I had a nice afternoon on Saturday as the Hammond Organ road show pulled into my (ish) town. There were at a local Holiday Inn and had hired one of their conference rooms and basically setup most of their product range with Barrie and Malc in attendance. I go each year and its really nice to talk a little corporate and roadmap with Barrie and then dirty and technical with Malc (there’s not too much he doesn’t know about getting under the hood and making the device sound even more authentic.
There was a chap ahead of me taking almost all of Malc’s time so I quizzed Barrie on the Roadmap for the XK3, Leslie emulation, the relative merits (or otherwise) of the slightly too high price point of the XK1, the new SK1-88 which they had in stock but hadn’t sold many yet due to its release date, Motionsound Vs 2101 and much more.
I had an agenda too, I wanted to know what if anything was going to happen to the XK3c and if the much rumoured XK4 were to come out would it be compatible with the XLM (lower manual) and why don’t they just buy NEO and build the vent inside of it? Then I was interested in the SK series and whether or not pandering to the pianist (to simplify the question greatly) had effected the authenticity of the approach. And most importantly, why have you changed those drawbars!!
So here is what I learned. I don’t believe any of this is non-disclosure so I’ll crack on:
I asked about the rumoured XK4 and in short there is nothing on the roadmap at the moment. The Roadmap has a view up to 2015 so you are safe to buy, in my opinion, the best Hammond in the series without finding out that it has been discontinued a month later. The other excellent news is that now you are able to buy directly from Barrie at Hammond and not, as when I bought mine, from Germany or Japan. And the other good news is whereby when I was buying there was a considerable lead time Barrie says they always carry some in stock these days just in case a touring musician finds himself with a broken XK3 and needs it replacing ASAP. A definite improvement and it goes to show the benefit of having a UK vendor. In the past we only had a UK reseller in Darren who, to be fair, was excellent but wasn’t able to carry a load of stock. I’ve dealt with Hammond Zone in Northants a fair few times in the past and cant recommend them enough, certainly if you have a mechanical issue you need to run through Darren is adept, confident and knowledgeable.
So, no new Hammond for at least a bit then. Cool. My specific follow up enquiry about the lower manual was unfortunately not answered. It seemed unlikely that a “4” would have a form factor change but then the trend is towards the light and the real wood on the XK is where the real weight is being gained on the SK’s. That and the drawbar units. There was a hint that Hammond will be producing their own version of the Vent, which I applaud, but it would need a USP. The issue being of course that the market is now flooded with Leslie sims and we think everyone who wants one in the world probably owns one by now. Hammond would need to provide something that was so good it made us throw our Ventilators away. My suggestion would be something that understands the Hammond and how it is set – via Midi I guess. For example if the Sim had DSP overdrive to kill for then maybe it should be controlled via midi by the overdrive knob on the organ. that kind of intertwining with its partner device is the thing that would make me buy one. There are more examples I could come up with given time but you get the idea?
The new XK1c is pretty and Jim puts it through its pages here so there’s no need for me to do so as well but the only point that we made was that of the price point. Far too close to the SK series for comfort and I’m not sure who is going to buy it. I’m a purist and I would always got for the XK (I have pianos that make piano noises with piano weightings) but then the XK1c isn’t that pure to me, but it has the right drawbars!
I played the SK’s again. No I don’t like the drawbars but I understand why they are there being as they are far more simplistic in terms of piece of metal running along a contact strip and having a smaller real estate and importantly weight. As usual I couldn’t get to the sound I needed very quickly. I like the tweak on the bottom end (could have been the motion sound it was plugged into to) that was really nice but the overdrive was either not really playing a part or stealing the show (in a bad fizzy kind of way). I understand that out of the box is not the way to go on stage and with all of these organs there is work to be done to up the authenticity of the sound but comparing the XK3 and this out of the box the XK was better. Arbitrary at best I agree. If you want the dual manual and the weight and the extra voices then this really is a winner there is no doubt about it, as will be the 88 note single drawbar that has just been released. Session heaven! You know what, its was okay. Would I do a 50 mile round trip to fetch my own if I was playing on the bill with someone who would let me use his SK. Yup.
But this brings me onto something else. Clearly the marketing strategy has expanded from the purists to also looking to pick up the pianists, noodlers and session musicians and it will work well I’m sure. But here’s the thing, playing piano on a Hammond weighted key feels odd and vice versa and I noticed on the new breed (SK’s) that it seemed like there was a tactical change in the keybed to kind of reach a middle ground between the organists and the pianists in the way that they played. I couldn’t really get on with it and if I gave it the full Jon Lord I thought I might end up with blood on the organ (its not the done thing to bleed at a roadshow). Its preference of course and don’t forget that I have been playing my XK exclusively for years but I wondered whether this marketing was the case. Shrewd for sure, for me? No.
I’d like to think I am open minded and if it was better I would jump at it but in honesty I am very turned off by the look of the SK’s – to me they are synths as authentic as the other clones but do not carry with them the heritage that the XK3 and XK Pro play to, the chorus wheel, the half moon (Accessory) the right drawbars (!) etc… This is by design of course and actually I think that it will improve the brand, profits and longevity of the venture so I welcome it. Its just not for me. Too harsh?
Don’t forget that if you cut my fingers down the middle they would say Hammond so I am biased in every way towards their products and I know friends who are outspoken about their Mojo’s (I get to play one in April at a gig in Portsmouth and am very much looking forwards to it):
And so it was an excellent and enjoyable time shooting the breeze all things Hammond. I learned a few interesting things, hope you did!