Rock music of the '60s and '70s fostered not just a generation of pioneering guitarists, but some of the most identifiable organ riffs of all time. Bands like Deep Purple, Procol Harum, and The Band relied as much on heavy, majestic keyboard tones as it did on cranked tube amps. Even the greatest jazz guitarists of the era spent time in organ trios with players like Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, and Mel Rhyne.
Yes, guitar and organ go together like hand and glove. Of course, the big downside to getting that tone is the heft and hassle of toting a keyboard rig around. But Electro-Harmonix's B9 Organ Machine cops a lot of those tones in a compact stompbox, enabling guitarists to get in on some of that drawbar-fueled action.
The B9 has a simple enough layout that you can jump right in. The five-knob setup allows you to control the level of the dry and organ signal, plus a mod and click control. The large knob moves you through nine different organ types and on the left side of the pedal there are individual outputs for each signal—a definite plus.
EHX provides recommendations for best tracking your guitar signal. First, they suggest placing it earlier in your signal chain and before any distortion or overdrives. On my board I experimented with it before and after a Fulltone Full-Drive 2 MOSFET and noticed a distinct advantage to placing the B9 early in the chain. There was one exception: I placed the B9 after the Full-Drive 2 to help goose the input signal a bit when I used my MIM Fender Strat. Since the Strat's pickups have a lower output, the added clean boost helped give the B9 a healthy signal.
The first setting I dialed up was the jazz setting. It’s a bit brighter than I expected and had hints of McDuff's tone, but it didn't quite capture the dark, smoky presence of a Hammond B3. In this preset, the mod knob controls the speed of a rotating speaker-like effect. The ability to connect this knob up to an expression pedal would have made the B9 infinitely more useful and authentic in live settings. As I started to play some organ stabs, I needed to adjust the EQ on my Deluxe Reverb a bit more than usual to find a sound that would cut through a mix.
In the gospel setting, I knew just what to expect—the sound of those magical upper drawbars. The higher harmonics blossomed beautifully and after a few romps through Jimmy Herring's dirty, gospel-influenced "Bilgewater Blues" I started to experiment with the click knob. The click knob adds in a approximation of a Hammond’s percussive attack that's sorely missing from other digital organ emulators. My personal tastes kept this knob at around 10 o'clock, but it other settings I found it more useful at higher settings. The meaty, throaty sounds of lower organ drawbars can be heard on the bottom end setting—perfect for some Booker T.-style “Green Onions” riffs.
To test out the dual outputs, I combined my Deluxe with a Tech 21 Trademark 60 and fed the organ signal into the Deluxe and added a Route 66 compressor to the signal chain to help give the B9 plenty of juice. Separating the outputs creates a nice stereo-like spectrum and opens the door to a wealth of different recording and effect loop options.
Don’t Shoot, I’m Only the Organ Player
The most regal-sounding tones came from the cathedral setting. I cranked up the ’verb on the Deluxe and played slow, chord arpeggios that even the grumpiest monks could appreciate. The upper midrange has a delicate bite, and combined with a compressor it brings to mind the more progressive sounds of Yes and Deep Purple. On the octaves setting you can add in higher harmonics with a turn of the click wheel—a feature that’s fun to experiment with.
The final two settings, continental and bell organ, are the most playfully retro of the bunch. The continental does an admiral job of emulating Ray Manzarek’s tone on “Light My Fire,” and even Iron Butterfly’s "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." And though the tones aren’t convincing enough that you’ll want to fire your keyboard player, it adds cool traces of ’60s pop color. The bell organ setting is a hybrid of an electric piano and a typical Hammond-style organ. It’s perfect for tunes that are a bit kitschier and the click knob allows you to dial in the amount of chime. I found the sweet spot to be around noon, but if my guitar and amp combination was a little on the darker side, then I would bump it up to about 2 o’clock.
As impressive as the B9 can be it has limitations. Even when using the organ output exclusively, you still hear a fair bit of your fundamental guitar tone in the effected sound. And though the presets cover a pretty wide spectrum of organ sounds I found the lack of any kind of EQ control a bit limiting. The response to picking dynamics can be a bit uneven and sensitive too, and there seems to be a threshold that once crossed boost the output considerably.
Even if you don’t know a B3 from a Melosonic, the tones of the B9 add a tone of texture and organ feel. The construction is stout and the ability to get workable sounds right out of the box is a definite advantage. The lack of expression and EQ controls is an opportunity missed. But it would be difficult to find a more musical and just plain fun organ machine.
Watch the review demo: