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The Vox Continental is a transistor-based combo organ that was introduced in 1962. Known for its bright but thin, breathy sound, the "Connie", as it was affectionately known, was designed to be used by touring musicians. It was also designed to replace heavy tonewheel organs, such as the revered Hammond B3.
While this was not entirely accomplished, the Continental was used in many 1960s hit singles, and was probably the most popular and best-known combo organ among major acts. Although phased out of production in the early 1970s, the organ still has a strong following to this day, and remains among the most sought-after of combo organs by enthusiasts.
The Continental came in two basic models, each with its own variations. The basic models were the single manual Continental, and the dual manual, which was known as the Vox Continental II in England and the Vox Super Continental in Italy.
Vox Continental were initially manufactured in the Jennings Musical Instruments plant in Dartford, Kent, UK, and by Vox Sound in Erith, Kent. Reportedly the English factories could not keep up with demand for VOX amplifiers and organs, and in 1964, a licensing deal was signed between Jennings and the Thomas Organ Company in the USA. In 1992, Korg acquired Vox and henceforth the new products with the trademark Vox will spot essentially the guitar players, the trademark Korg being used for the keyboards.
The Continental was very striking visually, and had features not often found in keyboard instruments, both then and now. The most obvious of these was its reverse-coloured keys (black naturals and white sharps) similar to a harpsichord. Then the chrome Z-shaped bolt-on leg stand assembly and bright vermilion (in some models grey) top made for a very distinctive and handsome piece of equipment. The Vox Continental used six slider-type, metered volume controls called drawbars instead of the stop-tab rocker switches seen on other combo organs. Two of the drawbars controlled the voices (flute and reed tones), and three of the other four controlled the footages (in reference to ranks of pipes on a pipe organ, but were essentially successive octave controls; the lower the footage number, the higher the octaves were pitched (8 foot being one octave higher than 16 foot etc.), the last of the four controlling a mixture of four higher pitches. There was a single-speed, single intensity vibrato, but the Continental had no other special effects or bass notes. Its simplicity was appreciated by many players.
Although they had similar tones and appearance, there were four different builds of the Vox Continental. The first were UK models built by Jennings Musical Industries, or JMI, in Dartford, Kent, England. Later UK models were built by Vox Sound in Erith, Kent.
For a short time following Thomas Organ's 1964 licensing deal with VOX, single-manual Continentals were built in the US at the Thomas Organ factory at 8345 Hayvenhurst Avenue in Sepulveda, California. There were reportedly approximately 300 of these 301-H (for "Hayvenhurst") organs made, mostly during the months of April through June 1966. Production was then moved to the EME factory in Italy.
Hayvenhurst Continentals are distinguished by their unique tone generator boards (sourced from Thomas' line of home organs), wooden keys covered in plastic, which feature they shared with their Jennings-made forebears, and which have a very nice "touch" feel, and use of American standard hardware, which was a good deal more robust than the metric hardware used on the Italian-made Continentals, which make up roughly 80% of all Continental production, Hayvenhurst Continentals comprise about 3% of total single-manual production, with the balance being early UK-built units. Italian models can be discerned from UK and US models by their flimsy plastic keys, white and black (instead of cream and maroon) drawbars and crossed stand braces. Some think that the sound of the Italian versions was thinner than that of its UK and US counterparts, and that UK and US Continentals, as far as appearance and sound quality, were essentially identical (even though the US-built Continentals were somewhat different electronically from their English predecessors). The build quality and reliability of the US-built Continentals are held to be superior(by whom?) to the other three variations.
In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, various derivatives and variations came along, including the Vox Jaguar, Vox Corinthian and the last of the single manual Continentals, the Vox Continental '71.
The UK had the Continental II and 300, and Italy had the Super Continental. Both had plastic keys and were available with and without percussion. Confusingly, the UK version with percussion (which only came with a Grey and not red top) was known as the "Super II".
The dual manual had its developments and variants. These included the Vox Continental 300, which introduced reverb and presets, and the Continental Baroque, which included different voices on the upper manual ( including Banjo, Harpsichord and Piano ) and internal amplification.
The instrument is commonly associated with rock and roll of the 1960s, being used by such artists as Alan Price of The Animals, Mike Smith of The Dave Clark Five and Ray Manzarek of The Doors. Famous songs that feature the Vox Continental include:
- "The House of the Rising Sun" (1964) by The Animals
- "Because" (1964) by The Dave Clark Five
- "California Sun" (1964) by The Rivieras
- "She's About a Mover" (1965) by the Sir Douglas Quintet
- "Pushin' Too Hard" (1965) by The Seeds
- "Woman" (1965) by The Zombies
- "I'm Down" (1965) by The Beatles
- "96 Tears" (1966) by Question Mark and the Mysterians
- "I'm a Believer" (1966) by The Monkees
- "Hungry" (1966) by Paul Revere and The Raiders
- "(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet" (1966) by the Blues Magoos
- "Working My Way Back to You" (1966) by The Four Seasons
- "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" and "Absolutely Sweet Marie" (1966) by Bob Dylan, who also played the Connie on the 1979 tour for his album Slow Train Coming
- "Light My Fire" and "When the Music's Over" (1967) by The Doors
- "The Rains Came" (1966) and "Mendocino" (1968) by the Sir Douglas Quintet
- "Sister Ray" (1968) by The Velvet Underground
- "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" (1968) by Iron Butterfly
- "Don't Do Me Like That" (1979) by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
- "Some of My Lies Are True (Sooner or Later)" and "Don't Ever Tell Me That You Love Me" (1980) by Huey Lewis and the News
- "Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas)" (1993) by They Might Be Giants
- "Budapest" (2014) by George Ezra
- "Beryl" (2015) by Mark Knopfler
In addition to these 1960s groups the Vox Continental played a large role in generating many of the keyboard sounds heard in 1970s and early 1980s new wave and punk rock. The Continental was used extensively by prodigy Steve 'Nieve' (aka Steve Nason), keyboard player for Elvis Costello & The Attractions, and by Mike Barson of 2-Tone group Madness. It was also used by 2-Tone founder Jerry Dammers of The Specials.
More recently in popular music culture, the organist Rhys Webb, of the UK garage band The Horrors can be seen using the Continental, as can Sam Steinig of Mondo Topless and Walt Martin of The Walkmen, while Kenny Howes of Atlanta psyche-pop group Orange Hat used a Super Continental. Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers has also frequently used a '65 Continental since the early days of Mudcrutch. Singer-songwriter Grayson Hugh featured a Continental on his song "Angel of Mercy" from his 2010 Swamp Yankee Records release "An American Record".
Two Vox Continental organs are seen in the promo video for "Summer in the City" by The Lovin' Spoonful, played by John Sebastian and bassist Steve Boone, although the signature keyboard line is played on a Hohner Pianet. A Vox Continental is seen in use by Eric Harvey of Spoon in the music video for their song "Sister Jack". The Vox can also be seen in several televised appearances by The Four Seasons, played by Bob Gaudio on such performances of "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "Working My Way Back to You". The Vox Continental organ can also be seen in numerous televised appearances of The Dave Clark Five played by lead singer Mike Smith on shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show and Shindig!
Alex Turner also used the Vox Continental for Arctic Monkeys song "505", the closer of second album Favourite Worst Nightmare, as well as on third album Humbug and "Crying Lightning" b-side "Red Right Hand".
The Moons organist Tom Warmsley uses a single manual Vox Continental, also The Moons' James Edward Bagshaw uses a Vox Continental 300
- Orange Hat's video for Liquid Me, featuring the Vox Super Continental.