Technics SX-U90 organ

NB:  From time to time someone selling one of these organs refers to my pages to show what they look like.  I'm fine with that, but please contact them about the sale.  I am not selling mine.  Well, I might consider trading it in for a Hammond B3…  (I can't see that happening, though.)

Also, I get asked if I have a user's manual for it.  I do, I have two versions:  One is a scan of someone's hatchet job with a photocopier, scissors, glue, and coloured textas, extracting the U90-only information, in English, from a manual that covers several models.  The other is a complete scan of the manual, including the pages that cover the U90, U60, U50, U40, and U30, organs, in English, Français, and Deutsch.  Contact me if you're desperate for a copy.  I don't leave it here for everyone, because people who don't need it would be, unnecessarily, chewing through my webserving bandwidth.  It's about 10 megs worth of scanned files as JPEGs, for the U90-only version.  Or 32 megs, for the multi-lingual PDF file that covers several models.

I do not have the service manual.  I do want one, and one day I will get one, but I haven't done so, yet.

Below are some pictures of my organ, it's a large upright model (ooh, err, missus…), you use both hands and feet with it, and it's far better off if you don't play alone, and everyone joins in, somehow.  Unfortunately it's a bit difficult to take good pictures of it, as it's mostly fairly dark wood, or fake plastic wood (neither of which come across well on video—or digital still—cameras, especially when you don't have enough lighting or the space to play with good lighting).  At some stage, I'll have another go at photographing it with a better camera.  In the meantime, I've added two good (and very large) photos of the whole console (I haven't redone the close-ups), at the very end of this page.  If you want a picture of this organ for your own needs, then make a COPY of them.  Other than the last two, each of those pictures (further down the page) is a link to a page with bigger version of them, as well as more comments about what's visible in the picture.  The last two links are to larger pictures, by themselves.

It's a 1980's organ, amongst the last of the electronic organs that still emulate theatre organs rather than concentrating on synthetic instrument emulation, as well as copying the rock organ sound (a bit) that the Hammond B3 was famous for.  I think it was the last Technics organ to actually use “tabs” for the organ voices, the next model to come along that I've tried out used electronic rocker/push switches, and replaced sliding volume controls with “up” and “down” buttons (all of which I found really awful to use).  Thankfully it didn't emulate the huge cabinet style of theatre organs, where you end up almost encased in a box, as the keyboard and stops wrap around you, horseshoe fashion, up to the height of your head.

Unfortunately it's only got a single-octave pedalboard, though it can be coupled to the lower manual and the pedal voices can be played along the full range of that manual (which equates to an octave below the pedalboard and several more above it, though only the first three octaves sound any good).  They're also very short pedals, barely long enough to use your heels as well as toes.

Thankfully, the manuals cover a wider range than the average home organ (from “C” one octave below “middle-C”, up to “C” three octaves higher on the upper manual—the lower manual covers the range one octave down from the upper), so you can play some classical pieces, at least, without running out of keys, although some of the uppermost keys are repeats from an octave down, for the shorter flute voices (most electronic organs do that).  While the tab voices line up with the keyboard properly (middle-C on the upper keyboard is directly above with middle-C on the lower, the various synthetic instrument voices do not.  Bizarrely, they act as if the keyboards were not staggered, and the lower manual's middle C is shifted left by an octave.

The traditional organ sound tone generators aren't too bad; but like many electronic organs, the lower octaves on the upper manual grumble and distort very badly and all too easily, even at very low volumes, so I've always played around an octave up.  It has some synthetic instrument effects, though there's nothing spectacular about them, and they don't really sound like the instruments that they're emulating.  There's also solo synthesiser voices, which don't make any attempt to sound like real instruments, they're what you might call “special effect” voices (by “solo” it means that it only plays the tone for the uppermost key pressed at any moment, while the other voices are polyphonic—they can play up to eight tones at a time).

The rhythm unit has the usual rather lame sounding attempts to emulate sounds of drums and other percussive instruments, the cymbals are annoyingly very staccato—you couldn't do a good sounding 16-beat rock rhythm to go with a Beatles' song, for instance, rather than the prolonged decay of a real cymbal, you only get short “phht” sounds, because you've only got three types of high-hat cymbal effects to choose from—but at least you can program a couple of your own customised rhythms out of the instruments it does provide.  And as well as the usual tricks of playing rythmic pedals (something I detest) and lower manual voices along with the drums, you can also program in a series of chords to be played automatically (something I've never tried, but would mean that you could play something like a three-handed piece, duet style, without needing another person).  It'd have to be a short piece, though, as it doesn't have enough memory to store many chords.

It has a fake Leslie effect, which is nowhere near as good as the sound of real one (real “Leslie” ™ systems use rotating speakers, or rotating chambers around speakers).  Modern Leslie emulators can do quite a reasonable job, but this one is just passable—it does its trick by amplitude, frequency, and phase modulating the sound between the different speakers around the cabinet (it has three midrange and treble speakers spread around the cabinet, and a single woofer), but doesn't quite do it with enough depth to the effect.  There are connections to use an external tone cabinet (three RCA sockets), but I've never seen one for Technics organs, and it doesn't separate the tones that can be modulated (e.g. the organ voices) from those that shouldn't be (e.g. the drums), and the internal pretend Leslie doesn't get disabled when a tone cabinet is connected, so it'd be hard to connect to a real Leslie system.

The faked Leslie is different from a real one in a multitude of ways.  The real Leslie has spinning horns for the treble, and the better ones also have a rotating drum for the bass (which probably only carries the lower keyboard tones, with the pedal bass tones going to a non-spinning speaker—some say the bass is much cleaner unmodulated, but I have to say I liked vibrato on the bass of our old Hammond).  The treble and bass rotors do not spin together, they spin in different directions (to each other), and at different speeds (from each other), and they each take differing amounts of time to change speeds.  That, plus the cross-over frequencies separating the bass from the treble drivers, the cabinet accoustics, and throwing the sound out in all different directions, give a real Leslie it's fantastic sound.

As well as using the multi-speaker system to spin the sound around, the sound is somewhat biassed to one side or another, depending on which voices and keyboards are played—somewhat in the style of how pipe organs have their various voices coming from different places in the building.  While good for making the sound three-dimensional, it's uncomfortable for listening in headphones.

Headphone listenening is uncomfortable in a number of ways:  The uneven distribution of voices on either side, the rather poor audio frequency response (the organ heavily relies on the cabinet resonance to colour the sound, it's thin and shrill without it), and the fake Leslie modulates the sound between left and right too extremely (nobody sits with their head that close to a real Leslie—or probably more like, with their head right inbetween two Leslies, just a foot from each ear).

Probably one of the nicest features of these Technics organs is their manual registration memories and controlling system—what they call their “Voice Setting Computer” and the “orchestral conductor”.  It comes with some preset registrations, you also have four user-programmable memories which you can use to change both manuals and pedalboard registrations at the touch of a button (they store and recall the positions that you've set for all the switches and buttons above the manuals—the registrations for the upper- and lower-manuals, pedalboard, and effects), and the centrally located orchestral conductor lets you quickly switch upper- and lower-manuals to use the traditional organ sounds, synthetic instruments, or organ presets, etc., by themselves and in various combinations.

This organ has about as much automation as I want in an organ.  I'd rather play music on the instrument than spend ages programming it.  And that goes for playing music, live, rather than playing along with something pre-programmed.  Using newer organs is too much like fiddling with computers—lots of tweaking, but not much actual use.  That, or you have hideously limited choices of a few organ presets and instrumental voices, but you can't individually control which flutes form the organ voice, or you have to wade through hideous menus to fiddle with computer parameters.

It's in quite good condition, though I've still got to fix up a niggling DC noise fault that occasionally makes some crunching noises on the sound, and I'm sure I hear the occasional detuning while playing, and some other odd little background noises.  It needed the woofer replacing shortly after I got it, and unfortunately, the first replacement didn't play the lowest notes as well (years later, the second replacement, plays the bass notes with gusto).  A replacement couldn't be avoided though, as the original speaker was exhibiting mechanical failures.  One of the power amplifiers failed, later, but luckily I could get a direct replacement.  I have my suspicions that the DC noise fault is related, but haven't followed it up (it's a bit difficult to do a proper job without the circuit diagrams).  I've had to swap the solo instrument tuning slider control with another unused voice volume slider control, as it was getting noisy and detuning badly while playing.  And I've taken various sympathetic vibrations out of the cabinet by putting packing between various parts of the assembly, and adjusting the speaker fastenings (one of the tweeters slipped out of place, and its cone vibrated against the wooden panel it's mounted through).  Next I've got to give the room the same treatment, to stop all the extra rattles as you play.

It's got a fairly good sound system, quite loud and strong for home use, but possibly not powerful enough to do a hall by itself.  Not only does it have outputs, but line and microphone inputs as well.  I plugged a friend's accoustic guitar (with a pick-up) into the organ, we had a bit of fun playing Beatles songs together, and I think it sounded pretty good—much better than I expected for something that's not designed as a guitar amplifier.

And, for those who want to know what the organ sounds like, you can listen to an Ogg Vorbis digital audio recording of me playing my Technics SX-U90 organ.  It's small parts of four pieces of music roughly edited together:  Johann Sebastian Bach's “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,” “Aquarius” from the musical “Hair,” Carl Sigman's and Robert Maxwell's “Ebb Tide,” and John Philip Sousa's “The Washington Post March”.  (Those are links to Wikipedia pages about the pieces and artists mentioned.)

The file is an Ogg Vorbis audio format.  Sorry, but I'm not going to make an MP3 of it, so don't ask.  And if you can't already play Ogg Vorbis files, visit the Ogg Vorbis website to find out how.

It's definitely not my best playing.  It was just a set of test recordings, trying out placing microphones in different spots (one close to the console, and the other on the other side of the room), while playing more attention to the recording meters than anything else, and I didn't play completely through each piece without making a lot of mistakes.  So I've just sampled the least worst sections.  And because it's an accoustic recording, you can hear me changing registrations on the fly.

The first piece's played with nearly all the flutes turned on, with lots of sustain and reverb, and a slow Leslie effect, trying to emulate the big church sound that traditionally goes with Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor.  The second, Aquarius, is played in a fairly simple rock style, again with most of the flutes and a fast Leslie effect (the 16-beat rock rhythm isn't built in, you have to program that yourself).  The third piece, Ebb Tide, starts off fairly mellow, using just a few flutes, with a slow Leslie effect, and switches to the fast Leslie towards the crescendo.  Unfortunately, the speed change isn't as dramatic as a real Leslie, and drawbars would make for a nicer build up to the extra flutes.  The last piece, The Washington Post, was trying to copy the effect of the small pipe organs you'd hear as you went for a ride around it on a carousel (those things with the horses that go up and down), by adding the celeste effect on top of the fake Leslie (more rotating/phasing effects, that don't quite work out so well on this recording), and bunging on strings, reeds, percussive voices, and the harmonic couplers on the upper keyboard.

More recently, I've bunged several clips of me playing my Technics U90 on YouTube (a few of of them are embedded on this page, below).  They've got reasonably good sound quality (better than most U90 clips I've found, there) They had good sound quality, but YouTube's endless reprocessing of uploaded clips has, since, destroyed the sound quality, with some pop-up annotations showing the registrations in use (on the first three).  They were filmed using a museum-piece 1970s Philips LDH television camera, and a not-quite-so-old 1980s-vintage JVC camera, mixed together through an equally vintage analogue vision mixer, so you can see the keyboards and the pedals, as they're being played.  And recorded in stereo using a couple of omni-directional 1990s-vintage Nakamichi studio microphones, placed about a metre away from the console (so it sounds like you're sitting nearby), and about one foot apart from each other (which gives reasonable mono and stereo sound reproduction), fed through a similar-vintage Yamaha mixing desk, onto a digital video recorder.  Plug in some decent speakers or headphones, and turn it up to eleven!

Not loading?  Try going directly to my clip of Ebb Tide on YouTube.

Ebb Tide (my YouTube clip)

Not loading?  Try going directly to my clip of Three Coins in the Fountain on YouTube.

Three Coins in the Fountain (my YouTube clip)

Not loading?  Try going directly to my clip of Hoagy Carmichael's “Georgia” on YouTube.

Hoagy Carmichael's “Georgia” (my YouTube clip)

Not loading?  Try going directly to my clip of The 5th Dimension's “Up Up and Away” on YouTube.

The 5th Dimension's “Up Up and Away” (my YouTube clip)

Not loading?  Try going directly to my clip of “Aquarius” from the musical “Hair” on YouTube.

“Aquarius” from the musical “Hair,”
made famous by The 5th Dimension (my YouTube clip)

A few years later, I uploaded some more clips to YouTube, this time shot using a couple of 1990's MiniDV cameras running through a Panasonic MX-50 vision mixer, using the same Nakamichi mikes (but with uni-directional capsules, I think) in a slightly different position.  It doesn't sound quite as good as the first set of recordings, but does look better.

I probably won't be uploading any more music clips to YouTube, as they're getting fussy about cover versions of music, I don't know how to play enough classical material that's out of copyright date, and I'm no composer.  Regarding playing cover versions, I'm not trying to make money off the clips, so I'm in no affordable position to try to pay for the rights.  But YouTube is trying to use user-uploaded material for their own purposes, so I think it would be best if they could come to a sensible arrangement for cover versions of music.  Such as unobtrusive advertising and links to buy the original version of the music being covered.  e.g. if you covered Elvis' version of The House of the Rising Sun, there'd be a link to buy his version; but if you covered The Animals' version, there'd be a link to theirs (and that's song's a great example of a copyright/royalties nightmare, because popular singers were covering a traditional song).  I've seen a similar thing on YouTube (links to buy the song), but they were linking to buy an unrelated cover version of a song (which is hardly fair), and a crappy version, too.  I don't think that's a good idea, at all.

Pictures with descriptions

whole organ photo close-up photo close-up photo close-up photo close-up photo close-up photo close-up photo close-up photo close-up photo close-up photo large full-console photo large full-console photo

There's another page with additional information.  And for those who want to see the innards of the organ, there's another page with pictures of them.

Technics SX-U90 section, next page

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