Classic Gear: Combo Organs

Forget the Hammond B3 and her clunky brethren, the organ of choice for the discerning (and touring) 60s rock band was bound to be colorful, compact, and a scorcher in sound. The suitcase style combo organs, revered for their “cheezy” timbre, defined a classic sound for many well-known outfits and devoured the churchy sound from the organs of yore, paving the way to the synthesizer age. Welcome to the wonderful reedy world of combo organs.

Vox Continental

The Vox Continental (1962)
Lord and master of all things combo, this line of organ is probably revered as much for its sound as for its sleek look. The beautiful inverted, harpsichord-like keys, smooth pull drawbars, and striking red flat-top cover set the bar for portable organ design over the next 10 years. Initially meant to replace the B3 for touring musicians, the distinct transistor sound of the Continental caught on with groups like the The Animals and Sir Douglas Quintet and was used most famously on Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gada-Da-Vida. The Super Continental boasted two sets of keyboards (known as “manuals”) and even more customization of sound with a “percussion” feature, while stripped down versions like the Jaguar featured only preset buttons, without the drawbars, and a slightly thinner sound. Hard to go wrong with the Vox Con tho; let’s hear it tear. “Lay it on me, Augie“:

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Sir Douglas Quintet – She’s About A Mover

Farfisa Compact

Farfisa Compact (1965)
They’ll tell you any combo organ recording from the 60s… if it’s not a Vox Continental it’s the Farfisa Compact. The Farfisa sound is somewhat distinct, sounding punchy and chewier than the Vox, and the “Farfisa” name does seem to embody the whole combo-organ sound in our collective consciousness. The Italian-made Farfisa was converted from the company’s transistor accordians, and became the 2nd most popular combo organ after the Vox; probably a more affordable choice for tons of 60s garage bands. The octave of black keys on the left could be switched to a bass sound that was separate from the white keys, and uniquely, you could push the lever on the bottom with your knee to open the filter of the sound during performance. The Compact line spawned many fine instruments including the Farfisa Compact Duo (two manuals), the brilliantly designed (but non-transistor) Farfisa FAST and Professional, and a series of interesting organ/synthesizer hybrids. Here’s a clip of Herbie Hancock riffing nasty on a busted Farfisa for Miles Davis’s Tribute to Jack Johnson:

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Miles Davis – Clip from “Right Off”

Gibson G101

Gibson G-101 (1966)
Ray Manzarek used the Vox Continental for the first two Doors albums, but switched and stayed with the G-101, also known as the Kalamazoo. His use of the instrument, combined with a Rhodes Piano Bass set on top, has lended to its classic, sought-after status. Not only did the G-101 have black bass keys like the Compact, but an additional set of gray keys that could switch between an extended bass section or extended treble section. Other features included vibrato, tremolo, and sustain controls. What most distinguished it from other combos were its Piano and Harpsichord sounds, similiar to sounds heard on Back Door Man (The Doors) and Lucy in the Sky, respectively.

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The Doors – Roadhouse Blues (Live in Pittsburgh, May 2, 1970)
(buy new release)

Almost all thanks for this post goes to the heavenly Combo Organ Heaven site, a gem of the internet and loving tribute to these underappreciated and no longer manufactured keyboards.

Honorable Mentions
Ace Tone Top Series
Elka Panther Series
Lowrey T1 (G101 cousin)
Fender Contempo
Yamaha YC Series

The Blodwyn P. Teabag Guide to Combo Organs (great vid!)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vvRrGzXP-8[/youtube]


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17 Comments.

  • Brendan

    ps. if anybody has a Farfisa Professional or Farfisa Piano for sale, I am in the market. -B
    brendan@therisingstorm.net

  • Saul

    The first song that comes to mind when I think of combo organs is “96 Tears”
    by Question Mark & The Mysterians. I think it’s a vox!

  • Brendan

    Cry Cry Cry…

  • EH

    The New Colony Six are another good 60s combo organ band.

  • Brendan

    You’re right! thanks for mentioning, E. I tend to pick the obvious choices on these Gear posts, but it’s always more fun to dig out the lost gems, right.

    Re: New Colony 6, check out Jason’s review of Breakthrough here.

  • ib

    Fine post. Every track a timeless classic, but especially nice to see Miles and the Doors up there, Brendan. Here’s hoping you get that Farsifa…

  • Len Liechti

    I’d say the best known user of a Farfisa organ in the UK was Rick Wright of Pink Floyd, for whom it was the main stage tool from the earliest days until he moved to Mellotron and Hammond around the top of the 70s. Rick’s axe of choice was a Compact Duo Reverb. I had one of these for a while, and though I’m no real keyboard player I was surprised to find how easily I could duplicate the spacey sounds from “See Emily Play”, “Careful With That Axe, Eugene”, “Cirrus Minor” et al. The Farfisa reverb was an outboard box containing a massive spring send/receive unit, and I used it on stage for guitar for a couple of years until I scored a Watkins Copicat. It was very sensitive and powerful and sounded formidable between my Epiphone Casino and Selmer T’n'B 50 tube amp. The gear lineup photo on the back of Floyd’s “Ummagumma” album has the Farfisa, centre stage.

  • I have several combo organs for sale including a Vov Jaguar,Farfis Proffesional and GibsonG101.Are you interested?Thank you.

  • B Adams

    I have a 1965 Farfisa combo compact for sale.

  • g crawford

    Hi B Adams
    I am intersted in the Farfisa Compact send me an e-mail to discuss possible price etc. – garry_crawford@talk21.com
    Thanks

  • Steve Henderson

    I’m interested in Elka Panther series combo organ.
    Please let me know what you have.
    Thanks,
    Steve

  • Pelle Larsson

    Hio. I got a nice Vox Coninental 11 with legs, andcaseto it, also many vintage organs.Welson President. Diamond 30. Hohner Synphonic 30. Welson Mercury,& more Organs Hammond WLM. Paire. Leslies Model 700. 102. 825. DC- 300 Dynacord. More my instruments music & my band here WWW Yesterday.Se Greetings Pelle Larssn Sweden

  • Hello. I ,cv got 25 30 dual manual organs. Welson. Frfisa Vox. Wlm. Hammond Hohner. Leslies VBöhm Musical Digital model 1030 & more. My site my band .,instruments under Moog. http://www.yesterday.se

  • John

    Hi , I am from the New York area looking to buy a Vox Continental with all it’s components in excellent working condition … If anyone out there is looking to sell one I would very much be obliged if you would drop me an email with a photo’s of the organ and a you’re asking price…. Thank You

  • Kirsten

    Hi,

    Just came across this article looking to sell my Farfisa compact – if anyone’s interested, please email me kirsten.medder@gmail.com

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