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The Case of the Rickety Organ

By Maxwell Butler

The Hammond tonewheel organ is one of the greatest specimens of engineering in history. For the miles of wiring, myriad moving parts, and 1000+ key contacts, on top of the fact that they were never meant to leave a living room or organ loft, they’re extremely durable. When well cared-for, they’ll outlast any solid-state instrument that dares challenge it, to say nothing of its inimitable sound. Laurens Hammond had intended his instruments to be on par with Steinway pianos for longevity, which will last 100 years or more with proper care. It was truly a high water mark. But when subjected to the rigors of touring, or when neglected as so many of them are, even a Hammond can succumb.

Here in our humble shop, we worked on a B-3 and Leslie 147 that were once owned by the great Dave Mason. He generously gave the organ rig to producer and engineer Matt Linesch, who’s worked with Mason, Van Halen, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Robert Redford, and more. The organ, however, came in to us feeling like it was about to collapse, and the last thing you want is a Hammond B-3 coming down on your feet mid-set. The legs had to be fixed, lest someone’s legs get broke.

A Hammond’s cabinet is high quality furniture, and must be treated as such. Hammonds are also huge and heavy, and can’t be plopped up onto a workbench like a Wurlitzer. So you have to get creative when working on the organ’s support structure. As such:

You can see that we have the organ lifted up onto two heavy-duty X-brace keyboard stands, with Master Ken inspecting what we’re up against. To shore up the legs, we both glued and screwed the key points where the legs meet the cabinet. Don’t worry, no finish was hurt in this process; we first removed the trim pieces that would have been in the way, sank the screws, then replaced the trim. Once we had the fastening materials in place, we gently clamped everything together with long pipe clamps.

The organ received the standard litany of service: drawbar clean and service, an updated percussion circuit to eliminate the manual volume drop on “Normal,” demagnetizing the matching transformer, et cetera. Same thing for the Leslie; a new bass rotor scrim, motor service, an EIS solid state relay, et alia. But none of those would mean a lick with a shot organ cabinet. The result of our work is a solid, professional-grade rig that will give plenty more decades of service no matter where or how it’s used. Here at Ken Rich Sound Services, we’re not one-trick ponies. We can solve any problem, be it electronic, mechanical, structural, or cosmetic. If you’re worried your Hammond may not survive the next minor geological event, steel-toed boots aren’t the solution. Please, give us a call.

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