board sequencing, mixing and recording features, in addition to USB MIDI connectivity.
With the in-built Rotary Speaker emulation, these keyboards won't need an additional Digital Leslie Pedal.
The price-point for this option is less than $700 (for twin Casio CTK7200 keyboards) and less then $900 (for twin Casio WK7600 keyboards)!
The Hammond XK System - a brand new alternative to a vintage Hammond B3
For those keen on a system to replicate the functionality and - arguably - the tonal qualities of the Hammond B3, the current Hammond XK Vintage System is perfect (this can be purchased for a little under $7000). In essence, the only difference between an original Hammond B3 and the Hammond XK Vintage System is the method by which the tones are produced - in the original, they were produced by mechanical tonewheels, but in the modern system, they are produced using digital tonewheels.
The Hammond XK Vintage System turns the flagship Hammond XK-3c organ into a double manual, console-style organ with the same proportions and vintage aesthetics of an original B-3 organ. The Hammond XK-3c - when shipped with the Hammond XK Vintage System - features black end-panels for a more aesthetic integration into the Vintage Cabinet. The Hammond XK Vintage System's stand and bench even feature the turned, four-poster legs of the iconic Hammond B-3.
A "Pro" Version of the XK System is also produced by Hammond which is lighter in weight and thus, easier to transport. The "Pro" version is much more suited to musicians needing to move this instruments from one venue to another, although it does not have the same aesthetic appeal as the Vintage System (the pricing is, however, much the same).
The Hammond XK3 upper and lower modules - the functionality of the two manuals from a Hammond B3
The Hammond XK-3 Drawbar Organ offers the classic "tone-wheel" sound by utilizing 96-digital tone wheels (utilizing Hammond's Vase III sound generator to reproduce all of the characteristics of the vintage Hammond B-3). Additionally, the Hammond XK-3 houses two internal vacuum tubes that will change continuously from pre-amp mode to overdrive mode via control knob.
The upper module of the Hammond XK-3 organ also includes 12 reverse color key presets, 3 sets of drawbars, a 2-rotor digital Leslie, and a 6 -position rotary VIBRATO/CHORUS KNOB, all the features you would expect to find on a Hammond Vintage B-3.
This lower module to the XK-3 shows the versatility and power of the XK-3 platform. With no modifications to the XK-3 itself, adding this lower manual converts the XK-3 to a double-manual keyboard. This pro-style setup is ideal for a gigging organist who desires easy setup and the power of a B3 (without excessive cabinet work, foot pedals, bench and supporting framework).
The two Hammond XK-3 modules can be purchased for a little under $4100.
The Hammond SK2 - much of the functionality of the two manuals from a Hammond B3 (with just one set of drawbars)
The Hammond SK2 allows you to play the instrument as a two-manual organ, or assign the Drawbar/Extra Voice divisions to your choice of keyboard. It has a similar feel to the vintage B3, but in a much lighter 35lb package.
It also gives you a wide series of other voices, like Acoustic and Electric Pianos, Clavinova, Vintage Combo Organs, Vintage String Synthesizer, Accordions and Pipe Organ.
The Hammond SK2 has classic features that make a Hammond including:
- real mechanical drawbars;
- waterfall keyboard;
- touch-response percussion;
- Chorus Vibrato; and
- a new-generation Digital Leslie.
The Hammond SK2 can be purchased for a little under $2900.
The Crumar Mojo - much of the functionality of the two manuals from a Hammond B3 (with two sets of drawbars)
The two-tiered Crumar Mojo is similar to the Hammond SK2 - it simulates tonewheel sounds through digital sampling (in this case, however, there are two drawbars to control the upper and lower manuals).
The Mojo's 22 onboard organ modeling algorithms and two groups of drawbars do a great job of capturing the authentic response and tone of some vintage Hammond A-, B-, and C-series organs.
It weight a little under 38 lbs and can be purchased for less than $2300.
The Crumar GSi DMC-122 - a dual manual MIDI controller with drawbars bundled with VB3 Version 2
The Crumar GSi DMC-122 is not only a dual manual MIDI controller with an organ-style interface, it also offers a full set of features that you won't find in other controllers (it is also a dual manual organ, a dual keyboard controller, a MIDI mixer and a control surface).
Features of the Crumar GSi DMC-122 include:
- 20 Drawbars;
- 6 Potentiometers;
- 1 Encoder (22 buttons);
- 1 multiple button;
- Pitch bender and modulation wheel;
- Two 61-key "waterfall" keybeds with channel aftertouch;
- 4 individual MIDI outputs;
- 1 USB-MIDI connection;
- 2 inputs for continuous pedals;
- Assignable sustain pedal input; and
- Power for your USB device.
The Crumar GSi DMC-122 also comes with a software editor application compatible with Windows and OS X - and at the simple press of a button, the editor program becomes the sound engine for the DMC-122 (utilizing VB3 Version 2 - a brilliant Hammond simulation).
The Crumar GSi DMC-122 can be purchased for a little under $1500.
The "Old School"/"Ghetto" Solution - a twin 61 keyboard set-up with dozens of discrete Organ sounds (plus hundreds of other instrument options)
In closing out the options for approximating Hammond sounds, it is worth considering - for those on very tight budgets - the possibilities offered by twin 61 digital keyboards (like the Casio CTK2400). Placed vertically adjacent to each other (on a two keyboard stand), these keyboards can be played as a two tier organ with individual instruments dialed in from the presets loaded on the keyboards. Typically, these modern keyboards have over two dozen discrete organ profiles (some of which are modeled on tonewheel organs [in addition to traditional pipe and combo organs) - either in the standard sampled form or XGLite format. These digital keyboards also have hundreds of other instruments profiles to choose from that can also be used.
While the range of organ sounds is necessarily restricted in comparison to the other options we have listed, the price point for entry to these keyboards is most affordable (a little under $100 each) and the off-stage sound profile - to most audience members (in particular, those who are not trained musicians) - would be reminiscent of a Hammond or Combo organ when the correct profile is chosen and played with a Digital Leslie Pedal.
This is not an option for everyone, but for the budget constrained keyboardist, such a set-up (with the Digital Leslie Pedal) would deliver quite satisfactory results for a little under $600 - and like all the other Hammond options we've canvassed, these keyboards are also MIDI compatible (in this case, USB MIDI), which is brilliant for computer-based composition and recording.
Substituting for a Leslie 122 Speaker
The issues of age and serviceability (and to a lesser degree, weight) related to a Leslie 122 Speaker can also be addressed easily.
For those interested in recording (and playing) through a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), the easiest replacement would be a Leslie speaker plug-in (there are a range of these available for download on the internet and ultimately, the choice of plug-in will be determined by the individual needs and requirements of end-users).
Those keen on securing a close to authentic vintage Leslie sound for traditional live performances have one of two realistic options, namely, to purchase:
- a new Leslie speaker (possibly the "Studio 12" - the lowest price model with true Leslie Horn and Rotor) - these can be bought new for a little under $1600 (Leslie also produced new 122 speakers that can be bought for a little under $3700); or
- a new Digital Leslie Pedal (these can be bought new for a little under $400) and run your rig to an on-stage monitor (or alternatively, connect the Pedal directly to the mixing desk) - a basic 100W on-stage monitor producing the same output as the Leslie Studio 12 can be secured new for under $100.
The Digital Leslie Pedal provides phenomenal returns (delivering, arguably, greater functionality and tonal variety than the Studio 12 for 25% of the price).
Features of the Digital Leslie Pedal include:
- switches between vintage Leslie models 122A, 147A, 18/V and PR40 simulations;
- rotary controls allow adjustment of virtual mic placement, ramp up and down speeds, overdrive, horn and bass balance, EQ and overall volume; and
- three foot switches provide true bypass, speed and brake control.