When clock manufacturer Laurens Hammond introduced his first tone wheel organ in 1935, he had no idea that he’d launched a groundbreaking instrument that, more than 70 years later, would still have a major effect on musical styles. Initially, the Hammond organ was intended for churches and homes, but the semi-portable (only 400-pound!) model B-3 in 1954 brought this instrument to the forefront of jazz, R&B and rock ’n’ roll. The B-3 was the right instrument at the right time, but its soulful versatility and great voicings (combined with a Leslie rotating speaker from Don Leslie) soon made the instrument a mainstay in every genre of pop music.
Hammond B-3 with Leslie cabinet
With two five-octave keyboards; nine drawbars on each manual; two pedal drawbars; 10 presets; and switches for percussion, volume, decay, and harmonics and chorus/vibrato scanner, the B-3 is almost synthesizer-like, providing an incredible variety of sonic textures.
The tone wheel design uses a series of notched rotating wheels that create a tone picked up by magnetic coils, where each wheel’s rotational speed and number of notches determines its pitch. Minor variations at each point in the tone wheel help create the organic Hammond sound that simply can’t be duplicated by samplers and synthesizers.