Electro-Harmonix B9 Organ Machine
By Phil O'Keefe |
Organ Machine effect pedal for guitar, bass and keyboards
By Phil O'Keefe
Guitarists can be rather weird sometimes. For example, consider our fascination with (some would say jealousy of) the sounds keyboardists can generate with electronic organs and rotary speakers. Univibes, phasers, rotary speaker emulators - all were developed in an attempt to give guitarists the swirly, phase-shifted tones that organists have used for decades. There's also a variety of octave generator pedals (such as the EHX POG2 and Micro POG) that can give guitarists more organ-like sounds, but short of using a guitar synth, nothing has really nailed the basic sound of an organ well enough to fool anyone who is really playing attention.
Electro-Harmonix claims that their new B9 Organ Machine actually does give guitar players the ability to convincingly sound like an electric organ. Let's take a look and see if their claims hold up to our testing.
What You Need To Know
- The B9 Organ Machine has nine preset organ sounds, with basic yet descriptive names for each one listed on the front panel.
- The B9 is housed in a die cast enclosure that measures roughly 3.5" W x 4.5" D x 2 1/8" H, including the knobs. The input jack is mounted on one side of the pedal, and two output jacks are located on the opposite side.
- One output is labeled "Dry", and outputs the buffered dry guitar sound at all times, regardless of whether the pedal is activated or not. Think of this as a useful aux output. The second, or primary output is labeled "Organ." What comes out of this jack depends on how you have the B9's Dry and Organ Volume knobs set, and whether the effect is bypassed or not.
- The B9 has a total of five knobs: Dry and Organ Volume controls, a Preset select knob, as well as Mod and Click controls.
- The Dry Volume knob controls the amount of unprocessed guitar signal you'll hear coming out of the Organ output jack. Unity gain on this knob is when it's turned up all the way.
- The Organ Volume knob controls the amount of organ sound in the mix at the Organ output. Unlike the Dry Volume knob, it's possible for the organ signal to be considerably louder than your dry, unprocessed guitar signal, so in order to get equal amounts of guitar and organ (if that's what you want), you'll need to keep this knob set fairly low.
- For the best sound processing and amplifying flexibility, routing the organ and guitar signals to separate effects and amps is the way to go.
- Dialing up a preset is as easy as turning the white knob to the desired preset number. A wide range of different organ sounds is provided, including several B-type sounds, a cathedral / pipe organ sound, an electronic "Continental" combo organ, and a "Bell Organ", which is somewhat similar to a cross between an organ and electric piano in tone. While some of the sounds are subjectively better than others, most are very good indeed.
- The Mod control adds a bit of modulation to the signal, and the modulation type (chorus-like rotating speaker, vibrato or tremolo) is different depending on which preset is selected. With this knobs turned down all the way, the modulation is bypassed. Turning it up brings the modulation in, and the knob then controls the speed of the modulation.
- The Click knob also serves multiple purposes, depending on which preset is chosen. With most presets it adds percussive key click to note attacks, but on some presets (Cathedral and Continental), it instead serves as a depth control for the tremolo or vibrato, and with the Bell Organ preset, it sets the amount of Bell or chime that is added to the sound.
- Tracking is terrific. There are some concerns in terms of your playing dynamics that I'll detail later, but there's no appreciable latency like you have with most guitar synths, and the B9 will faithfully (although unrealistically from an "authentic organ sounds" perspective) follow and track string bends and other guitar-centric playing techniques just fine. Glissandos, or sliding up to or down from notes, is far more effective and realistic sounding with the B9 than string bending is.
- While you can play with a pick, I found that playing fingerstyle generally resulted in more realistic sounding performances since unlike strumming, it allows you to trigger multiple notes at the exact same instant, much as a keyboardist does.
- Electro-Harmonix recommends using the bridge pickup for best results. Low output pickups may be an issue in some cases, and if you have problems with this, a compressor or boost pedal placed in front of the B9 to increase the signal level feeding it is the recommended solution.
- With the exception of the aforementioned compressor or boost pedal, the B9 should be the first pedal in the signal path. Any distortion or overdrive you want to use with it should be placed after the B9. And yes, it sounds great with some dirt added to it, so if you're looking for those big grinding Jon Lord type organ sounds, you can definitely get them!
- There are no internal switches or trim pots inside the B9, and really no need to open it up at all since there's no internal battery compartment. Power is provided by the included 9VDC adapter, and the EHX B9 uses the industry standard 2.1mm center-negative power connector. The power jack is located at the top of the pedal. Current draw is 100mA.
- The B9 features buffered bypass. A red LED illuminates when the pedal is activated. Input impedance is 1MegOhm, and the output impedance is 500 Ohms for both the Dry and Organ outputs.
- You do need to be careful to play consistently in terms of picking dynamics with the B9 Organ Machine. I occasionally had notes that would "jump out" at me - usually as a result of my picking hand's "heavy thumb", and almost always when I was playing notes on the low E string. Putting a compressor pedal in front of the B9 to help even out your attack and volume makes it much easier to avoid this issue.
- While the note range of the B9 is extensive, it does have some limits. Anything higher than high Eb (high E string at the 23rd fret) won't trigger organ sounds. Similarly, while you can use the B9 with an electric bass (or even a keyboard), low notes below C (A string, third fret) can be problematic, and playing below that is not recommended.
- The onboard modulation is nice to have, but with relatively limited adjustability, it doesn't compete with outboard rotary sim and tremolo units. Patching in a good two speed rotary speaker simulator pedal is the way to go if you want to make the B9's organ simulation even more authentic-sounding, and you really haven't lived until you try running the B9 into a preamp and a real Leslie(™) speaker.
Yes, there's some caveats and limitations that you should be aware of, but make no mistake - the EHX B9 can absolutely give you classic organ sounds that are all but indistinguishable from the real thing. Yes, you have to do your part, but the sound is so similar as to be startling upon first exposure to it since it approaches the authenticity and tone of keyboard-based organ patches. Of course, the physical limitations of the guitar preclude using some of the techniques organ players typically employ, but if you think and play as much as possible like an organist instead of like a blues/rock guitarist, the sound simulation can be very convincing. In a studio environment where you can multitrack and overdub to get around some of those limitations, extremely convincing organ parts are achievable.
While you don't have the ability to dial up your own drawbar settings, EHX has provided a nice variety of basic organ sounds that are suitable for a wide range of musical genres. The onboard modulation isn't the best you'll find, but it's nice that it's included, and it can easily be turned off so you can use any of the numerous external units that are on the market. Effects are relatively easy - it's the basic organ sound that is so hard to achieve with a guitar, and it's there that the B9 excels. That is the real star here, and one that is deserving of the attention. If you want to get authentic organ sounds from your guitar, there's currently no better way short of a full-blown guitar synth to get them than the Electro-Harmonix B9 Organ Machine.
Musician's Friend Electro-Harmonix B9 Organ Machine online catalog page ($293.73 MSRP, $220.30 "street")