May 2003

The Reinvention of the Hammond B3

After its introduction in 1955, the Hammond B3 inspired numerous jazz pianists to plug in, which in turn helped inspired the whole greasy soul-jazz subgenre associated with keyboardists like Jimmy Smith. But despite its popularity, in 1974 Hammond ceased production of the tone-wheel system that gave the B3 its seemingly endless array of sounds, thus discontinuing the organ's production. As was the case with so many other "lost classics" of geardom-for example the Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone and, more recently, Roland's TR-808 drum machine-demand for the Hammond B3 didn't diminish simply because it disappeared from music stores. And though some were content to play clones, those who wanted the sound and feel of a real Hammond B3 had to enter the used-gear market, where prices soar and product reliability can be spotty-just think about how many of those 400-plus pound vintage B3s were accidentally dropped on their way in and out of clubs.

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Tony Monaco with the new Hammond B3
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Hammond Suzuki Portable B3

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In the mid-'90s, engineers at Suzuki (which bought Hammond in 1989) began a laborious effort to reissue the B3. The company officially reintroduced the organ, now named the New B3, in January of 2003 and hailed it as "the real deal." As a man tired of classic things being remade with inferior quality (that new Dragnet series on ABC, for instance), I was skeptical of the New B3. How could it sound like the vintage model if it uses-gasp-digital tone generation? For answers, I went to Tony Monaco, a veteran of the original B3 organ and a New B3 owner, whose third CD, Intimately Live at the 5:01 (Summit), just hit the stores.

JazzTimes: The New B3 weighs half what a vintage B3 does. Where were the pounds shed?

It's lighter because it uses digital tone wheels to generate the sound, as opposed to the mechanical moving parts used in the original. They were in this heavy, cast-iron box, which is gone now. Also, the chorus effect generator and preamp of the original have been replaced with digital parts.

JazzTimes: Since the tone-generation is done digitally now, how does the New B3's sound compare to the original's?

I can't tell the difference between my old B3 and the New B3. Joey DeFrancesco and I just recorded together for my next release, an homage to the great Jimmy McGriff and Richard "Groove" Holmes. We used two New B3s. I have sent the recording to several B3 purists and aficionados, and after they listened to it I told them it was the New B3 and they couldn't believe it. Those who know me well know that I can't lie. I try to live a very clean and honest life. This is not a clone; it's the real thing.

JazzTimes: Is there something else that accounts for the replication in sound, because digital still doesn't sound like analog.

The original tone wheel just produced a sine wave. Modern digital tone generation does that just as well. What really made the original sound so good was the nine-contact-per-note keyboard. Each tone was triggered at a slightly different time, creating natural key-click. The New B3 does just that. They spent seven years redeveloping the multicontact keyboard system to act like a vintage B3.

JazzTimes: Let's say you had to pick between the two: Old or new?

I am replacing my vintage B3 with the New B3. I think it is better in many ways. On-the-fly adjustments for treble, bass, levels and types of reverb, overdrive, percussion decays, volumes, 16-inch foldback on lower manual (for deep left-hand bass), MIDI compatibility, etc. In order to do these things with the old B3 you would have a mess!

JazzTimes: There's a "MIDI out" port on the New B3. How will MIDI capability impact the art of B3 playing?

I'm already thinking how cool it will be to trigger an analog synth or a digital module with the New B3. I can now combine other sounds with organ sounds or just use one of the New B3 keyboards to trigger another synth sound. I don't need to carry another keyboard to have the sound of a Rhodes, Clavinet, lead synth etc. I'm going to experiment with all kinds of new sounds to blend with the classic Hammond sound.

Also, the session I did with Joey was recorded on a MIDI sequencer. I'll have the MIDI files available through my Web site [www.b3monaco.com] sometime in May. This marks the first time that a student of jazz organ will be able to learn note-for-note what we played on the recording. We are at the beginning of a brand-new era.

3 Comments

  • Jun 24, 2009 at 02:52AM Steven Roberts

    I'm a big fan of Tony and Joey, but I disagree. I been playing the Hammond since 1964 (10 yrs old). The new B3 is good..... B+. But I recall 5 different times that my choir particpated in concerts in which the question was asked (from non-musicians) What kind of organ is that? Is it a regular (meaning Hammond) organ? In each case it was a New B3 with a 771 or 971. I could easily hear the difference between the Suzuki and a original B3 w/122. That said- I have not heard the New B3 playing through a tube leslie. That may be the difference.

  • May 28, 2013 at 03:55PM BNelson218

    I have a lot of questions about this organ, and just to clarify that I do have an idea of what I'm talking about, I've repaired, rebuilt, and modified Hammonds and Leslies for roughly 40 years.
    First of all, the indigenous Key Click was not a product of Hammond's use of 9 busbars, but rather the result of switching high impedance audio at the key contact level. Most organ manufactiurers of the time were using keyer systems to trigger the selected voice when a key was depressed, which meant the audio signal was not present at the key contact. And I'd love to know more about these "Digtal Tonewheels, muchless why, in this digital age, would it be necessary for Suzuki to spend "7 years" developing a multi-contact keyboard system, when such a thing could easily be achieved with TTL logic circuirty. As for the added features, all I can say is it's about time. Hammond should have gotten the hint, back in the day, when other companies like Organ Mate, Maas Rowe, and Electr-Tone were making lots of money with their addons for B3s like string bass, reverb, and boosters. I have spent thousands of dollars rebuilding my X77 with up-to-date circuitry, popular features developed by other organ manufacturers, and even velocity sensitive MIDI, so I agree with Tony on that point. I'm happy to see someone taking interest in the old B3. I have lots of churches for whom I routinely service their 50 and 60 year old Hammonds. Unfortunately, I seriously doubt that 50 years from now some organ repairman will be stepping into a church to service their New B3. There is little built these days with the quality and care that Laurens put into his instruments.

  • Mar 27, 2014 at 07:06PM ENRICO RASORI

    Ciao! Scusate se non uso il traduttore, se volete fatelo voi, è meglio, girando per le strade
    Hammond, mi sono imbattuto in questo trend in cui si parla del New B3.....io ho il mod. P
    di cui sono molto soddisfatto oggi però.... fino ad un certo punto.
    L'organo ce l'ho da 6 anni, mai nessun problema, ed è bello poter fare manutenzione all'ormai
    famoso e leggendario Clik Hammond.... si perché in questo strumento è possibile effettuare
    una pulizia dei contatti meccanici, quando il click diventa troppo rumoroso.
    Chissà se chi ha lo stesso strumento sa di questa cosa....
    Ci sono due fori sotto la consolle sulla sinistra in corrispondenza di ogni manuale, con
    una chiave a brugola si fa un giro completo e poi si torna indietro di 1/4 di giro.
    Non si può fare spesso........... credo che ci sia una sorta di movimento ad orologeria,
    appunto, facendolo spesso non si ripresenta la condizione di girare la chiave interamente....
    ma è sufficiente effettuare il lavoretto ogni anno o poco meno...Il rumore eccessivo diventa normale, senza mai sparire del tutto come da tradizione....e questo è il punto a favore che do a questo strumento.

    Quello che non va bene invece è di altra natura....
    A Gennaio 2012, avendo deciso che era giunto il momento di completare l'organo con la
    pedaliera da 25 note, cominciai a cercarla, magari anche usata,....ma con nessun risultato
    positivo, con l'aiuto del Web la cercai in tutto il mondo,(PK-25PR questa la sua sigla.)

    E' la stessa del New B-3P MkII solo che nel mkII hanno dato la possibilità di collegare
    una pedalboard anche di minori dimensioni e tasti, implementando una presa denominata
    (Midi pedal In) il problema balordo è che la pk25pr ha un prezzo da paura....di 3000€
    a parte che poi la venderebbero insieme alla panca a 4000 (in Hammond.De c'è scritto così)

    Ma si può pagare una pedaliera 3000 euro? E oggi l'organo viene considerato un clone
    di se stesso, ha inesorabilmente perso il suo alto valore.... non viene acquistato da nessuno perché i vari cloni in commercio dicono che suonano meglio.
    Cosa ho fatto?.....con 3000 € ci ho preso un magnifico RT--3 con pedaliera AGO bellissima...
    e sono avanzati pure i soldi per trasportarlo al piano di casa mia...giudicate Voi.
    Penso ai proprietari della tastiera XK3c che ha la stessa pedalboard (con attacco diverso)
    ma esternamente sempre uguale da 25n. ebbene costa più della tastiera stessa....
    Che ladri!!!!

    Musicalmente...lascio un grande saluto a tutti...scusate la lunga storia, ma è una odiosa verità
    e come tale bisogna divulgarla...
    enrico.

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