Gibson G101 combo organ

The sound of The Doors on tour

In September 2011, I found a distant Craigslist ad for a Leslie 122, in which the seller offered to throw in a Gibson G101.  I called, and he agreed to sell the organ without the Leslie for a bargain price, complete with the legs, volume pedal and optional bass pedals.

He shipped it to me via UPS, and it arrived packed to survive a thermonuclear war. The UPS store had added nearly 30 pounds of packing materials, and it arrived with no damage.

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I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was in better cosmetic shape than I had expected from looking at the photos the seller sent me.  Among other things, some areas of the Tolex that looked like they they had cigarette burns actually just had some dark substance on them that easily washed away.  And it was mostly functional.

The G101 is best known as the organ that The Doors’ Ray Manzarek began using after he got frustrated by breaking keys on his Vox Continental.  You can hear it on most of The Doors’ albums starting with “Waiting for the Sun,” their third studio album, and on most (maybe all) of their live albums. It was built by the Lowrey organ company, which shared a corporate parent with Gibson in the 1960s.

The organ seems better built than many combos, probably due to Lowrey’s longer experience in building organs, and the ability to spec relatively robust parts from Lowrey home organs.

With its tab switches and front modesty panel, the G101 is often mistaken for a Farfisa Compact series organ. (Although its turqoise and linen-colored Tolex is a giveaway.) It can make Farfisa-like sounds. But it also has some very unique and versatile sounds and effects:

It can do a bad piano or a fair harpsichord sound (in fact, it can nail the “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” harpsichord sound that the Beatles recorded on a Lowrey console organ).  It has a piercing voice that cuts through a mix beautifully, without being shrill.  Its sustain feature creates a beautiful ringing sound that is often heard on Doors songs.  It also has percussion, repeat, vibrato, and two effects triggered by a switch on the volume pedal: Glide, which lowers the pitch of a note by a half step (it can be heard on The Doors’ “Not to Touch the Earth”) and Trumpet Wow-Wow (a wah-wah sound).

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All in all, it’s a much more versatile instrument than the Continental.  But, beyond The Doors, I can’t think of a single other big rock act that used the Gibson — possibly because Gibson was a little late to the party.  The G101 was introduced in roughly 1967, and combo organs were already beginning to fade, as Hammonds became the staple of rock acts. Relatively few were built, and it may be the most rare instrument of any in my collection.

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After I got it, I cleaned all the contacts on the Gibson, scrubbed it inside and out, replaced the neon bulb that controls the percussion and repeat circuit, tuned it, shined the hardware with Brasso, and found a way to reduce the volume of some notes that were playing too loud on some voices.  I replaced all the Pratt Read rubber key bushings, a tedious job, but now it plays like new, and there is no typewriter-like clacking. Fixed a broken key stop (which had left one note sticking up above the others) by fabricating a replacement from a cotter pin, and gluing it in place with J.B. Weld. Fixed the bass sustain by replacing the electrolytic caps on the bass board.  Patched the one small area of missing Tolex by stealing some from the inside of the case.

It really sounds great.  I love playing along with my Doors “Live in Detroit” CD.

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20 thoughts on “Gibson G101 combo organ

  1. I just bought one today. ($1,500, in case you’re wondering.) The trumpet wow doesn’t work . . . oh wait, now that I’ve read your post, I see that I needed to press the pedal for that, and . . . it works! The percussion setting doesn’t work, either, but apparently I need to replace a bulb. Great information, so thank you!

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  2. Hello, I was going to attempt replacing the neon bulb for the repeat circuit. When you de- soldered the bulb assembly from the board, did you de- solder and re-solder the wires from the top or from underneath ? I was wondering about the best way to do it, since you’ve sucessfully done it. Thanks, dave

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      1. Alan, I’ve read that tutorial many times, it’s not that specific about how to the soldering part ,that’s why I contacted you. Also, they mention using two different type bulbs , I ordered some NE 210 , they are long with covered in plastic with a resistor on one of the legs, the other one is called a NE-2E A9A, is a bulb with two short leads, do you know which one is the right one? It’s confusing., there’s no way to contact the people who posted the tutorials. thanks again , dave

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  3. hello, I’m attempting to repair the neon bulb replacement on the repeat control. Did you do the de-soldering and re-soldering on the board from the top or underneath? I see you successfully repaired yours, Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks, dave

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  4. Dave:

    I used a NE-2E A9A, and it worked perfectly. Looking at the photos, I believe I soldered the leads for the LDRs and the bulb to the top of the board.

    (I would look at my G101 to verify the soldering location, but it’s stored away. It would be fine to solder to either the top or the bottom, anyway.)

    I found that the wires on the LDRs are very fragile. Be careful with them. If they break off (as one of mine did), I found suitable replacements in a $3 assortment pack sold at Radio Shack. (Part # 276-1657)

    Let me know how you do…

    Alan

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    1. Hi Alan, I bought the wrong ones, the NE-210’s. I’ll have to get the ones you used, I’ve seen them on ebay. Also, there are no Radio Shacks around here( upstate N.Y). anymore. I’ll have to find the LDR’s somewhere else, if need be. Maybe I can use the old Radio Shack numbers to find them elsewhere. thanks again for your help! all the best, Dave Rice

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  5. Hi Alan,

    Loving your work on this blog and always nice to oggle a G101! Rather mundane Pratt-Read question, I’m afraid. Did you lube the bushings before replacing? I know there are different schools of though on this. I experimentally replaced one bushing (which I used very light spray-lube on) on my Sequential Pro One. The action was frighteningly gooey for a while but settled down eventually. Just looking for moral support to continue in some ways, I think!

    Cheers, keep up the good work!
    Jon

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    1. Hi Jon:

      The preferred lube for these bushings is Dow Corning 7 Release Compound, which should be used very sparingly. (You throw the bushings in a plastic bag and put just a very small drop of the lube in the bag, and squeeze the outside of the bag and move the bushings around until they have a thin coat.) I used this technique on my G101 with new bushings, and it worked fine. But recently I worked with a guy to re-bush his G101 — and many of the keys stuck. I don’t know whether the bushings available today might be slightly larger than the originals, but the solution was to use a screwdriver and very carefully and slightly widen the section of the key frame that goes over the bushing. You can see a similar “trick” being done in this video, starting at about 1:30: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0Isky0b78Y . It’s quite possible that those key frames close up a bit under years of use, so the replacement bushings themselves may be fine.

      This is a tedious job, but you’ll probably only do it once in your life, and the results are well worth it. Let me know how you make out. (By the way, it can cost $20-$30 for a tube of Dow Corning 7. If you order bushings from Vintage Vibe, they’ll throw in a small quantity of the lube for an extra $3.00, which is well worth it.)

      Alan

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      1. Hi alan, thanks for keeping me in the loop ! good luck with your combo organ history book project as well ! all the best, dave rice

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      2. Hi, thanks for such a prompt reply! Yup, have the lube and bushings already, but I’ve been a bit timid with them. Good to know that it’s not the lube causing that stickiness. Great video too – I’ll refer back to that again. Thanks – I think I’ll brave those pesky springs now!

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  6. Alan just picked up a G-101 it has no foot pedal but a quarter inch jack on the bottom so the last owner probably had an inline foot pedal. I plugged it in and let it warm up. I have very low output as far as volume and my middle D key it broke there but underneath something is not right. Any ideas what to look for?

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    1. Joseph:

      Congratulations! The 1/4″ jack is meant for a guitar cord to the amp, to be used along with the special Gibson volume pedal. If you don’t have the Gibson pedal, you need to install a jumper to bypass the pedal connection. You’ll see an explanation for how to do it here: http://www.combo-organ.com/Gibson/index.htm (Scroll down to the Volume Pedal heading.) That fix would allow you to use the organ with and without the Gibson volume pedal by flipping a switch. (A nice way to fix it if you think you may ever find a Gibson pedal.) But if you plan to use it “forever” with an inline pedal, you can just solder a jumper between pins B and C and skip the switch.

      I don’t understand what you mean when you say the middle D key “broke.” Did the key cap crack? Does it not sound? Does it stick up above the other keys? Let me know and I may be able to help.

      Alan

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  7. Alan, i had to do the same “hot wire” ,modification that was on COH when I got my G101 in ’09 , the person i got it from couldn’t find the orginal Gibson pedal , I ended up using a generic dunlop volume pedal. I got real lucky a few years later, I found a Gibson G101 pedal on CL from a guy from Boston, I also got the bass pedals and a complete G201/T2 parts organ all for a couple hundred . best, Dave

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    1. You were quite lucky to find an original pedal — and a parts organ! (Not a whole lot of these were manufactured.) I’ll be looking for you some day when/if I break a key! 😉

      The main drawback to using an inline pedal is that you can’t use the pitch bend effect or the Trumpet Wah. But someone could probably figure out how to hook up a momentary switch to the appropriate pins on the pedal connector.

      Alan

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      1. Yes, i was very lucky , finding stock pedals for them are rare. if you ever need anything ,let me know, I don’t believe the tone cards are interchangeable though, that was the main reason i took the option of taking the the G201, we know without he dedicated amp they’re pretty much good for some parts. Dave

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  8. Dave:

    My recollection from once owning a T2 is that the tone generator cards are identical, except that they connect to the organ by soldered wires, while the G101 boards are the plug-in type. So, I think you (or a tech) could find an improvised way to use a T2/G201 board on a G101.

    Also, you ought to be able to transplant a good tuning coil from a 201 to replace a dead one on your G101. (And that’s the only component I can think of on a G101 board that isn’t readily available (standard caps, transistors, resistors) from any electronics supplier.)

    So, hang onto that parts organ!

    Alan

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