There are lots of aging Hammond Tone Cabinet and Leslie
amplifiers out there, as well as Hammond organ preamplifers. Some of these go back to 1935! In most cases, as long as
the power and output transformers are in good condition rebuilding or repairing these units is feasible.
What is involved in an amp or preamp rebuild?
To rebuild (replace everything), or repair? That, is the question. Very few amplifiers, and even fewer preamplifiers,
need to be completely torn apart. The goal with either should be the restoration of the unit so it reproduces sound the
way it did when new. This is all about the sound, right? If the goal is to come out of the repair with a completely
different sounding unit, then maybe the funds should be directed at a completely different sounding unit instead.
There are a few items that are good candidates for replacement in both cases, and it seems most cost effective to begin
with them, then evaluate the preamplifier/amplifier for further restoration.
The philosophy here at Tonewheel General is to perform a complete evaluation of the unit before any work is done, making
note of all voltages, tube conditions, and listen to it in an actual organ or speaker. Yes, this takes a little time,
but, again, it is all about the sound, right? How can we know that any changes performed have made an impact if we don't
know what the unit sounded like before we started? Add to that any specific complaints made by the owner, and a picture
of what needs to be done begins to emerge.
At the very least all the electrolytic capacitors should be replaced in these units. Leslie used a plug in module and
expected it to be replaced at frequent intervals. Hammond used the same style modules, but made them less easy to
replace, requiring they be soldered into place rather than plugged into sockets. Tonewheel General installs new CE
Distribution tubular can capacitors to maintain the stock visual appearance of the unit.
Most electrolytic capacitors are used to reduce the AC component (called ripple) from the DC voltage that results after
the rectification process (where AC voltage is turned into DC voltage). When they fail a distinct hum or buzz is heard
through the speakers. You can verify these are the source of the noise by playing a low B flat tone while listening to
the hum; a full wave rectifier will turn the 60 Hz. ripple into a 120 Hz. tone which is close to the frequency for B
flat. If the two sound nearly in tune (beating slightly) the capacitors probably should be replaced.
As these capacitors reach the end of their life (fifteen years was their expected life), the electrolyte inside dries out,
causing the two sides of the capacitor foil to short circuit. The units keep going (usually) but the resulting sound is
distorted or buzzy from the lack of filtering.
Tubes should be checked for emission, mutual conductance and shorts; tube sockets should be checked and cleaned. Hammond
organs are generally pretty easy on the tubes, so blindly replacing all of them is rarely the best approach unless there
is no way to evaluate them individually; same with Leslies. It is not uncommon to find 50 year old tubes that test (and
sound) good. Hammond tone cabinets, however, seem to wear out tubes at a greater pace, particularly the rectifier and
power tubes. In the case of power and balanced input driver tubes, they should be replaced if they no longer provide a
symmetrical amplification of both phases of the input signal.
This is good place for a word about tube testers. There are a number of tube testers out there, some very good and some
not so good. Regardless of their state of goodness, they are old and subject to the same ravages of time that our musical
instruments are. Every "serious" tube tester has a calibration procedure; if yours (or your tech's) has not been
calibrated recently use the results with caution.
Plate and screen resistors are next in line. These items are subject to hundreds of volts and over time they increase
in value, causing the tube to operate at a less than optimal level, resulting in lowered output, distortion and poor
At this point in the process the unit is reassembled and run through the same evaluation as when it arrived. It should be
well within the operating parameters specified by the manufacturer and should sound good. Any pops, clicks, thunderstorms
or wave actions that remain can be localized to specific areas and targeted for removal; good troubleshooting procedures
(and experience) require a relatively small amount of time to isolate and eliminate these. When this is finished the unit
is back to factory specifications and ready for return to the customer, usually with just a handfull of parts replaced.
How much can you expect to pay for a rebuild or repair?
Performing the above procedures on a Hammond AO-28 (B-3/C-3/A-100 style preamplifier) typically runs around $240. This
does not include tubes, tube sockets, transformers, and other parts (resistors, capacitors, etc.) not involved in the
initial analysis and correction phase described above.
Performing the above procedures on a Leslie 122 or 147 amplifier typically runs around $150.
Turn around time is generally five business days or less. When you package your amp for shipment, fasten it to a
wooden frame with t-nuts and wrap it in a plastic bag to protect the tubes and
keep the amp from tumbling around in the Styrofoam peanuts. Shipping cartons should match the size of the wood frame,
otherwise the amp will shift during its journey and can destroy the box. If possible, a double walled box works best.
All units received for repair will be evaluated prior to being worked on and an exact price quoted.