There's no other sound in the world quite like the breathy, swirling tones of the Hammond B3 Organ and its companion Leslie rotary speaker cabinet. Rock artists like Steve Winwood and Keith Emerson made great use of them. It's hard to imagine blues, gospel, R&B and soul music without the B3. Just a few of the jazz artists who've made its sound central to their musical vocabulary are Joey DeFrancesco, Larry Young, Barbara Dennerlein and especially the late, great Jimmy Smith. It was cutting-edge technology in the 1930s, and a few die-hards still haul around these big beasts to gigs. However, at 400 lb., moving a real B3 not to mention the Leslies around takes some serious grunt-work and requires a truck to transport.
Fortunately for today's players, there are some great instruments that capture much of the B3's great sound in configurations that are much easier to get to the gig. Hammond, the manufacturer of the original B3, has produced a series of lightweight, well-thought-out digital keyboards that emulate their ancestor convincingly. These include the XK-3c Drawbar Organ with three sets of drawbars to create the rich harmonics of the original and convincing Leslie sounds. Tube circuitry reproduces the rich musical distortion of vintage B3s.
Roland makes several very popular B3-emulating instruments. Their VR-09 V-Combo Organ has nine harmonic bars, plus newly developed transistor-type ‘60s organ tone. It also offers a full range of effects as well as other instrument voices making it a super-versatile instrument for the performers who wants to minimize their stage rigs.
Nord is another serious contender in the world of B3 emulation. A lot of B3 addicts who use drawbars as well as keys have given up their vintage B3s in favor of the far more portable Nord C2D Combo Organ. With two physical sets of drawbars per manual as well as a sweet selection of organ sounds that will satisfy all but the most purist B3 players, it gives the performer the feel of a traditional instrument.
Another tactic is to re-create the B3's sound in virtual form on the computer, an especially attractive option for computer-based composers. You’ll find a huge selection of B3-type sounds among the massive collection of virtual instrument software at Musician’s Friend. Most DAW software comes with cool retro organ sound samples. You may already be sitting on a perfectly usable B3 sound.
There are also speakers and effect units that zero in on the Leslie rotating speaker sound that's integral to the B3 sound.The Hammond Leslie 3300 Rotary Speaker re-creates the classic old-school B3 sounds while being compatible with just about any electronic keyboard.
Guitar players, notably Jimi Hendrix and Robin Trower, have made extensive use of various effects to emulate the Leslie sound. The Electro-Harmonix B9 Organ Machine has nine presets that closely emulate signature B3 sounds. Plug it in ahead of your guitar or keyboard and treat yourself to sum organic fun!
So the next time you want to put a little church or chitlin' circuit vibe in your sound, there's a lot of gear and software that'll help you get it. And you won't necessarily need a truck and a bunch of grumbling bandmates to help you haul it around.
Check out the huge selection of keyboards and MIDI gear at Musician’s Friend.