CLASSIC KEYBOARDS — THE VOX
Reproduced from Article in Australian Musician
Magazine1995 by Brad Coates (www.melmusic.com.au)
Probably the first of
the purpose built portable organs designed exclusively for stage work was
the Continental. Originally produced in England by Tom Jennings’ Vox
company, the Continental MK 1 was designed in late 1961 by Les Hill &
Derek Underdown. Derek had been heavily involved in Jennings
(valve based organs designed for the domestic market) when the decision was
manufacture a stage combo organ.
When the Vox
Continental was eventually released , it absolutely blitzed the
competition. It was 1962, and the world at large got its first glimpse of
the organ. It was featured in a promotional filmclip (not video) for the
Tornadoes monster instrumental hit "Telstar".( In fact the keyboard sound
on Telstar was produced by an earlier Jennings keyboard- actually the first
JMI product- the ‘Univox’, which featured all-valve electronics and was
initially released in 1948! ) The Continental stood out because it looked
so radically different from the staid, homely designs of its
contemporaries. The fact that it still looks funky today 35 years on is
testament to its futuristic design . Part of this can be attributed to the
ingenuity of Michael Bennett on the design team. Bennett was the designer
of the ubiquitous Vox Teardrop guitar (as used by Brian Jones of the
Rolling Stones) and collaborated with Tom Jennings on the physical
characteristics of the Continental.
release, the Continental was considered to be the absolute ultimate-
charcoal black crosshatched "Vynide" covering, a burnt orange top with Gold Vox logo,
gleaming ‘Z’ shaped polished chrome legs, and the coup de grace- reverse
colour keys- white on black a la harpsichord/virginals. Although a few U.S.
models were later produced in Red or Blue Vynide, it was this original
configuration that lasted and defined the Continental.
These very rare
original models had wooden keys with black laminate and the leg struts
terminated on the front, not underneath as in later models and had a mere
four drawbars- 16’, 8’, 4’ and a last drawbar with a mixture of 2 2/3’, 2’,
1 3/5’ and 1’.(The later Super Continental had an extra 5 1/3’ drawbar.)
Only the Hammond Organ Company had previously used drawbars and their
inclusion on the Continental made it what it was.
Added to this were a
further two drawbars controlling what can be described as a ‘flute’ or
‘reed’ sound. This reed drawbar enabled the user to put just the right
amount of ‘fizz’ into the sound to cut through even the noisiest guitar
solo. There was no vibrato depth or speed - just off and on. As it turned
out, it didn’t need them, the vibrato was just perfect the way it
The Vox was extremely
successful in the U.K., directly attributable to Vox’s very aggressive and
farsighted marketing tactics. The ‘Mersey’ sound of bands like the
Searchers and the Dave Clark Five increased it’s popularity and when the
Animals’ House of the Rising Sun burst onto the scene, it defined the
Continental as THE keyboard to have. The enormous success of this single
contributed to the Continentals’ popularity resulting in the November 1964
signing of a U.S. distribution deal with the Thomas Organ Company to sell
Continentals in the States. Bands such as the Monkees, Paul Revere and the
Raiders, Grateful Dead, Iron Butterfly and the Doors all helped to make the
Continental a legend. (Ray Manzarek of the Doors later used a Gibson G101-
often mistaken by many for a Farfisa Compact.)
By 1967 Italian Company EKO was producing Double Manual
Continentals in Europe. The other popular ‘Combo’ organs of the time such
as the Howard, Baldwin, Ekosonic and the Gibson did not have the option of
incremental drawbars. All these units used preset tabs and/or couplers,
making a very limited number of tonal choices. The Continental was
immortalized in George Barriss’ Voxmobile (the designer of the Batmobile) -
a 175 MPH musical head turner. Based on the Vox Phantom guitar with a
Continental MK II mounted in the boot (trunk),powered by a Ford Cobra 289
motor it was owned for a time by a country session player Jimmy Bryant. The
whole car plugged in - delivering a massive (at the time) 500 watts through
1 x 18" ,5 x 12" spkrs and 5 high frequency horns. Up to 32 inputs were
spaced around the car and mixed from the dashboard. If it ever comes up for
sale ,I’ll certainly be one of the excited bidders.
Brad Coates is a
director of Unique Audio Hire and Sales.
House of the Rising
Sun(obviously!!) - the Animals.
I’m a believer - the
I put a spell on you -
the Alan Price Set.
Detectives/…..Go to Chelsea - Elvis Costello.