Where the collection started: Hammond B-2

Vintage keyboards just keep finding me…

I’ve never really thought of myself as a terribly handy person. But good advice from folks on the Web, patience and a willingness to learn have paid off: I now have a very nice collection of some of the finest vintage keyboards that have driven rock, jazz and blues music since the 1950s. And I did almost all of the work on them myself.

Here’s how it started:

Many years ago, I quit the garage band scene to go to college.  (Who says young people can’t make good decisions?) I guess I was concerned that I wouldn’t stick with my decision, so I made sure there was no turning back:  I dumped all my gear.  And once I was music-less, I stayed that way for years. Finally, I guess I figured it was “safe” to go back.  In the early 2000s, I bought a Korg CX-3 Hammond emulator, a boutique preamp and an amp.

I hung out at the Yahoo Clonewheel group until I got tired of everyone obsessing over how to make their ridiculously expensive digital rigs sound more like vintage Hammonds.   Finally, I figured that since I didn’t gig, I might as well go vintage, and never be tempted by the next “Wonder Clone.”  (Who says older people can’t make good decisions?)

My first vintage purchase was in 2004, a June 1954 Hammond B-2, born about seven months before the first B-3s were produced, with factory-installed smooth drawbars.  Found it on eBay. Looked great cosmetically. It was upgraded to B-3 functionality with a new Trek II percussion unit. (I call it my “B-2 7/8.”) It also had new Trek II reverb. Complete with pedal board, bench and music desk and fallboard.

The deal included two single-speed Leslies (a 21H and a 31H). Both had 20 watt 21H amps, the original Jensen V21 treble drivers and the earth-shaking original Jensen field coil woofers.  After selling my clone gear, it was roughly an even exchange. But, oh, what a difference!

p1010352

Hammond2

Leslie 31H.

Hammond3

Leslie 21H.

Buying an organ sight-unseen on eBay is stupid, but this deal worked out nicely.  Most everything was in very nice condition, as advertised. But improvements were possible, too.

I refinished the pedal board and upholstered the bench top to make it more comfortable and conceal some damage.  Replaced the power cable.  Touched-up the finish.  Replaced the upstop and downstop felts  (which made the manuals play like new).  Re-wired the presets to give some modern, usable settings.  Replaced the 22K resistor in the Chorus/Vibrato switch box with a 12K resistor to give the Chorus the strength and sparkle of the later production  3-series organs.

In the Leslies, I disassembled and cleaned the motors, replaced worn belts and bearings. And I installed a Caribbean Controls motor control in each, which added Chorale speed to these old one-speed Leslies.  (Now, they are both set up to have a fast, slow and stop setting.)

I had a tech re-build the 50-year-old B2 preamp and replace the capacitors in the Leslie crossovers (both of which made an amazing difference in the sound) and selectively freshen-up some of the components on the Leslie amps.

Hammond4

The whole set-up sounds as great as it looks.  The rig has deep, tight bass and a screamin’ high end.  I can’t really prove this, but I believe that the B-2s and earlier B-3s were callibrated slightly differently than the later models, making them more mellow in the middle registers.  It’s a perfect organ for that classic, moody, smoky jazz tone.  Lots of folks say that tone is the result of aged wax capacitors in the tone generator. I think that’s partly the cause.  But to my ear, my organ sounds like the organs I hear in early Jimmy Smith recordings — and those organs were new when he played them.

b2

This is really a magnificent instrument. I feel privileged each time I sit down at it.

February 2017 update:  My Hammond apparently needed a friend.  So I bought this cool, late 1930’s art deco Hammond clock to put on a shelf above the organ:

IMG_1210.JPG

It has the same Hammond synchronous motor that locks into the AC line frequency to keep the organ in tune.  So it keeps excellent time, too.

 

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