1954 Hammond C2 vs 2012 Hammond SK2 (with the reveal)

Back in April I posted a video on Youtube comparing my newly completed tonewheel set for the Hammond SK2 with its inspiration, my beautiful 1954 Hammond C2. I bought the C2 from a pawn shop in Grand Rapids in 1998. They were using the back panel, which is detachable, as a board to post notices with push-pins. The rest of the case was in pretty rough shape. I feel like I rescued it from certain death. And the best part is that it was only $400.

The other best part is that it had smooth drawbars instead of the usual ratchet style drawbars that were standard on the 2 series. I’m fairly confident that the smooth drawbars were installed at the Hammond factory due to the serial number, which dates the organ to the end of 1954. I think this C2 was one of the last off the line before they started making the C3 model, all of which had smooth drawbars. I installed a TrekII percussion unit to bring it up to B3/C3 specs and also a 122 Leslie output. My dad and I refinished the organ, too. Well, pretty much my dad did the work.  He’s gone now and so the organ has a lot of sentimental value for me.

1954 Hammond C2

1954 HammondC2 – Ain’t she purdy?

It’s also one of my favorite organs in terms of sheer tone, sentimentality aside. Everything is stock with the exception of the chorus/vibrato line. I replaced the capacitors in the line and also replaced the resistor underneath the C/V tabs so the chorus is a bit deeper and more like the 3 series. Everything else is from the factory. You can hear it on the organissimo release Dedicated. You can hear and see it in action on this video from my Kickstarter promotion as well as this video.

When Hammond added the ability to adjust the virtual tonewheels in the SK series of digital organs, I knew instantly the first organ I wanted to try and match. So I spent an afternoon comparing the two organs one tonewheel and one drawbar at a time until I got the SK to sound as close as I could. I posted a video on Youtube of the results with the caveat that you cannot see which organ I’m playing. Astute viewers will notice the orientation of each organ that’s off camera with my previous videos of the C2 and would be able to deduce pretty quickly which is which. I also overlooked a very important setting in the SK2 that controls the percussion. I accidentally had it set to re-trigger on every note. The percussion in a real C3 or B3 is polyphonic but single-trigger, meaning if you’re holding any key down, it won’t re-trigger unless you lift your fingers off the keys. That combined with a bit too much brightness in the keyclick makes figuring out which is which a bit less difficult, although certainly some people were fooled. Here’s the original video:

I’ve been tweaking my custom tonewheel set for the SK series ever since, taking into account how it sounds through various speaker systems, Leslies, stages, gigs, etc. I’ve also been experimenting with running the SK into the C2’s preamp. The following clip is an example of that.

The signal flow is as follows: SK2 into the C2 preamp via the RCA jack on the expression pedal box, C2 preamp direct out via a custom direct box into a mixer, the mixer aux output into a Mini Vent, the Mini Vent stereo output to my DAW.

I posted this clip on the Keyboard Forum and the responses were interesting. Some could not tell the difference. One poster asked if I had put the SK through the C2 preamp. Some correctly identified the SK. One fellow poster claimed that routing the SK into the C2’s preamp was unfair, since you’re not going to have that luxury in a live situation (although I’ve been toying with the idea of finding an AO-10 preamp and wiring it up with 1/4″ jacks to go in between the SK and my Leslie!) Point taken. The AO-10 preamp from the C2 definitely puts a cool vibe on the SK’s signal. So what’s the actual difference? I decided to inject some white noise into the preamp and see what’s up in a spectral analyzer (with the awesome and free Voxengo SPAN).

Here is the raw unaffected white noise signal:


White noise from the Test Tone generator in Cubase 7.

And here is the white noise after it goes through the AO-10 preamp in the 1954 Hammond C2.

White noise after going through the AO-10 preamp.

White noise after going through the AO-10 preamp.

Look at that beautiful gentle roll-off in the high-end. The whole signal takes on a nice rounded curve rather than the straight linear line of the original signal. This of course is not very scientific and only reveals a fraction of what’s going on in the preamp. There is harmonic distortion, slewing, filtering, and all many of things going on in there. But it did give me a starting point to try and shape the output of the SK to sound more like the C2’s output without resorting to “cheating” and running the SK through the C2.

I started by using the onboard EQ parameters in the SK2. It has per-patch EQ and also global EQ via the knobs on the front panel. The per-patch EQ is quite powerful and includes the “TC” parameter which emulates the tone control adjustment on the original Hammond preamps like the AO-10. I have the tone control turned all the way up on my C2, so I set this parameter to -1 in the SK. According to the manual, -1 represents the knob all the way up. The SK actually allows you to adjust it beyond the real-life maximum, which yields some interesting results. Once that was set, I used the per-patch EQ to shape the signal a bit more, trying to match the timbre of the C2. I found that adjusting the low mids made a very big difference.

So here is the result. The following video features the raw, unprocessed output of the C2 against the raw, unprocessed output of the SK2. The SK2 is NOT routed through the C2’s preamp. Both organs’ outputs are going straight into the DAW. No Leslie, no Leslie sim, no outboard EQ, nothing. Just straight out of the two organs and into the computer.

Watch the video and see if you can detect which organ is which. Listen for the quality of the key-click, the tones behind the main frequency of the notes, and the timbre of the percussion. Later in the video I turn the chorus on both. Listen to the depth of the chorus and the shimmer. Write down which organ you think A is and which you think B is and then watch the video below so see if you’re right.

Don’t cheat! Watch the first video before watching the one below.

How’d you do? The differences are minor but they are there. They are almost to the point where they are not much different than two different console Hammonds. My ’74 B3 certainly sounds different ’54 C2. The key areas of the SK that can be improved are:

Distortion – There’s some fuzz around the edges of the real thing, due to the preamp. That difference gets much smaller when the SK2 is run through the preamp. I can kind of mimic it using a small amount of the onboard overdrive, specifically the SK’s EP model which is much more subtle and better sounding than the TUBE model.

Leakage – In order to try and mitigate the leakage, Hammond moved the location of certain tonewheels in the generator throughout the years. Since the VASE III engine was originally modeled on a 70s B3, the last of the line, it represents Hammond’s final arrangement of tonewheels. And that arrangement is different than my ’54 C2* (see addendum 1 below). So the character of the individual tonewheel leakage on some notes is different between the two, because the ’54s tonewheels are in different positions. I got them as close as I can but I cannot change the actual frequencies involved in the leakage.

Chorus / Vibrato – The ’54 is very different than the mid-60’s A100 that the SK’s c/v is modeled after. They do not sound the same.That said, I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other, just different. Nor do I have a mid-60s organ to compare it to but the SK2 chorus sounds very good to me. I’m excited about having the new Mix Balance control that was introduced in the XK1c on the SK. That might help to get it closer to the ’54.

I’d like to see Hammond offer models of various eras of c/v, including the very cool and unique 2nd tone generator chorus of the BC model. Then again, I’m probably the only one that cares!

To summarize, we’re nitpicking over extreme minutia here. Are these issues important in the midst of a burning solo while competing with a distorted guitar, bashing drums, and thundering bass guitar? Probably not. Will they even be apparent in the average supper club jazz trio setting? Not really. Your choice of amplification has a greater effect on the sound than whether or not the keyclick is 100% authentic or the leakage is 100% historically accurate. We’ve gotten to the point where we can take a 35lbs two manual organ to the gig rather than a 400 pound back-breaker. What a great time to be a musician! We’re 95% there in terms of tone. That extra 5% isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but its still fun to try and get there.

Thanks for reading and please subscribe to my Youtube channel if you like the videos. And leave a comment below or contact me via Facebook if you’d like my SK tonewheel set for your SK.

* Addendum 1 –  According to my friend and Hammond guru Todd Phipps (ie B3Nut), I am incorrect in stating that Hammond moved the tonewheels between 1954 and 1974. Todd wrote on my Facebook thread:

…the arrangement of the tonewheels in your ’54 is the same as a late B-3 – the change from a sequentially-wired terminal strip to a chromatically-wired terminal strip with the narrow brass generator cover took place around 1952. A red-cap generator from a ’74 B-3 will drop right in and wire right up. The reduced leakage of the later red-cap instruments is partly due to the more stable/accurate filtering of the later filters as well as the RC networks on several of the frequencies that got rid of low-frequency rumble on those tones.

That makes sense and aligns with what I hear on the C2, especially in the middle range. There is a LOT of low frequency information in those tones that is not there on the SK2 nor is it there on my ’74 B3.

* Addendum 2 – Over on the Keyboard Forum thread and my Facebook thread, I talked about the possibility of Hammond adding a scaling parameter to the SK’s keyclick LPF. I noticed that the keyclick gets duller as you go down into the bass ranges on the C2 but it stays the same on the SK. The SK has a LPF parameter in the keyclick submenu but it is static, ie it affects all notes equally. If it was tied to note values with a scaling parameter, it could more authentically emulate the C2.

However, I incorrectly assumed the cause of the dullness in the bass range of the C2 was due to filtering. Again, Todd Phipps corrected me:

… keyclick is mainly a product of the instant switching of the sine waves at something other than zero cross (and there’s a bit of contact bounce in that mix too.) The higher the frequency being switched, the stronger the HF component of the switching transient.

And again, this makes a lot of sense. Todd helped me modify the chorus/vibrato on my C2 to more closely match the 3 series organs and is a wealth of knowledge on the tonewheel organs. Thank you, Todd!

* Addendum 3 – Hammond just released the XK1c which is like an SK series organ but without the extra voices. The XK1c has some features that the SK series does not yet have, although Scott May from Hammond mentioned on FB that the features are coming for the SK series via an OS update soon. One of the coolest features in the new XK1c is the MIX parameter in the chorus/vibrato submenu. This parameter lets you balance the dry, non-affected organ signal with the chorused signal and helps dial in a smoother, more vintage sounding chorus. Check out my quick review of the XK1c to hear it in action.

The new CD is here!

My newest release, Jim Alfredson’s Dirty Fingers – A Tribute to Big John Patton, has arrived from the duplicators.  It looks really great!  Designer Rick VanderLeek did an amazing job.  The photographs from Jessica D. Cowles are vivid and full of energy.

The news CDs are here!  The new CDs are here!

The news CDs are here! The new CDs are here!

I’m very excited about this release.  The music is classic 60s soul-jazz with a group of incredible musicians.  Big John’s compositions and playing are a huge influence on me and he has not received the recognition he is due.  I hope this releases helps mitigate that a little.

A match made in heaven.

A match made in heaven.

The last step in this process is to duplicate the DVDs, which I am doing locally.  The DVD is an extra add-on that will be slid into the pocket of the CD package, along with the liner notes. I decided upon this route to save some money.  Having two trays in the packaging would be expensive and I was also worried about those that didn’t order the DVD seeing that extra tray and assuming something was missing.

Shipping to all Kickstarter backers should be done by the end of the week.

The CD is already getting airplay around the country.  Here’s a little taste for those that may have missed it the first time around.

My next project is a departure from the jazz thing.  Its a progressive rock album of original material with me singing (and playing keys, obviously).  More about that soon.

Genesis – In The Cage (solo section)

I first heard The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway towards the tail end of my sophomore year in high school.  This would’ve been 1993 or so.  My eldest sister got me hooked on Genesis and Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins and it was her collection of tapes and CDs that I listened to.  I also dubbed them rabidly, so I could block out the world during the excruciating 40+ minute bus rides to and from middle and high school with my headphones and my WalkMan.  I started listening to Gabriel, thanks to her, in third grade. By high school I had heard almost every Genesis album except The Lamb.

She held The Lamb back from me due to its more pronounced adult themes, ie Counting Out Time.  I remember her handing it over to me like it was some sort of Rite of Passage. Maybe it was.  I listened to it almost daily for two years, attempting to decode the various mythological references and figure out the meaning of the story.

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway

I became obsessed.  I probably scared numerous people away; certainly plenty of girls. But I didn’t care.  The music was captivating and atmospheric.  Tony Banks’ keyboards sounded other-worldly and Gabriel’s lyrics labyrinthine.  Phil Collins’ drums parts were perfectly played, Mike Rutherford’s bass and pedals and guitar serpentine, and Steve Hackett’s solos just soared.  But as any Genesis fan will agree, one solo stood out among them all:  The keyboard solo from “In The Cage”.

It encapsulates the sound of 1970s progressive rock in so many ways.  The Hammond organ, the analog synth lead sound courtesy of an Arp ProSoloist, the rhythmic and harmonic compositional qualities inspired by classical music… it’s all there.  Genesis immediately recognized how iconic it was.  They kept it in their live set, usually as part of a medley, up through the very last tour in 2008.

I’ve always wanted to learn that solo and I’ve been playing around with it for a few months. So tonight I decided to give it a go.

I played a couple little flubs, but not so bad.  It was immensely fun to take everything apart and figure out how it all goes together.  The chord sequence is classic Banks.  I used my Hammond SK2 as both an organ and a MIDI controller.  The lower manual is for the organ chords, played with my left hand.  The upper manual is MIDI’d to my Moog Voyager for the monophonic lead synth part.  The backing track is a MIDI file I found on the internet.

Banks once commented that he wasn’t much of an improviser. I consider myself a good improviser due to years of playing jazz but a challenge for me is to sit down and compose a solo like Banks. I’m currently working on a progressive rock album that features some through-composed solos alongside improvised solos. I plan to finish that project in early 2014.

I hope you enjoy the video!

Mini Vent review pt II – Hammond SK2

In part two of my review of the Mini Vent for organ from Neo Instruments (little brother to the original Ventilator), I connect the Mini up to the Hammond SK2 digital organ to demonstrate how the it sounds with a modern clonewheel.

As you can hear, the Mini Vent sounds fantastic and will breathe new life any clonewheel, including older models.  When paired with the Hammond SK2, it really shines.


Hammond Hall Of Fame voting open now!

Hammond is creating a Hall Of Fame and inducting the freshman class.  And you can vote! They’ve compiled an impressive list of nominees.  Check out their FB page for more infomation.



They are even offering prizes like t-shirts and the new Leslie pedal.  The list of nominees includes musicians from all genres of music.  Check it out!

Neo Instruments Mini Vent review

I’ve completed my initial review of the new Mini Vent from Neo Instruments.  For the review, I connected the Mini Vent to my 1954 Hammond C2.  I will do another video soon with the Mini Vent connected to the SK2 and/or XK3.

I’m very impressed with unit.  A full written review will also come soon.

I hope you enjoy the video.

10/8/2013 Addendum:  In the video I state that the difference between the Mini Vent for organ and the regular Mini Vent (voiced for guitar) is that the guitar Mini Vent lacks the amp simulation.  This is incorrect.  From Guido Kirsch at Neo Instruments:

Although seems logical and I had planned it this way, Gary Gand convinced me that for lead playing the cab sim is essential and he absolutely wanted it. So the 2 programmable parametersi n the guitar Mini Vent are Cab Sim on/off and Drive Intensity. Other than that the differences are in the fixed Speed / Acceleration and Balance settings.


So there you have it. I also received permission to post some of the new features of the upcoming Ventilator II pedal, which you can read in the comments below.  The features I list are the ones which will definitely be in the pedal.  Guido has a list of others he is considering but didn’t want me to publish as they may change.

Getting closer…

I’m really excited that another project is almost coming to fruition.  My tribute to Big John Patton is in the final production stages and should be sent to the duplicators early next week.  I posted another video from the upcoming companion DVD on the ol’ YouTubes.

This clip features just the trio of myself, Ralph Tope on guitar, and Randy Gelispie on drums.  Listen to that ride cymbal work.  Randy is the walking definition of ‘master’.