THE HAMMOND ORGAN
My Hammond Story - was the Hot Humid Summer '97, Bayamon PR.
My Hammond Journey, began in Bayamon (Barrio Cerro Gordo) PR, but I digress to how this happened later on.....
So my residence in Central Virginia had me living close to a myriad of Baptist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Orthodox, Protestant, and a few Catholic plus all of the wonderful Christian Houses of Worship variants. I say wonderful when Pastors are humble, not the Millionaire Charlatans on TV.
Churches often have a Hammond, Baldwin or even a Wurlitzer Organ on duty in some sort of operational or functional challenge.
So as a Christian, with my God given talents and skills in the art of Vintage Electronics and Restoration, my journey with the Hammond Organ began many years ago, in my home nation, Puerto Rico.
Not in a Church, it began in the most unlikely of places, in Cerro Gordo, a suburb of Bayamon, PR.
How did this all come about?
Well my best friend (R.I.P dearest Rick, miss you Brother!) worked at the V.A. Hospital, and Rick became acquainted with a retired Veteran, nicknamed Piro who loved Hammonds.
Piro and Rick would make small talk about the great players and the lore of the Hammond sounds.
Piro was an amateur Hammond Organ player, and loved his C3, and working out at the Gym was his main passion.
As Piro stated "Yo soy un fisiculturista".
Piro owned a sad old Hammond C3, but a very nice Leslie 147 Tone Cabinet. His C3 Hammond setup was new to us, but not totally unfamiliar. Jimmy Smith, John Lord, Keith Emerson, Richard Wright, Greg Allman, and the Hammond collective of players I grew up listening to since the early 70's when I was turning 10 made the Organ/Leslie visually familiar.
I knew the Hammond/Leslie sound well, and now I was standing in front of a real Hammond, but a very sick Hammond.
My friend Rick was not that much into the Electronics, Rick was a Luthier, had a Green Thumb and loved to Play Guitar and Bass. Rick was an avid collector and also a lyricist.
Rick's younger brother Len, now Len was a self taught "Master Troubleshooter", and one of the nicest most humble guys you can ever meet, and so was Rick. These brothers were cool, and I was super fortunate to be on their good guy list. Their Mom was my backup Mom and I hung out at their house, never needed to call ahead. Their door was always wide open and I was always greeted with a smile and a cold glass of Iced Tea.
Len whom I learned so much from, Len could fix literally anything you threw at Him, and I mean the most wretched Car, Amp, Lawn Mower, Pressure Washer, Typewriter, anything.
So one unlikely rainy evening, we all piled into my 1993 Saturn SL2, Len was a Huge Guy, so He had to slump over in the Front Seat pushed all the way back.
I drove from Rio Piedras to Bayamon to Piro's house in the middle of a tropical rain storm, it got dark fast and there was water everywhere in the roads.
When we arrived, I met Piro for the very first time, His lovely Wife, a Tupperware full of Hammond Organ Tubes, a Hammond C3 Organ and a Leslie 147 Tone Cabinet. All in a steamy hot Living Room.
I was surprised how this Leslie Speaker had the spinning parts, I knew about, but had never seen in person.
Wow, I thought that was very cool indeed, a spinning Dual Trumpet Horn, and a Big Drum under the 15" Woofer also spinning at two speeds, Tremolo and Chorale. The Leslie speed switch was cracked and broken, but still worked.
The Hammond Organ was obviously not working well, and sounded really, really and I mean anemic.
Piro said that in order to get the Organ into his Living Room, He had to cut the organ up into pieces and then re-assemble it.
Homes in Puerto Rico are made of Concrete, so sledge hammering a door opening was worse than cutting the Organ up into smaller pieces and re-assembling it, I suppose?
This was Piro's agenda; getting the Organ working.
As we sat there staring at this wonderful old Hammond Organ that barely had any real sound or volume we marveled at the Dual Keyboards and all of the old wires plus the fat Leslie Cable.
This C3 Hammond Organ needed at least a 40" wide opening to fit in the front door, and Doors are 34" to 38", so chop, chop. I would have taken more care to get the organ into the living room, but what do I know, I wasn't there for the chop session anyhow.
Now when we opened the rear of the organ, by removing the large cover, we were greeted by a total rats' nest of cables, it looked scary to me, but also challenging.
When I touched a dangling shielded cable, I got a nasty 120V shock, so the whole Hammond Preamp was 'alive with a hot chassis' with AC Mains, waiting for some fool like me to touch it or even dare to.
It was all scary and frightening, but also fascinating. Something was beckoning us to get it going...
Piro stated that a guy from Cayey, came to work on the Organ several times, and made it sound from Zero #0 to like #2 out of #10.
Well when we started moving wires, the sound disappeared. If we could call it sound at all, so that kicked started our journey with Hammond Organs, one that I revisited in 2011 and only recently stopped due to workload and lack of available Saturdays.
This event at Piro's house started a 6 month's Hammond adventure, with almost weekly visits and we tried every trick we knew to get this Organ going.
The compensation was not money, it was in the form of Pizza, Soda and old Hammond parts for my buddies, who collected old amps and things.
My buddies started to become discouraged after a couple of month's, and it was all hit-and-miss. Piro would call us every week begging for us to come over. Often the motivation was not there. But eventually we would drive over and try again and again.
The Leslie had an 8 Ohm 15" Woofer (so wrong, but typical), the Hammond was a mix of several donor Hammond's, as we noted down serial numbers and reverse engineered what was there.
This Hammond C3 Organ was a hybrid of parts and was a put together from various Hammonds, as if one went to a Hammond Junker and built one from different year parts, go figure. It helped us with wire tracing and making sure that the connections were correct.
Both the AO-28 Preamp and the Leslie 147 Amplifier required many hours of bench work, new parts, new tubes and all sorts of testing.
Each trip to Piro's place, inched the Organ closer, then farther from the goal of awesome sound.
Sometimes it would almost want to play, other times not so much.
To make this very long story short, after we literally went through every single aspect of the Organ, and the Leslie Tone Cabinet, we almost gave up, almost.
The Organ would just refuse to sound nothing short of anemic, with low volume and weird tone.
Then out of sheer frustration, one night, after we had ordered a replacement TREK Speed Control box We decided to tear open the manuals (top and lower) and this was no easy task, to uncover all of the controls on the organ and remove the covers of the Upper and lower Manuals. Lots of screws and careful lifting into the unknown....
This was the moment, the moment when we all said AHA, wow, hey look at this!
What we discovered, were completely rusted out switches, likely from decades of spilled-drinks in Bar's, not Churches, well unless it was in the Church of the Cuba Libre :)......
All the Hammond Rocker switches implement long flexible metal parts and contacts so we did our best to clean the rust off the contacts, and sprayed them down with DeOxit D5 and finished them with a dose of Pro-Gold.
So we proceeded to re-assemble the organ and installed a nice Trek Leslie speed control switch as the Half-Moon switch was all cracked and really beyond repair, and the original was around $250, while the Trek Box we had ordered some weeks prior was $99.
Once we put Humpty-Dumpty back together again it was almost 10:00pm and time to call it quits.
So Piro flipped the Start Switch, then the Run Switch, the organ powered up, the Leslie started to spin in Chorale mode and we noticed that the usual Hum was almost gone, and we thought, Great, we now killed the sound for good.
When Piro made the usual Blues Chord with the Expression pedal floored, we almost got blown out of the room.
The Expression Pedal was always running at maximum anyhow, but this made the Dogs in the neighborhood start barking.
That was one of the High-Five moments in my Hammond Journey.
We had solved the mystery of the anemic Hammond. The smile on Piro's face was beyond anything.
It was all due to old rusty switches where all of the sound was being lost. Percussion, etc, it was now all back, and with a vengeance.
The Bro's went back one last time...
I bowed out after that session due to high workload at Cellular ONE, but my friends visited Piro one last time to install a correct 15", 16 Ohm Driver we ordered from MCM Electronics (now Newark) in the Leslie, and replaced both top and bottom belts.
This my readers, was my Hammond Organ baptismal phase, 6 month's of work, disappointment and lots of learning by doing.
My friends were all but discouraged and complained that we never really got paid.
But they made off with (2) Leslie 147 amps, an old Tone Cabinet and various Hammond parts, including a full AO-28 spare Preamp.
I made off with free training and knowledge that I still carry with me to this day. Whenever I come upon a Hammond Organ, be it a Classic B3, M3, C3 or ano of the A100 or A variants, I always ask for permission to go through it for free. I usually get puzzled looks from people who don't believe that I know how to work on Hammonds.
This learning was all back in the year 1997-1998 when I was working at Cellular ONE as an Equipment Engineering Supervisor and had two wonderful AutoCAD Drafters.
This was the pre-GSM 2G era, and I would leave that world eventually, to return 5 years later to a 2G GSM centric wireless market with something called SIM Cards...... (am I dating myself here, ah heck why not).
Fast Forward to the decade 2010-2020
My return to the Hammonds, happened at a gathering in Lynchburg in the year 2011. We were attending a party down Old Forest Rd. at a community center, and I met a few musicians and we started to talk.
In the conversation I met Andy, who was a Piano Tuning Expert and also a Bass Player. I also met a real good Guitar player from Staunton VA Jeremy Soule and also Glenn who was a professor at Lynchburg College and a mean Keyboard, Flute, Sax player (now known as the University of Lynchburg).
Andy was thrilled that I knew about Hammond Organs, and I told him that I was always willing to serve God and Christ through my own talents as long as the Churches would cover the cost of the parts, I would not charge for Gas or Labor. This helped Andy leverage his formal Piano Tuning business while I kept myself up early on Saturday's, and also kept me away from Booze on Friday's, a great thing for me to wake up normal on a Saturday morning.
I can even remember my first Hammond A100, it was at a small musty Baptist Church, just north west of the City of Lynchburg on a small road next to the banks of the James River.
This started a multi-year Hammond Pro-Bono restoration stint where I would go at night to Oil up Hammonds and work on Saturday's.
I became quite popular in the area as I wasn't charging labor, I would just pass the cost of the parts/shipping/taxes off to the Church and enjoy working and helping my fellow Christians in their Worship of our lord Jesus Christ and our Holy father. Anything I could do in the service of our lord was good for me and made me feel good inside. And prayed every time I worked on a Hammond, especially when things got difficult.
I even worked on a Solid State Wurlitzer Organ (I really regretted that, Solid State is far more difficult than tubes and I was living then in Ashburn VA and would drive down on Friday evening to stay at a friends house to then work on the Wurlitzer and then drive back up to Ashburn on Saturday afternoon).
So here are the pictures of my adventures and some video's I took. I also visited several private owners to work on their organs all pro-bono.
Eventually as I had expected, I just ran out of spare time as my job became more complex with much more travel. I eventually just threw-in the towel and said goodbye to the Hammond adventures.
My recent Hammond adventure was somewhat bloody.....
These old Organs are no longer considered 'repairs'. They are so old that they really require 'restoration'. And they are very large to transport, costly to visit and Churches are not exactly the best place for Lighting and working on floors, hunched over with a flashlight looking for the wires and oil funnels.
I share these pictures and some descriptions for what it's worth. If anyone has any Hammond questions, feel free to send them over to me. I have over 20 years of Hammond exposure and know a few tricks myself.
The last Hammond I worked on was off Route 29 in Amherst County, VA.
This organ had a pesky noise that would come and go. I went to that Church at least 8 visits and each time I would think, yeah I got t now. But a few weeks later I would get an e-mail from the Pastor saying that the noise had returned.
After all of my restoration work on the whole Organ, guess what? It was a faulty Vibrato Scanner. The very last thing ANYONE who knows Hammond Organs wants to service/change.
The session where I ordered a good used Vibrato Scanner from Ebay cut my arms open and I bled for a few hours as I removed the old Vibrato Scanner, while I drew out the many wires one-by-one on paper.
When I got it all soldered back up, the noise went away for good..... If you want to know what a noisy Vibrato Scanner sounds like, just look at this video I took. This is a very deceiving Hammond problem and almost every expert I texted told me it was a Mechanical fault in the system, but they each suggested different things. But one thing was correct, it was a spinning defective Vibrato Scanner. Once these units go bad, you have to fix or replace. Fixing a Vibrato Scanner is a mechanical task, dirty and oily. Also takes some skill and finesse. I decided to order a good used and be done.
So once I came to the conclusion that it was the Vibrato Scanner, from an obscure YouTube video that had the exact same noise and the guy said it was a faulty Vibrato Scanner.
And by golly it was correct, that freakin Vibrato Scanner was bad from day #1, the same noise that woud come and go.
Here is what that faulty Vibrato Scanner sounded like..... and once you know this sound, you will never forget it expecially Me who spent hours on the floor, with a lamp, just looking for something I could pin that noise on. It seemed to come out of the Tone Cabinet, but I had isolated it to the Organ by disconnecting the balanced audio lines from the AO-28 preamp a few weeks prior.
Then, the job of taking out the faulty Vibrato Scanner was not simple. And my arms got all cut on sharp metal cable tags. The whole operation was about 3 hours from start to finish.
The rebuild of a Vibrato Scanner service was quoted close to $300 by a reputable Hammond Technician, but a used Vibrato Scanner, this was only $35 on EBay. The Pastor was very pleased, I was relieved that finally that noise was gone for good.
I will continue to develop this page further, but organizing the work I did is a challenge, as it is a mosaic of different videos and pictures. After all, I was just restoring Hammonds for fun, and not really tracking my work.
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