Vox Continental combo organ (italian V301E model)


Last Update 05/12/2019

It ain't a Hammond organ, the Vox doesn't do much, but when you want *that* sound... With all of the modern synths, ROMplers, clonewheels, and MIDI controllers in today's market one would ask why a cheesy outdated combo organ from the late 1960s? I have yet to hear a sample or clonewheel that does justice to it. That vibrato is unique as the modulating waveform is a trapezoid shape - I have YET to see that waveshape offered on any modern keyboard (except modular systems). The vibrato is a huge contributor to the weedy sound of the Continental. Its high end shrill just cuts through a wall of guitars. But good luck finding replacement germanium transistors, which have a history of failing. Even if you find them NOS or used, they are likely not in ideal condition as they vary all over the map and you have to buy a surplus to sort out the good ones. The biggest faults with germanium transistors is leakage and thermal runaway, parameters that could not be controlled during the fabrication process. They haven't been made since the 1970s as the superior silicon base has replaced germanium as the standard for transistors, and silicon transistors are not interchangeable with germanium. Many Continentals out there are dead or dying so expect them to need some TLC. As for fashion, the Vox Continental is probably the flashiest keyboard ever made - reverse color keys, grey and orange tolex on the cabinet, and that famous chrome "Z" stand. It looks GREAT on a stage, from any angle. It's far better in person than in an image.

Also be warned that Vox organs use an AC plug unlike anything I've seen. Those organs are over 50 years old, and the AC cords would had frayed beyond repair and no one seems to know where to get replacements. It's a rather common problem. I put in a standard IEC socket but kept the original plastic plate for original parts in case I find a cord.

The model lineage of the Continental organs had changed over the years due primarily to availability of parts as they go obsolete (especially transistors and ICs). There are other internet resources out there that present a good history that I won't repeat here. The first Continental organs were made at the Vox factory in the UK, then contracted out to other firms as demand outpaced the capacity at the UK factory. The primary contractor was a firm in Italy (why do so many combo organs - Farfisa, Panther, others - originate from Italy?!?). It is easy to tell the UK models from the Italian models; the UK models use wood keys and the crossbars for the legs terminate at a single point on the back of the organ, while the Italian models use hollow plastic keyshells and the crossbars terminate at two points. The plastic keyshells come loose and are often missing. The electronics are not interchangeable between them. While the drawbar tabs on the UK model are white and dark ruby colored, on the Italian model they are white and black. While they are both badged Vox Continental, they have different model numbers. My specimen is the Italian model. The legacy models that are in demand were made in the 1960s. As Vox was acquired by other companies throughout the 1970s, the Continental went through changes of design and features, and the later organ do not command the vintage prices of the legacy era. Korg - who owned the Vox trademark - reissued the Continental organ with modern features but the sound is nowhere near the original.

The Continental packs up very nicely and is easy to carry (try THAT with a vintage Hammond). I happened to find this one in a pawnshop and talked the proprietor into a great bargain. All the keys were intact, all the legs, the original volume pedal, and the carrying case for the legs were all there. The only missing original items were the AC cord and the Vox badge on the front of the organ. The electrolytic caps on the power supply had burst and several germanium PNP transistors were blown. Be careful buying a Connie unseen - the plastic keys and drawbar tabs get brittle with age, and an Italian Connie with a complete keyset is a rare find. They're worth much less without the legs. Wingbolts for the legs aren't too hard to find at any well stocked hardware store. NorthCoastMusic.com stocks some reproduction parts. Expect some repairs to get one working, these things are over a half century old. A completely original Continental (including original AC cord) is very rare. I don't take mine out to gigs anymore because the tolex is getting brittle and easily torn. It's still in decent shape as it is but I don't want to go to the effort of re-tolexing the thing. In its day, the Continental was enthusiastically greeted with open arms as it was the first keyboard that was styled for rock-n-roll. It appeared on many pop records of the 1960s. The notable examples are "House of the Rising Sun" by the Animals, the artificial-stimulant-influenced epic "InDaGaddaVaDida", and early songs by The Doors. I don't use it for 60s cover material; I've found ways to use it in rock (even baroque!). It's very effective as a rhythm instrument when put through the old chrome Morley Wah pedal (instant "Won't Get Fooled Again"). All the shrill that oozes from a Connie is prime material for wah wah pedals. Other than that you can't get a great variety of sounds. Sounds great through a Leslie cabinet.  With some digital reverb, it even sounds decent playing Bach organ fugues on it (!)

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