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Synth Tricks: Battle of the Lightweight Organs

Yeah, I know, I always want to eat my cake and still have it too. I should just be happy that my bandmates and I never have to carry a 420-lb. B-3 organ up to the stage, along with a 140-lb. Leslie. And yet, I keep searching for an even lighter and better-sounding “clonewheel” to use with my rig. This new generation of drawbar organs brings the weight down well below 30 lbs., and some of them are less than 20 lbs.

Here are some of these lean, mean grinding machines now in stock at Sweetwater:

First up is the Numa Organ by StudioLogic ($1995). It was designed in cooperation with Joey DeFrancesco, one of my all-time favorite B-3 players. And the sound is “just right,” whether it’s for jazz, rock, or worship. The Leslie emulation is spot-on, and the nine drawbars and waterfall keys feel great. The controls are easy to understand, as each knob and button is dedicated to whatever is written under it. No menus = no learning curve. There are 61 keys for the organ and an additional 12 inverted-color keys to store your presets. (But as a MIDI controller, you can use all 73 keys!) And yet it weighs only 22 lbs.!

Next up is the Nord Electro 3 ($1999). It features a splittable 61-note waterfall keyboard that offers four tonewheel organ types as well as the Vox Continental and the Farfisa. It also sports three acoustic grand pianos, two electric grands, four Rhodes electric pianos, an A200 A Wurlitzer, a Clavinet D6, and even a harpsichord. Onboard sample memory gives you classic Mellotron instruments and more from Nord’s famous Sample Library. And all of this tremendous sound weighs in at just over 15 lbs.!

And finally there’s a lightweight offering called the SK1 ($1999). Does it sound like a Hammond? It is a Hammond! This 15-lb. wonder has all the B-3 features you want plus a healthy serving of transistor organs (Vox, Farfisa) and pipe organs that all use the drawbars as the sound-shaping controls — just like on the originals! The 61 splittable keys also offer pianos, electric pianos, Clavs, accordions, string synths, wind instruments, and tuned percussion. It can also play back MP3 and WAV songs for a killer one-man show.

Which of these clonewheel organs has the right sound for you? Well, as Frank Zappa said, “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” Go to Sweetwater.com and put the word “organs” in the search field. You’ll find lots of video demonstrations to help you decide. And don’t be afraid to ask your Sweetwater Sales Engineer for additional advice.

Before I finish, I’d like to throw in this organ-related announcement. If you own a Kurzweil PC3 or PC3K, you must get the latest OS Update (2.03) and Objects. As a reward, you will find that the KB3 organs have gotten even better, and there are new Dual-Leslie effects available that will bring a smile to your face.

Daniel Fisher

About Daniel Fisher

Sweetwater's synth guru Daniel Fisher is one of the most sought-after synthesizer sound designers in the industry. He graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelors Degree in Music Production and Engineering as well as Cum Laude with a Bachelors Degree in Music Synthesis from Berklee College. He is Sweetwater's Director of Product Optimization, having created dozens of libraries and synth programs for Kurzweil, Alesis, Korg, E-MU, Yamaha, TC Electronic, and many others. He is also currently an Adjunct Professor of Music Synthesis at the University of Saint Francis and teaches Music Synthesis and Sampling at Indiana University/Purdue University.
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