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Roland VK-8 Combo Organ Review

Roland’s new VK-8 Combo Organ is an updated version of their groundbreaking VK-7. Like the VK-7, the VK-8 uses Roland’s Virtual Tonewheel Technology to accurately recreate the distinctive sounds of the classic drawbar organs of the 60’s and 70’s, right down to the mechanical inconsistencies (such as tonewheel leakage and key click) that make a vintage organ sound just the way it does. I’m a keyboard player with an affinity for vintage instruments, and I found the VK-8 to be exquisite, not just in sound, but also in the overall feel of the instrument.

Along with a full set of 9 harmonic drawbars, the VK-8 boasts a waterfall keyboard, which I found to be especially handy for pulling off the trademark sweeps that make a tonewheel organ such a joy to play. The VK-8 also has two MIDI in ports, which makes it possible to simultaneously connect a second keyboard controller (for the lower manual) and a pedal keyboard (such as Roland’s PK-5) for the ultimate tactile recreation of a classic tonewheel organ. What’s more, most of the controls for the VK-8, such as percussion, vibrato/chorus, and controls for the rotary speaker are laid out exactly as they would be on a classic tonewheel organ, giving it an instant familiarity for anyone who’s at home on the original.

The VK-8 also makes use of Roland’s COSM technology, offering three types of amplifier models (with overdrive), reverb, chorus, and, of course, rotary speaker modeling. A D-Beam controller on the VK-8 offers a modern twist, giving the player control over crescendo, rotary speaker speed, a tonewheel brake, a ring modulator, or ‘spring shock’ (the sound made by jarring a spring reverb). I found the D-beam to be a powerful performance tool, adding an extra (touch-free) dimension to an already solid recreation of the classic tonewheel organ.

To put the VK-8 through its paces, I hooked up with some of my fellow Sweetwater sales engineers (a guitarist and a drummer) to lay down some jazz funk. I started by using the VK-8’s presets, but soon found myself primarily using the drawbars to shape the organ’s sound. I ran the organ directly into the mixer, and was delighted to hear the COSM amp models on the VK-8 blending almost seemlessly with the mic’ed tube amp the guitarist was using.

The Roland VK-8 is an excellent keyboard for anyone that needs the classic sound (and feel) of a vintage tonewheel organ. Whether you’re playing jazz, gospel, or flat out rock n roll, the Roland VK-8 brings you everything the original had to offer (except a backache)!

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