New 02.01.02.  Updated 20.12.02.

KEN'S MOTHER -OF- PEARLE HAMMOND AV


Kurt Armsden at Ken's Hammond AV Organ - Eric Larson sits at the Hammond AV

Supplement A: Ken's Own Model AV Hammond  

Since first becoming involved with the Ken Griffin Website, I made the acquaintance of Kurt Armsden, who had purchased one of Ken's personal model AV Hammonds from his family.  To me, and indeed, to anyone else who is interested in Ken Griffin and his music, discovering the existence of this special Hammond is indeed a valuable find.  Here now are a few pictures and comments about this instrument. 

Most likely for show purposes, Ken had the sides of the instrument covered with a type of iridescent, mother-of-pearl finish.  The tops of each side have aluminum strips added, and the remaining woodwork of the console is painted white, which does indeed make this a very impressive looking console, and one which certainly would have commanded attention on a stage or in whatever setting Ken may have played in at different times in his career.  Here are several pictures of this Hammond, figures one, two and three.  As you can tell, the appearance is very similar to a Hammond B3.

 


 Notice the following two pictures, figures 4 and 5, which are
       two views of the keyboard area of a modern Hammond B3.
 

 

Now, compare figures 4 and 5 with these next two pictures, figures 6 and 7, which are similar views of the keyboards of the AV.  Considering that the AV was manufactured prior to 1940, and this particular B3, which is a late model instrument and was built probably in the late 1960's, we can see that the general appearance of the Hammond Organ has not really changed significantly in nearly 30 years. 

 

Now, compare figures 4 and 5 with these next two pictures, figures 6 and 7, which are similar views of the keyboards of the AV.  Considering that the AV was manufactured prior to 1940, and this particular B3, which is a late model instrument and was built probably in the late 1960's, we can see that the general appearance of the Hammond Organ has not really changed significantly in nearly 30 years.

 

 

This last picture, figure twelve, is a look at the vibrato line box of Ken's Hammond.  This shows clearly the vibrato chorus switch, with Hammond's early instructions stating that the chorus should be used only with V1 or V2, although there is no reason why the chorus could not be used with V3 also.  Certainly no harm comes to the instrument from using the chorus with V3.

For all of us interested in the music and life of Ken Griffin, learning about this particular model AV is a very significant development.  Unfortunately, no research that I have done up to the time this information is posted on the web has yielded even the slightest clue about what happened to the electrostatic Wurlitzer that Ken used on 67 Melody Lane, or the ones he used on any other recordings where that instrument appears.  

Although interesting instruments in their own right, the electrostatic Wurlitzers were tonally very different from the Hammonds.  It seems that the sounds obtainable from Hammonds had a wider appeal to both musicians and listeners, even though the Wurlitzers could include percussion and pedal sustain, something that Hammond had not succeeded in adding to their tonewheel organs of Ken's era.  In some respects, the electrostatic Wurlitzers sounded very suggestive of small church pipe organs.

The one area in which they did, in my opinion, excel over the Hammond was in their pedal tones.  They included an excellent resistive-capacitive pedal keying network that gave their pedals a smooth but prompt attack, and a gentle roll-off or decay.  The lower-order natural harmonics present in the tones from the pedal reed pickups also gave a very good, solid pedal tone. 

Unfortunately, having great pedal tone was evidently not enough.  The greater tonal versatility of the Hammond drawbars over the conventional stop tabs of the ES organ contributed greatly to the former's popularity among musicians.  The electrostatic Wurlitzers, however, made excellent instruments for churches with a limited music budget, and with suitable amplification and multiple speaker cabinets, they were very satisfactory in that application.  They also excelled for certain types of pops music. 

In seeking one of these instruments for my own use for doing Ken Griffin imitations, I can attest to the fact that it was extremely difficult, in the year 2000, to locate one, my quest having taken over a year and spanned the USA (via the Internet).  Although I had corresponded with a number of people who knew about them, nevertheless I was frequently told variations of the following statement that, "we had a couple of them in the showroom for many years and nobody wanted them so we ended up junking them." 

I was also told that I was crazy to want such an instrument in the first place; that they were nothing but one service headache after another.  However, I did eventually locate the 4602 which I documented in the Wurlitzer section of this article.  There is no doubt in my opinion that the 1950s Hammond is generally the superior instrument.  It has far more useful tonal effects for popular music.  Nevertheless, there are certain types of music for which the different effects of the Wurlitzer electrostatic are better than anything obtainable from a Hammond. 

If you listen carefully to the dreamy, almost ethereal effects that Ken used in his arrangements of the songs Far Away Places, and also September Song, I think you will agree that his choice of instrument and sound is perfectly suited to those selections.  Likewise, the effects he obtains in Moonbeams and also in Dream, seem to be exactly what the composers had in mind when they wrote these numbers. 

From a mechanical standpoint, the Hammond is generally built more solidly, certainly with respect to the construction of its keyboards and pedals.  Contact breakage has been a problem with the 4602, whereas I have never encountered contact breakage in a Hammond.  The Wurlitzer reed unit, however, has proven to be an extremely well-designed and reliable system.  Considering that the 4602 that I have is nearly 50 years old, and has never had a full tuning since it was first manufactured, it is still very accurately in tune.  I have made minor tuning adjustments to only 2 reeds, and even before this tuning, they were still close enough to be acceptable.  

I have had to adjust some of the pickups, however, but again this has been limited to only a few notes where a particular note would be much louder or softer than its neighbors.  Because the reed unit is hermetically sealed, I found it to be immaculate, all internal metal still shiny and free of any corrosion when I first looked inside.  It is reasonable, therefore, to expect that with care and contact replacements, that those still-surviving Wurlitzer electrostatic instruments will probably continue to function reliably for many more years.  At the very least, the reed units should remain virtually trouble-free.  

It would indeed be nice to know what became of Ken's 4601 from 67 Melody Lane, or any of the other ES instruments that he used for recording purposes.  If any of you reading this have any knowledge, we of the Ken website would very much like to hear from you, so that we might accurately document and report on that instrument also, along with Ken's AV Hammond.  Likewise, if any of you have any knowledge of Ken's actual recording sessions, we would appreciate your contacting this website.  We have many as yet unanswered questions regarding Ken's recordings. 

   Eric C.  Larson.

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