A combo organ is an electronic portable organ,
usually transistorized (although
some older designs used tubes;
and later models, integrated
circuits), that was designed for use on
stage, usually in the context of a band or group.
A combo organ is usually supported on a removable
or folding stand or legs; these originally would
have been supplied as part of the instrument.
Combo organs were best known for their bright,
reedy sound; their portability; surprising
versatility; and relatively low cost. Most such
instruments have no built-in amplification.
A typical combo organ has one manual (keyboard),
covering four or five octaves, though a few models
had two manuals of three or four octaves. A number
of different pitches and tone-colours ("voices")
were featured, often using rocker-switches, tabs
or drawbars to
function as "stops" to select them. Although the
sounds may bear such names as "flute", "string" or
"horn", they are not intended to sound like their
orchestral namesakes - the nomenclature is
borrowed from pipe
organ tradition. Some
instruments allow the keyboard to be split, the
lowest octave or two producing a pedal-like bass
tone. Most combo organs offer vibrato as
a special effect; a few feature more unusual
effects such as "repeat percussion" (tremolo),
"slalom" (pitch bend) or wah-wah.
A volume pedal is
normally used to vary the volume while playing.
Less frequently an optional set of bass
pedals could be
Soundwise, combo organs are very similar to each
other, although there are definite discernible
tonal characteristics that differ between models
that might be considered "default" for each model.
For instance, the Vox
toward having somewhat of a Hammond-like,
or "sine wave"-like sound (only
thinner); while the Farfisa Combo
Compact has an aggressive, raspy quality to some
of its boosted tones, and the Gibson
G-101 has a cleaner,
contoured, more "sawtooth wave"-like tone, with harpsichord-like,
percussive sound capabilities and a slight
"after-jingle", with Sustain selected,
on some voice settings.
To collectors, players and enthusiasts, the visual
aesthetic is often as important as the sound.
Originally, the instruments were often available
in bright and unusual colors (orange, blue, bright
red, green) with showy chrome legs, multi-colored
stop-tabs, and reverse-colored or gray-and-white
keys. Towards the mid-1970s, combo organs began to
take on a more muted appearance, with woodgrain or
black covering and conventional keyboard colors.
Many combo organs were produced in such countries
as Italy or Japan, yet some more common models
used by major acts were manufactured in the United
Kingdom or the United States.