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Melmusic - Melbourne Music Centre - Vintage Articles

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Melmusic - Melbourne Music Centre - Vintage Articles

CLASSIC KEYBOARDS — THE VOX CONTINENTAL

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

Musical Industries; (valve based organs designed for the domestic market) when the decision was made to 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.

On release, the Continental was considered to be the absolute ultimate- charcoal black crosshatched "Vynide" covering, a burnt orange top Melmusic - Melbourne Music Centre - Vintage Articleswith 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 was.

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.)

Melmusic - Melbourne Music Centre - Vintage ArticlesBy 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.

Suggested Listening:

House of the Rising Sun(obviously!!) - the Animals.
I’m a believer - the Monkees
I put a spell on you - the Alan Price Set.
Watching the Detectives/…..Go to Chelsea - Elvis Costello.

*Webmasters please note*- Feel free to copy/quote any information or pictures from these articles for your own use .... please credit Brad Coates/Melmusic for the information and include a link to melmusic wherever possible.

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