Illinois-based Analog Outfitters builds, or “up-cycles,” amplifiers, cabinets, effects, and MIDI controllers out of parts scavenged from old Hammond Organs.
Analog Outfitters, based just north of Champaign, in Rantoul, Illinois, builds amplifiers out of parts scavenged from old Hammond organs. “I started in 2002 as a repair/live sound company and did a lot of work on Hammond organs,” Ben Juday, the company’s founder says. “People would try to give me these old organs and I took a lot of them. They had no market value—people were just throwing them away—and I started messing around with them. In 2011, we started manufacturing amplifiers and it’s continued since then.”
Juday only dismantles organs that people don’t want—he gets most of them for free—and his biggest expense is hauling them back to his warehouse. “Sometimes people are upset with us for destroying these old instruments,” he says. “But you’ve got to realize, the ones that we destroy literally [would otherwise] end up on the side of the road, in the rain, and in the landfill.”
He tries to salvage, or “up-cycle,” as he calls it, as much as he can from the organs as well. “We reuse the wood, the copper wiring, the amplifiers, and [even] the tubes whenever we can,” he says. “Hammond used redwood, mahogany, walnut, and a lot of really good woods—some of which you can’t even get any more. We use these premium woods in our wooden enclosures. We’re not able to use all recycled materials, obviously, and I’ve never actually calculated the percentage, but a high percentage of the materials in our products are repurposed.”
But Juday is motivated by more than just green considerations; he also thinks old organs, particularly their output transformers, sound great. He says vintage transformers, like vintage pickups, possess a special mojo not usually found in newer gear. “Many vintage transformers have that same magic sound and it has to do with how they were wound,” he says. “They used methods that are more expensive to do and today people have taken shortcuts. The thing to remember about a guitar amp—a tube guitar amp—is that the output transformer is the most important part of the whole amp. It’s like the transmission in your car. I don’t care how good your engine is, if you don’t have a way to harness that power with a good transmission, you’re not going anywhere. It’s the same thing with a guitar amp. The output transformer takes the energy created by that amplifier and couples it to your speaker. If you don’t have a good coupling device, you’re never going to get the tone that you want.”
Building amps from repurposed materials isn’t simple or cheap. “It’s not like we just flip a few wires,” Juday says. It’s a painstaking process that involves transporting, dismantling, cataloging, and warehousing the reclaimed materials. “If you saw our warehouse, we probably have about 100 organs that are not disassembled and another 200 that are—the transformers are here, the amp chassis are here, the speakers go over here, the wood is catalogued here, the wiring goes here. It’s a pretty involved process.” Plus, reworking an existing chassis also involves a lot of metal work, like drilling new holes and stripping away unwanted parts. “It probably takes more labor to do it the way we do, but the best form of recycling is repurposing and we really are repurposing a lot of those old parts.”
Analog Outfitters doesn’t just build amps. They make the Scanner, which repurposes the vibrato and reverb units from old Hammond organs. They make a MIDI controller from repurposed keyboards. They use the organ’s wood—when they’re not using decommissioned street signs—to make speaker cabinets and enclosures. But they can’t use everything.
“People try to give us organs from the ’70s,” Juday says. “We have to say no, because the wood that they used was particle chipboard, which is essentially junk, and the amps were transistor based. So those 1970s organs are of no value to us. We don’t have the room to take those and to try to recycle them. But anything from the ’50s or ’60s, that used real solid wood and vacuum tube components, has value to us.”