Friday, July 14, 2006

Xmas in July

The new love of my life arrived today.


I am now the unbearably happy owner of Hammond Novachord serial number 1431, manufactured in late 1940.

If you are not familiar with the name, you have nevertheless heard the sound thousands of times.

The Novachord was the original synthesizer. Designed by Laurens Hammond, who also created the organs that bear his name, the Novachord was built from 1938 until 1941. There were 1069 of them built, and it is said that less than fifty are known to exist today. It uses 169 vacuum tubes and over a thousand capacitors to create incredible sounds. The Novachord was used for hundreds of science-fiction films and television shows, including "The Twilight Zone," "The Outer Limits," "This Island Earth," "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea," "20,000,000 Miles to Earth," and even more mainstream films like "Gone With the Wind" and "The Ten Commandments." A lot of Italian films from the sixties also leaned heavily on Novachord for their soundtracks. In these kinds of pictures, it usually sounds like some kind of space-age organ, but the instrument is incredibly deep and powerful and capable of creating massive sounds that in some ways still surpass even the incredible synthesizers of today, as well as some astonishing simulations of string sections, horn sections, even choirs. The Novachord was also a huge hit at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City. A four-Novachord "orchestra" performed daily at the Fair to packed crowds, and there were hundreds of recordings made by various Novachord artists in the forties and the fifties.

I am going to be restoring my Novachord over the next couple of years. It is unplayable at the moment, and the ancient capacitors and wiring in it all need to be replaced before it is even safe to plug in. I will be offering occasional updates on the progress of my restoration here on the blog, so you will see that name again in the future.

I am incredibly fortunate. For years I wondered what this mystery instrument was that made all of the sounds that I loved so dearly in my younger days when I was utterly captivated by science-fiction, and five or six years ago I finally learned and confirmed that my mystery soundmaker was the Hammond Novachord. I decided at that time that I wanted one, and it has taken me this long to find one, which I had to have transported 1600 miles to get to me. But, my search is over, and in a couple of years I will be able to create and play all of the wonderful, exotic sounds that I have had ringing in my ears for decades. It has been worth the wait.

The photograph is a picture of my actual instrument, but it was taken by the person from whom I purchased the instrument, not by me. I will also document the restoration with my new camera and will post a new picture of it at its new home as soon as I can.

With any luck, by the time I do get a picture of my new Novachord, you will wonder if you are seeing double.

Yes, to finish my little introduction to the Hammond Novachord, I am thrilled to say that after many years of wondering, after several years of searching, and about two weeks after I bought mine, I found another one - and bought it, too. It will be arriving at my home in another week or so after traveling from the opposite side of the continental United States.

Two Novachords in less than thirty days. Both in exceptional condition. When it rains it pours...

If you are interested in how the Novachord works, what one sounds like, and what kind of job I have ahead of me, visit the wonderful Novachord Restoration Project site at: and if you are a Novachord owner, user, or fan, please feel free to contact me.

Oh, and a teaser:

My Novachord may have an unbelievably illustrious provenance. A lot of circumstantial evidence seems to indicate this, and I will be carefully researching to find out if it is just circumstantial evidence or corroborating evidence. If I can confirm it, expect a surprising post!


Blogger Ronni said...

Congratulations! Will you use one for parts, or restore them both?

8:39 AM  
Blogger Mary K. Goddard said...

ooolala! Look forward to sharing the journey with you from afar!

10:40 AM  
Blogger Milo Johnson said...

Both instruments are complete and intact and both will be restored to like-new condition. Although I haven't fully decided yet, the more recent acquisition may even get a couple of 21st century upgrades - much like myself...

1:23 PM  
Blogger Ronni said...


8:37 PM  

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