A brief NAMM 2019 Best Of…

The NAMM show is always a whirlwind of seeing old friends, meeting new ones, salivating over new enticing products, avoiding the infamous ‘NAMMthrax’ (an exercise in futility for me this year, unfortunately) and participating in or witnessing epic jams at various booths. I’ve never done a personal report of the show and as a Hammond Artist manning the booth for hours it’s often hard for me to get out and about among the other manufacturers as much as I’d like. But I did get to see some cool stuff and my friends at BookerLAB asked me to list my Top 5 products, so here we go!
5) The DAVE SMITH / SEQUENTIAL SYNTHESIZERS Prophet X. Sequential had a muted presence at this year’s NAMM, forgoing the customary large booth on the show floor in favor of a small room towards the front of the convention center. It was off the beaten path but that turn of phrase is an apt description of the Prophet X itself, of which there were two in the room, including the new Prophet XL. When I entered, Dave Smith was explaining the XL to a pair of fellow synth enthusiasts, so I got a free hands-on demonstration from the man himself.

Sequential Prophet X

It would be easy to write a novella about the capabilities of the Prophet X but instead I’ll keep it short and just say that it is a sound designer’s dream and I’m thankful that Mr. Smith continues to push the boundaries of what synthesizers can do even before musicians realize that’s what we want them to do. It is a worthy successor to the Prophet lineage, combining state of the art analog synthesis with meticulously recorded, beautifully crafted samples by 8dio, all packaged with Smith’s trademark intelligence and class. This is a musician’s instrument, not just a synthesizer.
4) The SynthMaster VST AU AAX iOS Software synthesizer. One of the things I love about NAMM are all the smaller companies representing products of which I am unaware. Located right across from the Mellotron booth and the Lounsberry Pedals booth (more on that later), the SynthMaster banner caught my eye only because of the product’s gloriously 80s sounding name. If only they had put the number 2000 after it! SYNTHMASTER 2000!!!! (cue laser sounds)

But the slightly goofy name belies a very capable and fantastic sounding software synth that first released to acclaim in 2012. In the years since, numerous updates have kept the synth feature laden. The gentleman at the booth was kind enough to show me around the impressive interface.The GUI and layout, reminiscent of my beloved Alchemy, was one thing but the sound is what truly captured my attention. I really don’t need another soft-synth but I have this one on my short-list anyway because of the quality of the sound and the quality of the 1800 presets. Expansion packs are available for a very reasonable fee as well. Virtual analog, wavetable, additive, FM and PM, and even vector synthesis are all represented. It is an extremely powerful and best of all affordable soft-synth that is well worth your consideration.
3) Radial KL-8. The KL-8 is the big brother to the Key Largo, a piece of gear that literally changed my life. Well, my performing life anyway. The bane of every touring keyboardist is ‘the sound guy / gal du jour’. You just never know what you’re going to get when you hit the road and don’t have the budget for your own sound person. Many are very good but many are also really bad. I could regale my fellow musicians for hours with my tales of poor sound guys that have never seen a real Leslie before. The Key Largo allows me to have separate control over my own monitor feed from my keyboards while sending the front of house a clean, isolated feed of their own. So simple and yet so brilliant.

Radial KL-8

The KL-8, like the Key Largo, is a mixer / DI specifically designed for the needs of keyboardists. Four stereo inputs each with ON/OFF buttons and CUE buttons for silent monitoring (“Is this the right patch? Oh, yep… whew!”), balanced monitor outputs with ground lift, balanced isolated main outputs with ground lift, stereo auxiliary inputs and outputs, dual headphone outputs, signal indicator LEDs per channel, and you can link multiple KL-8 units together for more inputs. Oh and it acts as an audio interface to your computer / laptop with two separate USB connections for redundancy. MIDI in and out on standard DIN connections, footswitch remote capability for switching channels, etc. etc. The list just goes on. And all housed in a 1RU metal enclosure built like a tank, with robust, high quality jacks, switches, and knobs, which is the Radial way.

My only negative with the KL-8 is that they didn’t add a panning knob and a mono switch to the input channels. But the main and monitor outputs can be set to mono independently of each other, which is handy.

2) STG Soundlabs Radiophonic One modular synth. For those that prefer their analog synthesis real, monophonic, and in modular form, the synthesizer iconoclast Suit & Tie Guy has introduced his first oscillator module, called the .VCO, which forms the basis of the new Radiophonic One package. The oscillator’s features are the kind of features one expects when an instrument is designed not by an electronics engineer but by a musician. For example, the oscillator range knob has twice the throw around the root, fifth, and octave than the other intervals, because those intervals are the most used when building patches. Smart. Other features include a range knob with a wide function, allowing you to sweep through the entire range of the oscillator with the detune knob, and a drift knob, which the website describes as “drunken walk, or perhaps a random wobbulator”, affecting the pitch of the oscillator in random ways.

With the addition of the .VCO oscillator, STG Soundlabs has the modules to offer a fully functional synthesizer, which is what they’ve done with the Radiophonic One. High quality boutique analog goodness is now in a bite-sized package with all the necessary ingredients present to cook up your own sound recipes. I spent several booth visits with both Suit & Tie Guy and his partner as they demonstrated the features of the Radiophonic One and the range and variety of textures and sounds you can coax out of the synth is awe-inspiring. It’s the perfect synth for those wanting to get into real analog synthesis or the veteran looking for something new and inspiring.

1) Hammond Leslie 142 re-issue. This was a total surprise to almost everyone at the Hammond booth but what a welcome surprise it was! Hammond Japan brought the prototype for a new Leslie to the NAMM show and it made a huge splash among the Hammond Artists like myself. The specifics are still a mystery, such as price, availability, etc. because the prototype was in a very early stage. But what we do know is that it is the same cabinet size as the vintage 142 and it has a newly designed tube amplifier centered around a pair of 6550 power tubes as well as a 12AU7 and a 12BH7 compliment for the preamp section. The motor control is from the 3300 series, so it has STOP / CHORALE / TREMOLO speeds via the 11pin Leslie connector. The horn itself is an alnico driver and there are some other secrets in there that I cannot divulge. But let me just say that the tone is gorgeously vintage.

As a prototype, there’s no information on the Hammond website. But here’s a quick video I did at NAMM, playing the Hammond XK5 through the Leslie.


HONORABLE MENTION – Lounsberry Tall Fat & Wide. I had to include this pedal on the list because even though I’ve had one since October of 2018 and it isn’t really new to me, the more I mess with it, the more I love it. And Lounsberry had a really cool booth this year right next to the Mellotron Booth and some of the small, independent analog synth makers.

This isn’t just a pedal for organ, folks. Using it on analog synths is revelatory. Even better, using it to ‘warm up’ digital synths is transcendent. I’ll be making more videos soon detailing these uses but in the meantime, check it out on a Moog Voyager. The Voyager doesn’t have a built-in overdrive circuit, as many analog synths these days do. Instead, users often take the headphone output and route it into the filter input jack, and that can be a really cool sound (the lead on Game of Ouroborus from my progressive rock project THEO’s album of the same name is a result of that technique). But oftentimes the overdrive from that method is unwieldy and exaggerated in terms of the frequency response. The Tall Fat & Wide, by contrast, is much more even across the spectrum and the range of saturation you can coax out of it is far greater.

Beyond all the gear, the best part of NAMM is seeing re-connecting with friends. I’m looking forward to next year and more good times!

It’s been quiet here lately…

Hi friends,

I can’t believe I haven’t posted on this site in almost a year. Well, what to say except that it’s been another incredibly busy year. I’ve been all over the US as a sideman with various Detroit-based bands including the fabulous Thornetta Davis and a ton of hits with Laura Rain & the Caesars. This month, I will be heading to Europe with Chicago blues guitarist James Armstrong. I’ll update my calendar to reflect the dates.

Speaking of Europe, my eldest daughter was invited to join the Blue Lake International Symphony next year on French Horn. We’re very proud of her and are looking for some support to afford the trip. You can check out her GoFundMe page here:


On the gear front, not a lot has changed. I’m still rocking either the Hammond SK2 or the XK5 (which is amazing… videos coming soon) and the Kurzweil Forte7 as my two main axes. I joined a Pink Floyd tribute band called Echoes of Pink Floyd and spent about a week of six to eight hour days programming all the sounds necessary on the Forte7, which handled everything I needed to do with aplomb. A huge thanks to David Weiser at Weisersound for his guidance and help. Additional programming help and sounds came from Enjoy the Sirens. Check out his patch for the intro to Shine On You Crazy Diamond. It’s so good. On our show in August, I added the Prophet 12 to the rig. If you’re on Facebook, you can see a little snippet of that here:

Otherwise, I’m just out here doing my thing! Playing organ, recording small jazz combos, working on THEO II (which is pretty much done), planning another Jim Alfredson’s Dirty Fingers recording, and generally having a ball!  Just need to find more time to keep this site updated.

Lastly, check out my video review of the new Lounsberry Pedals offering, the Tall Fat & Wide. This is a stereo version of the Tall & Fat pedal and is designed to add some warmth and glow to your static, stodgy clonewheel. The stereo version is specifically for those that do not have an external rotary speaker simulator and want to use their clonewheel’s onboard sim in stereo.

And here’s Part II, by request. Some folks were asking what it sounded like when really pushed into overdrive rather than just the subtle saturation of the first video.

That’s it for now! Happy fall and be safe! Support live music!

Kurzweil / Weisersound endorsement and the new Hammond XK5

Hi friends,

It’s hard to keep this site updated especially since the last few months have been a whirlwind of activity, for which I am incredibly grateful. The summer brought shows in Texas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Chicago, Quebec, and Ontario with Laura Rain & The Caesars as well as the Ottawa Blues Festival with Thornetta Davis. organissimo played several festivals in Michigan including the unCaged Festival in Northport and the Shoreline Jazz Festival in Muskegon. We also released and new CD in September called Live At The SpeakEZ (that’s two new organissimo CDs in 2017). This fall I was in Belgium for a few short days for two shows with Big Apple Blues and we’re finishing up a new record with that group as well. And I did a handful of other recording, mixing and mastering sessions as well.

On the gear front, I am proud to announce an endorsement with Kurzweil Music Systems and Weisersound. I am using a Kurzweil Forte 7 on stage and in the studio and I absolutely love it. It is an extremely beautiful keyboard, built like a tank, with an easy to use interface, great sounds, lots of room for your own sounds and samples, and more. Here are a couple of demo videos I made, the second one featuring THEO drummer Kevin DePree.

Contact David Weiser at Weisersound for your Forte and get VIP support, free custom patches, and the best customer service on the planet. He’s a personal friend and a great person.

Also, I am now the proud owner of the new flagship from Hammond Organ USA, the Hammond XK5. I will be with Hammond in their booth at the 2018 Winter NAMM show in January demonstrating the XK5 and all it can do. I plan on making a custom tonewheel set for it, as I’ve done with previous Hammond models. And expect some video demos as well in the near future. Here’s a brief live-stream I did on Facebook on the day I received the XK5 last week. The sound quality of FB live-streams isn’t so great, but you can get a feel of how it sounds. That’s the internal digital Leslie simulator, by the way.

This winter I will be heading to NYC for some recording sessions but mostly staying in Michigan, working on the upcoming sophomore THEO album, another Jim Alfredson’s Dirty Fingers album, and the album that Lawrence Barris and I did with the legendary drummer Harvey Mason (Herbie Hancock, Bob James, George Benson, etc). Speaking of Mr. Mason, we are performing with him on December 11th at the Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids, MI.

Harvey Mason Wealthy

My event calendar is updated through December so you can see where I’ll be if you want to make a show. Happy Holidays and be safe this season!

Busy busy busy!

I realized this morning as I awoke in Ottawa, CA, about to play a show with the wonderful Detroit Diva of the Blues Thornetta Davis, that it’s been quite some time since I’ve updated this site. I need to get my show dates on the calendar, put up some new content, and all that good stuff. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the lack of attention is due to being extremely busy!

In late February, organissimo released it’s sixth album, B3tles – A Soulful Tribute to the Fab Four, which did quite well on jazz radio, making it up to #6 on the JazzWeek charts. Sales have been good and reviews very positive. We’re also working on a live album to be released hopefully this fall. More on that later.

B3tles-1400-by-1400The follow-up to THEO – The Game of Ouroboros, tentatively titled Portents & Providence is coming along nicely. All the drums are recorded, most of the vocals are done, and I’m just waiting on guitar and bass tracks to be finished up. Then it’s on to mixing. I want to mix it in 5.1 surround, like it’s predecessor. So much fun!

Still working on the session from last summer with Larry Barris and the one and only Harvey Mason on drums. It’s coming! And I’m really excited!

I’ve been gigging pretty heavily with various Michigan acts including organissimo of course but also Laura Rain & The Caesars, who also just released a new album, which I also play on.

And I’ve been doing a fair amount of mixing and recording, including a project I’m very proud of for a local Lansing jazz stalwart and WWII veteran, 92 year old George Howard. We tracked this record the old-school way: Everyone in the same room, no editing, no messing around, just playing and having fun. And it came out great!


So things have been busy. And busy is good! But look for some new content soon, including a review of the AcousticSamples B5 organ plug-in and the Lounsberry Tall & Fat pedal.

Happy summer!

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.


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.

New CD and Lounsberry endorsement

I’m excited to announce that the new album from my jazz trio organissimo entitled “B3tles – A Soulful Tribute to the Fab Four” is now available for pre-order via PledgeMusic. This is our homage to one of the greatest bands ever, The Beatles, and the timeless tunes they wrote. I hope that you’ll consider helping us bring this project to fruition by participating in our PledgeMusic campign. You can do so by clicking here.


(I think that button is big enough.) Just $10 will get you the AccessPass which includes a download of the album in mp3 or uncompressed FLAC format and exclusive access to updates, bonus material, etc. We also have physical CDs, live bonus material, t-shirts, lessons, hangs, an exclusive invite-only release party, and more.



You can watch my goofy invitation to participate below.

In other news, I’m very proud to announce that I am now endorsed by Lounsberry Pedals. Lounsberry Pedals make effects pedals especially for keyboardists including the WurlyGrinder to warm up those digital electric piano emulations and the OrganGrinder to smooth out those clonewheel tones. In fact, I’m offering signed editions of both pedals as part of the PledgeMusic campaign for organissimo’s B3tles album. But supplies are very limited. Check out my review of the WurlyGrinder HERE and the OrganGrinder HERE.

Thank you for your continued support and I’ll see you on the road!

Amphion One18 Review

The fundamental purpose of any speaker is to convert electricity into acoustic energy. As with any piece of technology, how well a speaker performs this function varies widely between in implementation. Good speakers provide a pleasing, full-range sound, a stable soundstage, and no noticeable bumps in the frequency response. Great speakers simply disappear.

Long-time readers of my blog might remember my glowing review of the JBL LSR305 active monitor speakers. I’ve been using those speakers now for two years. Actually, I upgraded my mains to the bigger LSR308 speakers last summer. I’ve mixed a lot of music on them and still enjoy them. They are great speakers for the money. But what about some other, more expensive options? A more expensive monitoring system should be an order of magnitude better, right? Do you still get what you pay for?


The Amphion One18 speakers



At the 2016 Summer NAMM I was fortunate to receive a personal demo of the Amphion monitor speaker range from my friend and human Jack Russell terrier Dave Bryce. It’s always difficult to determine how speakers sound on a convention floor, but I had my first encounter with the JBLs in a similar circumstance at the AES show in 2013 and came away impressed. Likewise, I kept returning to the Amphion booth, multiple times a day, to experience the Amphion speakers again. Dave was as excited to show them to me the fifth, sixth, and seventh time as he was the first time. He even played a cut off my THEO album. That’s what I call a personal touch!

THEO - The Game Of Ouroboros

THEO – The Game Of Ouroboros

Last week I received an email from Dave offering to route a pair of demo Amphion One18 speakers to my home studio. I gladly accepted. They arrived in a cool wooden mini-crate along with the matching Amphion Amp100 amplifier and cables in another box. I set them up next to my JBLs and did some quick comparison listening.

First impression: What have I gotten myself into?

But I’m getting ahead of myself.


Amphion is a Finnish company formed in 1998. The company offers a full line of home speakers and studio monitors as well as amplifiers, hand-built in Finland. Yes, their studio monitors are passive, which is kind of a rarity these days. They have five models. This review will focus on the middle of the range, the One18.


The model One18 use a custom designed 6.5” woofer and a fast-response titanium tweeter set in what the company calls a “high-density Corian waveguide”. The look is spartan yet beautiful, with the white waveguide making a memorable impression. Two speaker terminals join the passive radiator on the back. The cabinets are sealed; no ports. 


Amphion One18

The Amp100 is similarly clean and simple. The front panel is adorned only by the Amphion name and a chrome power button that has a soft blue LED ring around it when powered on. The back has the left and right speaker outputs, the IEC power connector, and the left and right XLR inputs. That’s it. The included speaker wires terminate in banana plugs and are a high-quality twisted pair in black. I only wish they were a bit longer.

The frequency response of the speakers is 45Hz to 20,000kHz +/- 3db. The frequency plot on the Amphion website shows a little bump at 100Hz, another at 600Hz, a dip at 800Hz, another bump at 1.2kHz, and quite a bump above 20kHz. The suggested amplifier power to drive the 8 ohm speakers  is 30 to 150 watts.


The specs on the amp are not on the website but as the name implies it delivers 100 watts into 8 ohms.


Backside of the Amphion One18 and Amp100

The set-up is very straight forward. Connect your stereo outputs to the XLR inputs on the amp and the speaker outputs on the amp to the speakers themselves. Easy.


I began my listening comparisons with some pre-recorded music from my collection, specifically Dr. Lonnie Smith’s 2009 release Rise Up! and a 2015 release from the Polish progressive rock band Riverside entitled Love, Fear, and the Time Machine.

I started with the JBLs. They sounded great; clear and clean. I’ve been using them for two years, so I know what to expect. Then I switched to the Amphions.

I’ll refrain from using hyperbolic adjectives, even though I’d really like to do so. Objectively, here’s what I wrote down as my first impressions:

  • The mid-range is tight and focused and much more ‘real’. It’s like you can peer right into it.
  • The high-end is airy and not harsh. I could listen to these speakers for hours without fatigue.
  • The imaging is sharp and defined with pinpoint accuracy and depth.
  • The music seems to just float in space.

In other words, the speakers disappeared. Switching back to the JBLs, I experienced what I can only describe as an exaggeration. It’s almost like when you switch the ‘loudness’ button on your old receiver. By that I mean that it isn’t ‘bad’, but it’s not ‘real’ either. It’s affected. For example, the mid-range on the JBLs sounds ‘better’ at first because it is more forward, more ‘in your face’. Switching to the Amphions, the mid-range seems initially a bit more ‘hollow’ but then you realize it’s actually more natural. The saxophone on Dr. Lonnie’s Rise Up sounded like it was in the room with me. Dr. Lonnie’s organ was purring right there, too, so close I could almost see the Leslie spinning. And the vocals on the Riverside album were right in front of me; it was like he was singing directly to me.


Next I decided to load up the new organissimo album I am mixing. I’ve been having some problems getting the organ tone where I want it. What sounds good to me in the studio doesn’t necessarily translate to the car or other systems.

Listening on the Amphions, I immediately heard the problem area; a honk-ish resonance in the low mid-range, easily fixed by a gentle EQ dip on the upper Leslie rotor microphones. But I could never hear it so directly on the JBLs. I also instantly heard some imaging issues with the drums, solved quickly by adjusting the panning of the toms. I also heard that I needed some more air in the cymbals. And finally, due to the Amphion’s stunning mid-range reproduction, I could hear that I needed to bring the level of the guitar up overall. These are things that were somehow being masked on the JBLs.

What impressed me the most is the imaging; the JBLs are far better in terms of their imaging than the speakers they replaced (the lowly Mackie HR824) but the high-end is still a bit nebulous. Not so on the Amphions; the stereo image is precise all throughout the frequency range.

The JBL LSR308 definitely have a deeper bass than the Amphion One18. I augmented this by connecting the JBL LSR310S subwoofer to the Amphions. Switching back and forth between the two pairs of speakers was now much more balanced, which made for a better comparison. The JBL LSR310S actually matches with the Amphions very well and rounds out the bottom.


So do you get what you pay for? Well, the JBLs are still the best value in a monitor speaker for under $1000 a pair (way under, actually). A pair of JBL LSR308 speakers is only $500. The smaller JBL LSR305 speakers are even less at $300 a pair. The Amphion system I am reviewing retails for $4300 ($3000 for the speakers and $1300 for the amp). That’s almost ten times the cost of the LSR308. Is the quality ten times better? That of course is very subjective, but for me the answer is a resounding yes. The high-end clarity, the mid-range focus and precision, and the imaging are definitely worth the money. It’s a shame there isn’t a bit more low-end response; a good sub is needed, further adding to the cost if you don’t already own one. But even so, the verdict is unanimous: Yes, you do get what you pay for.

Now if only I can figure out a way to pay for these Amphions!

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.


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