Ahhh, the venerable HAMMOND B3 organ. Complete with Leslie cabinet, it's the preferred keyboard of progressive rockers, blues organists---and let's not forget churches.
But wait! This isn't a B3! Nope, it's an A-102. What gives?
The secret is the Hammond A-102 and C3 organs are B3s in a different box. For all intents and purposes, they're the same. The big difference mechanically is the A-102 adds its own internal amplifier and speakers, including a reverberation unit. Sweet! You don't need external amplification to run one of these, although a Leslie Model 147, which is usually paired with the A-100 series, really brings out that screamin' Hammond B3 sound.
I purchased this unit from Steve York in Windham, Maine, on June 30, 2001. Steve's normal line of business is restoring and selling jukeboxes, but occasionally he dabbles in other items. His e-mail address SEEBURGC is at aol.com if you'd like to drop him a line to ask about a jukebox or whatever else he may have available. What made me purchase the Hammond from him was, of course, how clean and great-sounding the A-102 was...plus, ummmmm, a quick look at his restored '65 Mustang hard top...impeccable! So, yeah, Steve really has his stuff together.
This particular A-102 had surprisingly "low mileage" on it. It was purchased back in 1965 by a mother whose daughter wanted to learn how to play, but, alas, the daughter moved on to other things. So the A-102 sat basically unplayed except on rare occasions.
Steve York purchased the organ and spent two months during the wintertime cleaning it up and getting it back into shape. It had the usual "sitting for a long time" crud within, but soon it was humming along nicely. He didn't want to part with it, but since he already has a B3 and needed the room, the A-102 had to go. I spied the ad on the Theatre Organs site (a great site, by the way).
To fetch the Hammond from Windham, Maine (a little over 100 miles away), I rented a pickup truck, and Ken Merbler (of Tronsounds fame) and I went on a road trip. Ken has a Mellotron Mark II road case, and the A-102 (at 47"Lx26"Dx38"H) fits in there perfectly, so we brought the case along. Good thing, too, since we were hit with thunderstorms on the way home. A co-worker, Mike Bishop, assisted with the unloading, which turned out to be much easier than we expected, despite the thunderstorm which had rolled in just as we got the organ to my place. As suggested by the seller Steve York (who has moved many heavy things), you slide out the object from the bed of the pickup until its front edge is on the ground. Then everyone can go to the back of the object and lift it off the truck, thus lifting only half the weight overall. Good plan, and it worked flawlessly.
And after shifting the thing around and getting it to its resting spot, Ken, Mike, and I had some brews and some dins.
Problems Encountered...And remedies...And some observations...
I just thought I'd keep a short log of the A-102.
Playing a Hammond
I'll tell you that I'm impressed with the Hammond. It's very easy to play and very fluid, and it feels good. The sound, although limited in timbre to "organ-like things", of course, is surprisingly variable thanks to the many drawbars and two independent manuals.
The A-102 has Hammond percussion, four sets of drawbars (two for the upper and two for the lower manual), two drawbars for the pedals, vibrato/chorus, and even reverberation. This unit has the common Hammond mod of taking the lowest drawbar setting for the lower manual and using it to get extra punch out of the pedals. And the A-102's old tube-based amp is very deep and warm to listen to, and for a forty year old amp it's not all that noisy.
I also like the presets, which are stored on the reverse-color keys on each manual. The "clarinet" preset, for example, sounds amazingly clarinet-like. Cello is not that bad, and French horn is definitely muted. I like being able to make my own "presets" using the two sets of drawbars on each manual. Each set of drawbars becomes its own "preset", and you can switch between the two of them using the highest two reverse-color keys on each manual. Very slick.
When I adjusted the percussion volume, the B3 percussion sound we all think about instantly appeared, and the sound came alive, despite their being no Leslie attached. The traditional windmill chops (glissandi or legato playing) now sport a nice "owwwww".
Recording the A-102
The A-102 has no "line out" to go into a mixer, so eventually I'll put one on. It's a simple mod using a jack and a few basic parts. Actually two mods are available for this. See the Hammond Wiki site for two similar ones, plus there's an additional entry in Mark Vail's Beauty in the B. An "earphone" jack modification is found in the A-100 Service Manual. And Tim S. from the Hammond e-mail list has been using his A-100 series machine directly from the preamp into the mixer:
I tried Tim's suggestion with some old amplified computer speakers, and, for sure, it does work without blowing them up. The Hammond output is fairly hot, though, so Tim says he just doesn't use any gain on the mixer. After all, why pad it down coming out of the preamp if you're only going to turn it up again anyway? Most folks do recommend a resistor between the line out of the Hammond preamp and any mixer or external amplifier. Use care.
So until I get to the mod, I'm playing with some microphones. One of the challenges is that because the A-102 would disturb the neighbors if played loudly, I need to keep it quiet. The other challenge is I really don't want to spend a great deal of dough on a microphone (but you knew that :-) ).
I tried using a Mark II MVM-88 microphone I found for short money, and that worked OK, but it was way too noisy/hissy because I had to keep the gain up at the mixer.
So I picked up an Electro-Voice N/D468 instrument microphone, which was on close-out at a local music store. It is much better for overall noise level, and it's very sensitive. Put it this way: You can pretty much hear me pressing the keys down despite the fact that the microphone is under the manuals near the speakers. And Larry, my finch, makes a chirpy appearance now and then. Go figure. :-) In Cakewalk's SONAR (via an Echo Audio Gina20 card) it sounds decent with a very even frequency response, perhaps with a little edge in the upper midrange. But that'd be expected from the frequency response chart which is included with the microphone, now that I look at it more closely.
Beware: When you go back and listen to your recordings, expect to hear keyclick and lots of other Hammond Organ artifacts, including a nice, even, warm bass. Gee.
Before discovering the "shocking" problem with the Leslie, I had the chance to listen to the organ through this magnificent device. At its slow speed you get a very effective dispersal of the sound. The Leslie indeed makes the Hammond full and sounding like it comes from "everywhere", and you can hear the sound of the horn ramping up and down as it spins slowly. At the high speed you can hear the vibrato clearly--it's intense. With certain drawbar settings, the Leslie's amp distorts slightly but very nicely. Overall the 222RV's sound is suh-weet and mellow, but I'm sure its 40 watts can get appropriately nasty if pushed.
Using the "Phono" input on the A-102's preamp, I was able to run my guitar through the organ's innards and into the Leslie for a very nice effect! Unfortunately because of that voltage problem, my guitar became electrified as well, so I had to end the experiment. When I get the shock problem sorted out, I'll get back to playing with this. The Mellotron ought to sound quite interesting through the Leslie!!!
Chops (of the wood kind)
It is a shame that people take to "chopping" these beautiful machines to make them into B3s or into portable organs. Given the condition of this organ, it'd be a real heartless thing to do to throw away the cabinet. So this A-102 is staying the way it is, mated to the 222RV.
For Hammond information:
Here's just a small list to get you started. There are many more sites on the 'net dedicated to this wonderful instrument.