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