Defining the Hammond sound – Part 1


I’ve wanted to do something on the Hammond organ sounds that have inspired me over the years and the sound that I try to get with the equipment I have. I thought I would start with a look at the Jon Lord sound and how it has changed over time. Jon Lord was a huge influence on me (as was Ritchie Blackmore) in my formative years and the  sound that I use and love now is a direct result of them and their ability to mesh together both rhythmically and opposingly – both examples in Speed King I guess.

A lot of Lords setup is documented around the place but I thought I would centralise it at the very least and offer my opinions and my setups to hopefully round off a nice article. I’d also like to get a handle for you on how much the style of Organ that I play has an impact on the actual and perceived sound that hits your ears. This is going to take a while so hold tight…

THIS, is what I am talking about (see video above).

Lord was one of the first to really get the heavy rock organ sound off the ground and often allowed the valves (tubes) in his instruments and amplification to be pushed way beyond their theoretical maximum providing distortion and overdrive. With master volume amps this is easily achievable and even with the early Marshalls see below but it is also possible by pushing or changing the ratings in valve Leslie’s to do the same or similar. Part of his sound was also the Ring Modulator effect that he used and there are two schools of thought as to what this was; the first is that it was a Maestro RM1A Ring modulator (that you can hear at the beginning of the solo to Fireball) and secondly that it was made by Gibson (not that one) and produced harmonic distortion that could not be ‘played’ rather controlled. You can hear this also, tamed, on the intro to Lazy and You fool No-one live around 1973.

His style was and is that of Blues but influences heavily by classical and lesser Funk, being a trained pianist this would often come to him as ideas within his solos (Highway Star) and improvised pieces that Ritchie (far less classically trained and proficient initially) would really get off in. In the early years you will hear the guitar god playing off Jon and not the other way around (think Speed King again). I think his funk leanings really came out with his staccato playing of non-organ sounds on the Stormbringer album.–kl9wbY&start=171s

Coming out of his band the Artwoods Lord managed to score a brand new B3 off his new management company Edwards and Colletta and was already installed in the huge farmhouse (I think it was) that the early (pre-shades of) Deep Purple hired out for rehearsals. As an aside I believe Richie actually lived there for some time with his partner. Joining with Purple there was a need to be heard and Ritchie had the whole volume thing covered, add this to the fact that Blackmore wasn’t interested in playing rhythm on his guitar and like to let the notes hang more freely, Burn is a good example of this, listen to the verse guitar. This led to an adaptation of Lord’s style which I have mercilessly cribbed turning him into what Rover Glover calls a rhythm organist.

I’ll discuss this style in greater depth later in the series.

The regular sound that a Hammond and Leslie provides is lovely of course but in order to push the rhythm sound and having to poke through over Ritchie’s guitar sound Lord tapped straight into the Hammond and put it though a Marshall valve amp, avoiding the Leslie completely. An amazing sound, especially for rhythm.  This is the big sound you hear on Machine Head and in Rock. Prior to In Rock the band had released their first album which was basically their live touring set (they came straight from a tour of Holland to the recording studio getting the record done in something like a week), and a couple of albums that felt a little directionless. It was only adding Ian Gillan and Roger Glover(‘s distorting bass) that the In Rock sound started to arrive. Although writing credits were shared for the MKII Purple unit it is well-known that Speed King was a Roger Glover riff matched with Gillan vocal line and lyrics and Lord’s classical leanings.

The Leslie wasn’t gone forever however and made a lovely comeback on the fireball album and then notably Burn and Stormbringer (the latter having a nice overdriven piano sound sprinkled on it – as described above but in more detail another time) and more so as the technology of producing and record the sound improved. The sound he used for the comeback album Perfect Strangers for example was huge, quite processed but a recording masterclass in updating an Organ sound to the latter end of the 20th century. More on that later!

Rocking that spring!

Other things to know about the organ sound is how significant it is to play with and use the reverb that you have available. My XK3c has reasonable reverb emulation and you MUST have this turned on, it affects the sound in a critical way for the better. Lord’s was an old spring reverb as heard on Child In Time which was a re-working of a song called Bombay Calling by A Beautiful Day using the Cold War as the lyrical theme. The shotgun or door slam noise that can be heard at the end of the quiet section is made by turning up the spring reverb to its absolute maximum on the B3 and then hitting the wooded top of the organ in turn rattling the spring. Again this effect, used often live with a theatrical slam of a tilted organ to the floor, can be heard I believe at the end of Highway Star on Made in Japan.

Jon’s sound throughout  the years has basically always been driven by Hammond B or C3 a Leslie 122 Cab or two and some method of distortion, using Marshall heads. Back in the 70’s Lord was asked specifically about his Leslie Setup and had this to say – “I’ve got Crown amps running them,” … “but the Leslies are completely gutted, with 15” Gauss speakers and heavy-duty JBL horns. Each cabinet can take about 300 watts before they start to blow up, and I’ve got four of them. It’s a huge amount of power, but I’ve still got that lovely Leslie effect.” Do checkout the Excellent KeyboardMag for more information here

I have heard of one band, the Moody Blues, having the Leslie off stage in a store room with 4 mics on it and then these mics running back onto stage into a submix and then straight into the front of a Marshall as a 1/4 input. that’s one way to do if but its a little…cumbersom don’t you think? The Deep Purple fansite Highway Star is always brilliant value and provided me with this lovely insight into Lord’s 1996 setup.

Its not the biggest picture but the Highway Star helpfully lists what can be seen here as:

  • Customized Hammond C-3 organ
  • Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer
  • Korg M1 synthesizer
  • Roland piano
  • 2 Leslie 122 cabinets
  • 2 extra bass cabinets

Modifications for Lord’s organ throughout the years have been done by many, notably John ‘Dawk’ Stillwell of Dawk Sound Limited (who was reputedly responsible for Blackmore’s Strat and Marshall mods too). Please visit his site just to see the amazing stuff he does. Checkout this key click boost switch that he has made for this M3.

You just HAVE to love that!

I hope you have found part one of this series interesting and that you tune in for more later. I want to get onto the task of recording a good Hammond and Leslie/pre amp combination and later focus on the style of playing that can take most advantage of distortion, reverb, key click and dual manuals in future parts.

For now though I hope you have found this interesting and remember I am a, call me



PS: Did I mention the RM piano built into his C3? I will!


Related Posts