Hammond Novachord Tonewheel Organ / Polyphonic Synthesizer

Novachord

The instrument

The Hammond Novachord was manufactured by the Hammond Organ Co in the USA from 1939 to 1942, designed by Laurens Hammond, John Hanert and C.N.Williams. A total of 1096 models were built.The Novachord is a polyphonic electronic organ and Hammonds first electronic tube based instrument – a departure from his usual tone-wheel designs. 
In May 1939 ‘The Novachord Orchestra’ of Ferde Grofé performed at the New York World Fair with four Novachords and a Hammond Organ. The Novachord also featured in several film scores (Hans Eisler’s “Kammersinfonie” 1940) but seems to have fallen from favour due to the instability of it’s multiple tube oscillators and playing technique. The Novachord was discontinued in 1942.

Details

The Novachord had 169 vacuum tubes to control and generate sound and is played on a seventy two note keyboard with a simple pressure sensitive system that allowed control over the attack and timbre of the note. The sound is produced by a series of 12 oscillators that gave a six octave range using a frequency division technique; the Novachord was one of the first electronic instruments to use this technique which was later became standard in electronic keyboard instruments.
The front panel had a series of 14 switch-able rotary knobs to set the timbre, volume, ‘resonance’,bass/treble, vibrato (six modulation oscillators were used) and ‘brightness’ of the sound. A set of 3 foot operated pedals controlled sustain,and volume the third pedal allowing control of the sustain by either foot. The final signal is passed to a pre-amplifier and then to a set of internal speakers. The Novachord is able to produce a range of sounds imitating orchestral instruments such as the piano, harpsichord, stringed and woodwind instruments as well as a range of it’s own new sounds.