Hammond Organ for Home Practice?
  • Our pastor just denied my son Justin access to our parish organ for practice and lessons. No explanation, as our DOM made the inquiry and reported the answer via text and email. The DOM himself was instantly supportive of Justin's aspirations and said he would support the request --and volunteered to make the request of the pastor, and then beat me to it as we were composing a letter of application....

    Anyway the DOM (who plays organ at or church but wouldn't give Justin lessons because he's "not an organist" --rather he is a voice teacher and choir director --and very good!) has been asking around to try to get Justin access to another organ locally but no luck yet.

    Meanwhile he sent me a phone # to a friend of his selling a Hammond organ. The seller says it was his uncle's, a retired Catholic priest who died recently and the nephew is preparing the house for sale. He says he had someone from that TV show on antique appraisals (forgive me, I have no TV and forget names of shows) go through the house (many items, not just the organ) who commented that was the Hammond model some famous jazz player used, etc. I told the seller on the phone that if he wants market value I am not the right buyer but when he heard my son is this week at a Gregorian Chant day camp, that he wants to become a church organist and has 10 years of piano lessons as a starting point, that he is a "student" of our DOM...he said his uncle would want him to have it and maybe just a few hundred bucks would be ok.

    I go tomorrow to the house to look at the organ. My son won't be with me (away at his mother's this weekend) and I do not know how to judge the condition of the instrument other than close visual inspection and trying all the keys and pedals and switches. How do I judge whether this is a good instrument to bring home as a surprise for my son?

    I've been reading many previous discussion threads from this forum, found by searching the word "Hammond," and below I paste the excerpts I found most relevant. I paste them to show I've learned there that Hammonds are controversial among organists. My guess is they don't conform to AGO Console Specifications, among other things....


    RELEVANT EXCERPTS of past discussions here:

    M. Jackson Osborn wrote in 2009 that “Going to the church to practice is, to me, just part of being an organist.” In that discussion and again in 2017, he recounts with some satisfaction a story of thousands of Hammond “organs” being dumped into the deep sea after WW2.

    Also in 2009, “henry” started a discussion (there were zero comments) that said “Selling a Hammond A101 organ. 25 pedals, self-contained speakers. Very good condition. Located in Chicago. Asking $2,500 or best offer.”

    In 2016, “teachermom24” wrote: “Three years ago someone from our parish gave us an old Hammond organ (though we had to spend $300 to haul it to our house) which replaced a Wurlitzer (circus organ, in my opinion) someone else had given us (sometimes, you should just say "no, thank you" real loud over and over). The Hammond certainly doesn't sound as nice as our church organ (an Allen) but it has enough registers and pedals to allow my son to practice at home instead of trekking to church, which is 25 miles away. And he plays for our family prayers every day--I'm glad we have it.”

    Later in the same discussion, she wrote “they are durable and tend to last forever. I had one in a school chapel that seemed indestructible. No, they don't sound like "real" organs. My understanding is that they were never presented as such, but were introduced originally as a new type of instrument.”

    In a 2017 discussion, “matthewj” asked, perhaps rhetorically and in response to M. Jackson Osborn’s condemnation of Hammonds as “simulacra” of organs: “Are Hammond organs actually simulacra? Are they intended to simulate or imitate a real organ? Or are they intended to be something else entirely?” To which “francis” gave the most relevant reply, that “Actually, the B3 is mainly a rock and jazz organ... it was originally intended to be a church organ by its inventor but reality took over.”

    Regarding the suitability of electronic organs as home practice instruments for people playing real pipe organs on the weekend, “Steve Collins” wrote “I …emphasize the [full-size] pedal board. But the whole console really needs to be to AGO standard measurements, especially if you are practicing for playing a pipe organ on the weekends that IS to these standards. Even some electronic models, while they might have 61 notes on 2 manuals and 32 pedals, are quite far from the AGO standard, and would not be a good investment at any price.” Investigating further, I found this document summarizing the AGO Console Specifications:

  • One of my choir members was recently given a Hammond organ by someone needing to clean out a home, iirc. She is willing to nearly give it away and cannot find a home for it. I'm guessing you might be able to find a really reasonably price home organ if you are somewhat patient and keep looking. Don't know if the $200 price tag for the one you mentioned above is good or not...
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,508
    My experience with them is that they don't conform to AGO specs, don't sound anywhere near pipe organs, but are well-built and durable. I played one at the school where I taught until retirement and never had any difficulty moving between the Hammond and the church Schantz. Price depends on how badly the buyer wants it.

    Let me edit that a bit. A problem with the Hammond was that the keys were shorter. I tend to play back from the front edge, so I had to be really careful not to bump the transposer buttons above the lower manual. They don't have a full pedal board so playing the Widor Toccata would not be advisable. I suspect it wouldn't sound very good, anyway. Mastering those draw bars is an art unto itself.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,809
    Well, yes... I did say it was mainly a jazz and rock organ, and as that it works well (I love jazz... good jazz that is)

    I would not recommend it for studying and practicing church music. It is too far afield from the nature of a pipe organ even for a simulacrum. However, if it is in good shape it could command thousands of dollars and THAT money could be used to purchase a small practice instrument. Just a suggestion.
    Thanked by 1kenstb
  • GambaGamba
    Posts: 275
    Hammonds are pure gold for jazz and rock and gospel playing, and a B3/C3/A100 in perfect restored or original condition would easily fetch between $7,000 and $10,000.

    For classical/liturgical music, they are usually less than adequate for playing much of the organ repertory, particularly Bach and other composers with independent/involved pedal lines, because most of them have a reduced number of pedals (C to C, two octaves, or sometimes even just one octave of short stubby sticks).

    There WERE some models (the RT series, the D, and the E models) that have the number of pedals required for classical music, and conform to the AGO specifications now standard for church organs. They were designed for church or concert use, and would be appropriate for learning “real music”.

    Also note that the ones with the correct dimensions have external speaker cabinets. The organ will not produce sound without them, and they are of a special type – you can’t run it through a stereo or ordinary speakers; they’ll blow up. Check if you have space in the house for both organ and speaker.

    Check on these things:

    First of all:
    -Count the keys. There should be two keyboards, each with sixty-one keys in the usual white-and-black piano layout. Then there may be also an complete octave of twelve (C-b) reversed-color keys, but those don’t count, as they are the “stops” of the Hammond organ. If the two keyboards are not parallel to each other, i.e., the top keyboard has more keys and is shifted right, and the bottom is shifted left, walk away. That’s a spinet, built for home entertainment and roller rinks, not for classical music.
    -Count the pedals. There should be 32, two and a half octaves (C to g). If 25 (C to c) it’s an ordinary A, B, or C, good for gospel/rock/jazz; severely limiting for classical, with the top notes missing, and the notes closer together and shifted left, making it very difficult to learn correct technique beyond bumping the bass in “Begin the Beguine.”
    -Turn it on. There are two switches, “Start” and “Run”. Turn Start on for ten seconds: there should be a smooth whirring sound, not grinding gears. Keeping Start on, turn on Run; keep them both on for five seconds; turn off Start.
    -Listen for static or squealing sounds before you play; those mean trouble you don’t want to pay someone else to deal with.
    -Press the black A key in the bottom octave of each keyboard, play round on that and see if the sound is even throughout the keyboard or if regions are dead/unhappy.
    -Try the switches marked “Vibrato Great” and “Vibrato Swell”, and note if the sound of the top and bottom keyboards changes. There should be a round knob with markings like V1, V2, C3, etc. See if that functions smoothly and the sound responds appropriately.
    -In the middle of the line of drawbars above the top keyboard, you’ll see two drawbars by themselves. These are for the pedals. Pull them out, and test the pedals. In is silent, 8 is loudest.
    -Read through this and try out the other drawbars. http://www.hammond-organ.com/product_support/drawbars.htm If there’s no dead notes or trouble and everything else up to this point works out, yay, take it home and be happy.

    If any of the above is not as expected, you’ll have problems that will require a lot of tinkering or tracking down one of a dwindling number of technicians.

    Also you could ask on organforum.com after you’ve seen it with questions about maintenance, how to move it, etc.
    Thanked by 2kenstb chonak
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,106
    It's not uncommon for antique 'simulacra' to be offered free to a good home (mine even included free moving!). If this one doesn't have a full pedal board you should keep in mind that brand new (and easily portable) 61 note keyboards go for a little over $100, though I don't know what you'd have to spend on one that's Hauptwerk compatible.

    Learning to deal with drawbar registration and other Hammond quirks is a quite useful skill for substitute organists with very bad luck.
    Thanked by 2Gamba CharlesW
  • kenstb
    Posts: 360
    Willwilkin, I have been playing the organ for 40 years now [Oh my goodness!! When did I become that guy?!!!], and in my experience, playing a jazz organ is not remotely helpful if one wishes to play a properly constructed church organ. While surprising your son with a gift instrument will no doubt be wonderful, I have always felt that it is necessary to get the feel of a church organ by spending some time with it. They are all a little different (either the pedal or key width, and depending on their placement there is sometimes a delay if the pipes are utilized), and some of the older ones I've played seem to have been made for much smaller humans than me. It seems that the real issue here is the refusal of your priest to allow your son to practice on the instrument he will be expected to play. That makes no sense at all. Have you got any idea as to why he is resistant to this?
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,974
    any idea as to why he is resistant to this?
    Child protection issue?
    Thanked by 1PaxMelodious
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 820
    Organs are expensive. The priest probably doesn't want it to get broken.
  • Just a thought... do you have a local AGO chapter? Have you checked with them to see if they offer a scholarship for someone who wants to become a church organist? Even if there is no scholarship currently available, it is possible that the local chapter may be able to suggest a church organ that your son could practice on, and perhaps could even facilitate mediating the parameters on his behalf. Just a thought...
  • henry
    Posts: 216
    I had a Hammond A100 at home for years (two 61 note manuals and 25 pedals). It was self-contained (no external speakers) and served me well as I pursued degrees in church music. It wasn't ideal, but I had no trouble going from it to the pipe organ. Very reliable and compact for practice if nothing better is available.
  • I wasn't going to comment on this thread, but my heart goes out to you, and your son's desire to become an organist. I cannot think of anything trashier, uncouth, and unkind than your pastor's decision and attitude regarding a young person (who belongs to his church, yet!) in need of a place to study.

    I encountered a hammond many, many years ago. It had two short (incomplete) keyboards, and only twelve or so pedals (more like projecting stobs) over to one side. I do understand that having a real organ in one's home is something that few people can aspire to. There are other organ simulacra that would be far more desirable for your son's study. Allen or rodgers would be among the better ones. Perhaps you could locate a used one at a reasonable price. I would advise very strongly against any hammond.

    And, I recommend highly taking Incardination's above advice about enlisting the aid of your local AGO chapter. Many chapters have special programs and attractions for aspiring youth. Your son might well find friends his age and certainly will find plenty of encouragement and help in the AGO.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,508
    AND...there are organ scholarships that go unused every year because no one enrolled. Look into that, as well. Schools that teach organ have practice instruments. A teacher at our local university teaches kids too young for college at her church job along with practice times assigned. When the devil obstructs you - and lets be clear, that's what it is - punch him hard and go around him.
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • THANK YOU to everyone who commented --ALL advice is wanted and appreciated. I think the Hammond in question is an E-311, based on comparing seller pics with internet photos of the many different Hammond models. Unfortunately seller pic looks to show one white key missing! Possibly easy to get another and snap it in but also possibly shows bigger problem that I am not ready to get into fixing. We'll see....

    Regarding CharlesW's comment that he had no problem switching from undersized Hammond keys and pedals to proper AGO-sized church organs, I expect Justin will also be able to navigate the differences, based on his strong musical abilities (including dexterity) and based on my own unproblematic left hand experience as I switch from my violin to my slightly larger Lira da Braccio to my larger-yet viola da gamba. And Charles, thank you also for advising search for organ scholarships, that is an excellent idea sure to be done.

    Thanks most of all to Gamba for such detailed careful advice on how to start and test the organ, other technical advice, and the recommendation of organforum.com, where I quickly entered the mental world of Hammond enthusiasts, enough to know I can go back there if technical problems arise. I will print your advice to take with me when I go view the organ, hopefully later today.

    Francis gives an interesting idea about resale possibilities by which I could step up to a better home organ for our purposes, not something I intend to do but something I can always do if it turns out this organ is taken home and at some point later is rejected. I saw at organforum.com that there are people passionately in love with Hammond organs.

    Richard Mix, I interrupted typing this message to explore the Hauptwerk website, which I find intriguing for many reasons, including more authentic sound and features, portability (am I really gonna take home a 450-pound Hammond?), and sheer newness (no repairs needed) of all components in such a system. Would the $250 basic version (vs. $600 advanced version) be good enough for a student? I also found this MIDI practice organ to go with Haupwerk, a system which I cannot afford now (seems like $5,000 to $6,000 with the required computer and amplifiers) but is an example of a very exciting goal to get for him after I pay off my new viola da gamba:


    Enough typing for now, again THANKS TO ALL and I will post updates on this whole journey of bringing my son to an organ (and hopefully also to this forum)!
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,809
    I love Hammond organs... they are just for a whole different type of music AND playing technique. Here are some greats: Barbara Dennerlein, Jimmy Smith and Rhoda Scott



  • That Barbara Dennerlein is awfully pretty when she plays....
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,508
    Here are some greats: Barbara Dennerlein, Jimmy Smith and Rhoda Scott

    What??? You left out Ethel Smith.

    Thanked by 1eft94530
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,106
    Gamba? I used to play too, before tendonitis! This thread reminds me of being asked a few years ago for advice on a violin as a surprise gift for a niece: I couldn't help cringing, thinking of the two years I spent finding a cello to bond with. Had I been thinking faster I could of course had suggested that an expedition to play instruments at the luthier's would make a lovely surprise in itself.

    I haven't tried Hauptwerk myself despite many secondhand testimonials. The chief attraction for me would be the temperament options, now that the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary has changed to smaller quarters and I can't get my meantone fixes from the Spanish Brombaugh. As it is I'm concentrating on getting an old virginals into playing condition instead.
    Thanked by 1MarkS
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,809
    ES in more in the kitschy category along with Claudia Hirschfeld on the Wersi
  • reverb.com -where the pros list and buy.


    And pricing here of the traditional Hammonds here:

  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,508
    I was expecting someone to post 'tico tico' in neumes.
  • My best friend went from practicing on his home Hammond RT-3 (with its standard 32 note pedal board and electronic pedal stops) to Juilliard, then eventually to St. James Cathedral, Brooklyn.

    From Electronic Acorns...
    Thanked by 1eft94530
  • Well...

    Ethel was a heck of a musician.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW eft94530
  • Since my name was invoked in the original post, I'll add . . .

    We still have ours but it is not used for real organ practice (that's done at our church). My son plays a hymn for our morning prayers and, when we are allowed to sing the Propers for Mass, we do practice at home on the Hammond.

    But it's still light years better than the ridiculous Wurlitzer we started with :-)
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • GambaGamba
    Posts: 275
    Ooh, I would avoid the E311.

    1) 25 pedals; not the necessary 32, or even the 27 expected in Bach’s time.
    2) Manuals (keyboards) are not centered properly over pedals; they’re shifted right, so the player always has to twist right a bit and all the pedals will be a couple inches left of where they should be, in relation to the keys, which will make everything uncomfortable and lead to the horrible one-footed Baptist technique.
    3) Guts are different, stripped-down in comparison to the B3 and its relations, so it would not fetch more than a few hundred if you’re lucky at resale.

  • I decided against accepting the Hammond E311 organ, for reasons of lack of space and lack of truck and advice here and elsewhere that it's not the right practice instrument, plus good news a local Lutheran church will let Justin practice and take lessons on their organ. Anybody local to Seymour CT who wants this organ could likely get it if you contact me soon.
  • I'm glad you found a good solution! My daughter (now third of my children to be organist at our little parish) were remarking recently how thankful we are that we did get our Hammond organ. We got it "free" but ended up having to pay $300 to transport it. Still, for us, it has been very good for all my young organists to play for our morning prayers and to prepare for the Masses. None are, and I doubt ever will be, great organists, but, for our situation, this Hammond has been a great gift. Next year, after this dear daughter leaves home (either for college or religious life), you can expect to see it up for grabs on Ebay.
  • Glad to hear your son has found a practice location! Sadly, yours is not the only story I've heard of eager young organists who encounter difficulties obtaining access to an organ. If you decide to purchase a home instrument at some point in the future, it is often possible to find a used Allen or Rodgers at a very reasonable price which would conform to AGO specifications. I purchased one several years ago and did the bulk of my grad school practicing on it since my university was an hour and a half from my home and my church was an hour in another direction. The tone quality is reminiscent of waterfowl, but it works just fine for woodshedding. I've moved it three times (bulky and cumbersome, but not impossible with a few strong helpers) and it's now in my church office. There's a pipe organ just down the hall, but sometimes I prefer to practice in private. For me, it's been well worth the thousand dollars or so I invested in it.