Hammond Organ and the Leslie Speaker

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Hammond Organ and the Leslie Speaker

Behind the Hammond organ is a man known as Laurens Hammond after whom the musical instrument is named. The Hammond organ is an electric organ that was invented in 1934. It was the work of Hammond Organ Company. The company originally made the instrument and sold it to churches. It was used as an alternative to the pipe organ used at that time in churches. The pipe organ was wind-driven. The new alternative was cost-effective. In the period between 1960 and 1970, the Hammond Organ became a standard keyboard and was popular in the playing of jazz, rock music, blues as well as gospel music (Laurens Hammond).

Lauren Hammond, the man behind the Hammond Organ filed U. S. rights to manufacture a new kind of electrical musical instrument. His idea of an instrument could recreate the sound of a pipe organ. In the month of April 1935, his first invention was exposed to the public. Model A was also availed in June of the same year. Milt Herth used the instrument for playing his popular music live on WIND (AM) immediately upon its release. During World War II, the instrument was used by the military chapels in the US as well as the post theatres.

It is therefore possible that the familiarity of the military with the organ could have contributed in making it popular in the period after the war (Laurens Hammond; Hammond organ history). For Hammond, creation of the organ was aimed at replacing the pipe organs with an affordable substitute in middle class residences. He also intended it as a gadget for radio broadcasting. The organ however began to be used by jazz musicians in the 1950s. Such musicians include Jimmy Smith. Its popularity in pop music led to its use in the British Radio 360 station. In that country, the organ was associated with ice rinks and elevator music.

Later on, it became the organ popular with rock musicians Steve Winwood, Jon Lord and Keith Emerson in the 1960s and 1970s (Hammond organ history). The first Hammond organ that was made by Hammond Organ Company was operating on additive synthesis of waveforms that were got from harmonic series. The harmonic series were in turn made by mechanical tonewheels that rotate in front of electromagnet pickups. On the two keyboards are mounted some drawbars. The drawbars are slid in order to mix the element waveform ratios. Different models of the Hammond organ were produced but the Hammond B-3 organ model was and still is the most popular.

The B-3 organ was for instance used towards the end of the 1960s and in the beginning of the 1970s for its overdriven sound. It was popular in progressive rock bands as well as blues rock. These earlier version has been used for a long time. This is despite the fact that the last electromechanical Hammond Organ came off the assembly in the middle of 1970 (Hammond organ history). After the electromagnetic organ, the musicians of the 1980s and 1990s started using other electronic and digital appliances to reproduce the sound which was produced by the Hammond Organ.

This was solely because the classic Hammond Organ is relatively heavy and difficult to move from one place to another. This imitation was made easier by the digital signal processing and sampling technology in the years after 1990 and musicians could now copy the original Hammond sound (Edward). Most of the existing traditional organ fanatics prefer the Hammond tonewheels. Some of the popular models of this organ have tube amplifiers. In addition some of the most recent of the Hammond organ have a combination of tonewheel and solid amplifiers. The Hammond Organ Company is now the property of the Suzuki Company.

Now Hammond Suzuki, the company manufactures digital organs which reproduce the sound of the tonewheel organ (Laurent Hammond). The Leslie Speaker On the other hand, the man behind the idea of the Leslie speaker is also the person after whom the instrument is named. His name is Donald Leslie. The Leslie Speaker is a special creation. It is an amplifier or loudspeaker that is often associated with Laurent Hammond’s Hammond organ. It is used by musicians to create special audio effects that make use of the Doppler effect. Together with the Hammond organ, the two are a popular ubiquitous component in most of the existing varieties of music.

Like the Hammond Organ, the Leslie speaker’s production has also been taken over by the Suzuki Musical Instruments (Henricksen). At the beginning, the Hammond Organ Company refused to hire Don Leslie. Nevertheless, the man worked under a contract with the Hammond Company for some time. Don Leslie did some work for the local electric company replacing the old fifty cycle rotor tone generators. Instead of these, they put in place the sixty cycle units in the homes of customers. When it was first invented, the Leslie speaker was called the Vibratone. This was in 1941 about six years after the invention of the Hammond Organ.

Vibratone was later adopted by the Fender Guitar Company when they manufactured a speaker system and effects unit which included a Leslie rotating speaker. Soon after Leslie sold the company under which he manufactured the Leslie speaker, Fender Company also adopted the name Leslie in 1965. At this time, even Fender had been bought by CBS and it was under CBS that Leslie’s company as well as Fender now operated. The name was therefore used, to be precise, by the CBS Company (Henricksen). The Leslie speaker was not advertised. Don Leslie demonstrated a prototype with Bob Mitchell near the Los Angeles city.

The prototype was a rotating baffle put in a hole in a small closet that had a big speaker. It was in the closet near Don Leslie’s organ at home. Bob Mitchell was an organ player at the radio station KFI near Los Angeles. After the demonstration was made, Don Leslie was contracted to put in another similar prototype in the studios at the radio station where Bob worked. Only Bob Mitchell would be permitted to use this new installation. This awed Mitchell so much that he made attempts to copyright that speaker. This he did not succeed in though. After this, Mitchell was employed by the Mutual Broadcasting System as an organist.

During his shows, Mitchell played the Hammond organ together with the Leslie speaker. From this, the exposure of the two inventions to the public was quick and guaranteed. From then, most of the organ players regardless of whether they were professional or part-time yearned for the sound created by these organs. In the jazz community for example, Jimmy Smith, the jazz organ player assisted in popularization of the sound among the artists of rock-roll in the years between 1950 and 1960 and even at the beginning of the 60s. At this time, the Leslie speaker had a height of more than sixty inches.

It was referred to as the 30A. Don Leslie was inspired by this to manufacture more of the series founded by this 30A. He called the series Tall Boys or the 31 series. Later in the 50s, Don Leslie also made the 21H. These were meant for use in homes, smaller radio sound stages and venues for concerts. The first units were produced in 1941. From this time, the Leslie speaker was known under several different names. Such names as might be used to refer to the same speaker include Brittain Speakers, Hollywood Speakers and Crawford Speakers. In 1946 though, the speaker went back to its old known, the Leslie Vibratone.

After seventeen years of rejection, the man behind the invention of the speaker offered the company for sale to Hammond. Don Leslie had waited for seventeen years to sell the company and after declaring hi interest in selling it again to Hammond, he waited thirty days. After this period, he still had not heard from Hammond. He retracted his offer (The Hammond organ history; Edward). In 1980, the Leslie name and the Electro Music were bought by the Hammond Corporation from their present owners, the CBS Company. It is now the property of Hammond under the company name Hammond Suzuki in USA (Edward).

The Leslie speaker is used even to the present day and is actually very popular. In the present day, the Leslie parts can be got from various sources besides the fact that there are websites that offer plans which could help individual to construct the speaker. The sites have even posted photographic examples to guide one through the process. The modern Leslie speaker now has more enhanced speakers as well as electronics. Henricksen writes that the web even has a 500 W high performance model. In addition, the classic Leslie speaker has continued to be made and availed in the market.

Similar effects can nevertheless be obtained through analogue electronic gadgets and digital imitation. The sound produced by the Leslie Speaker can be imitated by phase and chorus shifter instruments. In spite of this, nothing has the ability to copy the sound of the Leslie speaker that is heard in person. The imitation of the sound by some digital gadgets can however make distinction difficult (Henricksen). Conclusion The Hammond Company had also designed a set of speakers to work with the Hammond organ. However, most of the organ players have a preference for playing the Hammond via a rotating speaker cabinet.

This speaker cabinet is what is known as the Leslie speaker after its inventor Donald Leslie and after many changes of names. (Donald Leslie lived between 1913 and 2004). This speaker system is an integrated combination of amplifiers where sound is produced after rotating a horn over a treble driver that is not moving. This is in addition to a rotating baffle as mentioned earlier which is placed under a non-moving bass woofer. The resulting characteristic sound is due to the pitch shifts that are in constant alteration made from the Doppler effect produced in turn by the moving sound sources.

The original idea was to imitate the complicated tones and constantly altering sound sources originating from the big group of ranks in a pipe organ. From this initial organ, the effects were different depending on the rotor speed. The speed can be fastened between fast and slow by use of a console. The most characteristic effect is heard either when the speaker starts or stops rotating. Paul Di Matteo is known for the modifications he made to the Leslie cabinets. He replaced the original transducers with what is now a woofer of about 18 inches that has dual high frequency drivers well-liked for the high power stage applications.

Reference: Edward, Peterson. “The rich history of the electric organ. ” “Hammond Organ History. ” http://thehammondorganstory. com/chapterxv. asp (30 April 2009). Henricksen, C. A. , “Unearthing the mysteries of the Leslie cabinet. ” Recording Engineer/Producer magazine, April 1981. http://theatreorgans. com/hammond/faq/mystery/mystery. html (30 April 2009). “Laurens Hammond. Electrical Musical Instrument. U. S. Pat. No. 1956350. ” http://www. google. com/patents? id=NUlkAAAAEBAJ (30 April 2009).


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 21 September 2016

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