Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

I don't know what questions (if any) are "frequently asked" regarding combo organs, so I just tried to come up with some that might be asked. If I start getting actual questions in, I'll update this section accordingly.

What organ was used by a particular band or on a particular song?

I have moved this to a separate page: Who Played What?

I have a (model xyz) organ that's not listed on your web site.  What can you tell me about it?

    If it's not listed here, then it's either not what I consider a Combo Organ (see "What is a Combo Organ") or it's just not a model I'm familiar with.  If you send me a good description of it, and preferably a picture, too, I'll see what I can dig up.  See the Contact page for my email address.   

Where can I find parts, manuals and repair service for my Combo Organ?

Check out my Spares and Repairs page.

How much is my Combo Organ worth?

    A very good question, one that's asked frequently, but one that's not easy to answer.  Vox and Farfisa organs (primarily the Compact series) seem to be the most in demand, mainly because they're the most well-known.  A Continental or Compact in great cosmetic shape, with everything working, can go for as little as $300-$500, or may fetch as much as $1,000-$1,500 (the Continentals do seem to command more than the Compacts).  A Yamaha YC-20(an excellent organ, in my opinion, and capable of replacing either a Vox or Farfisa, and far more well-built than either), on the other hand, may only go for $200-$300, in comparable condition.  Prices for most combos are all over the map, though, with garage sale and thrift store specimens for $20-$50 still to be found, and the same organs on Ebay going for hundreds, or sitting untouched in music stores for years with comparably high price tags.  In general, though, except for the Voxes and most Farfisas, a combo organ in decent shape, everything working and legs or stand present will go for between $100 and $500.  Compared with other vintage instruments (like guitars, for example), though, they still represent a good value.  Considering that their nearest modern equivalents, the "Hammond simulators" (Hammond XB-2, Roland VK-7, etc.), go for well over $1,500 new (and that doesn't even include the legs!), a mint Compact or Continental for $1,000 isn't too outrageous.

Regarding rarity:  I've seen many eBay auctions for Vox Continentals, Jaguars and Farfisa Compacts touting them as "super rare".  As vintage keyboards go, this is far from the case.  These are probably the most common of all combo organs.  In 3 years of watching eBay, I've seen well over 200 Vox organs and nearly 250 Farfisa Compacts (MOST of which were Red, so that's another myth - Red is probably the most common color for a Compact).  So watch eBay for a month, and chances are you'll see approximately 6-7 Vox organs and about the same number of Compacts.

Why are so many Combo Organs missing their legs?

    No one knows.  There's speculation that they wind up in the same alternate universe that lost socks go to, but that's only a theory.  A very good reproduction of Vox legs is available at North Coast Music.

Why are some Combo Organ keys reverse colored?

I think this all started with the Vox Continental, and I don't know why, but it sure looks cool. The Continental's key colors are reversed from a standard organ/piano, like a harpsichord. Many Combo Organs reverse color only the leftmost 12-18 keys to indicate that they play bass notes. These are often duplicates of what would be played if bass pedals were hooked up (many Combo organs actually came with an octave or so of bass pedals). The Vox Jaguar and Continental Baroque have the opposite - reverse keys for the treble section, and normal colored keys for the bass octave. Some organs have gray/white keys for the bass section, which usually (but not always), indicates they can be switched to be an extension of the Treble keys. To muddy the mix further some have black/white keys and gray/white keys. In this case, the gray/white keys are usually "switcheable", and the black/white keys are fixed for bass notes. The Farfisa Compact Deluxe and the Elka Panther Combo are good examples of this. Some of the Panthers also have gray/black keys instead of gray/white. As if that's not enough, a few models have all gray/white keys, like the Farfisa Professional (but not the Professional Duo), or light gray/white for treble, darker gray/white for switchable bass/treble, and and black/white for bass (like some of the Farfisa Fast series). Confused? you're not alone.

What is a "stop" or "stop tab"?

A "stop" or "stop tab" or simply "tab" is a switch that turns a particular voice or feature on and off. The term "stop" comes from the pipe organ days. Pipes always have air blowing through them, but only make a sound when one end is "stopped", by turning on one of the stops on the organ console. Many older organs had knobs that you pulled out to stop a rank of pipes, hence the phrase "pulling out all the stops". Strictly speaking, a stop would refer only to those tabs that activated voices (flute, strings, etc) rather than a modification (vibrato, sustain) of the sound. Sometimes these are referred to as "speaking" stops and "non-speaking" stops, respectively.

I've since been corrected on my knowledge of pipe organs.  Here's a helpful note I received from one sharp-eyed visitor:

"... you make mention of the derivation of the term "stop" and its basis in pipe organ terminology. Quite so, but pipes do not always have air blowing through them. Very early instruments with a number of ranks or sets of pipes were positioned on a 'wind chest' that had a valve per playing key. When you played the key, all the pipes on the channel associated with the valve (i.e., all the Cs or the C#s, etc) would play as the valve opened and let air into the pipe feet. A slightly later improvement was to provide sliders under each set of pipes, which had holes which would basically either line up with the channel or not, thus allowing each set of pipes to play or be *stopped* from playing by operating the slider"

How does a stop differ from a drawbar?

Stops are either on or off. Drawbars allow a particular sound or modification to be added by degree - from off to full and everything in between. Kind of like the on/off switch versus the volume control. Drawbars were an innovation of the Hammond organ company, and are often associated with Hammond organs. While it's true that many organs with drawbars do a fair imitation of the Hammond tonewheel sound, the drawbars themselves are not the reason. The Vox Continentals and the Farfisa VIP series (well, most of them) feature drawbars, but I don't think anyone would consider using either as a serious Hammond substitute. "The circuitry to implement drawbars is more complex than for stops, which is one reason the Continental was more expensive than the Jaguar" I had made this statement based on information a the Vox Showroom web site.  Since then, I've become more acquainted with combo organ circuitry and can say confidently that drawbars are NOT much more expensive to implement than tabs.  The difference is really only in the cost of the drawbar versus the tab switch itself - maybe a few dollars at most.  I think what they were referring to was the implementation of control over individual footages - this requires separate key contacts for each footage.  The Jaguar has only one contact per key, the Continental has four.  This can add significantly to the cost of the organ, which is why many of the cheaper organs do not have separate 16', 8', 4', etc tabs or drawbars.

What are the designations 16', 8', 4', etc on some stop tabs?

These also hearken back to the days of pipe organs. The "footage" indicates the length of the longest pipe in a rank (a rank is a group of pipes that make a particular sound), normally the lowest "C" on a standard 61-note keyboard. As the length halves, the pitch goes up an octave. Some stops are "in-between" - for instance a 5-1/3' stop produces a tone that's a fifth above an 8' stop. Playing a "C" with only the 5-1/3 stop on will produce a "G". Some organs have voice stops with no footage designation. These can usually be considered to be all 8' stops, and is a serious limitation to the variety of possible sounds. Having a full palette of footages available gives one a lot more tonal flexibility. Most Hammond organs have 9 drawbars per keyboard or preset. Though they would all be considered "flute" tones (a rather pure tone, with few harmonics), an incredible variety of sounds is possible.

What do the instrument names on the voice tabs mean?

Unlike modern synthesizers, very few electronic organ voices bear more than a passing resemblance to the instruments indicated on the tabs. They serve more to define a general quality of sound. Flute's usually have the purest sound, most closely akin to the sound of the Hammond tonewheel organs. Trumpets, and Trombones have a somewhat brighter sound, and Strings and Reeds usually have the brightest, fuzziest sounds of all. In addition, some of the names you may see are not actual instruments at all. Here's a description provided to me about these other "instrument" names:

According to my Hammond organ manual, they're standard pipe organ stop names for the various harmonics. Here's the complete list:

16' (Sub-fundamental) BOURDON
5 1/3' (Fifth) QUINT
8' (Fundamental) PRINCIPAL
4' (Eighth) OCTAVE
2 2/3' (Twelfth) NAZARD
2' (Fifteenth) BLOCK FLOTE
1 3/5' (Seventeenth) TIERCE
1 1/3' (Nineteenth) LARIGOT
1' (Twenty-Second) SIFFLOTE

Diapason refers to an organ tone that has a distinctive organ quality and is different from that of any orchestral instrument. Organ tone families were traditionally, from the earliest pipe organ days, grouped into tone families that *roughly* emulated the harmonics of other instrument families, like the Flute tones, the Reed tones, and the String tones. These were very rough approximations, but useful for cataloging various groups of stops or tone families. Diapason tones are heavier and duller than the ones listed above, and lie between the flute tones and the string tones, characterized by a strong fundamental and second harmonic with relatively weak upper harmonics. The various Diapason registrations are used primarily on the lower keyboard for chordal accompaniment, backing vocalists, and in lots of church music. The Diapason resides in the fourth tonal family as described by Hammond, the "Foundation" family. Other organ-specific terms you'll sometimes see along with Diapason are Dulciana, Salicional, Tibia, Vox Humana, and Bombarde. Dulciana means "Sweet", "Tibia" is a type of flute voice, "Vox Humana" sounded like a human voice back in 1600, and "Bombarde" sounds like what it is, "all stops out" bombarding the listener with sound.