Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Used Electronic Organ Reliability


Dear George,

I would like your professional advice regarding which brand of used electronic organs you feel are of higher reliability and which are of lower reliability (which we should stay away from). I suspect that you have a very unique point of view and are an expert in knowing what organs are good and which we should stay away from.
I am trying to assist my mother-in-law in the purchase of an electronic organ. She used to have a Kimball (from around the mid 1980's) that was similar to the 772 Swinger with the Entertainer. But she had a lot of reliability problems - - every 6 months (or less) a technician had to come out and clean the switch contacts. I don't know if the Kimball organ had an underlying reliability problem or whether she just had the bad luck of getting an unusual lemon. She loved that organ but sold it to move to California and is reluctant to get another similar one if she is faced with similar reliability problems.
What would you recommend as good, reliable used organs for a person who enjoys making music but is on the lower end of the skill scale.
Bruce R


Hi Bruce,
I've been pondering your email and trying to come up with an adequate answer that you can use.
You have to strike a balance between function, reliability, price, and availability.

1) Availability

Many makes and models are no longer available. We have to choose from only the ones that are left, that haven't been sent to the landfills yet. Places to look are Pennysaver Ads, Salvation Army Thrift Stores, Mobile Home Park Bulletin Boards, Craig's List, etc. Organs with little or no resale value usually are put up for sale and then hauled to the dump when there is no buyer found. I get calls all week asking if I know anyone who wants a Kimball or Lowrey or Wurlitzer organ. Truth is, I don't know anyone who wants one. I specialize in Hammonds and Leslies only. Hammonds have a much higher resale value than most others, but not all Hammonds still have value.

2) Function

Older organs have fewer functions and simpler electronics/mechanicals to deal with. Newer organs have more features and "Ease of Play" options, with corresponding increase in complexity. Even the older, simpler organs need attention now because of their age and drift of component values. Newer organs have special chips that may be no longer available. Older organs have vacuum tubes which are still being made in places like Russia and Yugoslavia.

3) Reliability

Used organs are a lot like used cars. The more features they have, the more things can go wrong. They all need some kind of work to make them saleable. Some organ designs did not withstand the test of time, however, and will be unreliable forever without extreme intervention. Hammond's organs from 1935 to 1965 were a result of American Over-Engineering that was also found in the Western Electric desk telephones of the time. They were built to take a lickin' and keep on tickin'. When I disassemble a Hammond organ to rebuild it, I still marvel at how many bolts and screws they used in the old days to hold everything together. The later models, from 1966 to the 1980's were built with cost-cutting measures, using the cheapest materials available. Molex cable connectors were used extensively in this time period, and they have proven to be a miserable way to connect 2 wires together. Plastics were introduced in the later years that "outgassed" a corrosive gas that oxidized all the switch and key contacts. There was no way to know what would happen to these new materials once they were delivered to the customer.

4) Price

Used Organs can be obtained for any price from free to "You gotta be kidding". Even when I pick up a free "Rescue Hammond" I have to put between 20 to 40 hours of skilled labor into it before I can sell it as a working unit (That is, if I want to be able to sleep at night). The consoles and the spinets all need this kind of work to make them reliable, and it raises their prices accordingly. You can purchase a rebuilt Hammond organ from me at our "retail" prices and know that the thing will work great. Or you can locate a cheap used "as-is" Hammond organ and I'll go pick it up, bring it to our shop and rebuild it and you will have saved some money and it won't matter one way or another to me. It'll cost you $2000 to $3500 for the rebuild, which allows me to feed my family. Some Hammond models are on our "Do Not Resuscitate" List, because of a low probability for a successful rebuild outcome. Check with us before you commit to a certain Hammond model. We don't want to waste our time or your money. You can also choose from our inventory of "as-is" Hammonds and we will rebuild the one you pick.

I hope this gives you what you were looking for.

George Fish Jr.
Fish Organs - Authorized Hammond Dealer
7840 El Cajon Blvd Suite 100, La Mesa CA 91942
619-460-9199 voice 619-330-2292 fax

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hammond XTP Spinet for the Space Age

In my opinion, the Hammond XTP is the best of the early spinets. It is based on the T-400 series transistorized organs, and the cabinet is based on the X-66 and X-77 style that looks good from any angle. This is very different from the open-back organs that look like a "science project." The cabinet looks like a capital "H" laying on its side. The open spaces between the keyboards and the pedals have two detachable speaker cubes that can (and should!) be dismounted and remotely located. One is a simple speaker with RCA cable, the other is a Yamaha whirlythingamajig (techspeak for styrofoam-coned rectangular speaker on a rotating arm with counterbalance) with a 7-pin connector that does a fair job of imitating the sound of a Leslie Speaker.

Aside from the usual troublesome plastic drawbar assemblies for the T-400 series, this organ is a must-own for the serious Hammond Addict. I still have one in the other warehouse, along with an extra Yammycube. I haven't gotten around to fixing it up yet. Leave me a comment if you can't live without one, and I'll get right to work on it.

"Hi, my name is Feeshy and I'm a Hammond Addict."

[everyone says] "HI FEESHY"

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hammond Tone Cabinets (HTCs)

These old Hammond Tone Cabinets used to be the lowest item on the totem pole. If I didn't have enough room inside the shop/warehouse, it would be the HTCs that would have to spend the night outside on Death Row. People always seemed to want Leslie Speakers with their Hammonds, and the HTC would be just another extra to haul away and take up space. When too many piled up I used to give them away to a local Hammond Nut, who would make bookshelves out of them.

All of that is now changed!

I've been having more calls for rebuilt HTCs lately from some of my local churches. Not every church needs or likes the animation provided by the Leslie Speakers. I used to say that if a HTC is working, it will work for a long time until it dies. But if the electrolytic capacitors are still original, they are in horribly bad shape now. They all need to be replaced with new ones. The reverb return wire usually has a rotted out center core, and is shorted in several places. The speakers might be blown to shreds or in perfect shape. Anyway, I've got another church that needs another HTC to replace their worn-out one. Problem is, these monsters aren't easy to work on. So I have to psyche myself up and tackle yet another HTC next week.

HTCs are self-powered speaker systems designed for the Hammond Organs from 1936 to the end of the run. Most of them have vacuum-tube amps (valves, for our UK friends). They usually have reverb (invented by Hammond) and two or 3 channels for bi-amping purposes. The cabinets are almost all open-back types, meaning they are not tuned for sound-enhancement purposes.

I've often thought about designing and building a front-end for the Hammond Tone Cabinet. It would be a preamp built into a "Box of Knobs" for use as a Guitar Amplifier. The preamp would simply plug into the 6-pin male connector on the HTC. It could be used on any 6-pin HTC. If any of my readers have an interest in a product like this, leave me a comment and I'll raise it up my list of priorities.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

To MIDI a set of Hammond New B-3 Bass Pedals

Somebody went through the expense of buying a New B-3 from Hammond Suzuki and didn't want to keep the pedals. I can understand that, but it doesn't mean that I approve! Anyway, they sold the pedals online to my new customer who wants to hook them to his Hammond XK3c Organ keyboard.

Problem #1: The MIDI encoding for the pedals is part of the organ circuitry, and is not in the pedal assembly. All you get is a 15-pin female DSub connector on the pedal box. So it's not "Plug-n-Play."

Problem #2: He's about 1000 miles away from my shop.

Best Possible Solution: To create a portable interface that will bridge the gap between the stock New B-3 pedal board and any MIDI device.

How I did it:

1) I had to get the layout of the 15-pin female DSub connector on the pedal board from the New B-3 Service Manual. I finally found it, and had to use a strong magnifier to read the fine print. The pedal assembly has *some* of the electronics needed for the MIDI encoder.

2) I had to see if the 25/32 Bass Pedal MIDI Encoder card I had in stock would work for this application. So I called the manufacturer/engineer/main guy and explained it to him. He gave me a green light for the project.

3) Into the shop to find a 15-pin male DSub connector and some ribbon wire.

4) On a piece of paper, match the output pins to the input pins.

5) Wire the interface cable. Pack in a box with circuit board and wall-wart power supply and ship.


The nice thing is that I can duplicate this anytime I need to use a new Hammond pedalboard with a MIDI interface. It will probably work with most of the Hammond pedalboards from the 90's and 00's. Even the 32 pedal church versions. But I'll have to check the service manuals for each before I can say so with certainty.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Too Many Hammonds & Leslies, Not Enough Space

I have way too many of these beasts. I moved the organs on Saturday. Only the pedals are left. I'll move them on Monday.

Mr. Landlord isn't going to put up with my stuff forever. I'll have to downsize pretty fast if I'm going to avoid another surprise call for evacuating this new space. I'll post a list here pretty soon. I am thinking about listing them all in my eBay Organ Store.

But first, I've got to get some benchwork done on a couple of Hammond Tone Cabinets a church brought in for repair. More on that soon.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Moving Experience

I had a call from Mr. Landlord yesterday, letting me know that he finally leased the entire 5th floor to a CPA firm for the next 11 years. That's great news. Their construction crew would be starting tomorrow (Friday) to rip out everything and start over. That's also great news. Now the bad news. I've been storing 8 Hammond Organs, 15 Leslie Speakers, 29 sets of bass pedals, 17 benches, 10 Hammond Tone Cabinets, and some odds and ends pro sound speakers. Almost everything is on wheels, except the benches and the pedals.

I humbly asked Mr. Landlord if he had another suite in the building where I could stash this stuff until I can sell it, and he graciously is letting me use a vacant office on a different floor. I saw it yesterday with the building manager and it's got desks and cubicle parts and chairs and junk all over the place, like the tenants maybe skipped town. A big pile of mail under the mail slot, mostly junk. She gave me the key and I did a bit of tidying up.

So this morning when I arrived at work I got started right away by moving all the Leslie Speakers and the Hammond Tone Cabinets down the World's Second Worst Elevator. The gap between the car and the landing is a wheel-gobbler. After lunch I got caught up on some paperwork because I was exhausted from the morning activities.

Then I got busy and moved all the benches to the new location. Those I had to carry down the long long hall.

Now all I have left to move is the Organs and the Pedals. I'll have to do them on Friday. I'm way too beat now.

About those pedals. I have 15 Hammond Organs that use the removable pedal boards, but I have 31 pedal boards. I think they somehow multiply at night when the lights are off. I don't know if the other Hammond Techs have this problem, but I don't know where I'm gonna PUT these guys. They take up a whole room on the 5th floor. I think I'll pick one pedal board for each Hammond Organ console I have in stock and I'll put the rest out on Death Row until I can figure out how I can get rid of them without using them for firewood or worse. Maybe I should stick them up on my eBay store.

Okay, enough for today. Gonna go home and do the New York Times Crossword.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

First things first. . .

I laid awake for a while the other night thinking of all the service calls and shop work I've done over the years on Hammond Organs and Leslie Speaker cabinets. The next morning I decided to start putting my time and energy into this blog. Then today I got contacted by Mark Joyner of Simpleology about his multi-media course on blogging. How timely! So I got off the dime and set up this blogspace for anyone who might enjoy knowing what goes on behind the scenes and under the dash of the venerated Hammond Organ and Leslie Speaker.

I'll be learning as I go, so please bear with me with some patience as I begin to loosen up and type relevant stuff here.

I'm evaluating a multi-media course on blogging from the folks at Simpleology. For a while, they're letting you snag it for free if you post about it on your blog.

It covers:

  • The best blogging techniques.
  • How to get traffic to your blog.
  • How to turn your blog into money.

I'll let you know what I think once I've had a chance to check it out. Meanwhile, go grab yours while it's still free.