The Hammond Piper Autochord

UPDATE MARCH 2010 – NOW WITH VIDEO DEMO.

No, that’s not me! I like his style though!

The Hammond Piper Autochord is the first ‘organ’ I ever got almost ten years ago.  I paid 50 bucks to punk rock mavericks The Black Lips who practiced next door to my buddy Jason’s house (although it may have been Carbonas as they both played in the same house at the time, I can’t remember, man).  I know!  Most Piper owners get theirs for free!

Anyway, the Piper was issued in the year of my birth – 1970 – and was apparently the first  organ to employ the ‘autochord’ system.  As you can tell from the above photo (not mine), its brightly colored buttons and relatively compact size, that the Piper is of the ‘Family Fun’ category of organ.

It’s operation is weird.  When the levers are in the ‘up’ position, they are off.  Flip them down and they activate.  The same is true for the Bass, Reverb, Rate (tempo for the on board drum box), Repeat (tempo for banjo, and vibrato) and Volume (main, drum box, solo percussion) sliders – down is louder, down is faster.  It’s the opposite of almost EVERY other electronic device ever produced!

The levers are split into five sections – Bass, Accompaniment, Vibrato, Percussion and Solo.

The sounds are:

PERCUSSION: Piano, Harpsichord, Guitar, Sitar, Mallet Vibraphone, and Banjo.

SOLO: Trombone, Accordion, Flute, Violin, Trumpet, and ‘Dynamute’.  What is ‘Dynamute’?  Well Duke Ellington tells me that it’s that ‘Wa-Waa’ sound that a trumpet makes.  As you serious musicians know, you can’t have a Sitar without that essential ‘Dynamute’ sound!

But it doesn’t really matter as none of these sounds are anything like what they claim to be, and that’s great.  Sure it’s kinda cheezy but, as with any instrument, it’s all about how you use it.  I’ve made some real creepy, atmospheric, Krautrock inspired tracks using the drum box and banjo with vibrato and the killer on board reverb.

It’s a shame, when I got this, it was dead mint.  Then I moved into a rental house where, surprise surprise, the basement became a lake whenever it rained – and that year it rained almost every day in June.  Before I was able to get a dehumidifier, the damage was done.  The bottom of the unit is water damaged and I’m going to have to take it apart and clean it thoroughly to get rid of the clicks and pops.

But this may be a good thing as I’ve been wanting to replace the speaker with a quarter inch plug, and if possible, route the  drum box to it’s own dedicated plug.  Also, I’m curious if the volume pedal can be toyed with as I’d like to modify it to be an ad hock ‘overdrive’ by pushing it further than it was meant to go.

Here’s something interesting I’ve noticed.  My Piper has a tape deck connected to a swivel that comes out from under the keyboard on the right hand side.  I guess that was so 1970′s moms could toke joints and jam along to their favorite Helen Reddy / Captain & Tennille cassettes while the hubby was at work and the kids were at school.  Well, this isn’t all that strange as this was a featured item of the Piper (thanks, Duke).  BUT!  If you check out the picture below you’ll notice that….

This one has it’s deck built into the unit!  But WAIT!  There’s more!

This one has no tape deck, but has an entirely different console / speaker cover with a silver chord guide (?) above the manual!

And none other than the legendary DUKE ELLINGTON pimped the Piper upon it’s release in1970!

In case you’re not in the mood to make your eyes bleed trying to read what the Duke had to say, I’ve done the heavy lifting for you (and am now typing this blind):

“For a long time you had two choices when you bought your first organ.  You could get an inexpensive one that was easy to play, but sounded like a toy.  Or, you could get a complicated one.  And after two or three months of practice, treat your friends to a soul-stirring rendition of ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’.

What you couldn’t get was an organ simple enough to learn on, but sophisticated enough to still be fun later on.

And that’s what I like about the Piper.  It sounds like organ’s supposed to sound.

After all, it’s a Hammond and they invented the electric organ in the first place.  But the Piper doesn’t have a mass of pedals or a double keyboard.  So it’s much easier to play.

Besides, the Piper does a lot all by itself.  Push a button, and you get rhythm.  Hold your left hand on a couple of keys and it plays chords automatically.

There are seven different rhythms, too.  Latin, Western, Parade, Rock, Ballad, Waltz and, one of my favorites, Jazz.

And the Piper can sound like a Piano, Harpsichord, Sitar, Guitar, Marimba, Banjo, Trombone, Accordion, Flute, Violin, Trumpet or any combination of them.

And it’s got an earphone jack.

And a dynamute effect.  (You know the wa-waa sound a trumpet makes?  That’s a dynamute effect.)

You can even get a Piper with an optional built in cassette recorder.

And you know what you can get a Piper for?  Less than a thousand dollars.

Look, if you’re a real organist, there are 35 Hammonds to choose from.  And there isn’t one I wouldn’t recommend.  But if you’re just starting, and what you mainly want is a good time, look at a Piper.

After a few days, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you started sounding a little like Duke Ellington.

Well… at least a little like Count Basie.”

Now, let’s alter a few lines for the sake of truth:

“And the Piper makes weird sounds called (but sound nothing like) Piano, Harpsichord, Sitar, Guitar, Marimba, Banjo, Trombone, Accordion, Flute, Violin, Trumpet or any combination of them.And the Piper can sound like a Piano, Harpsichord, Sitar, Guitar, Marimba, Banjo, Trombone, Accordion, Flute, Violin, Trumpet or any combination of them.”

&

“And you know what you can get a Piper for?  Less than a dollar.”

What I like is that you can tell Duke turned the unit on, played it for about 1:30 to get a feel for it, then recited the features, pimped real Hammonds and disses Basie.  Check, please!


HAMMOND PIPER AUTOCHORD FUN FACT:

When promoting the Piper, Hammond toured a group called ‘The Piperettes’!  The Piperettes!!!

There was also a Hammond Piper II, but I haven’t played one.  Hey, organ fans!  How about one of you submit your take on the Piper or Piper II in the comments section?

And now I leave you with the most disturbing video I’ve seen on Youtube in a while.  The ruthless owner disabled embedding, so follow the link. Pray for that Piper, folks.

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42 comments on “The Hammond Piper Autochord

  1. Mike Carr says:

    I have a Hammond Piper Autocord. It hasn’t been used for several years. What is the value?

    Thanks Mike, Riverview, Michigan

  2. marshottentot says:

    If it’s in perfect working order with a clean appearance you could get 50-100 bucks tops. Anything less and it’s ‘please come take this’ time.

    Thanks for dropping by!

  3. Po O'Hara says:

    Hey i just bought one of these auto chords today. Paid 30 bucks (haha). well anyway almost every key has a bad pop or fuzz when you hit it. do you know if this is just dust or a real electrical problem?

    thanks

  4. marshottentot says:

    That sounds like dust. If you’ve got the time, open her up and clean her out. Good luck!

  5. Erica says:

    I have one I’d like to give away for free. It works ok but the volume is a little funky….

  6. marshottentot says:

    What state are you located in?

  7. Po O'Hara says:

    yes what state?

  8. bryan todd says:

    I have on working condition will take 50 bucks or best offer in in michigan!

  9. marshottentot says:

    Bryan, put up a craigslist ad in your area and I’m sure that thing will go in two days.

  10. Bullbrain says:

    Hi there

    I’m Philip from Belgium (that’s not my last name) and I have a Hammond Piper II organ. It came without a manual and I would like to have one if someone can help me out.
    A pdf or word document will do. You can send this by mail.
    I would be grateful if someone could provide me some.

    Kind regards
    Philip

  11. marshottentot says:

    I’m sure that a LOT of people would love one – I would! Anybody?

  12. Ben says:

    I have one that I acquired from my neighbor. I really like it, and I don’t want to sell it. However, the volume is stuck on the lowest possible setting. Any ideas about what the problem could be, and how much it would be to fix?

  13. marshottentot says:

    Hi Ben,
    Sounds like either a broken or, more likely, dirty slider. Unfortunately, this means you’ll have to open her up and clean her out. This is a perennial pain in the Piper-Autochord owners butt. I have to do it for mine as well due to a crackly response. The Good News is that these things are fairly uncomplicated to keep running. When I finally am able to do so, I will photo document my cleaning for reference.

  14. juan says:

    depende de donde se encuentre usted, yo estoy en España y si los portes no son muy caros lo aceptaria.
    Atentamente: Juan Burgos Planagumá.

  15. JUAN says:

    necesito manual de instrucciones a ser posible en Español del The PIPER AUTOCHORD,bien en documento original o en CD, o en PDF.
    ATENTAMENTE JUAN.

  16. marshottentot says:

    No creo que es probable encontrar en esto última fecha. La máquina es bastante fácil de utilizar. Palancas en el ‘ up’ coloque son ‘ on’ , hay una bobina del reverb que se puede activar de un nivel en la parte posterior. El tempo de la máquina de tambor acelera cuando el resbalador del tempo es ‘ levantado; up’. Iguales para el volumen. Hay también un volumen principal pdeal en el Piper’ base de s. Presionándola ‘ down’ aumenta el volumen, clavando ‘ up’ disminuye el volumen. That’ ¡s sobre él, pardon mi español creado babelfish!!

  17. Juan says:

    Gracias por su información, pero como no soy un profesional de la musica y estoy aprendiendo por eso necesito un manual, de todas formas muchas gracias y su español que es mucho mejor que mi ingles que no se, gracias y hasta pronto.
    Juan.

    Thank you for your information, but I am not a professional music and am learning so I need a manual, thank you very much anyway and his Spanish is much better than my English is not, thanks and see you soon.
    Juan.

  18. mark says:

    i just got a hammond piper good condition for free (its the 3rd pic down) and i just wanta know what is the differance between them, and is mine any good?

  19. marshottentot says:

    Hey Mike.
    Other than the case, and the fact that the one you have is a bit more rare, there’s no difference. They’re cheap, cool lil’ organs – you won’t be retiring on any money made from selling it. For what they are, I love ‘em.

  20. DOM! says:

    I just picked up a Piper w/ the matching Leslie 114 speaker! The leslie has a matching grill! Exploring it and having a great time! Way COOL!

  21. marshottentot says:

    DOM! Buddy, you’ve GOT to get me a picture of that set up – I have never heard of that combination! I’ll email you directly.

  22. Tony Vardé says:

    I’m expecting to buy a Pipper 2 and my main doubt is: “DOES THE PIPPER 2 SOUNDS LIKE (or nearly, at least) A HAMMOND-B3 OR SO?” Or does it only sounds like a “Piano, Harpsichord, Sitar, Guitar, Marimba, Banjo, Trombone, Accordion, Flute, Violin, Trumpet or any combination of them.” I own a Funmachine and I dont want another similar organ. If anyone can clear my doubt, I would be very thankful. Tony, from Argentina

  23. marshottentot says:

    Tony -
    I’m afraid it is very much like a Funmachine. If you want a B3 type of sound on the cheap you’re better off going with something like a Kawai E600 as seen here http://organpron.wordpress.com/2008/05/15/kawai-e600a/. It’s kind of at the crossroads between a Funmachine type of sub-synthesizer and a legitimate organ. It even has a series of drawbars! They weigh at least 400 lbs., but they’re pretty cheap – about the same as what you’d pay for a Piper Autochord, but far and away a better machine. I do love the Piper, though!

  24. Tony Vardé says:

    Thanks for clearing my mind buddy!

  25. Rebecca says:

    I have a Hammond Piper Organ Autochord and i just need to know the easyest way to clean it because it is very dusty. Thank you!

  26. marshottentot says:

    Rebecca,
    I’m going to post a lil’ thing I found on cleaning the Piper soon, I have to clean mine as well! Keep an eye open and Happy New Year.

  27. Stephen says:

    Hi to all of you. I’ve seen a Hammond Piper organ on sale for about 50$. I used to play on a cheap lil Thomas with a similar autochord system. The seller mentions there seems to be a intermittent contact with the E key. I’m an unemployed person for health reasons but I also enjoyed music a lot and I was wondering if this could be fixed manually or if it’s real expensive to get it fixed in a music store. I don’t mind opening the thing to keep it in proper condition, I just need to know if it is worth it. Thanks in advance.

    Stephen

  28. marshottentot says:

    Hey Stephen, thanks for dropping by. The fix is an easy one IF you have patience and do what I do and take a bunch of picture every step of the way so that you can back track (number them if you have to). What it probably needs is to have 40 years of dust and grime wiped away. Get some contact cleaner, some q-tips, a microfiber rag cut into smaller squares and a light colored sheet to put all of the parts on (I recommend placing the parts on the ground if possible so things aren’t falling and disappearing). Check the leads to the keys to ensure they are intact. I’m guessing because it’s hitting once and a while, it’s more likely a cleanliness issue, but you never know. Wipe everything down return to their rightful place (look at those snapshots!) and all should be right in the world.

    Good Luck, let us know how it went
    Mars

  29. Stephen says:

    Considering this is the only problem the seller mentions in his ad, what else besides dust could be the problem? Also, at 50$ (canadian), do you think it is worth buying and maybe upgrading a bit? Thing is I started on the Thomas organ with the glo-touch keys, I think they’re called. Then I went into 2 yamaha keyboards and a Technics, which I dug although it wasn’t the same feel as the organ, and I’m now in the process of finding something affordable price-wise for an organ, as well as maybe upgradable — changing the speakers, maybe adding some rhythm box and such — since I intend to use it for many genres, like classical, metal, hard rock. But I always play with the organ sounds, rarely with the strings and guitar sounds. Thanks for your reply.

  30. marshottentot says:

    First, while most folks are trustworthy, there are always a few unscrupulous sellers who will say anything to sell an item. Always enter into any deal with your eyes open. If you can try the organ on site, do so.

    Here’s a demo I found that gives a good preview of the sounds.

    It has a rhythm box already (not in the demo, but is in the first video that follows), I think a 1/4 inch jack to allow for plugging into an amp is a good idea. I suppose if you’re into Funeral Doom or some more esoteric Black Metal (ala the Finnish band Oranssi Pazuzu), the organ fits, but I haven’t heard much else in the metal genre that involves organ. Hard rock, however, is full of the stuff!

  31. Stephen says:

    Well I forgot to mention that there’s a small fraction of bands in many different metal sub-genres which use keyboards. As for myself I’m not just thinking about funeral doom, just a doomy, gothic/funeral atmosphere in the background and sometimes coming at the forefront, kinda like in the old Pink Floyd records, as well as Universal and Hammer Pictures’s movie soundtracks, and also Goblin, the famous italian band. That’s the kinda sound I’m goin’ for; something atmospheric, moody, and downright creepy yet epic as well as bein able to play what I listen to. I was able to play Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” on my father’s Thomas organ, even he was surprised lol!! I heard the rhythm sample in the next video — trying NOT TO look at that weirdo — and the rhythm’s sound seems nice even if i only heard one hehe.

    I’m just trying to make up my mind really, as on one hand i got this Hammond which could be good, and on another hand, I got a Lowrey Symphonic or Orchestral Holiday which sounds like it could fit the bill. I don’t know enough to make an advised decision, which is why I try and get some opinions to see what good comes out of it and if there’s more pros than cons regarding the subject matter.

    Also I’ll be re-learning in a way, since I haven’t played the keys — organ or keyboards — in over 10 years. AND i also have to learn to develop my rhythm on my own when doing some chords, some things I never got to learn in the first place. I learned most songs i know by ear, no sheet music — besides the ones with the lettered notes — so that’s why I’m simply testing the waters, trying to find something that fits, as well as something that won’t cost too much maintenance-wise. The Lowrey from what i could gather is in excellent condition, has been tuned — the seller prolly meant it got dusted I bet — and is about the same price, so I guess I’ll see. I’m still waiting for the Hammond’s seller to write back to me. Thanks for your reply.

    P.S.: No matter which one I get in the end, i checked that video and one of a Hammond B3, and I think i’ll prolly do a lil mod on the organ: change the key colors — I’ve always loved black keys. All it takes, as you said, is patience. I’ll see. ;)

  32. marshottentot says:

    Ahhh, Goblin – that’s great stuff! If you do get the Piper and mod it, make sure to document and send some pictures in – we’ll do a post on it!

  33. Stephen says:

    Indeed their soundracks for most of Argento’s movies and Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead are simply stunning. But I’ll have to check what other rhythms are available with the Piper. When I played “Enter Sandman” I had to combine 2-3 different tempos to get to THE right chugging beat I was looking for, so we’ll see when I go see the seller and check it once it’s plugged. Maybe I’ll get him to open it up to see how dusty it is in there. Then I can see if I can do this dusting off myself or if I should ask a pro to do it, just to make sure i don’t mess anything up

    As for modding, I’m just talking about the keys mainly regarding the Piper, although a nice mod I once saw of a similar 2-register portable organ was all black case, black keys and switches with only the minor keys and writings in white, kinda like on a pipe organ if you will. That sure made for a hell of a creepy yet cool organ. The man playing it said he used it for lounge music and thought that it’d be more fitting of the atmosphere in the clubs.

  34. marshottentot says:

    Black keys on a Piper sounds cool to me – send in some pics if you go for it!

  35. Stephen says:

    I think it’d be cool on any organ, period. Either black or dark walnut brown for the white keys n cream vanilla for the black ones. I saw that on the big pipe organ in St. Joseph’s Oratory here in Montreal, Canada. That was another sight to behold: a total BEHEMOTH with 5 registers — and the organist let me play with two, so i got ’round to playin “Great Balls of Fire” on that monster haha!! I remember him sayin to his assistant “make sure everything is still tuned ok”, as he was givin’ a series of shows with Bach’s works. Still it was cool to see, and feel the power of that gigantic monster — Forget Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos, THIS is the Thing That Should Not Be.

    It’s just a mod I’ve been thinkin ’bout ever since i got my first keyboardconsidering it’s rather easy to slowly do em one by one then put on some varnish to preserve the color and give it the glowy tint it needs. That and the fact that i can almost play with my eyes closed on a black keyboard from the few I’ve been lucky enough to touch. Time will tell. :)

  36. DeNelle Knutzen says:

    Ive got an old one at my fathers house he is trying to get rid of. It still works, it had a casset deck under the right side but it is missing, and the volume knob is missing as well as the continuous knob but they still works. Wood finish is worn looking and two of the keys kinda stick together. I dont know if its worth anything at this point. It would be nice to get a little something for him. It has the bench and music books inside. It is located in Washington State.

  37. marshottentot says:

    It’s really not worth anything as they are so plentiful – especially it the condition it is. I suggest you REHOME it by taking a few pics and offering it for free (or very close to free) on the Washington Craigslist. If you do, I bet Rockstar Dave over at Free Organs USA will put up a post for you – and so will I.

  38. virginia m says:

    I have a piper and wouldn’t take anything for it. I did have it cleaned once, but would love to know how to clean it myself.
    the organ has been around the world and is now in Calif. probable the next stop ariz.
    I bought it from someone in 1975

  39. Andy says:

    I have a Piper II that my I got from my grandma many years ago. I have a book from it (not the manual, more like a quick start guide).
    Anyways, mine plays quite well, and there are no faults, with the exception that the middle keys springs are worn a bit, but that’s to be expected. Not the sharpest sounding tones, but it’s nice nevertheless.

  40. marshottentot says:

    And that’s why they’re of the ‘Funmaker’ class – great for home and learning, maybe not the playing musician’s first, second, third or even fourth choice!

  41. Sylvia White says:

    Where can I get a Pipe??. I am 85 and loved the one I had in ’70′s I miss playing. What about $$$. I live in PHX AZ Mine was a Hammond Piper autochord.

  42. marshottentot says:

    Hi Sylvia – try your local craigslist in Phoenix (just go to craigslist.com the listing will be on the right hand side of your screen). On the left hand side of your screen will be a little search box – type it in there and, with any luck, you may find one for next to nothing! Good luck!

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