Mini Vent II – Demo part 2

Yesterday I posted a video demo of the Mini Vent II using the venerable Hammond XK3 as the sound source. Today I connected the Mini Vent II to my 1954 Hammond C2.

The output of the Hammond C2 was connected to a small Yamaha mixer via a custom made direct box that converts the raw output from the C2’s preamp to a mic level signal. This mixer then fed the mono input of the Mini Vent II. The stereo output of the Mini Vent II was then fed into my DAW (Cubase 9) via a Yamaha N12 digital mixer. I added a bit of room reverb from the Valhalla Room Reverb just so the Mini Vent II didn’t sound so dry. A real Leslie in a room, after all, would have some ambiance in the sound.

Enjoy!

Mini Vent II – Demo and Review

Neo Instruments has updated the original Mini Vent for Organ and Mini Vent for Guitar with a single new pedal called the Mini Vent II. It features an expanded parameter set and improved preset functions.

Check out my demo and overview of the features in the video below.

You can download the mini Vent II MANUAL which describes how to edit the parameters. One of my favorite new parameters is the ability to change the function of the physical footswitches on the unit. For example, the default from the factory is that the left footswitch is BYPASS, the right footswitch changes between SLOW and FAST and pressing both gives you the STOP or Leslie brake. But you can change those functions so that the left footswitch controls STOP, which is awesome for jazz organists like myself.

Much more in the video including sound demos. I’ll produce more demos in the coming days including the Mini Vent II on a Hammond console organ.

Lounsberry Wurly Grinder – Review and Demo

As a child growing up in the 80s, I was unfamiliar with the sound of the Wurlitzer electric piano until my late teens. Radio at the time was inundated with the now maligned DX7 electric piano sound. I knew how a Rhodes sounded because my dad had one of the space-age looking green student models for awhile. But I really didn’t know what a Wurlitzer electric piano was nor did I know what it sounded like until I dug into the early Ray Charles catalog as a 17 year old. It just so happened that the Wurlitzer began making a bit of a comeback about that same time thanks to Beck’s song Loser and Sheryl Crow’s All I Wanna Do topping the charts. Over the next few years, the Wurlitzer started popping up everywhere. Now it’s fairly common in all kinds of music.

My converted 206a, painted red.

My (now sold) converted 206a, painted red.

I was gifted my first Wurlitzer, a student model 206A, from a friend who lifted it from his college. Colleges across the country used Wurlitzer student models as teaching tools in music labs. Up to 48 pianos could be linked together, each student able to hear him/herself via headphones. The teacher had the ability to listen to each student via a master console. Bill Fuller, a former Wurlitzer employee, was quoted as saying that up to 75% of American universities had Wurlitzer piano labs in the late 60s and early 70s. And in the mid 1990s, those universities started getting rid of them.

"And today class, we'll learn how to play What I'd Say parts 1 AND 2!"

“And today class, we’ll learn how to play What I’d Say parts 1 AND 2!”

My friend’s college was no exception.  After asking his piano professor to buy one of the many recently decommissioned 206A’s just cluttering up an alcove at the performance chapel on campus, one night he and his roommates decided to snag one and hauled it back to their dorm across campus.  Just a week later, the rest were hauled away in a dump truck.

He gifted the Wurli to me. I removed the base, painted it red, and gigged with it for years. I used it on numerous recordings and even added tremolo to it. I very recently sold it because I have another student model in original condition. It served me very well.

More red Wurlies, please.

More red Wurlies, please.

The modern ubiquity of the Wurlitzer electric piano sound means that a lot of digital keyboards and synthesizers include their own take on it. But what many of them lack is that preamp grunge of the real thing. When I toured with Janiva Magness, I used a Yamaha Motif ES rack for my Wurlitzer sound for many years. I tried a lot of different pedals for it, trying to add some funk and grunge, but nothing really satisfied me. I couldn’t find anything specifically for keyboards.

That’s where the Wurly Grinder from Lounsberry Pedals comes in. It is designed for the full frequency  range of keyboards and can be used to fatten up a real Wurlitzer or Rhodes. But it really shines adding life and character to electric piano emulations, like those found in so many modern keyboards.

Lounsberry Wurly Grinder

Lounsberry Wurly Grinder

Based on the same topography as the Organ Grinder (see my review here), the Wurly Grinder is has more gain, which allows you to use it with passive instruments like Rhodes stage pianos, and according to Greg Lounsberry the low end response is slightly modified to augment the specific frequency range and tonal characteristics of electric pianos.

Like the Organ Grinder, the Wurly Grinder is a standard sized pedal with ¼” input and output jacks on the back (a sure sign this was designed with keyboardists in mind) and a 9volt DC adapter connector on the left side. It is housed in a beautiful powder-coated royal blue sparkle chassis with two Gold Speed knobs, one for LEVEL and the other DRIVE. The front panel graphics are designed by steampunk artist Mark Hershberger and look really cool. A blue LED between the knobs lets you know when the pedal is active and like all Lounsberry pedals it features true bypass. The pedal is nice to look at, well-crafted, and really solid.

Wurli 140B tube model.

Wurli 140B tube model.

The Wurly Grinder was designed to impart a tube-like quality to any Wurlitzer emulation as well as make a solid state 200 series Wurli sound like an old 100 series tube Wurli. Want your clean Suitcase Rhodes to sound like a barky Stage model? It can do that, too. Hand matched FET transistors and germanium diodes do the work and the circuit inside is smartly organized and very cleanly wired.

The sound is very much like the Organ Grinder but with a more defined edge. You can play intervals other than fifths and still get good definition. The low-end seems a bit tighter to me, more focused, which is good for electric piano as they can be a bit muddy down there. It can go from a gentle fuzz to full on distortion but the range is controlled and very useable.

Hammond SK1

Hammond SK1

It helps the most on the Wurlitzer sounds in my Hammond SK1, adding life and color to the stock patch and smoothing out the inherent harshness in the samples. It sounds really great on my custom Wurli Cruzr patch on the Privia PX5s as well. Tweaking the amp simulations within the PX5s get me close, but I feel like the Wurly Grinder adds that next level of realism to the sound. I think any sampled or modeled emulation of a Wurlitzer or Rhodes would benefit from a bit of Wurly Grinder.

If you have the Organ Grinder already, do you need the Wurly Grinder? Well, if you’re going to use a passive instrument like a Rhodes Stage, then definitely. If you want a bit more definition from your EP samples, then certainly. Or if you’re like me you just like pedals and the cool things they can do, then why not? I’ve read that a lot of people also like the Wurly Grinder on guitar. Try one today and see if it adds that extra something to your electric piano sounds. Or try it on a virtual analog synth to add some girth and fat to the tone. It’s a very versatile pedal. I’m certainly keeping mine.

Thanks for reading and you can hear the Wurly Grinder in action by watching the video below.

 

Lounsberry Organ Grinder Pedal Review & Demo

As primarily a jazz organist, I mostly prefer a clean organ tone with plenty of headroom. Only when I really push the expression pedal do I want to hear the Leslie break up a bit, adding just a pinch of grungey spice to the Hammond stew.

IMG_2589

Recording ‘Jim Alfredson’s Dirty Fingers – A Tribute to Big John Patton’ at GBP Studios in E. Lansing, MI. That’s a 1957 Hammond C3 with a 1958 Leslie 21H connected (not shown). My ideal sound for classic organ jazz.

But I also grew up listening to the progressive rock keyboard gods of the late 1960s and early 1970s. One thing they all had in common was the Hammond organ and the most iconic among them liked a lot of dirt in their sound; Jon Lord (Deep Purple), Dave Stewart (Egg, Hatfield & The North, National Health), Tony Kaye (Yes), and of course Keith Emerson (The Nice, Emerson Lake & Palmer). A few years back, when I began recording my debut progressive rock album THEO – The Game of Ouroboros, I embarked on a quest to get that gnarly tone for my Hammond tracks as well.

From top L to R - Jon Lord, Dave Stewart, Keith Emerson, and Tony Kaye

From top L to R – Jon Lord, Dave Stewart, Keith Emerson, and Tony Kaye

In the age of digital Hammond organ emulators (known in keyboard parlance as ‘clonewheels’), the quality of the overdrive varies widely. My first clonewheel, the Roland VK-7, had a dedicated overdrive knob on the front panel, but it wasn’t all that convincing or useful. I tended not to use it and relied on a real Leslie 122 for the grunge instead. My next board, the Hammond XK3, had two real vacuum tubes in the outputs stage to accompany it’s Tube Overdrive knob, but again I never found the effect all that useful to be honest. And my current organ, the Hammond SK2, also has a dedicated knob for overdrive with four digital models of distortion available, my favorite being the EP Amp setting. But despite all these options, I still cranked my old Leslie 122, boosted the output on my 1954 Hammond C2, and recorded that combination for THEO. It just sounded the way I wanted it to sound.

Tracking my Hammond C2 through a Leslie 122 for THEO - The Game of Ouroboros in 2014.

Tracking my Hammond C2 through a Leslie 122 for THEO – The Game of Ouroboros in 2014.

Currently my favorite overdrive for organ comes from the Neo Instruments Ventilator pedals. It accurately emulates the sound of a tube Leslie driven pretty hard. But what if you want something even more? What if you want that overdrive to sound like the Leslie is about to blow up? What if you want some nasty, Jon Lord fuzz?

Enter the Organ Grinder from Lounsberry Pedals. The Organ Grinder is a stand-alone pedal in the standard guitar pedal format, but made specifically for keyboardists. Greg Lounsberry builds each pedal by hand at his shop in Smithsburg, MD. According to his website, the Organ Grinder was designed and built by request of Roger Powell, another of the 1970s progressive rock gods, best known for his work with Todd Rundgren’s Utopia. Roger was evidently dissatisfied with the overdrive in his clonewheel and asked Greg to make a pedal with the kind of pleasingly ‘flabby’ overdrive a real Leslie imparts.

Roger Powell performing with Utopia in 1978.

Roger Powell performing with Utopia in 1978.

The Organ Grinder is beautifully made, with a candy-apple red powder-coated chassis, two Gold Speed knobs, and fantastic front panel graphics by steampunk inspired artist Mark Hershberger. It’s not only gorgeous but extremely simple to use. It has a true analog bypass ON/OFF switch as well as the two knobs, one for LEVEL and the other for DRIVE. The input and output jacks are on the back instead of the sides (a thoughtful touch for keyboardists) and it has a 9v DC input jack on the left side. It can also be powered by an internal 9v battery. The front panel is finished by a blue LED between the two knobs to signal the effect is on.

The Organ Grinder Pedal

The Organ Grinder Pedal

It’s a solid state analog pedal utilizing FET transistors and germanium diodes. The hand-wiring is pristine and well executed. I would have no qualms about using this pedal on stage in terms of reliability. All the parts are high quality and the workmanship is top shelf.

So how does it sound? Let me put it this way: I’m currently working on a follow-up to THEO. I compose the songs in Cubase first, creating demo parts for each instrument in order to solidify the arrangement before replacing those parts with both real instruments and real players. For one of the songs, I used GSi’s VB3 software to demo the organ part. My original plan was to replace the track with the 1954 Hammond C2 and Leslie 122 combination mentioned above. But I decided to pull out the trusty Hammond XK3 instead, mainly because I wanted to use some effects on the organ itself. The XK3 makes this easy with it’s effects loop and standard outputs. So I connected my Mini-Vent rotary pedal, an Eventide TimeFactor, and an Eventide SPACE to the XK3. I set the overdrive on the Mini-Vent as high as it would go and it sounded nice, but I wanted more grunge for this particular song.

So I connected the Organ Grinder pedal before the Mini-Vent, turned off the Mini-Vent’s overdrive, and engaged the Organ Grinder.

I’d be lying if I said the sky opened and the angels sang… not only because it didn’t happen but my studio is in the basement, so I wouldn’t see it anyway. BUT… I did get a very big smile on my face as I found the perfect drawbar registration to compliment the absolutely devastating overdriven tone I was getting out of that old XK3. Whoa! I’ve never heard the XK3 sound that nasty. And it fit the track perfectly. The overdrive was even through the frequency range, never crispy or harsh, and with the rotary simulation of the Mini-Vent, really did sound like a poor Leslie tube amp about to blow it’s 6550 power tubes through the top of the cabinet!

Next I tried it on my 1968 Wurlitzer 206 electric piano on that same song. Again, I was smiling as it added just the right amount of grunge to the instrument, far better than any other overdrive pedal I’ve tried on EPs before (and I’ve tried dozens). The Organ Grinder is musical and natural; just like a tube circuit. From the first note you know it’s made for keyboards, with none of that midrange bump so prevalent in guitar pedals. Yes, you can play left-hand bass through this and it sounds great.

The Hammond XK3 with Mini-Vent and Eventide pedals.

The Hammond XK3 with Mini-Vent and Eventide pedals.

Are there any cons to the Organ Grinder? The only one I can think of is that it is a mono pedal. If you want to use your clonewheel’s rotary speaker emulation in stereo, and it doesn’t have an effects loop like the Hammond XK3 or XK3c, then you’re out of luck. Perhaps if the Organ Grinder is successful or there are enough requests, Lounsberry might make a stereo version. I would definitely welcome it!

Needless to say, I’m keeping the tracks. And I’m keeping the Organ Grinder. Kudos to Greg Lounsberry for making a pedal that fulfills a real need in the modern keyboardists’ arsenal. Go get one!

Thanks for reading and you can hear the Organ Grinder in action by watching the video below.

Price: $189 plus shipping direct from www.lounsberrypedals.com

Shoe-gate! (…and the Roland JD-Xi)

I’m honored that Keyboard Magazine asked me to review the new Roland JD-Xi synthesizer. The written review will appear in the upcoming May 2015 issue.

jd-xi_top_main

Roland is marketing this mini-key synth as a “Crossover Synthesizer”. This double entendre refers to the combination of a two-part digital synth engine with a monophonic analog synth engine that’s reminiscent of the SH-101 and that the synth is supposed to appeal to both synth enthusiasts / keyboard players, and non-keyboard playing musicians / producers as well.

Keyboard Magazine posted a video I made in my humble home studio detailing the main features of the instrument. The enthusiast site Synthtopia posted it as well and some of the comments are funny! Several people complained that the video didn’t go in depth enough (that’s because it is an overview, not a review). Other people claimed a vast conspiracy headed by Roland to dissuade any negative press. And about a half dozen people commented on my shoes and the “poor production quality” of the video. I’m now officially referring to this as Shoe-gate!

To ‘clear the air’ about my funky footwear in the video; they are a pair of 15 year old New Balance sneakers that are my “bum around the house” shoes. I had forgotten I had them on when I recorded the video but other than the faux pas about the filter (which is obviously a 4-pole/24db filter and not a 24 pole filter; I simply misspoke) I thought the video did what Keyboard asked; that is, give a brief overview of the features. It is not intended as an in-depth review, which again is being printed in the May 2015 issue.

I’m thinking that quirky kicks will be my trademark from here on out! What will I wear next?

Get ready, Synthtopia nerds! I'm coming for you!

Get ready, Synthtopia nerds! I’m coming for you!

Here’s the video. Avert your eyes if you are offended by loathsome loafers!!!