At the end of 2020 the Powerhouse acquired an important private collection of keyboards from the middle of the 20th century, a period prior to the rise of synthesisers. These electronic keyboards complement the existing collection of mechanical instruments, such as pianos and organs from the early 1900s, and a small collection of significant synthesisers. Together they create a unique opportunity to explore modern keyboard development and its contribution to the genres of jazz, pop, rock, soul and prog-rock.
A highlight of Electric Keys is the Model B3 Hammond organ, released in 1954. Invented by Laurens Hammond, a mechanical engineering graduate of Cornell University, USA, Hammond organs were manufactured from the mid 1930s and by 1966 an estimated 50,000 churches across North America had installed a Hammond. While the company did not originally target its products to professional musicians (believing that was not a big enough market) the sound of the B3 with its ‘harmonic percussion’ feature helped forge a breakthrough into that sector.
With its full sound, the Hammond was able to displace small ensemble groups to become part of a thumping trio with drum and bass in bands playing large clubs. Although it weighed 132kg and was difficult to transport to different gigs every night, it became the instrument of choice for many accomplished keyboard players through the 1960s and 70s. Its distinct sound (especially when paired with purpose-built Leslie speakers) can be recognised in recordings across decades and musical genres.
The Hammond B3 in the Powerhouse Collection was owned by Harold Horsfall, a noted Adelaide organist in the mid 20th century, subsequently loaned to the ABC studios in Adelaide, and then acquired by Bruce Hancock, who became head of Jazz Studies at the Adelaide Uni conservatorium. It was later acquired into a large private collection. The unit spent most of its life in Hancock’s study, so it is in remarkable shape.