Known for excellent instruments of all types, Yamaha's combo organs are arguably some of the best ever made. The first, the A-3, was introduced in 1966, then the YC's started in 1969, and were available throughout most of the 1970's. They are capable of cheesy combo organ sounds as good as any, but plug one into a Leslie, adjust the "levers" appropriately, and you have a pretty decent Hammond substitute. The Yamahas use levers instead of drawbars to add voices and effects in varying amounts. They also offer a really good percussion - quite like a Hammond, an excellent vibrato, and a sizeable assortment of other features, some quite unusual, some actually useful. The YC's are the only combo organs I know of that make extensive use of IC's. The frequency dividers consist of a few IC's and a handful of discrete components, unlike the dozens or hundreds of transistors, resistors and capacitors found in most combo organs. The older oscillators were discrete components, but there were two newer versions that used one or two IC's per oscillator.
Date info presented here comes from the Yamaha Manual Library. Price info is from a 1977 retail sales flyer (not a Yamaha price sheet). A chronology of Yamaha instruments, including the YC-series is available here.
Colors: As far as I know the A-3 came only in red and ivory. The YC-line came in various colors, and I think some were only produced for a limited time. Here's all the information I have on the colors, based on the sales flyers and service manuals I've seen:
|Model||Sales Flyer||Service Manual||Seen in the wild|
|YC-10||Red, Black||Red, Black, Ivory, Blue||Red, Black, Blue|
|YC-20||Red, Black, Ivory||Red, Black, Ivory, Blue||Red, Black, Ivory, Blue|
|YC-30||Black, Walnut||Red, Black, Ivory, Walnut||Red, Black, Walnut|
|YC-25D||Red, Ivory, Walnut||Red, Black, Ivory, Blue||Red, Ivory, Walnut|
|YC-45D||Black, Walnut||Red, Black, Walnut||Walnut|
If you own or have pictures of one of these in a color not yet "Seen in the wild", please contact me.
The A-3 was the first Combo organ made by Yamaha. Introduced in 1966, it appears to be the forerunner of the YC series. I've only confirmed the existence of three of these, and originally wondered if it was even a production model. Well, it's listed on Yamaha's manual library, and there's a service manual available for it, so it's for real, but probably was not very widely sold. Details on the levers were provided to me recently by the owner of one, who also provided this description: "A little like a YC-20 with no bass. It can get raucous or Hammond-like. Not as much like a Continental as the YC organs, no bright lever"
Knobs: Pitch, Volume
Levers: Tone, Vibrato, Vibrato Speed, Flute 16', Bass 16', Flute 8', Clarinet 8', Brass 8', Reed 8', String 8', Flute 4', String 4', Flute 2-2/3', Flute 2', Flute 1-3/5'
The Tone lever affects the sound in a way similar to the Contour knob on a Vox Jaguar. The non-Flute voices mix in some additional harmonics from the higher ranks, and then are filtered differently than the Flutes, similar to the red, yellow and green voice levers on the upper YC models (30, 25D, 45D).
Thanks to Kirk for the following pics:
And thanks to Timothy E. Henley, for these nice ones of a slightly different A3. Note the wood bottom section. Tim tells me this is real wood, not laminate. Note the neat anvil-style case, and how the organ actually goes in it upside down. Also note how the volume pedal plugs in (using a very odd plug), rather then being hard-wired like the YC's. And dig the AC accessory outlet - when was the last time you saw one of THOSE on a piece of gear?
(Timothy Henley's pictures, Copyright 2002 FriendlyWinds.Org)
The "entry level" YC model. 32 Treble keys, 17 Bass keys which can be switched to extend the Treble section.
Contrary to my earlier assumption, and according to the YC-10 owners manual, the Manual Bass lever switches the bass section in and out (either Bass sound or an extension of the treble section). I had previously thought it was a "Balance" lever, but either I was mistaken, or there was more than one version of the YC-10. The "I" and "II" sections are different, probably the same sounds as the YC-20. The manual describes the "I" section as "the basic sound of the Combo Organ", which, if it's wired like the YC-20, is true, in that it controls the full, unfiltered output from the oscillators and dividers. The "II" section is heavily filtered to produce the flute tones and bright tones.
The top on the YC-10 was a leatherette finish, not the high-gloss polyester found on the YC-20 and 25D.
Date introduced: 1969. In 1977, the YC-10 list price was $595.
|Racy Red||Basic Black||Bodacious Blue
Click on the picture to see a closeup of the YC-10
(Photo from "Rock Hardware")
And here's a cool circular "owners manual". It looks like you turn it around to help figure out different features":
The YC-20 has most of the basic features you'd need in a Combo Organ. In addition to the features of the more spartan YC-10, it offers more voices, percussion, and Touch Vibrato in addition to normal vibrato. I owned one of these until recently, so I'm quite familiar with it.
This organ is incredibly well-made. Mine survived a UPS trip from Ontario to Georgia in a cardboard box with NO padding, and arrived virtually intact. The top (where the controls are mounted) and keybed are both hinged, and lift up for complete easy access.
There are 44 Treble keys and 17 Bass keys. The Bass section can be switched to extend the Treble section, for a total of 61 keys. The I and II voice sections have different sounds and are not simply two instances of the same circuitry. The I section has a brighter, fuzzier tone, more like a Vox, and the II section, with the Bright lever off, produces flute tones - very much like Hammond tone wheels. The Bright lever works only with the II section, and makes it even brighter and fuzzier than the I section, sounding more like a Farfisa. By adjusting the Bright and Balance levers, you can achieve quite a variety of great Combo Organ sounds. The Percussion is very similar to Hammond-style percussion. With the II section on, Bright lever off, and Percussion on, you can produce a very acceptable Hammond sound. Played through a Leslie, the effect is excellent. If you turn the Percussion all the way up, and add just a hint of 16' and 8' levers, you can play the organ break in "Green-Eyed Lady" and it sounds better than some Korg/Roland type organs I've tried (Seems like the VK-7 sounded pitiful when I tried this). Touch vibrato is a pretty nice feature. When activated, moving the keys side-to-side causes the pitch to waver up and down - very expressive. The Bass section has it's own dedicated 16' and 8' levers, with separate volume. The lowest notes played with the 16' lever can go REALLY low. There's no provision for adding bass pedals. The Pitch knob only makes slight changes - from about -1% to +2%.
Knobs: Pitch, Volume and Bass Volume
Vibrato: Touch Vibrato, Vibrato and Vibrato speed
Bass: 16', 8' and Man. Bass.
Section I: 16', 8', 4', 2-2/3', 2', 1-3/5', 1'
Section II: Bright, 16', 8', 4', 2'
The top is made of wood, with a high-gloss polyester finish.
The YC-20 uses the same legs as the YC-25D - they're interchangeable.
Date introduced: 1970. In 1977, the YC-20 list price was $895. Weight 88 lbs.
The YC-20 is also know as a "Tupe Piano" (It's an inside joke - email me for details)
Sounds: Here are a few sample sounds from the YC-20. Bear in mind that I'm not a very good keyboard player, so please ignore my lame attempts at reproducing some well-known phrases from popular 60's tunes and concentrate on the sound of the organ instead. I don't remember the exact registrations I used on these, but I've indicated the main features in play:
'96 Tears': Section II voices with
Bright lever on full
'Double Shot': Same as 96 Tears
'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida': Section I voices
'Cherokee Nation': Section II, no Bright, plus Percussion
'House of the Rising Sun': Section I voices
'Green-Eyed Lady': Percussion on full, plus a very small amount of Section II voices.
And here's the circular "Owners guide" for the YC-10:
Top-of the line single-manual. 44 Treble Keys, 17 Bass keys, switchable to extend the Treble section. Adds a few new voices (Marimba, Fuzz , Attack and Sustain) over the YC-20, and a couple of really unique features:
I had the opportunity to play one of these recently, and so have more details.
Vibrato: Touch Vibrato, Vibrato and Vibrato speed
Bass: 16', 8' and Man. Bass.
Section I: 16', 8', 4', 2-2/3', 2', 1-3/5', 1'
Section II: Bright, 16', 8', 4', 2', 1'
Red Levers: Fuzz, Attack 2 2/3', Percussion, Marimba, Mar. Select and Mar. Speed
Portamento: 16', 8', 4'
Knobs: Pitch, Volume, Bass Volume, Man. Sustain, Port. Volume
Tabs to left of keyboard: Preset1, Preset 2
Tabs to right of keyboard: Sustain 8', Attack 8' Normal/Fast, Attack 2-2/3' Extension
Here's a technique for using the Fuzz, submitted by fellow YC enthusiast, Danny:
"I don't know if you're into 'fuzz' as much as I am, but here's a useful trick: As you know, with high lever settings the fuzz just saturates very quickly, and intervals other than octaves and fifths get out of hand. If you try setting your main, beefy sound on the "I" voices, and then have a lighter amount of middle/upper-mid levers open on the right, you can then use the balance and brightness controls to "gain stage" the fuzz circuit. That is, by favoring the quieter "II" voices, you drive the fuzz less, and can play way more complex chords intelligibly, or move towards the "I" voices for more grind."
The stand allows the organ to be rotated 110 degrees, from nearly vertical to about 30 degrees downward. The YC-45D uses the same stand.
Date introduced: 1970
I don't have a very good picture of a Red one, but you can see one by clicking here
Here are some pretty good pics of the controls. I pieced them together so they're in roughly the right orientation:
The YC-25D is basically a dual-manual version of theYC-20 with several added features. I currently own one of these, so I'm quite familiar with it as well. The upper keyboard has 49 keys, and the lower manual has 30 Treble keys and 19(!?!) Bass keys which can be switched to extend the Treble section. Instead of having a Ch I and Ch II set of levers, one set is exclusively for each manual. Unlike the YC-20, both the upper and lower levers produce the same flute-like tone as the II section on the YC-20 However, the lower manual has a nice key-click, similar to the one found on the YC-20/YC-30 section I voices. The upper manual has all the same footages as the I section on the YC-20, and the lower manual has the same footages as the II section, plus a 2-2/3' lever. Both sections have the bright lever as well. Since the cheesier sounds of the YC-20's I section are gone, the upper manual of the YC-25D has four additional voices: Trombone 16', Kinura 16', Trumpet 8', and String 4'. These provide a nice selection of fuzzy, gritty, cheesy combo organ sounds. The Percussion section has been enhanced, with separately adjustable 4' and 2-2/3' levers, comparable to 2nd and 3rd harmonic percussion on a Hammond. There's also a Length lever for the percussion, which increases the time it takes for the percussion sound to die down. Similar to the Short/Long switch on a Hammond, but continuously variable. Percussion as well as Touch Vibrato are available on the upper manual only. The upper manual has a couple of additional features. There are two tabs to the left that select Touch Mute and Attack Glide. Touch Mute reduces the volume and mellows the timbre, but moving the keys side-to-side causes the timber to waver, giving sort of a "wah-wah" effect. Attack Glide is similar to Farfisa's Syntheslalom. When you press a key, it quickly "glides" up to the desired note. Not a very useful or pleasing sound, in my opinion, but fun to play with, nonetheless. There's also a lever to the left of the upper manual that controls the volume balance between the two manuals. The lower manual is basically the same as the YC-20 with the II section only, except it has the additional 2-2/3' lever. The Bass section is monophonic (when using the Bass voices - polyphonic when playing the treble voices), but adds a couple of extra features. Bass Guitar gives a plucked string-like sound that decays even if you hold the key. The other feature appears to vary on different models. Some have a "Sustain" lever, that adds a sustain after key release. This is the feature specified in the 1974 and '76 sales brochures that the picture below comes from. But on mine, the lever is labeled "Pizzicato", and it adds a sustain more like the Bass Guitar - it fades out even if you hold the key, and the sound stops immediately upon key release. The Sustain and Pizzicato features both affect only the regular 16' and 8' bass voices - the Bass Guitar is separate. The YC-25D can also be fitted with bass pedals, and the knob that switches between Manual Bass and Pedals effectively replaces the "Man Bass" switch on the YC-20 - switching the knob to the "Pedals" position, even if no pedals are connected, extends the bass section to play along with the rest of the lower manual. The YC-25D uses the same legs as the YC-20.
Pitch, Bass Volume, Master Volume.
Vibrato: Vibrato, Vibrato Speed
Upper: Touch Vibrato, Trombone 16', Kinura 16', Trumpet 8', String 4', Bright, 16', 8', 4', 2-2/3', 2', 1-3/5', 1'
Percussion: Length, 4', 2-2/3'
Lower: Bright, 16', 8', 4', 2-2/3', 2'
Bass: Sustain or Pizzicato, 16', 8', Bass Guitar.
Tabs (to left of upper keyboard): Touch Mute, Attack Mute.
Lever (next to tabs): Man. Balance.
Date introduced: 1972. In 1977, the YC-25D list price was $1,375. Weight 95lbs.
The "Cadillac" version. Has most of the features of both the YC-30, and the YC-25D, plus the following additional features: Upper Manual - 5-1/3', Kinura 8', Piano, Harpsichord, Vibraphone, Sustain 8', 4', Marimba, Piano, Harpsichord, Attack Mute, Percussion 16', 4', 2', 1. Bass - Tromba. Pitch ribbon: Slide Trombone, Squawk, Birds, Astro. The upper keyboard has 61keys, and the lower manual has 42 Treble keys and 19(!?!) Bass keys which can be switched to extend the Treble section.
Note that in addition to the fact that the pitch ribbon is NOT the same as the portamento strip n the YC-30, it's function is also different. Rather than the plain flute voices, it controls the Slide Trombone, Squawk, Birds and Astro voices. Slide Trombone and Squawk are bright organ-like voices, Birds sounds like chirping, and Astro is sort of a ring-modulator effect. The range of the pitch ribbon is 3 octaves.
The YC-45D uses the same tiltable stand as the YC-30.
Date introduced: 1972. In 1977, the YC-45D list price was $2,975.
Weighs in at a hefty 132lbs!
(2nd picture courtesy of the Audities Foundation)