1 February 2009
The beautiful inverted, harpsichord-like keys, smooth pull drawbars, and striking red flat-top cover set the bar for portable organ design over the next 10 years. Initially meant to replace the "Hammond B3" for touring musicians, the distinct transistor sound of the "Vox Continental Organ" caught on with groups like the "The Animals" with "Alan Price", "Sir Douglas Quintet" with "August Meyers", "The Doors" with "Ray Manzarek" and was used most famously on "Iron Butterfly"'s "In-A-Gada-Da-Vida".
The "Vox Super Continental Organ" boasted two sets of keyboards (known as "manuals") and even more customization of sound with a "percussion" feature, while stripped down versions like the "Vox Jaguar Organ" featured only preset buttons, without the drawbars, and a slightly thinner sound.
The "Vox Continental Organ" is probably the most famous of the "new breed" of transistor organs that started emerging in the early '60s.
Previously, organs were built around tone-wheel technology.
This undoubtedly created a fantastic organ sound but made the instruments heavy and unwieldy (and expensive).
With the advent of transistors, it was possible to create lightweight, portable organs.... in theory.
In practice, the majority sounded thin and weak by comparison.
However, that sound in itself appealed to the new "Surf" and "Beatnik" music that was evolving at the time. The portability also appealed to groups.
The "Vox Continental Organ" was unusual in that it actually sounded quite good... not cheap and cheesy like so many of its rivals.
Although possibly better known for their amplifiers (the legendary "Vox AC30", for example), VOX actually started life as a manufacturer of 'traditional' home and church organs. With the emerging new 'micro' technology of transistors, they saw the possibility to use this technology in their products.
John Lennon with VOX Continental
The "Vox Continental Organ" came in two basic models, each with its own variations.
The basic models were the single manual, and the dual manual, which was known as the "Vox Continental II" in England and the "Vox Super Continental Organ" in Italy.
For a short time single manual Continentals were built in the USA.
Single Manual Continentals
Although they all made the same tones and were similar in appearance, there were 4 different builds of the the "Vox Continental Organ".
The first were UK models (V301J) built by Jennings Musical industries in Erith, Kent; later UK models were built by Vox Sound.
John Lennon used a Vox Continental Organ for the B-side of the HELP! single "I'm Down" on the 1965 US Tour. Photo courtesy duncanw
The USA versions (V301H) were built from 1966 by "Thomas Organ Company" under license, and the Italian Models were built by EME under license.
Italian models from (mid-1966) (V301E, V301E/2, V302E) were distinguishable from US and UK models by the flimsy plastic keys, white and black (instead of red and cream) drawbars and the stand braces crossed (the first few models - very early V301/E2 - out of the Italian factory used the UK stands with the single-point leg braces, and later went to the crossed style).
Thanks to Vox Showroom, North Coast Music!