Gert Prix
The Devil’s Work or a Musical Instrument to be Taken Seriously?

Somehow it took quite some time for the Hammond organ to find its way into the jazz-rock-pop scene that would ensure it a lasting and undisputed leading role in the field of electrified sounds. The start had been extremely auspicious. When on 15 April 1935, the Hammond organ was first presented to the public in New York’s Radio City Hall, its success was somehow already on the cards, since the industrial production of a new kind of musical instrument was a guarantee of jobs. And so the authorities for once smoothed a few paths, including the unusually rapid granting of a patent. And then of course there was the instrument itself, which could boast quite a few advantages in a direct comparison with traditional pipe organs.

For instance its tuning stability: As long as the mains socket provides the required 50 or 60 Hz alternating current, there is nothing to prevent a well-tempered performance, and even if the socket fails to meet this standard, the Hammond is still in tune with itself. Or its portability: A few decades ago, the possibility of replacing the tons of organ pipes by a few kilos from the House of Hammond was a welcome opportunity. Or for example the variety of sounds: Challenging the “queen of instruments” is of course not without risk, and not even the 253 million timbres that the Hammond Group proudly announced as being the instrument’s sound potential were of much use – although this figure is probably merely the result of a rough estimate and in reality is most likely even higher. Or its price: There is no price list for pipe organs, since these are always customized solutions. However, one wouldn't go far wrong by estimating the price of the Hammond organ at around 10 % of the usual budget … However, there is no argument that can describe the experience that the recipients, experienced or inexperienced, skilled or unskilled, already convinced or still unconvinced, undergo when they let themselves be submerged by the sound of the Hammond.

Hammond EThe Hammond E model displayed here is one I found in Munich. It had come there via England, and was owned by a musician who, just like me, was infected by an incurable Hammond virus. What were my first thoughts when I, now the owner, turned to the details of the Hammond E? The round preset keys to the left of the manuals somehow inspired me, but more from a lyrical than from a musical point of view. This typewriter design was ultimately the result of one of the corrections demanded by Preset keys of the Hammondorganconservative church organists that induced Hammond to adjust his already successful layout and bring it even closer to the religious: register stops for the manuals and the bass pedal, two swell pedals so that the volume of the two manuals could be regulated separately, the possibility to check the position of these swell pedals visually by means of cables, the more traditional design of the preset registers already described, and finally two and a half octaves on the bass pedal, the keys of which were now also arranged in a concave pattern.

With all these features, this Hammond E is absolutely unique amongst the incredibly wide range of models produced by the most legendary and most influential manufacturer of electric and electronic organs. What appeared to be commercial madness truly succeeded with the legendary and ineffaceable Hammond B3. But it is the Hammond E that represents the perfect symbiosis of religious tradition and secular innovation!