Our modern, technology-focused society has allowed major keyboard names such as Moog, Korg, and Nord to develop and produce dynamic keyboard workstations and synthesizers that promote sonic versatility. Analog and digital synths have allowed consumers to construct colorful sound pallets that encompass everything from sweeping pads and pulsating basses to screaming leads and industrial percussion. We can tailor any synthetic sound to our liking by using not-even-top-of-the-line keyboards on the market.
Despite modern keyboards’ editing adaptability, keyboard enthusiasts will search far and wide for a manufacturer that produces a keyboard with that classic Hammond B3 sound. The tonewheel organ sound that we value so much is achieved best by none other than Hammond itself. The original Hammond organ achieved its unique sound through mechanical construction—a motor with rotating disks that created sound via electromagnetic induction.
Today, however, we rely on achieving the nuance of that classic sound digitally. The 61-key Hammond SK1 attempts to recapture the sound of early Hammond organs, mimic the unique tremolo effect from the Leslie speaker, promote ease of use and portability, and provide realistic piano, electric piano, and clavinet patches.
In these areas, Hammond has succeeded in every respect, giving us a well-balanced, easy-to-use keyboard that’s perfect for stage performances. But, ultimately, is this an instrument worthy of your hard-earned money? Well, that’s what we’re going to discuss in-depth in this review of the Hammond SK1.
And before we move forward, please feel free to utilize our interactive guide below that will allow you to directly compare the Hammond SK1 to other notable keyboards on the market:
|Hammond SK1||61||$$$||12 Hammond Organ Profiles & 16 Leslie Speaker Profiles|
|Hammond SK1-73||73||$$$||96 Adjustable, Voiceable Digital Tonewheels|
|Hammond SK1-88||88||$$$||12 Hammond Macro Profiles w/17 Tweakable Parameters|
|Hammond SK2||122||$$$||9 Pitches, Assignable for Upper, Pedal, Lower|
|Hammond XK-1c||61||$$$||64 Factory Patches & 64 User-Programmable Patches Available|
|Hammond XK-3c||73||$$$||Portable Drawbar Keyboard w/Digital Tone-Wheels|
|Nord Electro 5D||73||$$$||Discrete Reverb & Delay FX Paths|
A crucial part of any keyboard’s construction is the way its keys feel under your hands. Modern digital pianos contain hammers and fulcrums that only serve to make it feel like a real piano. The Hammond SK1 doesn’t contain these elaborate features, and that’s a good thing.
The Hammond is meant to reproduce the feel of a classic electric organ, which doesn’t contain moving hammers. The semi-weighted keys feel perfect when performing the rhythmic complexities that go hand-in-hand (pun intended) with the jazz/rock style associated with the B3 organ.
The keys bounce back up immediately so that the player can achieve quick, rhythmic repetitions that reinforce the pocket of the groove. Furthermore, because the keys aren’t heavy and piano-like, it makes glissandos and grace note clusters incredibly easy to achieve tastefully.
Due to its light weight, this keyboard is easily portable and perfect for a performing or touring musician.
Before we move on to discuss the sound of the SK1, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling digital stage pianos currently on Amazon (and compare them to the Hammond SK1 when it comes to price and features):
Here is where the SK1 really shines—sound quality. The organ patches sound great and realistic, and by manipulating the drawbar sliders, a great amount of nuance and musicality can be achieved. Hammond keyboards are the go-to brand for those who desire an authentic tonewheel organ sound from a digital keyboard—and they don’t disappoint here.
One of the obvious differences between this digital Hammond keyboard and an original organ is that this keyboard only has one set of keys, not two. Decisions regarding split key functionality had to be made in order to let users simulate two distinct timbres within the confines of a single keyboard setup.
LED-lit buttons on the right side of the display offer users a way to quickly and conveniently split the keyboard in half, therefore distinguishing the upper range of the keyboard as any chosen patch, and the lower range of the keyboard as a different patch. This works quite well and rather seamlessly, which is great because this is a parameter that a performer may want to change on the spot—perhaps even during a measure of rest during a tune!
One of the pitfalls, however, of the 61-key model of the Hammond SK-1 is that if you split the keyboard in half, it does not give you lots of room in either part of the range. This is where musicality has to be sacrificed for portability. Everyone has different needs in a keyboard range, however, so this may not affect everyone in the same way. The good news is that if the 61-key model is too limited for you, Hammond also produces a 73-key and 88-key model of the SK1.
In addition to the authentic sound of this keyboard’s organ patches, a Leslie speaker is built right into the keyboard itself. For the uninitiated, the Leslie speaker is a unique type of amplifier that rotates the inner speakers, therefore utilizing the Doppler effect to produce a tremolo and a subtle variation in pitch.
The resulting frequency-modulated sidebands add a unique character to the B3 organ sound, similar to how a singer employs vibrato on sustained notes to make the music more expressive. The Hammond SK1 replicates the sound of the Leslie speaker quite nicely, shining particularly well on sustained, upper-range chords with the high drawbars set to bring out the upper harmonics.
These all, of course, can be adjusted so you can achieve the right balance of tremolo that you desire in your sound.
The Hammond SK1 refers to any non-organ sound as an extra voice. Extra voices include grand pianos, Wurlitzer keyboards, Rhodes keyboards, clavinet, synths, brass, and woodwind patches. Although labeled as “extra voices,” these patches are powerful and convincing, and they stand on their own as useful, authentic instruments.
The grand piano patches produce a well-rounded, thick bass while the mid-range and upper treble cut through with clarity and believability. This keyboard is not meant to be a stage piano, however, and the keyboard’s feel (the semi-weighted keys) and limited range will keep players from purchasing it as such.
Of course, one could buy the 88-key SK1 and it will be more appropriate as a stage piano, but the keys will still not have that authentic piano feel. If you’re interested in a realistic-sounding stage piano, you’re better off purchasing an 88 key weighted digital piano.
As a compliment to the realistic organ sounds, though, the grand pianos are a completely satisfying addition that will prove to be useful for any keyboard player. The electric keyboard and clavinet sounds are just as convincing as the organ sounds, and they can be edited with phasers and overdrive to achieve desired nuance and grit in the sound.
The feel of the keys when playing a groovin’ funk chart on a Wurlitzer or clavinet setting is especially satisfying because the keys’ quick response time allows for quick, rhythmic gestures that accentuate the attack of each patch.
The remaining synth and brass/woodwind patches also contribute a lasting quality to the keyboard’s sonic features, resulting in a keyboard that not only feels good to play, but also sounds authentic.
I have discussed a bit about what to expect from the sound and feel of this keyboard, so most readers can probably gauge what kind of player this keyboard is intended for. However, if you’re not quite sure if this is the right keyboard for you, maybe I can help.
After playing and experimenting with the 61-Key Hammond SK1, the target consumer will probably value authentic organ and electric piano sounds above all else. To be even more specific, the ideal user would:
- Be an experienced player of rock, jazz, funk, or fusion
- Be a touring/performing musician (portability is a big selling point for this keyboard)
- Desire the ability to edit sounds
- Have an ear for harmonic nuance (this is why drawbars exist)
Because of this keyboard’s authentic organ sounds, responsive touch, and easy editing display, anyone interested in playing the Hammond B3 sound will find satisfaction in this keyboard. In fact, even if you haven’t played a Hammond before and want to learn and become familiar with the style and sound, I would recommend this keyboard to you.
The interface is simple enough that a novice can learn to operate the system efficiently and quickly begin to produce that classic sound from the 60s. I would not recommend this keyboard to you if organ sounds don’t appeal to you. Although the extra voices are clean, realistic, and robust, they are indeed supplemental to the organ patches, which are the main feature.
If you buy this keyboard, you are ultimately paying for authentic-sounding, classic organ sounds, and getting a little more bang for your buck with the additional pianos, electric pianos, Rhodes, Wurlitzer, and brass/woodwinds. If you’re really just looking for a portable, real-sounding piano, there are more appropriate options, such as buying a digital piano that specializes in real piano-feel replication.
The last question you may be asking about the Hammond SK1 is, “how does it stack up against the competition?” Well, in this case, the main competitor for the Hammond SK1 is the Nord Electro 5D, which has very similar construction and selling points. The main difference I have found between these two keyboards is their difference in specialization.
I recommend the Hammond SK1 to anyone who values the classic organ sounds and Leslie speaker above all else, because even though Nord’s organ sounds are great, they fall short of the authentic quality of the Hammond SK1. However, if authentic organ sounds are less important to you than an overall well-rounded keyboard, a Nord Electro 5D might be up your alley.
Although the SK1’s extra voices are great-sounding supplements to the organ, the Electro 5D, overall, has well-balanced diversity in sound that trumps the Hammond SK1. Keyboardists have discussed which keyboard is superior, but no universal conclusion has been made. It’s all about knowing what your personal wants and needs are and making decisions that will suit you best.
The Hammond SK1 is a wonderful, portable keyboard that will give your performances the 1960s flare achieved only through the organ sounds that separate Hammond from other brands.
This keyboard is a joy to play, sounds are easily edited, and it’s quite portable. The authentic organ sounds that this keyboard provides are satisfying, even to the trained ear, and they provide the cornerstone of what makes Hammond great.
The only downside with the 61-key model is that splitting the keyboard in half to play different voices simultaneously doesn’t leave much room for each voice to utilize a large range, whereas other organ models, such as the Hammond SK2, provide dual keyboards. This is a sacrifice for portability, however, and its consequences depend entirely on your choice of playing style.
Overall, it’s no wonder why the brand “Hammond” continues to remain synonymous with “organ.”
OUR RATING: ★★★★/ ★★★★★
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