The HAMMOND ORGAN

North Suburban HAMMOND ORGAN Society

The Hammond X66 is one of the most interesting, versatile and complete electronic instruments ever designed for general playing of all musical styles with an emphasis on pops. Please read the Hammond article first, however, as you will find much preliminary information there which is either directly relevant to the X66 Hammond, or necessary for understanding terms and concepts illustrated here. For that matter, reading the Wurlitzer 4600 Series article after you have read the Hammond article will also be beneficial. I will make the assumption in producing this article that you have already read both of the above cited articles.

In designing the X66 the Hammond company, according to various sources of information that I have obtained, wished to develop a superior instrument that would have all of the important and desirable features of the traditional Hammond tone wheel organs, such as good tone, permanent tuning, and a wide variety of tonal effects. However, the instrument should contain other features and effects which could be found in the instruments of Hammond's competitors, thus resulting in a "universal" for lack of a better term, instrument that would excel in all aspects of what one should expect of an electronic organ.

One thing that is very evident about the X66 is that genuine musicians who were obviously very familiar with the important features and subtleties present in real pipe organs and musical instruments in general had a lot to do with its design along with Hammond's electronic engineers who made it all work. I think we have all seen the results of electronic musical instruments that were designed primarily by engineers. They fail miserably as musical instruments. In the books and in the schematics as well as logically, they may look great and make a lot of sense. But sit down and play one, and after five minutes (and I'm being generous here) you are tired of their singularly uninspiring tone quality.

Several brands come immediately to mind, especially one brand that was available years ago in kit form. Designed principally by an electronic engineer, these were, in my opinion, some of the least inspiring electronic organs ever created! However, we should not elaborate on the negative characteristics of any particular make of instrument here; the primary purpose of these tech articles is to inform visitors to this website about how those particular instruments that we detail in here work, and possibly include information on why we at the NSHOS like them. However, I am not above having and stating opinions, which are strictly my opinions, based upon having played professionally on just about every single brand of electronic organ ever created during the 50s-70s, the heyday years of the analog electronic organ and including some of the original 1930s Hammonds.

Among the more salient design features of the X66 that make it so good are four different vibrato or frequency modulation systems, all of which are somewhat to significantly different from each other. If you have several musicians such as horn, trumpet or violin players for example, working together as a group, each one will create his own individual vibrato which will not occur at precisely the same speed or intensity as that introduced by any of the others. An electronic instrument that sends the entire output of its tonal resources through a single vibrato system will not sound quite as big and "full" as the instrument with independent vibratos. Then too, different instruments have somewhat different vibrato characteristics. The best approach uses differing vibrato rates and characteristics for different types of generated tonalities.

A realistic percussion system parallels the action of real percussion instruments. Many electronic organs had a sustain feature that would make their tones ring out like bells or gradually fade to silence. But this type of percussion sustain does not parallel the way a real piano or a real celesta work. The designers of the X66 produced circuitry that does reproduce the response and action of a real percussion instrument; a hugely important difference. These are just two points; there are others which we shall touch upon or expound upon as necessary as we continue this article. When it was introduced, the X66 Hammond cost approximately five times more than a standard Hammond such as a B3 or a C3. Much of this cost went into a number of significant differences which were musically important for the final result.

The Hammond X66 may indeed appear to be quite intimidating or daunting to someone who has minimal experience with music; A basic understanding of music and also the physics of musical sounds is extremely helpful in getting the most out of this instrument; in fact, it is really essential. But the same may also be said of the traditional Hammonds such as the B3 and C3. For those who look for an instrument that has certain basic, built-in voices, does a lot of the work for you and creates automatic accompaniments and rhythms, a general purpose keyboard or one of the later gadget-laden electronic organs of the 1980s will be a much better choice. But if you wish to take the time to learn more advanced playing and musical skills, then the X66 is the instrument that will really make you sound fabulous. And keep in mind that while automatic accompaniments may indeed make a beginner sound a little better, in the long run they impose severe curbs upon creativity and artistry, rendering the resulting music all too limited and "mechanical," devoid of the ingeneous creativity that is so important in music of all types.

Before looking at the specific sections and operation of an X66, we should digress slightly and consider the two main methods by which all of the various analog electronic organs produced varying sounds or "voices" and effects. These methods are:

1. Additive harmonic synthesis
2. The formant system

More important, before we even examine these two methods, we should look at the three basic waveforms that manufacturers use in most electronic organs, and why using more than one in an instrument is beneficial.

 

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