Leslie speaker

Leslie speaker

The Leslie speaker is a specially constructed amplifier/loudspeaker used to create special audio effects utilizing the Doppler effect. Named after its inventor, Donald Leslie, it is particularly associated with the Hammond organ. Separate Leslie speakers are a "must have" accessory for all Hammond owners, particularly after its characteristic sound was popularised by many artists over the years. The Hammond/Leslie combination is now a ubiquitous element in many genres of music. Indeed, the Hammond organ is seldom heard without the Leslie effect.

Although the Leslie speaker and the Hammond organ are often spoken of as one organized musical system, Hammond never owned or manufactured any speakers or parts for the Leslie Corporation, much less advertised for it. Hammond refused to package any Leslie speakers with its organ sales, instead using its own speakers which produced virtually no "Leslie-like" special effects. There are reports of the Hammond Organ Company strong-arming piano and organ stores into not selling Leslie products. Threats would go as far as telling the dealerships that the Hammond Organ line would be pulled if they sold Leslie products.Fact|date=September 2008 Hammond did repair Leslie units as a customer service, but only when asked to. Most techs now will fix both Hammond organs and Leslie speakers.


Don Leslie, at the outset, was refused hire by the Hammond Organ Company, but did work for the local electric company, in a contract with Hammond, to replace the old fifty cycle rotor tone generators with the new sixty cycle units, in customers' homes. The speaker's first name, in 1941, was the "Vibratone." (The name was used later by Fender Guitar Company for a speaker system and effects unit containing a Leslie rotating speaker. Fender also used the name "Leslie" after Leslie sold his company, in 1965, to CBS, which had also acquired Fender.) From 1941, when the first units were produced, the speaker went by several names including "Brittain Speakers", "Hollywood Speakers" and "Crawford Speakers", before returning to the name "Leslie Vibratone" in 1946. Seventeen years after it had rejected him, Leslie offered to sell the company to Hammond. After thirty days he had heard no word from Hammond. Don Leslie said: "After seventeen years, the thirty day period is up. Too late".

In 1980, the Hammond Corporation finally bought Electro Music and the Leslie name from CBS. To this day it remains part of Hammond under Hammond Suzuki, USA .

Leslie never advertised his speakers. After demonstrating a prototype (a rotating baffle in a hole in a small closet with a big speaker in the closet near Leslie's home organ) with Bob Mitchell, an organist with radio station KFI near Los Angeles, a contract was made to install another prototype in the station's studios, where Mitchell would be the only organist authorized to use it. Mitchell was so impressed that he even tried to patent the speaker, but discovered that he couldn't. Soon afterwards, Mitchell became an organist with the Mutual Broadcasting System, and played a Hammond with the Leslie on its shows. The national exposure was swift and sure. Organists, professional and amateur alike, wanted to have "that sound". Jazz organist Jimmy Smith helped to popularize "that sound" among rock-n-roll musicians in the late 50's and early 60's. The Leslie of that time was over sixty inches tall (about the size of a modern refrigerator), and was named the 30A. Don Leslie made a whole series based on the 30A, called "Tall Boys" (31 series). In the 1950s, Leslie introduced the 21H for use in homes, concert hall venues and smaller radio sound stages.

Today, Leslie parts are available from a number of sources. There are also websites with plans (and photographic examples) for constructing a Leslie speaker, with much improved electronics and speakers. On the web, one can see a 500 W high performance Leslie.

The classic Leslie is still made and sold to this day, though similar effects can now be obtained via analogue electronic devices and digital emulation. Chorus and phase shifter devices can mimic the sounds produced by a Leslie speaker; in fact, early phase shifters like the Uni-Vibe were specifically marketed as low-cost Leslie substitutes for guitarists, and used a foot-operated fast/slow switch. Many agree that nothing can reproduce the sound of a Leslie speaker heard in person, but some digital emulations of the Leslie Doppler effect have become virtually indistinguishable from the sound of a recorded Leslie speaker.


Although there have been many variations over the years, the classic Leslie speaker consists of two driver units - a treble unit with horns, and a bass unit. The key feature is that the horns of the treble unit (actually only one working horn, but a dummy horn is used to counter-balance it) and a sound baffle for the bass unit are rotated using electric motors to create 'Doppler effect based' vibrato, tremolo and chorus effects. The rotating elements can be switched between two speeds (or stopped completely by means of optional "brakes"), and the transition between the two speeds produces the most characteristic effects.

The resulting sound is instantly identifiable as that of the Hammond organ, frequently heard on psychedelic and rock music of the 1960s and 1970s. Unlike a high fidelity loudspeaker, the Leslie is specifically designed, via reproduction of the Doppler effect, to alter or modify sound; faithful reproduction has never been part of its appeal. Much of the unique tone is owed to the fact that the system is at least partially enclosed, but with linear louvres along the sides and front so that the unit can vent the sound from within the box after the sound has bounced around inside, mellowing it. While many organists prefer the fast "vibrato" setting, the Leslie's slow speed produces a lush "chorus" effect which suggests the sound of a pipe organ in a large hall or church much more effectively than static speakers can. The Leslie might be considered an electro-mechanical sonic effects machine. Many rock and roll organists have turned the box around to expose the horn's rotation for a visual effect, and in the hope of projecting a more powerful sound from both speakers. One can see such a reversed placement in The Band's movie, "The Last Waltz", the film "Woodstock", and Phish's DVD, "It".


While normally used with an organ, Leslie speakers can be used with other instruments, allowing for a wide range of surprising and dramatic effects. However, this method usually requires a preamplifier/power unit accessory, since most Leslie models by themselves are incompatible with microphones or outside instruments, being interfaced with an organ via a multipin cable connector which also carries AC power.

Some instances of such non-standard use are given here:

Electric guitar

*"Tears of Rage" - The Band
*"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" - The Beatles featuring Eric Clapton
*" Layla " - Derek and the Dominoes and Eric Clapton
*"Let It Be" - The Beatles
*"It Don't Come Easy" - Ringo Star ( Eric Clapton or George Harrison)
*"Badge" - Cream
*"Any Colour You Like" - Pink Floyd
*"Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast" - Pink Floyd
*"Black Hole Sun" - Soundgarden
*"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" - Elton John
*"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" - The Beatles
*"Give" - Dishwalla
*"Good Times Bad Times" - Led Zeppelin
*"Not Enough" - Van Halen
*"What It Takes" - Aerosmith
*"Pink" - Aerosmith
*"Wet Sand" - Red Hot Chili Peppers
*"In Your Letter" - REO Speedwagon
*"Angel" - Jimi Hendrix
*"Little Wing" - Jimi Hendrix
*"The Wanton Song" - Led Zeppelin
*"You Never Give Me Your Money - The Beatles (and reprised at the end of "Carry That Weight")
*"Cold Shot" - Stevie Ray Vaughan
*"Humpty Dumpty" - Aimee Mann
*Trey Anastasio from the jamband Phish routinely uses a custom Leslie system on his guitar in both studio and live settings (see the solo in a live version of Waste)
*"Always" - Bon Jovi
*"Let It Loose" - The Rolling Stones
*"No Matter What" - Badfinger
*"Tumble in the Rough" - Stone Temple Pilots
*"Fake It"- Seether
*"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" - Elton John
*"Asthenia" - Blink-182
*"Baby Come On Home" - Led Zeppelin
*""Sleeping Giant""- Mastodon
*"One" - U2
*"Circus Farm" guitar sound samples with and without Leslie by Mind Garage

Piano and other keyboard instruments

Pink Floyd used the Leslie speaker on a piano in "Echoes," as well as in the Atom Heart Mother suite.

Cat Stevens used a Leslied piano on his song "Sad Lisa".

Tori Amos also makes much use of a Leslie speaker on "Boys For Pele", a highly experimental album with piano, harpsichord, harmonium, and clavichord. On such songs as "Horses", the Leslie effect is made obvious as it is switched on and off for different parts of the song, itself a continuous piano piece, allowing for a strong comparison in the piano's sound.

Brian Eno utilised the rotating speaker effect on piano throughout "Becalmed" (from Another Green World).


As innovated by Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, John Lennon's voice was processed through a Leslie speaker for the highly experimental song "Tomorrow Never Knows" on The Beatles' 1966 album "Revolver". The Beatles also used George Harrison's Leslie-processed vocals on the song "Blue Jay Way" on their 1967 album "Magical Mystery Tour".

In the 1970s, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd passed both his vocal mic and his guitar through a Leslie on early live versions of "Any Colour You Like" and sung along to the solo as he played it, and Ozzy Osbourne sang through a Leslie speaker on the song "Planet Caravan" on Black Sabbath's 1970 breakthrough album "Paranoid".

Jon Anderson of Yes sang vocals through a Leslie on "Astral Traveller" from the band's second album, Time and a Word.

Jerry Garcia's voice was processed through a Leslie Speaker on the song "Rosemary" from the Grateful Dead album Aoxomoxoa.

Led Zeppelin used Leslie processing on Robert Plant's vocals in the song "What Is and What Should Never Be" from their 1969 album"Led Zeppelin II".

Neil Young sings through what appears to be a heavily distorted Leslie speaker on several tracks on his album Greendale

Matt Bellamy uses a Leslie speaker for Muse's song "Yes Please"

Emerson, Lake and Palmer used a Leslie for their vocals for live tours in the early 70's. In Virginia Beach they placed the Leslie in the center of the stage with microphones situated around it. Each microphone ran a dedicated speaker column located at the perimeter of the audience (facing in). In this way they were able to spin the sound around the entire audience.

Bass guitar

Pete "Overend" Watts of the band Mott the Hoople linked his bass through a Leslie on the track "Alice" from the album "The Hoople". Led Zeppelin's track "Heartbreaker" has the bass guitar routed through a Leslie with a maximum volume setting for its unique effect; to add more unique quality, chords are played throughout the song on the bass as well.

Cliff Burton use a Rickenbacker 4001 bass routed through Leslie in the beginning of the Metallica song "Orion".


Ringo Starr's drum fills in Blue Jay Way seem to have been passed through a Leslie Speaker.

Ron Bushy, drummer for the 60's acid rock group Iron Butterfly, utilized a Leslie Speaker during the drum solo of the 17-minute epic In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, giving the solo a distinct phasing effect.


John Popper uses a Leslie speaker simulator effect on his song Trina Magna, recorded with Blues Traveler, and on his solo work with the John Popper Project feat. DJ Logic.

Notable models

Model 122

The Model 122 is the classic two speed 40 Watt tone cabinet most commonly used with Hammond console organs, such as the B3, C3 and A100 models. Some organists connect two or more of these to their organ for a louder and more widely-spaced "surround" effect. A modern reproduction is the model 122A. This is the Leslie of choice for recording studios or other sonically demanding applications due to the quiet operation of the Model 122's differential signal input design. Leslie Model 142 is identical to Model 122, except that it is housed in a 33" tall cabinet, and thus slightly easier to transport than the 41" tall Model 122.

Model 147

The Model 147 has the same cabinet, speaker and mechanical components as the Model 122; however, the amplifier input and motor speed control circuits are different. This is primarily because this series was designed to be "universal", which means it could be connected to other organ brands. The signal input is "single-ended", allowing a more simple connection to organs that have a built-in speaker system, as the Hammond A100 or a Wurlitzer. The Model 122 input is a differential, "double-ended" or "balanced line" design that is provides for cancellation of any spurious noise that may be present. Also, the motor speed switching uses a separate 120 VAC signal, rather than the DC voltage control of the Model 122. In operation, the noticeable differences between the Model 122 and the Model 147 are the Model 122's lower susceptibility to induced noise, and a delay between operation of the speed control and the actual change in speed. Just like with the 122 and 142, the Leslie Model 145 is identical to Model 147, except that it is housed in a 33" tall cabinet, and thus slightly easier to transport than the 41" tall Model 147.

Model 125

The first model to have two speeds, the model 125 was introduced in 1963. Leslie produced two editions of each model, one for Hammonds (H) and one for Wurlitzer (W). Many organists still use combinations of these editions. The Model 125 has only a single rotor and 12" full-range speaker.

Model 16

The smallest Leslie is the Leslie Model 16, made in 1970. It has a Fender-like speaker body and a rotating foam dispersion block. It was built for rough club touring, was portable, and had "Leslie" written on the front. It was also released later as Fender/CBS's "Vibratone". Stevie Ray Vaughan used this model on the song "Cold Shot" from the album "Couldn't Stand The Weather". It can also be heard on Cream's "Badge" and Jimi Hendrix' "Little Wing". With supplies decreasing, its availability is becoming limited.

Model 760

One of the favourite models for gigging Hammond X5 owners, the Model 760 with 90 watts of power is still a popular choice for organs with 9-pin connectors, despite being a "solid-state" model.

Model 825

A smaller, more portable version of the 760 is the 825. It is a solid-state cabinet like the 760, and it connects to the organ with a 9-pin connector as well. However, it only has a 70-watt amplifier and only has a single rotor with a full-range 12" speaker.

Model 25

An earlier model, essentially a single speed 125. Like it's successor, the 125 has one 12" speaker pointed into a single wooden baffle. These leslies are relatively inexpensive, and in recent years have been made popular with guitarists wanting to achieve effects similar to that of Pink Floyd.

ee also

*Hammond organ
*Fender Vibratone

External links

* [http://captain-foldback.com/ Captain Foldback's Hammond and Leslie Page] - includes reviews of several Leslies
* [http://www.nmia.com/~vrbass/vibratone/ Inside the Fender Vibratone] - the history and workings of the Fender Vibratone cabinet (and similar boxes)
* [http://www.hammondorganco.com/ Hammond Suzuki USA] (current manufacturer of Leslie speakers)
* [http://theatreorgans.com/hammond/faq/mystery/mystery.html Unearthing the Mysteries of the Leslie Speaker] - A more in-depth analysis of the Leslie.
* [http://www.superpage.com/riffs/desc_leslie.html A website about the Leslie Model 16]

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