December 2007

Nord C1 Combo Organ

From its candy apple red exterior to its authentic tones, the Nord C1 combo organ makes a bold statement—both sonically and aesthetically.

Few, if any, organs on the market are as portable and powerful as the C1. With its twin 61-key upper and lower manuals, you can almost perfectly replicate a Hammond B3 (labeled “tonewheel” on the Nord) and Vox Continental (“Electric-V”) and Farfisa (“Electric-F”) transistor organs. Nothing sounds quite like the originals, but the C1 is the closest you’ll come in today’s digital keyboard market. Weighing in at 33 lbs, it’s light enough for any musician to carry to any gig. Its $3,600 list price is a bit more forbidding.

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Nord C1 Combo Organ

It takes about 15 minutes to get the C1 out of the box and set up. Once you have the leg mounting brackets of the sold-separately stand in place, all you do is screw in the four legs and two leg braces. Putting it together for a gig will only take five minutes once you get the hang of it. For a portable keyboard, it’s a surprisingly stable instrument. Hammer the keys (or slap it with a sweat rag a la Jimmy Smith) and it will wobble some—but not much. A traditional stand would probably be more flimsy than the legs. As with most new keyboards, the action is a little stiff at first, but will loosen up after a while. Some old organs nick your fingers when you slide up and down their keyboards, but glissing is easy on the C1. The C1 has buttons instead of drawbars, which takes some time to get used to. Instead of pulling in and out to get more flutes or strings, you push one of the small plastic buttons. These digital drawbars indicate how much of each instrument you’ve selected with vertical rows of small red lights. Finding the sound you want on the fly can be tricky. In the meantime, both the lower and upper flights of keys come with three presets.

Nord equipped the C1 with a cache of effects, ranging from feedback delay to overdrive and three reverb options: room, stage and hall. Room reverb fades quicker than stage reverb, and if you want something between the two, you just select them both at once. Built-in adjustable delay is a nice touch. With it, you don’t have to spend time setting up effects pedals at gigs. It’s also fun to corrupt a nice, light Hammond-B3 tone with some dirty, level-10 overdrive. In a moment, you can flip from a warm, mid-range fill to a crunchy, guitar-like lead. For an organ, the C1 has some serious versatility. The C1 incorporates three amp models: two combos and a rotary. You can tweak the treble, mid and bass EQ from the top of the keyboard, which means you don’t have to bend over to adjust your amp between songs. By playing around with these effects and the drawbars, you can get an unexpectedly wide range of tones from the Farfisa and Vox organs. Both these organs traditionally sound wimpier than the tonewheel, but their timbres are instantly recognizable and a pleasure to play around with.

I’ve owned a late ’70s Korg CX-3 and an early ’90s Roland Rhodes VK-1000, and neither of their rotary effects comes close to the C1’s—and that’s what appeals most to organ purists. Plus, the C1 has a standard 11-pin Leslie connector in back, along with high-output left and right jacks, a MIDI in and out and a USB plug. The USB connector allows you to upgrade the programming without much hassle.

Skip the optional half-moon rotary effect switch in favor of an expression pedal or the manual rotary buttons. The switch is stiff and touchy, and sometimes your left hand will accidentally flip it to fast rotary speed at the wrong part of the solo.

Folks who buy keyboards for their sonic capabilities and not all the fancy built-in programmable computer settings will be pleased to learn there aren’t too many on the C1. The interface is barebones—just what you need to get by, with a few optional tweaks such as the rotary increase speed and note transpositions. Better still: the user’s manual is only 20 pages long—a quick skim, or, if you’re more DIY, kindling. If you do want to enter your personal keyboard settings into the C1’s computer, it’s a pretty simple process. The computer saves 126 of your settings, and you can set two for easy access at any given time.

Nord offers its keyboards in bright red, which not only makes them instantly recognizable, it also ups the ante. Since few keyboards come in anything but black, brown or gray, a bright red keyboard broadcasts its presence like a beacon. Set a C1 up onstage and you’ll grab the audience’s attention from the get-go. With the right chops and the C1’s sound, it won’t be hard to wow them. [Note that keyboard and music stands pictured are sold separately.]

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