PORTABILITY AND THE ELECTRO 3
Gigging with vintage keyboards is a mixed blessing. A well-maintained electromechanical beast of yesteryear is a thing of beauty; it feels and sounds terrific, and it looks great onstage to boot. The problems have to do with weight, size and reliability. Hammond organs are ferociously heavy, tipping the scales at more than 400 pounds. A 73-key Fender Rhodes electric piano is no lightweight either, virtually requiring a bandmate to help move and set it up. The reeds in the Wurlitzer electric piano and the hammers in the Hohner Clavinet are quite fragile, finicky and prone to wearing out. And no one but the biggest masochist or largest touring band would consider bringing a temperamental Mellotron onstage. Throw in a Leslie rotating speaker and a Fender Twin Reverb amp for good measure, and you have a backbreaking, van-filling situation. Replacing all that gear with a single, 18-pound keyboard that fits in the back of your car is a sensible and practical choice.
AMP SIMULATIONS: A KEY ELEMENT OF THE VINTAGE SOUND
The choice of amplifier used with a vintage keyboard often has a significant impact on the sound. The Hammond organ is permanently joined at the hip to the Leslie speaker (much to the chagrin of Laurens Hammond, the inventor of the organ, who disliked the Leslie intensely). The Fender Rhodes and Clavinet both have an extra bit of magic when run through a Fender tube guitar amp, but some Rhodes aficionados prefer the smoother, less-gritty sound of the Roland Jazz Chorus amplifier. The Electro 3 has models of both the Fender Twin Reverb and the Roland Jazz Chorus, and it does a pretty credible job of simulating them.
I experimented with running the Electro 3 through some vintage guitar amplifiers, and found that it actually sounded best when running through a clean, wide-range, neutral keyboard amp or P.A. while always using the onboard amp simulation effects. This was because the real vintage amp constrained the frequency response of the Hammond Organ and Mellotron, creating a honk in the midrange and not allowing enough bass to come through. But having a Fender Twin at your disposal to push and focus the Rhodes and Clavinet can really help with the authenticity of the simulation. Using the amp simulations with a wide-frequency keyboard amp gives you the best of both worlds.