Mar. 7, 2019

The Hammond Organ, Part I

Certain windless electric or electro-mechanical organs employing Hammond ToneWheel technology present a special situation for organists; these instruments are not provided with conventional drawknobs or stop tablets for organ voices, and the older Hammonds have a starting procedure that's different from simply turning on a switch or pushing a button.
A significant body of contemporary organ music has been published "registered for Hammond Organ" which is specific to this, and only this, brand of instrument -- and there could come a time where a suggested Hammond registration might need to be translated for performance on a conventional pipe organ.
There could very well come a time, particularly in America, when the new organist could be asked to sub or play for an event at a venue where the only instrument in working order there is an older Hammond.
This can be an utter mystery for the new organist if they've never been exposed to this type of instrument before; the same can be said for otherwise highly trained organists who happen to be, through no fault of their own, unacquainted with how this type of instrument works.
Not knowing a thing about it can be humiliating.
It would be naive for today's organists to convince themselves that such a state of affairs could never happen to them anywhere on this side of the Great Beyond.
Never is a long time.
As with so many other things encountered in this life, at first what may seem difficult about some thread in the fabric of learning, once learned, never changes -- and we find this true with all of the older Hammonds; around 2 million of them were built and, while they certainly don't work like a pipe organ or any other electronic substitute, they all work the same way.
Some of the later ToneWheel organs have just a simple "On" switch, but for those which have both "start" and "run" switches the starting procedure would be as follows:
1) Hold the "start" switch on for about 12 seconds (if you're in a quiet room, you should be able to hear the ToneGenerator spinning up);
2) While continuing to hold the "start" switch on, turn the "run" switch on;
3) Continue holding the "start" switch on for 4 more seconds (the "run" switch should stay on by itself).
4) Let go of the "start" switch (it should spring to the "off" position); with the start motor off, things should get much quieter; the ToneGenerator should now be running, but you'll have to wait a little while longer for the vacuum tubes to warm up before you'll get any sound out of the instrument.
"Console" Hammonds have 2 manuals named Swell (upper) and Great (lower); both are 5 octaves long (61 notes) with an additional bottom octave of 12 chromatic keys reversed in color (i.e. naturals are black, sharps are white); these color-reversed keys are used for selecting the default presets for the Swell and Great manuals, respectively.
The manual keys are "flat front" profile, commonly known as "waterfall" keys, and the de facto standard pedalboard is of 25 notes with a compass of 2 octaves (low C to middle C); the so-called "Concert" Hammonds, for all practical purposes, are identical save for a pedalboard of 32 notes (low C to middle G) constructed to AGO standards; a whole generation of professional organists practiced at home on these concert models.
All Hammonds are specially equipped with a distinctive row of metal sliders above the top manual which control individual harmonics of the harmonic series; these sliders are called harmonic drawbars and are grouped in banks and marked with the numbers 1-8 controlling 8 different positions which permit volume adjustment of the particular harmonic each one controls; when the drawbar is pushed back until no number can be seen, the sound of the drawbar is not heard; when it is pulled out to its fullest position (which reads "8" on the slider), the sound level is maximum; the numbers thus indicate the volume of sound to be produced and serve as a guide to remember drawbar settings.
The Swell and Great are both furnished with 2 banks of 9 drawbars each; the Pedal is arrayed with 2 drawbars only; all these are arranged in a row above the top manual, and tones generally become higher in frequency from left to right in each drawbar bank; when all drawbars in a bank are pulled and middle C is depressed, the ear hears every note marked in green (photo); the footage marked on the handle end of each drawbar originated with the length of pipes on a pipe organ.
When we pull the fundamental (8') drawbar, the 3rd harmonic (2-2/3') plus the the 5th harmonic (1-3/5'), completely out, we find the sound resembles a clarinet; then, if we push the 8' drawbar halfway, we notice the sound becoming more high pitched and a bit "harder"; if we were then to pull the 8' drawbar back out fully and push the 2-2/3' and 1-3/5' in halfway, the sound becomes mellower.
The bottom octave of keys on both manuals are loaded with a default library of presets (pre-defined drawbar settings) allowing the organist to play the instrument immediately; default settings may be selected individually or mixed by pressing 2 preset keys at a time; the low C preset key produces no sound but releases the preset key previously selected and is called "Cancel" -- easy enough to remember because it's the "C" key.
Drawbar registrations are recorded to the A# and B preset keys on the far left side of each manual; the preset keys for the Swell and Great are independent of each other; these may also be used singly or two-at-a-time by pressing the A# and B preset keys simultaneously.
There are 5 banks of these drawbars arranged in the drawbar row from left to right in this order: Swell A# drawbars, Swell B drawbars, Pedal drawbars (center), Great A# drawbars, and Great B drawbars; these are used to adjust the harmonics of each manual and the Pedal.
The preset keys (A# and B) are special presets called "Adjust Presets" directly connected with A# drawbars and B drawbars, respectively; selecting these keys becomes helpful when the organist wants to create a new registration or manually operate the drawbars while playing.
For example, by depressing the black natural B key in the bottom octave of the Swell, the B bank of harmonic drawbars for the upper manual become operative; the B Swell drawbars may now be pulled to any length while playing on the Swell manual; the drawbars create the fundamental tones of this organ which will vary corresponding to how far the drawbars are pulled.
The 2 banks of drawbars on the left-hand side are for the Swell manual and the 2 banks on the right-hand side for the Great manual; to actuate them, the A# or B preset keys for that manual are depressed; when the other (C#-A) preset keys are selected, other drawbar registrations are recalled inside the organ and the tone that plays will not match the drawbars physical settings.
In each drawbar bank, the WHITE drawbar (8') on the left end corresponds to the fundamental sound; each succeeding drawbar to the right controls the next octave harmonic.
The sounds of the BLACK drawbars play important roles in building rich tones; their pitches are 5th and 3rd to the fundamental (the 7th harmonic, or 6th overtone, represented in the organ by the Flat Twenty-First or Septieme 1-1/7', is seldom found in pipe organs and is absent here as well, chiefly because it makes a tonal dissonance with the unison pitch).
The BROWN drawbars provide a further richness to the tone; the left one (16') is one octave lower than the fundamental, and the right one (5-1/3') is the 3rd harmonic of the 16' fundamental; normally the manual tones are built upon the 8' fundamental, but if more depth of tone is desired or when the playing range of the manual is to be expanded by one octave, the tones can be built on the 16' fundamental.
The pedalboard plays the bass line and uses 2 BROWN drawbars (16' and 8') located in the center of the drawbar row; the first (left) pedal drawbar produces the fundamental 16', and the other one produces at tone an octave higher at 8' pitch.
The drawbar registration is matched by digits, and it is relatively easy to remember the typical combinations of the 9 drawbars by their forms; these are grouped into 4 commonly used patterns suitable for classical music which resemble sounds from the flute, diapason, reed, and string family; these are not analogous to orchestral voices -- the names here simply refer to the types of pipes found in a pipe organ and are not meant to sound as actual violins, trumpets, oboes, etc.)
1. FLUTE family ("2-step" pattern) -- 00 8500 000
2. DIAPASON family ("check mark" pattern) -- 00 8776 543
3. REED family ("triangle" pattern) -- 00 4676 543
4. STRING family ("bow" pattern) -- 00 4555 554
This understanding of the Hammond registrations we find in a score -- the overall shape of the drawbar patterns (i.e. 2-step, check mark, triangle, bow) and the numbered volume of each harmonic -- allows us to read the family of tone color the composer or arranger had in mind (viz., flute, diapason, reed, string, respectively), and something of its tint can be ascertained; this information may then be used to draw the appropriate stops on a conventional pipe organ to get something of the same effect.
These and similar drawbar settings were created at the dawn of the Hammond organ (1935) when it was intended to sound like a pipe or church organ, but, later on, as the Hammond organ spread to radio and television studios, homes, the recording industry, and throughout Jazz, Pop, Rock, and (especially) Gospel music, some timeless registrations became common, such as:
1. JAZZ -- 88 8000 00
2. BLUESEY -- 88 8000 008
3. GROOVY AND FUNKY -- 80 8000 888
4. MAX POWER -- 86 8878 778
Musical scores "registered for Hammond Organ" will have suggested default preset or drawbar suggestions appearing on the first page, generally below and to the left of the title.
Swell registrations are always notated on the page with a circle; if a default preset is suggested, the preset key (e.g. D#) is shown inside a circle; if it's a drawbar setting, the respective drawbar key (A# or B, or perhaps both may be indicated) is shown inside a circle followed by the drawbar settings (such as 00 7576 131).
Great registrations are always notated on the page with a square; if a default preset is suggested, the preset key (e.g. F) is shown inside a square; if it's a drawbar setting, the respective drawbar key (A# or B, or perhaps both are indicated) is shown inside a square followed by the drawbar settings (such as 00 7405 000).
In some editions showing Hammond registrations, the numbers 1-11 are also sometimes found inside a square or circle; these numbers substitute for key names; in other words, the numbers 1-9 indicate default settings for C# upward through A; the number 10 refers to the first bank of drawbars on A#, and the number 11 refers to the second bank of drawbars on B.
A square enclosing a 7, for example, is simply another way of indicating a square enclosing a G; both refer to the default registration setting stored on the note G of the Great manual; similarly, a circle enclosing the number 10 refers to the 1st bank of drawbars controlled by the A# key of the Swell manual.
The bottom octave of keys of reversed color which control the default and drawbar registrations for each manual are sometimes found with very small round labels on their top surfaces numbered 1-11, beginning on bottom C#; if these labels are found, they should not be removed.
Suggested pedal drawbar settings will appear below the Great registrations, such as "Pedal 5 - 2" followed lastly by Vibrato and/or Chorus control directions.
Adjustments to this starting registration and/or manual changes are then indicated in various places in the score, always with the Swell circled and the Great squared.
This system makes it possible for each manual to make use of 9 different default registrations by using them one-at-time (preset keys C#-A), 36 different mixed default registrations by using them two-at-a-time (preset keys C#-A used in pairs), and as many as 18 additional registrations when one default registration (preset keys C#-A) is selected simultaneously with one bank of drawbars (A# or B).
In addition, the A# and B drawbar banks for each manual may be readied in advance and brought into play individually or in combination, thus providing 3 more adjustable registrations (i.e. A# alone, B alone, or A# plus B).
Once selected, any of these registrations may be further enhanced by means of separate vibrato, chorus, and percussive controls built into the console as standard.
All of these features, when taken together, provide the instrument with a surprising degree of control in nuancing the sound and making registration changes.
(con't in Part II)