Hammond XK-1 :  A Whole Lotta organ in one small package

Clonewheels. Wanna-Bs. Virtual B-3s. Combo organs. There are almost as many names for this genre of keyboards as there are models in it, but the mission is singular: re-create the sound of the legendary Hammond B-3 organ and rotating Leslie speaker.

Hammond’s new XK-1 is a more compact, less expensive alternative to the flagship single-manual organ, the XK-3. Even though the more modest XK-1 connects neither physically nor electronically to the XK system and has fewer controls on it than the XK-3, Hammond hasn’t cut back on anything to do with sound quality. Competition is keen in this area, though. You’ll be glad to know that the Hammond name buys you the Hammond mojo.

You may be familiar with the single manual Hammond organs from the past several years. The XK-1’s size is right between their discontinued XB-2 and current XK-3.

The XK-1 is capable of upper, lower, and pedal parts, with an adjustable split point and a cool “manual bass” function that makes the pedal part playable at the bottom end of the keyboard. Although it won’t work with the XLK-3 lower manual, its two MIDI in jacks let you plug in a MIDI controller for the lower manual, and/or a pedal board such as Hammond’s XPK-100. Full polyphony means you can lay a couple of iron bars across the keyboard with all drawbars out and not lose any notes.

Modelling has been a big buzzword in Hammond B-3 simulation. The core drawbar tones on the XK-1 are sample-based. Don’t think that’s a step backward. The XK-1 uses the same “long loop” sampling method as the five-figure New B-3, and the resulting sound is warm, rich, and full. The drawbar tones interact with one another musically and pleasantly, the way they would on a vintage B.

With effects turned off and EQ set flat on both, the XK-1 is bright, with more defined drawbar frequencies. For example, if you started with all drawbars out (i.e. at full volume), then removed one of the top four, it’s easy to tell which tone was missing.

On a real B, harmonic percussion – that all-important jazz “ping” – sounds very organic, almost like somebody tapping a mostly-full glass with a spoon. The XK-1 nails this, especially in the lower registers, which is where many clones show a synthetic quality. The percussion also does two things not possible on a real B-3. First, you can select a mode where key velocity affects percussion volume. Second, you can have the second and third harmonics sounding at the same time.

Foldback – the re-cycling of very high or very low drawbar tones as you move up or down the extreme ends of the keyboard – is adjustable, and though the XK-1 lacks the individually tweak-able virtual tonewheels of the XK-3, ten tonewheel sets offer more than enough variety when it comes to leakage, frequency response, and other character details. There’s even a “Cheap Transistor” set for that Vox/Farfisa sound made famous by bands like “The Doors”.

The XK-1 performs superbly at live gigs. Its sound interacts with a room in the way you would expect from a real B. The onboard EQ sounds natural when you do need it. You select the band you want to boost or cut (bass, midrange, or treble) with the “Tone Type” button, then turn the dedicated knob.

You’d have to say thanks to Hammond for including pitch and modulation wheels, and up to three-zone velocity-sensitive control of external sound modules. Budget-minded buyers will also appreciate that the XK-1 uses a standard 1/4″ input for the expression pedal.

If it’s all about that ballsy B-3 sound, great keyboard feel, Leslie simulation that runs with the best of ’em, and a fistful of real drawbars to grab instead of MIDI faders or increment buttons. The XK-1 steps up to the plate and slams one into the stands. As for the imitators? Hammond has taken its name back.

Clonewheel: A play on the word “tonehweel.” Vintage Hammond organs contained a multitude of coin-sized metal discs, situated along a spinning shaft. Pickups would read the magnetic variations caused by teeth cut into the edges of these whirling tonewheels. Different tooth patterns created different frequencies.
Leakage: In a real B, the tonewheels are so close together that each can be “heard” a little by pickups meant for its closest neighbors, as well as its own pickup. The overall effect is a wash of many different frequencies at once that you can hear way in the background. It’s one of those “wrong” things that’s become a sought-after aspect of the classic B-3 sound.
Leslie: Originally designed by Don Leslie, this powered speaker featured a woofer and tweeter that each fired through a separate rotating deflector. This literally spun the sound all over the room, and when that sound was the B-3, the combination changed music forever.

Number of Presets: 120
Virtual Tonewheel Sets: Real B-3, ’80s Clean, Noisy, Noisy 60, Full Flats, Husky, Flute Lead, Classic X-5, Voxy Full, Cheap Transistor.
Leslie Models Simulated: 122, 147, 760, 710, and 825.

Waterfall keys: have a square shape and slightly rounded front edge with no “lip,” are a must for serious B-3 simulation. Hammond put them on the original B-3 and other vintage models for cost reasons. Classical organists accustomed to overhanging, wedge-shaped pipe organ keys complained, but jazz and rock players loved ’em, especially for playing “wipes” — glissandi with the palm of the hand. The XK-1’s waterfall keyboard doesn’t have quite the heft of a real B-3; it’s a bit springier but it’s still excellent. I’d rate it as a little smoother than the Clavia Nord Electro 2’s action, but a hair less silky and quiet than Hammond’s own XK-3.

An 8-pin jack: lets you connect the organ directly to a Leslie 2101 system, and Hammond sells an adaptor for hooking up 11-pin models like the Leslie 771.

Manual Bass” brings the pedal part to the keyboard’s bottom two octaves, ideal for gigs where you kick left-hand bass.

Adjust” preset button instantly switches to the current physical drawbar settings. Select whether the drawbars affect the upper, lower, or pedal registration with these buttons.

Waterfall keyboard feels like a real B-3, and can transmit velocity, but not aftertouch, to internal non-organ sounds and external MIDI devices.

One cost-cutting measure is a single set of drawbars in place of the XK-3’s upper, lower, and pedal sets. The XK-1 still has three independent parts for upper, lower, and pedal keyboards.

A 3-band EQ helps you tailor the XK-1’s sound to the room you happen to be playing in. These buttons control either a modern, external Leslie, or the built-in simulation. The latter is Hammond’s best effort yet in this area.

Pitch and mod wheels on an organ? We think it’s a thoughtful addition in case you want to control an external sound module with the XK-1.

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