The depressing history of the organ has been a steady but relentless reduction in quality, originating with gargantuan pipe organs, which believe it or not can be traced back to Ancient Greece and require an appreciable portion of a cathedral to house, and culminating in modern software simulations that do little to keep the legacy alive… Or so we thought. Hammond, a name synonymous with electric organs, have remerged to tackle this downhill trend head-on with the release of the XK-3C, and even a brief overview of the multitude of features is enough to render the most stubbornly nostalgic of organists ever so slightly rigid. Now although the original Hammond organs were manufactured as cheap substitutes for pipe organs, it wasn’t long before their signature timbre became revered among jazz musicians far and wide, and today, owners of recording studios would happily offer up a first born child in exchange for an original Hammond B-3, and it’s classic models such as this that Hammond Suzuki is trying to emulate with the new XK-3C. This is a compassionate emulation in the style of the original B-3, but with far more features, portability, and sex appeal. But it is specialized – if you’re looking for a keyboard that’s more of an all-rounder, may I suggest we part company here.
MODERN DAY CHAMPION
Traditional electric organs produced audio by utilizing a spinning magnetized cog in front of a pickup which forms a sine wave like tone, not surprisingly, this mechanism is known as a tone wheel, and the Hammond XK-3C lovingly simulates this with 96 individual digital oscillators, providing true polyphonic sound, and breathtaking authenticity. Harmonic overtones are controlled with an authentically styled full set of drawbars for both upper, lower, and pedals, and make experimenting with your tone addictively simple. So with the purchase of another midi keyboard and pedalboard, you’ll have the ultimate B-3 setup with complete tonal control. All the usual suspects are present in the form of parameters, including the traditional rotary Vibrato and Chorus control, Equalizer, Tone, Leslie, and Keyboard Split functions but there are many modern additions to this classic setup. First of all, the preamplifier is tube driven, with two selectable tubes, and a control to drive the tube from vintage warmth through to rockabilly fuzz.
In the digital realm, there is a bank of user Assignable Controls to make live use a breeze, a Pitch Bend and Mod wheel, Reverb, Amp and Cabinet simulations which sound stunning and include optional microphone angle and distance for added tonal control. The Leslie simulation is amazing, and provides the original controls for Brake, On, and Fast, which react with an eerie authenticity, but are made so much more versatile with the digital interface providing exact controls for speed. And get this, the XK-3C has a traditional 11-pin output for a direct connection to a genuine Leslie speaker cabinet.
BUILT TO LAST
Anyone who has dealt with an actual B-3 will know that maintaining the instrument is a career in itself, they are ancient and complex machines. This modern equivalent however is built to last, and without the mechanical components, will prove far more reliable than the original. It is a pleasure to play, and the sound quality is far beyond anything I have ever heard, and amazingly possesses a timbre surpassing all original B-3’s that I have ever had the pleasure of performing on. The fact is, the originals are never maintained as well as they need to be. So yes, this is an expensive unit, but the XK-3C is quite literally as good as it gets.
By Terry Hart