Farewell then, New Combo Organ Project…

In 2004 I started an on-line think-tank called the New Combo Organ Project. The idea was to discuss the possibility of producing a modern version of a Vox- or Farfisa-style combo organ. At the time, all available organs aimed at gigging musicians were limited to reproducing the sound of a Hammond-type organ, and it seemed that musicians who preferred the quirkier sounds of 1960s transistor organs were being ignored.

The people who joined me included musicians, manufacturing technologists, electronics and computer experts and vintage keyboard collectors. There were discussions of what type of tone generation to use, MIDI implementation and so forth. I even produced a 3D visualisation of a possible MIDI module which I named the ComBox.

Of course, it never happened. You can’t buy a ComBox, and you never will be able to. But I realised that seven years on, you CAN buy a new combo organ, functionally equivalent to a Vox or Farfisa, and that perhaps our work was done. Only not by us. So I sent what may be a final message to the New Combo Organ Project:

“I don’t mean to sound defeatist, but it’s been more than seven years since the New Combo Organ Project started, and nobody has yet built a prototype oscillator/divider board, never mind a whole organ.

Or have they? I never thought it would happen like this, but the world of vintage keyboards has changed a lot in seven years. The New Combo Organ exists! Seven years ago, the term “combo organ” meant two very different things, depending on whether you were a fan or an instrument manufacturer. Companies like Roland and Korg applied the term to instruments which could only produce Hammond-type sounds, rather than the Vox and Farfisa sounds that Combonauts were seeking. There was clearly a gulf of misunderstanding between the two groups, with even a whiff of resentment towards these manufacturers who used the name “combo organ” but couldn’t be bothered to make an instrument that would satisfy real combo enthusiasts.

And now we find ourselves in another decade, and real combo organs are being made again, not by experimenters tinkering in kitchens and basements but by major brands such as Hammond-Suzuki and Clavia! Yes - the Hammond SK-1 and SK-2, as well as Clavia’s Nord Electro 3, Nord Stage and C1/C2 organs have fully functional models of Vox and Farfisa combo organs alongside tonewheel simulations. These are not samples or tweaked versions of the tonewheel models - they use the instrument’s drawbars or drawbuttons to control the correct waveforms and footages as if they were Vox drawbars or Farfisa tabs.

You can buy a Hammond SK1 or a Nord Electro or C2 and use it as a Vox or a Farfisa. You can combine the correct voices to produce the sounds of the ‘60s, ‘70s or tomorrow.

The New Combo Organ is here, and we should celebrate the fact. Maybe we don’t NEED a New Combo Organ Project any more.“

Simon Beck

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