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michel devos

Distortion: why do some believe this to be aesthetic?

Hammond distortion   20 members have voted

  1. 1. Do you consider distortion in the Hammond sound as a positive artefact?

    • Yes, it is an acceptable colour of the sound
      13
    • Yes, it improves the quality of the performance
      2
    • No, it degrades the performance
      2
    • No, it is no more than a hardware failure
      1

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59 posts in this topic

In the recent months, I have made several recordings of organ groups, mostly with B3's, but also older vintage models like the CV or newer models like the XK3 and the new B3. Speakers where the usual 122 or 147, 760 or 3300 from Leslie, but also heavily modified speakers using JBL drivers associated with Fender , Marshall or Ampeg amplifiers.

With the notable exception of the new B3, almost all other set-ups showed variouus degrees of distortion. I made sure none of these could have been generated by the recording equipment or a misadjustment of it : in every case, the dynamic range was around 144 cB with a headroom of minimum 22 dB from the mixer output.

I understand from the talks I had here and there that distortion seems to be a fashionable part of the hammond/Leslie aesthetics, which I find rather hard to swallow...However, just to have more opinions on the subject, I have started this thread ans let us see what your feelings are over this topic!

I'll be glad to discuss all aspects of it.

Edited by michel devos

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is this tube distortion or solid state?

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OMG are you serious? Any adequate explication of the long history of an aesthetic preference for distorted/dirty/impure (in sound or otherwise) could fill volumes...so, in short, hell yes some of us like it like that! Or are you asking something much more specific about this particular frequency of B3 sound?

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OMG are you serious? Any adequate explication of the long history of an aesthetic preference for distorted/dirty/impure (in sound or otherwise) could fill volumes...so, in short, hell yes some of us like it like that! Or are you asking something much more specific about this particular frequency of B3 sound?

Hi Danasgoodstuff and Allen,

The distortion I'm talking about is all tube...

And, yes, I can imagine there is room for discussion about this subject, but I have my own ideas and would like to compare them with a fair panel of opinions coming from knowledgeable people such as those found on this forum. Of course we do not need to get too deep into the finest details, but I'm curious to see what the general opinion is and, for this purpose, some kind of synthesis will be quite acceptable.

Thanks in advance for the discussion I hope will take place here.

Edited by michel devos

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I'd have to hear it - I love edgy tube distortion, the sag of that rectifier - but solid state distortion just clips and is ugly.

Edited by AllenLowe

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Never really thought about the religious aspect of distortion, just always figured that believers and non-believers alike had differing opinions on ..... what? aesthei... aestht.. huh? Oh. NEVER MIND! :g

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I'd have to hear it - I love edgy tube distortion, the sag of that rectifier - but solid state distortion just clips and is ugly.

I might prepare a short sample illustrating the matter...but I would like some help on how to proceed with the attachments. Can you help while I check with the online help? Thanks

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I prefer a clean organ sound myself; clean until you really start pushing it, then it breaks up a bit. But that's just me.

To me, it's not really distortion, but saturation. Like Allen says, a function of tube rectifiers being pushed hard, usually when the organist is kicking bass. Keep in mind that your standard tube 122 or 147 Leslie is only about 40 watts. That's not a lot of wattage to get above the din of the drums, an electric guitar, and the crowd, especially when that 40 watts is also pushing very low frequencies coming from the bass pedals or left hand.

It has become part of the sound because it's a pleasing sound to most people. It growls. It makes the static electric organ sound more alive. It sounds cool. :)

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I prefer a clean organ sound myself; clean until you really start pushing it, then it breaks up a bit. But that's just me.

To me, it's not really distortion, but saturation. Like Allen says, a function of tube rectifiers being pushed hard, usually when the organist is kicking bass. Keep in mind that your standard tube 122 or 147 Leslie is only about 40 watts. That's not a lot of wattage to get above the din of the drums, an electric guitar, and the crowd, especially when that 40 watts is also pushing very low frequencies coming from the bass pedals or left hand.

It has become part of the sound because it's a pleasing sound to most people. It growls. It makes the static electric organ sound more alive. It sounds cool. :)

Agree, same here...which concur with my opinion that distortion (or saturation as you call it) is simply the result of a lack of power: true that in those days, it was easy to go over the top of the amps, even with high efficiency speakers. And probably this became a habit for the listeners to believe distort' (even the "nice" one from tubes) is a mandatory component of the Hammond/leslie sound...which it shouldn't of course be.

The instruments I used were taking the B3 output to feed it into a custom crossover unit duplicating Leslie's specs and thereafter into high power tube amps from Fender and then into a leslie 910 fitted with JBL drivers of high efficiency. On top of that, there was an extra bass cabinet containing 12 units of JBL 12'' speakers going down flat to 30Hz...The second organ (a heavily modified CV) was connected to a Leslie 760 and a Hammond HR40 cabinet.

Some players produced no distotion at all, other ones plenty...so what the heck..?

Some

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I'm a little fuzzy on the whole issue ...

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I'm a little fuzzy on the whole issue ...

Yeah...just another byproduct of distortion. Are you frequently exposed to it..? :g

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I listened to that sample and I liked it, though I had trouble really getting the full sound - on organ as on guitar I like a little growl - power tube distortion as opposed to pre-amp distortion, which is just fuzz.

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Since my first exposure to Hammonds was early 70's rock stuff, there's always a soft spot for the sound conjured by people like Jon Lord & Ken Hensley. The distortion in this context was every bit as important as the guitar. In fact, if you listen to early Deep Purple you'll notice that Lord's organ has more distortion on it than Blackmore's guitar does.

Have I mentioned that I love distortion? laugh.gif

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:)

I love distortion too. As Jim mentioned, that full sound that breaks up a bit when pushed, that's the ticket for me. I like to hear that, and I like to find that similar sound when I play guitar. As my favorite amp is my '59 Bassman Reissue LTD, I've used a "Hot Plate" device to get the sound of the amp turned UP into that zone while still maintaining lower volume levels to not scare the neighbors. . . .

Having that potential to distort at the very top is another form of dynamic control and use in my opinion.

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:)

I love distortion too. As Jim mentioned, that full sound that breaks up a bit when pushed, that's the ticket for me. I like to hear that, and I like to find that similar sound when I play guitar. As my favorite amp is my '59 Bassman Reissue LTD, I've used a "Hot Plate" device to get the sound of the amp turned UP into that zone while still maintaining lower volume levels to not scare the neighbors. . . .

Having that potential to distort at the very top is another form of dynamic control and use in my opinion.

I seems a majority of the people expressing their opinion here favour some kind of distortion in some circumstances, I understand when the music reaches a climax or a paroxysm. Should we draw an analogy with the human voice as it reaches the threshold of screamin, by excitement for example?

Might be an explanation...But how do we react with plain distortion constantly present at any point of the score..? Any justification or explanation for this..?

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I think in the musics we listen to and perform its genesis may have been to replace notes or infer notes that aren't where they might be. . . notes in the cracks or notes not really "right" in the Western sense. And they are colors and thicknesses used as if they might on an artist's palette.

Works done with distortion present from the beginning are statements. I'm turned up to eleven, my pain is intense, I'm not like you are. A clean version might be like a clear painting of a man standing there mouth wide open; a distorted version may be that famous painting of The Scream.

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Sometimes life is thick. Even happy life.

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Works done with distortion present from the beginning are statements.

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Well, in blues, heavy metal, hard rock, etc. the distortion is often INTENTIONAL. That must seem right to you, yes?

In jazz, organ jazz, with the best players. . . I would think it is also most often intentional. Wouldn't you think that an accomplished, working, touring, recording organist would KNOW when his equipment is failing, or a recording engineer when he's overloaded an input, etc.? I would assume intentional more often than not.

I really LIKE the sound of distortion mixed with clean sounds. I'm guessing you don't. It's a nice color, it's part of drama.

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if one wanted to pursue this I think one might find the origin of the kind of distortion we are talking about in African American vocalizing - check out some of the old Delta guys like Charlie Patton - and then early gospel, like Arizona Dranes and Bessie Johnson, also storefront gospel -

the earliest recording I've heard, interestingly enough, with this sound, is from a Bob Wills broadcast with guitarist Junior Barnard, middle 1940s, maybe, and I can only assume that Barnard (a white guy and great jazz player) was probably reflecting what he heard around him in Texas - not to mention the limitation of low-power guitar amps.

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I agree Allen, that was sort of what I was alluding to in my post #18.

The limitations of those low power single-ended triode amps, indeed, and I would bet that Barnard KNEW those limitations and used them with intent. That's my bet, wasn't there, can't know for sure.

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Isn't Jimmy Smith's sound distorted from the first note on Live At Small's?

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,

it's part of drama.

Exactly...that's what the competent engineer using fine recording equipment experiences when hearing distortion that cannot be reasonably identified (panic)... But I really concur with the idea of emphasizing a climax, either with the B3/leslie, the guitar (jazzbo) and the human voice (allen, michel) using some touch of linear distortion. You would not believe how many players have to rely onto organs in a very sad state, worn out Leslies, craclikng connectors and devices, especially when playing gigs in clubs renting the instrument for a week end or so. That is unfortunately more often the rule than the exception.

This of course never happens during a studio production, where the instruments can be thoroughly checked and serviced if necessary. By the way, I love the more recent recordings of Jimmy McGriff and Hank Crawford : never a hint of distortion, whatever the sound levels; I believe he used to play an X3000, or maybe sometimes an X77? This can be checked on some youTube videos, featuring also Bob Devos and Hank Crawford live (at Yoshi's ?).

Isn't Jimmy Smith's sound distorted from the first note on Live At Small's?

There are unfortunately many Jimmy's sessions suffering from this problem : I can't remember this one, but definitely At Club Baby Grand, The champ (a new sound, a new star)and many others. Same for BabyFace Willette.

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