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.