New! Old! Whippany Electronics MELOSONIC 350 Combo Organ

Just scored this little retro curiosity for REAL CHEAP. I’m really excited for what I might end up doing with some of these old Combo Organs. Click on these images to enlarge.

It has a few issues and it will definitely need some TLC, but I’m very thankful for this awesome article on the “synthrepair” blog. Check it out for some great repair tips, and some decent shots of the organ’s innards.

Issues: the lowest E flat key is missing (I’ll probably never find a white one, so I think I might carve one out of hardwood or something). You can’t shut off the internal rhythm unit. There is a stuck note. Some keys are out of tune.

I also plan to take the hinges off of the keyboard lid so that it can actually be removed. Then the keyboard enclosure will become a good place for small keyboards and other gadgets. The Poly-800II seems to fit the space rather perfectly, but I could imagine some combo of a drum machine, the MS-20, the Microbrute, perhaps an fx pedal or two – this is actually the first self-standing keyboard I’ve ever owned and the possibilities excite me more than they would probably excite a normal person.

Leslie! Respect my Organ!

Roland VK-09 OrganA couple months ago I found a 1981 Roland VK-09 organ on Craigslist for a decent price so I figured I’d scoop it up. It has a unique sound, to be sure.  You’ll be hearing more of it in the months to come!

Boss RT-20 Rotary EnsembleNow, of course, I really want to try working with a Leslie simulator. The VK-09′s built-in ensemble effect is nice, but not as pronounced (deep) as I would like.  I was considering the Boss RT-20 Rotary Ensemble Dual Pedal, which seems, as I have now learned, to have fallen out of fashion. It is considered by many to be more of a guitar-oriented processor. Organists instead seem to prefer the uber-expensive Neo Ventilator, supposedly designed by the guy who created the Access Virus, who apparently also hasn’t updated his company’s web site in two years. Supposedly this little box is the holy grail of Leslie speaker sims. Neo has two products: the Neo VentilatorVentilator (at roughly $500), and the Mini Vent For Organ (at roughly $400). Contrast this to $200 for the Boss. Ugh. I only paid $200 for the organ!

My buddy Tomasz just told me he actually has a vintage Leslie speaker. Maybe I’ll see if we can get that working instead.

Meanwhile I came across this most excellent Leslie resource:

Roland VK-09 Organ, and Museum Photos

Roland VK-09 Organ

In my never-ending quest to add further vintage mojo to my keyboard rig I was happy to acquire a Roland VK-09 electronic drawbar organ over the weekend.

There’s not much info about it to be found on the internet – maybe 3 or 4 opinions, a couple of YouTube vids, and a few pics. It’s not even on Roland’s venerable manuals page. I did however find a very good scan of the Service Notes (dated May 1981).

So far I’ve only had a chance to play it a little bit, so my list of fun facts to share here is short.

The first thing you notice is the ridiculously large “Roland” logo on the back. At least the kids in the back row will be able to read it at my next stadium concert. The second thing is that the whole thing is surprisingly small and light for a five-octave keyboard. This is a 33-year old instrument that I could actually imagine gigging with!

The organ has two identical groups of six drawbars: 16′, 5-1/3′, 8′, 4′, 2-2/3′, 2′. The first group (“Sine Wave”) produces normal organ-tones, while the second group (“Bright Wave”) produces extremely bright square waves. Each group can be individually toggled on and off using an 808-style pushbutton. I suspect the Vox/Farfisa/Hammond purists out there would hate the square wave drawbars, but in my initial putterings with the instrument I found that the judicious addition of these unusually bright stops makes for an organ tone that slices through a mix like a Ginsu. Think: The Monks, or Squeeze.

The VK-09 also features a slow/fast vibrato section which is a little more tame than I’d like, but is nonetheless very pleasant. It’s not a terribly realistic Leslie simulation, but it does feature the “momentum” effect when you change speeds. The front panel has separate “slow” and “fast” buttons, and the speed can also be toggled using an optional footswitch (as demonstrated in this video).

Like many organs there is an adjustable sustain (“release” in synthesizer parlance). There is also a variety of percussion settings.

While Googling for info about my new acquisition I stumbled upon a lovely article at Absolute Music, in which they toured the Roland museum in Japan and took lots of pretty pictures of vintage Roland instruments (including a mint-condition example of my new organ).

Meanwhile, here’s an old ad for the VK-09 that’s not too hard to find (click on it for a bit more miscellaneous info about this strange organ):
Roland VK-09 Ad

Updated 2017-12-05 to include a link to the service manual