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Single Manual Vox Continental

The Vox Continental is a transistor-based combo organ that was introduced in 1962. Known for its thin, bright, breathy sound, the "Connie," as it was affectionately known, was designed to be used by touring musicians. It was also designed to replace heavy tonewheel organs, such as the Hammond B3.

While this was not entirely accomplished, the Continental was used in many 1960s hit singles, and was probably the most popular and best-known combo organ among major acts. Although phased out of production in the early 1970s, the organ still has a strong following to this day, and remains among the most sought-after of combo organs by enthusiasts.

Contents

Description

Vox Continental Internal Workings

The Continental came in two basic models, each with its own variations. The basic models were the single manual Continental, and the dual manual, which was known as the Vox Continental II in England and the Vox Super Continental in Italy. For a short time single manual Continentals were built in the USA at a very high production rate.

The Continental was also very striking to look at, and had features not often found in keyboard instruments, both then and now. The most obvious being the reverse-coloured keys (black naturals and white sharps) similar to a harpsichord. Then the chrome Z-shaped stand and bright red (in some models grey) top made for a very distinctive and handsome-looking piece of equipment. The Vox Continental used six slider-type, metered volume controls called drawbars instead of the stop-tab rocker switches seen on other combo organs. Two of the drawbars controlled the voices (flute and reed tones), and three of the other four controlled the footages (in reference to ranks of pipes on a pipe organ, but were essentially successive octave controls; the lower the footage number, the higher the octaves were pitched 8foot being one octave higher than 16foot etc.), the last of the four controlling a mixture of four higher pitches. There was a single-speed, single intensity vibrato, but the Connie had no other special effects or bass notes. Its simplicity was appreciated by very many players.

Single Manual Continentals

Although they all made the same tones and were similar in appearance, there were 4 different builds of the Vox Continental. The first were UK models built by Jennings Musical Industries, or JMI, in Dartford, Kent, England. Later UK models were built by Vox Sound in Erith, Kent. The USA versions were built by Thomas Organ Company under license, and the Italian Models were built by EME under license. Italian models were distinguishable from UK and US models by the flimsy plastic keys, white and black (instead of red and cream) drawbars and the stand braces crossed. Some think that the sound of the Italian versions was a bit varying from its UK and US counterparts, and that UK and US Continentals, as far as appearance, sound, and overall quality, were essentially identical (even with some variations of the generator board configuration).

Derivatives

In the late 1960s and the early 70s, various derivatives and variations came along, including the Vox Jaguar, Vox Corinthian and the last of the single manual Continentals, the Vox Continental '71.

Dual Manual Continentals

The UK had the Continental II, and Italy had the Super Continental. Both had plastic keys and were available with and without percussion. Confusingly, the UK version with percussion (which only came with a Grey and not red top) was known as the "Super II".

The dual manual had its developments and variants. These included the Vox Continental 300, which introduced reverb and presets, and the Continental Baroque, which included internal amplification.

Usage

The instrument is commonly associated with classic rock of the 1960s, being used by such artists as Ray Manzarek of The Doors. Famous songs that use the Continental include "She's About A Mover" by the Sir Douglas Quintet, "House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals, "Light My Fire" by The Doors, "Sister Ray" by Velvet Underground, "96 Tears" by Question Mark and the Mysterians, "In A Gadda Da Vida" by Iron Butterfly, and "I'm Down" by The Beatles. In addition to these 60s groups the Vox Continental played a large role in generating many of the keyboard sounds heard in 1970s and early 80s New Wave and Punk Rock. The Continental was used extensively by prodigy Steve 'Nieve' (aka Steve Nason), keyboard player for Elvis Costello & The Attractions, and by Mike Barson of 2-Tone group Madness.It was also used by 2-Tone founder: Jerry Dammers of The Specials . Most recently in popular music culture, the organist Rhys Webb, of the UK garage band The Horrors can be seen using the Continental, as can Sam Steinig of Mondo Topless, Walt Martin of The Walkmen, and Kenny Howes of Atlanta psyche-pop group Orange Hat.

Two Vox Continental organs are seen in the promo video for "Summer in the City" by The Lovin' Spoonful, played by John Sebastian and bassist Steve Boone, although the signature keyboard line is played on a Hohner Pianet. A Vox Continental is seen in use by Eric Harvey of Spoon in the music video for their song Sister Jack.

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