Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Theater organs, Combo organs, Spinets, and Full Size Consoles- Welcome!

I begin this blog in hopes of bringing together all sorts of people who are passionate, or soon to be passionate about one of the greatest musical instruments ever to be created. How many of you grew up with an organ in the house, but just couldn't muster up the interest to try and make it sound like little more than a toy? I know it's more than a few. As someone who has played guitar from the age of twelve, and I'm 45 now, I see the world of guitar is not hurting in the least for mass exposure. There are magazines in the grocer dedicated to guitarists and the gear they buy. I liken the guitar to skateboarding, and the organ to the roller skate. Not too many organ magazines. Not too many roller skating magazines either, for that matter.
   I found my first organ on a mound of dirt with the speakers robbed out of it. I was intrigued to see this thing inside the back of it though- it looked like a giant flour scoop with a metal spindle going through the center. "Ah, that's right. Stevie Ray Vaughn played what they called a 'Leslie speaker'...this must be one of those speakers that spins around and throws the sound around." Anyway, I threw the organ in the back of my old 78' Volvo beater wagon and I finished delivering pizzas. When I got home I plugged it in and plugged a 1/4" cord into it's headphone jack and into my mixing board. At the time I was in a band playing bass and doing an experimental music thing with a buddy that graduated in fine arts. He taught me about tape loops and composition from an artists perspective. Music can be very visual. In fact I used to write lyrics by turning down the t.v. and  just saying whatever came to mind while singing into a mic.
   That organ from the mound of dirt worked very well except for a slightly sharp G#. That quirk served as my signature when playing different bits. The organ was a Yamaha Electone B4cr. It was a 'transistor divider' circuit. If you google 'Organ List' then about the 3rd match down on the page is a link to the grand compilation of nearly every make and model of organ. The vital statistics of an organ is how the organ originates it's tone. A Hammond uses 'Tone Wheels' ( look at a Hammond FAQ site and you can learn all about tone wheels...not all Hammond organs are tone wheels BTW). Many Wurlitzer Electronic organs used actual reeds to produce the fundamental tones in the organ. Yes, air passes through these reeds and they produce tone, but instead of amplifying the reeds they are instead used to create an electrical signal of the predetermined frequency of which the electronic circuits then manipulate. There are many ways in which an organ can be designed, but the oscillator circuits are the heart of the sound in any organ. The mid 70's brought with it specialized synthetically designed circuits that were to become the beginning of the end for the organ. The study of organ history presents many variables. None of which in themselves were responsible for the demise of  the organ boom of the 70's. However, it's ironic that just as organ technology became more and more miniaturized to save on costs and speed manufacturing processes, these manufactures were turning out more and more inferior products. It's almost like they could see the homes filling with their products and since the competition during the boom was so fierce these companies had to make quality products to compete. So the next phase was adding as many bells and whistles as they could in hopes of getting the folks to trade in their organ on a fancier one. As an organ player I can only feel sorry for all of those people who traded their transistor oscillator organs in on' top order synthesis' models. Whether the new TOS organs were more reliable is debatable ( I mean, how much is a transistor? a few dollars, right...well, the tech, I know. Learn to fix your own- Sams made a great book called 'Electronic Organ Service Guide' by Robert G. Middleton. Amazon has used ones cheap. I highly recommend it). I suppose the tube, which predated the transistor was held in some sort of superiority to the transistor when it started showing up in organs.

 I have a few organs, but I'm really keen on a 1946 Wurlitzer model 31 for sale somewhere here where I live. It has a rotary baffle tone cabinet. I love the sound of the reed Wurlitzers. I fell in love with the record album entitled 'Organ Moods- John Winters at the mighty Wurlitzer organ.' I'm still not sure if he's playing a keyed reed organ, but I know the sound of a pipe organ versus an electronic Wurlitzer. Wurlitzer used the phrase ' The Mighty Wurlitzer' as a promotional tool in the 50's for all of their organs not just the pipe organs.

I have a Wurlitzer 625t that was made in 1977. The cabinetry is a beautiful dark brown, but they also offered the 625t in a theater organ white with gold trim and a glass music stand. There has been one on craigslist here in Columbus for a few weeks for $250. The 625t has over 70 tabs! All of mine work except the portamento on the 'Orbit' synthesizer built into the organ, and only the harp percussion setting works of the four choices. It's a great organ.

I'll get into the Thomas Californians next. The 263 Californian is amazing!!
Just got the record 'Californian Here I Come' by Harry Wach ( Cardinal Records) I'll put it on Youtube soon.


So let the world know your electronic organ(s) inside and out too! 

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