Second only to Vox in popularity during the 1960s, Italian manufacturer Farfisa is probably the only other really well-known purveyor of Combo Organs. While the Voxes (Voxen?) were the most often seen organ with popular bands (Animals, DC-5, Paul Revere, Monkees, etc, etc, etc), There were probably at least as many, if not more, Farfisas cranking out the same music in garages and dance halls.
History: There doesn't seem to be a lot of historical information available on the Farfisa company, but here's an interesting quote that kind of sums it up (thanks to whoever, I can't remember, provided it):
"...Farfisa organs were based on transistor accordions. The Farfisa company was a merger, and they were highly known for their production of accordions in Italy. In 1962 they produced the first transistor accordion. A few years later, after the success of the Vox Continental, Farfisa realized that portable organs were in high demand. so they took their accordion technology and made it into a combo organ. Thus the Farfisa Combo Compact was introduced in 1964."
I assume the accordion and organ referenced in the quote are the Transicord and the Compact, respectively. They are virtually the same instrument in radically different cases.
Thanks to Micke Lindgren for the following information (quotes are in italics): The Farfisa company was founded in 1948 by the Scandalli (Silvio Scandalli) and Soprani (Settimio & Paolo) families. The managers of the company were Gianfelice Fugazza and Bio Boccosi. "Mr.Fugazza and a team of Farfisa techs brought out the Cordovox acc-organ in 1962, and presumably shortly thereafter (maybe in '63) they began the production of the compact combo organ." "Farfisa had three plants; the 1st of these was located in Castelfidardo producing Settimio & Paolo Soprani accordions and guitars, the 2nd was in Camerano producing "Scandalli, Farfisa and Cordovox accordions, pianos and reed-organs and the 3rd- the main plant- in Aspio Terme producing Farfisa electronic organs, amplifiers, effects."
"...of the three FARFISA plants, only two built accordions (and reed/chord organs): the one in Castelfidardo producing "Settimio & Soprani Accordions" and guitars, and the one in Camerano (this was the famous Scandalli factory) producing Scandalli* Accordions, pianos, and reed/chord organs (under both the Farfisa and Scandalli brands).
The third plant, the main one, was located in Aspio Terme and it was in this factory that the Farfisa electronic organs (incl. the Transicord accordion-organ), amplifiers and effects were manufactured. The street on which this plant was located went under the name "Via Farfisa".
* Farfisa and Cordovox organs were also built in this plant.
What does "Farfisa" mean?: It's sort of an acronym for: "FAbbriche Riunite De FISArmoniche", which translates to "United Factory of Accordions". The "United" probably refers to the uniting of the accordion companies Settimio, Soprani, Scandalli, and Frontallini
Brand/Business Relations: Many organs have characteristics similar to the Farfisa line. Some may be due to actual business relationships between the companies, some may be just due to similar ideas being traded about in the Italian musical instrument industry at the time. Here are a few I found interesting:
From Jim Birch: Ok, I have a Maestro Plus 50 amp that has the Maestro logo on the front, Gibson logo on the back, and was sold in the Farfisa Price list. (I have it on www.farfisa.org ). Also on one of those price lists or brochures was Cordovox's Leslie speaker. CMI (Chicago Musical Instrument Company) was located on Cicero Avenue ... On some of the Farfisa and Maestro brochures I have come across, the same address is listed for those companies. I've read that all of the 60s Maestro stuff was made by Oberheim and the 70s Maestro stuff was made by Norlin (after the demise of CMI) who was also making some of Moog's stuff.
So what I gather is
-Paid for the design of and marketed/distributed Maestro
-I don't know the Cordovox connection, probably the same as above.
... The only thing I think CMI did was push paper and had some decent taste in the companies they partnered with.
From Parker Reilly: "The only thing I have to add is that the schematics for the Farfisa Wah pedal are included in the booklet of schematics for all the other maestro effects". To which Jim Birch replied: "... I think that Maestro Wah IS the Farfisa Wah with the Maestro sticker on it. It's the same exact housing as the Farf volume pedal and Sferasound that I have."
According to Doug Moore (employee at Lowrey since 1972, and currently Chief Engineer): "Originally, the parent company [of Lowrey] was Chicago Musical Instrument, which consisted of Lowrey, Gibson, Maestro and Pearl Drums. CMI was purchased by Norlin Industries which then acquired Moog Music and a beer factory in Ecuador. Norlin went bust and Lowrey was purchased again."
So there do seem to be a lot of relationships between Farfisa, Cordovox, Lowrey, Gibson, Maestro, and even Moog (witness, the Cordovox/Moog CDX-0652). Exactly how that played out in the design and styling of the individual instruments is largely a matter of speculation.
Serial numbers: I've collected dozens of serial numbers from Farfisa organs, mostly from the Compact series. I can find no pattern to them at all. Most are of the form "A-nnn / nnn", but the numbers do not seem to follow any sort of sequence. Fellow Farfisa enthusiast, Luca Baldini, shed some light on this with an interesting tidbit he recalled from a conversation with a Farfisa employee: "Gianfranco Dallu (for 30 years a Farfisa technical employee) confirmed me that there's NO WAY to date a Compact organ by its serial number, since the whole Compact organs series (Compact/DeLuxe/Mini and Duo) serial numbers were given randomly! " Well, I guess that clears that up! Many thanks, Luca (and Gianfranco)!
Dates: It's nearly impossible to date a particular specimen of Farfisa, since none appear to bear any sort of date stamp (and the serial numbers are no help). You can, however, tell if one was made before or after 1972/73. Prior to that time, the ID plates bore model names of the form: XX/NNN = Mod. MODEL NAME. After the '72/'73, they switched to numeric model numbers, like "Mod. No NNNNNN". Also, most (but not all) of the later plates bore the wording :"A division/subsidiary of Lear Siegler Inc. USA"
Click one of the following links to go to the pages that cover the various Farfisa models
www.farfisa.org: Jim's most-excellent Farfisa site. Lots of scans of brochures available there.
Dave's Compact Duo page: Dave also has some great info on other keyboards, including the Vox Continental.
The Organ Studio's Farfisa page: Nice picture of a Compact Duo and Binson Echorec. Not much else, but maybe more to come.
Kirk Topits' Farfisa Professional site: Ads, brochures, manuals, photos, videos - you can even register your own Professional's serial no. !