Gear Corner (part 4)

Tonewheels and Clonewheels
 
As a break from going on and on about guitars, today I'll be taking a look at David's organs (absolutely no pun intended).
 
Specifically, I'll be taking a look at David's Hammond organs, and as you'll see, some of them are genuine vintage Hammond organs using the old tonewheel systems that create that tone we all know and love, and some of them are modern units using mainly digital technology to clone this much loved sound, hence the term that has passed into keyboard geek parlance; clonewheel. 
 

Dave's OB3 where it currently resides in my home studio

Indeed it was a clonewheel that Dave was using when our musical paths first began to cross, an Oberheim OB3 squared.  First introduced in 1997, the OB3 squared was Oberheim's attempt at improving on their original OB3, and to show they were serious they co-opted organ manufacturer Viscount to help them out. The result was a good one. A very good one. For its time. 
 
Though I still have a soft spot for this particular organ, when you put it next to a genuine tonewheel equipped organ, it's shortcomings begin to show. For this reason, the OB3 squared has never appeared on an Anubis record, though it was used at a number of Anubis gigs in the very early days. It's currently residing in my home studio, ready for an appearance on the odd demo here and there. 
 
The first organ to make it onto an Anubis album was a genuine tonewheel organ; the Hammond L-100. Well an L-122 actually, but as far as I'm aware, the last two digits of the model number indicate differences in cabinet design and colour rather than the inner workings so most L1XX model Hammonds are generally referred to as an L-100. (Any keyboard boffins out there can feel free to correct me here if I'm wrong).
 

David using the L-100 during the 230503 sessions

The L-100 was used for the recording of both "230503" and "Tower". In order to complete the classic organ sound for the recording of each album, we used a tube mic preamp to create a bit of overdrive and a Boss RT-20 pedal for Leslie speaker simulation. 
 
The L-100, RT-20 combination always sounded great, certainly the best organ sound we'd ever had at our disposal. It was also extraordinarily heavy. This meant that for gigs, Dave was either using the OB3 or three or four of us were taking on the Herculean task of lifting the L-100 in an out of each venue, something that none of us were that keen on, even if it did sound great. 
 
The solution at the time was to chop it in half. Literally to remove the speakers and pedals, move a few components into the upper sections, then cut and remove the lower part of the cabinet, making it (marginally) lighter and more manageable to move around. 
 

The L-100 after the chop

At some point Dave must have decided that lugging the L-100 around was still too much effort as he decided to invest in a Nord C2. 
 
Although a clonewheel, the Nord was a vast improvement over the OB3 and sounded almost as good as the L-100. Almost. The added bonuses were that it was portable and also had some great Farfisa sounds on board that Dave had also used on the albums. The L-100's days were sadly numbered. 
 
By this time, for Leslie simulation, Dave had moved on to using the H&K Tube Rotosphere MkII as its Leslie effect was mostly as good as the RT-20 but it's overdrive effect was far and away better, meaning that the RT-20 moved onto my pedalboard. It's still in my current effects rack to this day. 
 
Though Dave has gigged widely with it, the Nord, H&K combo still hasn't made it onto an Anubis album as Dave was soon to make the most radical change yet to his rig. This was mainly due to the fact that the keyboard rig at this stage, consisted of a lot of keyboards that were heavy to lug around (though not as bad as an L-100), took a lot of time to set up correctly, took up a lot of stage space and presented too many possibilities for equipment failure. At some point I also think that Dave felt that some of the available software options were finally beginning to meet his very high sonic standards.
 
Enter GSi's VB3. It's a tidy bit of software that actually has a very, very good Hammond tonewheel sound and has a great Leslie simulation as well. It's this sound that was used for the "Hitchhiking" album. 
 
Since the VB3 only weighs as much as the laptop you load it onto, load in and set-up times were vastly improved when Dave switched to a fully software driven rig which includes a Mac laptop, two (or three depending on setlist) midi controller keyboards and a bunch of software instruments including the VB3. This is the setup Dave has been using live most recently, and is the setup heard on the "Behind Our Eyes" live album. 
 

Dave's most recent acquisition, an L-111

That brings us to the present day, and a further development has occurred just this week. In fact we have just picked up another L-100. (This time an L-111) Why you might ask? Well as great as the current keyboard rig sounds, and as much as it is the most practical touring solution, for gear-heads like us it just lacks a certain something. There is something about the sound of a genuine tonewheel equipped Hammond organ that is truly wonderful. I know that Dave also feels that there is something about the experience of playing one that is exciting in a way, and brings out the best in him as a player. Don't misunderstand, there is absolutely no way that we are going to take this out touring. This L-100 is going to live permanently in our studio where after some routine servicing and a couple of small modifications (more on that later), she'll be ready to use on the next Anubis album. 
 
Anyway I hope you've enjoyed this departure from talking about guitars for a while. Dave is also writing up a bit of a history and evolution of his entire rig, which will probably contradict everything I've said here so stay tuned for that. 
 
Dean

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