***New Hammond Signature 2I am very pleased and honored to announce that I am now a member of the Hammond Organ Company family of artists endorsees. I’m humbled to be associated with a company that has such a long and important heritage in American music. It’s hard to imagine music without the Hammond Organ.

Back in the 1950s-70, keyboard players had to go to great lengths to reproduce live what they recorded in the studio. If you wanted your live sound to have piano, you had to haul a piano to the gig, or use one already there (usually out of tune!) If you wanted the Hammond organ sound, you had to haul a 300 pound organ with Leslie cabinet.  This made you very unpopular with your band mates.

To mitigate this problem, piano companies started making electronic pianos that were portable and easier to amplify. However, if you really wanted the Hammond B3 sound, you still needed a strong back and a moving truck.

When I first started gigging in 1993, the era of modern day digital  keyboards was already upon us. With the revolutionary advent of the Yamaha DX7 in the 1980’s, the concept of digitally reproducing pianos, organs, guitars, etc. was a mainstay of being a modern keyboardist. In a simple, lightweight package, you could replace all of the heavy equipment that you were hauling around, plus have many more sounds at your disposal. It was easy to walk into any pawn shop or music store and see Hammond organs, Wurlitzer pianos and Fender Rhodes pianos for sale, cheap.

The problem for me was, as a budding keyboardist, these digital solutions never really sounded quite right to my ear. Yes, I had a Hammond organ sound on my Korg O1w, but it sounded fake or canned. In fact, all of the digitized instruments sounded fake. They were passable, but had no depth or character. However, since this is all I really knew, I accepted it and struggled on. It wasn’t until I went into a music store and actually sat down at a real Hammond organ, did I see the incredible difference between the “real” thing and the imposter. I had to have it, so I bought the Hammond, again very cheap, and moved it into my dorm room. My band mates were laughing because I was moving “backwards” in updating my keyboard rig.

It turned out that there were a lot of keyboardists who felt the way I did. They wanted the feel and adaptability they could get with a real Hammond organ and were not getting that from the digital keyboards on the market. The Hammond organ company, which was by this time owned by Suzuki, knew this and started creating digitized hammond organs, in the attempt to create an instrument to replace the vintage Hammond organ and Leslie Speaker combo.

Analog instruments like the B3 have so many nuances, so many overtones and audio “defects” that they are very hard to emulate. Many companies have tried. Hammond/Suzuki was and still is in the forefront of this audio mission.

As I became more serious about my music in the 1990’s and started leaning towards playing blues and R&B, I started looking for a specialized keyboard that would come closer to giving me the drawbar playability I was used to on my Hammond, but in a portable digital package. Then I found the Hammond XB-2.

For its time, this was the only practical keyboard that really went after the sound I was looking for in a portable package… an sounded killer through a real Leslie. Yes, Korg had the CX-3, but I wanted a new ax and I wanted ait to be a Hammond. The XB-2 served me for many years on and off the road. With different bands, I switched around from many different “clone-wheel” organs, as they had become known, but still kept my ears open for what Hammond had to offer. By the time the Hammond XK-3 came out, I had to take the plunge and go back home to Hammond.

Extreme portability: The one good thing I can say about digital keyboards today (2015), which has been said many times, but now more than ever, is how much sound you can now pack in a very small, lightweight keyboard package. With advancements in technology, the goal of reproducing the subtileties of a B3 or other vintage EP is closer to perfection now than it ever has been.

As a Hammond organ artist, I will be be playing Hammond’s newest portable organ, the SK1. Unlike my old 50-ish pound XK3, the Sk1 weighs only 16lbs and has many more keyboard sounds besides the highly acclaimed and detailed Hammond organ modeling with drawbars. It also has killer and accurate electric pianos and clav, making it usable as a the only keyboard needed on the gig. Throw this thing in a gig bag and it will fit nicely in the overhead compartment of an airplane! This is the first time in my career that a digital keyboard has both this level of accuracy and mobility.

I look forward to seeing many of you out on the road and showing off my new Hammond Sk1!

Brant Leeper