THE HAMMOND S6 CHORD ORGAN

Couldn't resist... Blake at the St. Lawrence on Sunday had this, and it was near the end of the day. We always talk music, but he didn't even try and push it on me... he just waited for me to notice it...

Looking in the back I saw a pair of 6V6GT and a pair of silver Jensen P10Rs... 5U4GT rectifier, a squadron of 12A_7 types... hmm, interesting partswise... then we plugged it in, and the whole sidewalk stopped at the sound.

Built in 1955, this 30-tube unit employs tube oscillators and LC filters to generate its tones and harmonics. From what I can gather (I'm no organ expert), this makes it more akin to an early synthesizer than the rest of Hammond's tone-wheel based offerings. The chord section on the left features 96 buttons to select Major, Minor, 6th, 7th, 9th, Diminished, Augmented, and Minor 7th chords for each key. Kind of like a 15 Watt accordion, with vibrato. It also features two pedals that add bass notes: one adds the fundamental of the chord being played, and the other does the 5th. There are several ways to shape the timbre of the keyboard section, including crude emulations of flutes, strings, and woodwinds. The volume control is a lever underneath the keyboeard that you control with your knee. A small loop of shoestring will keep it in place if you want full volume all the time.

It didn't need much work... a new grounded power cable to replace the badly cracked and frayed original, and a few new tubes. The 5U4 was rattling on its own and had to be replaced. For stability, I placed a Hammond (different company, Hammond from Guelph, they still make great stuff) voltage regulator between the S6 and the wall, to make sure it's getting the voltage it was designed for. The stamped badge inside says 117V, but today's wall voltage can get up to 125 sometimes. A simple and accurate way to set the correct voltage is to use a Vector test socket on one of the 6.3V tubes, and adjust the input voltage until the filament voltage is exactly 6.3V AC. Tube life can suffer if it strays too far above or below.


What does it sound like? In a word, lush. It's tricky to move around the chord buttons with your left hand while playing the conventional keyboard with your right hand... but it gets a certain special churning grind going when both sections are firing at once. This combination of overdrive, intermodulation distortion, and comb filtering can't be reproduced if you record the sections in separate takes, so you just have to teach yourself the left-hand patterns and stretches if you want that sound. Here's an mp3 sample. Recording notes: Sennheiser MD 409 U3 - which came out of the legendary Sound City Studios - on one speaker, running mono... early 60's script-logo Sennheiser MD 421 on the other speaker, running through a Guyatone Tube Tremolo set for stereo panning. Ampex MX-10 mixer-preamplifier, no compression or equalization.

One more thing: if you mute the chords and step on a pedal, the buttons will give you a fat single-note bass. SUPER fat.

This Hammond has been sold.

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