The VSTV1 Virtual Organ

Bob Leggitt | Friday, 22 July 2011 |


The VSTV1 was my first attempt at making a virtual organ. It has now been dropped and replaced by the VSTV2, which does a much better job of simulating the classic 1960s organ.

...Fetch Austin Powers! Predictable I know, but the VSTV1 virtual organ unashamedly brings you the rude and in-ya-face sound of the classic 1960s organ. This relatively compact but extremely heavy instrument incorporated the proverbial telephone exchange of internal wiring to produce a raw tone almost impossible to lose in a mix. The distinctive sound can be found on countless 1960s records, and notably a number of recordings made in the post-punk era of the late 1970s.

When using the VSTV1, please bear in mind that the instrument upon which this is based had four-octave keyboards. On a full-sized 88-key MIDI keyboard the area these would cover is the range from C2 to C6. You can of course play the VSTV1 outside these boundaries, but if you wish to preserve the personality of the original organ you should play only within the C2 – C6 range.


The VSTV1 has two sets of drawbars, providing control for two virtual manuals (keyboards). The two sets of bars are selectable via a Lower/Upper switch located above the drawbar section. The instrument features white-tipped and maroon-tipped bars. The white-tipped bars perform a similar task to the traditional Hammond drawbars, although they introduce the different pitches in a more ‘economical’ fashion, and the tones themselves can be more complex than Hammond sine waves. The maroon-tipped drawbars are effectively master volume controls – hence the absence of a master volume knob on the VSTV1. There are two maroon-tipped drawbars for each manual.

The left-hand maroon-tipped bar controls the overall volume of the organ’s sine-type waveform. If you pull out (or drag down with the mouse) only the volume bar marked ‘SIN’, any white drawbars you introduce will produce something close to a Hammond-style sine wave. Remember that the drawbar set you’ve chosen to work with must be selected via the Upper/Lower selector switch – otherwise you’ll hear no sound at all from those drawbars. Also note that the ‘SIN’ and ‘TRI’ drawbars will not produce any sound on their own. They merely dictate the type of waveform the white drawbars will produce, and the overall volume of that waveform. The white and maroon bars must always be used in conjunction with each other.

The right-hand maroon-tipped drawbar, marked ‘TRI’, controls the overall volume of the manual’s triangle type wave. This is where all the archetypal '60s organ sounds lie.

You can of course also mix the waveforms of the ‘SIN’ and ‘TRI’ drawbars, pulling out both in varying combinations until you’re happy with the tone. However, once you begin mixing the waves, you lose a single-step option on master volume. I considered adding a master volume knob on this basis, but in the end felt that the VST mixer controls would be sufficient for this purpose and that any more onboard volume would be overkill.

As I mentioned, the white-tipped drawbars have the role of traditional drawbars. That is, they introduce specific pitches to a composite tone, creating sounds by primitive additive synthesis. But rather than there being nine separate pitches as on the Hammond, on the VSTV1 there are only eight. And on the upper manual the final five of those pitches are grouped together onto just two drawbars. The fourth drawbar is labelled II, and combines two pitches. The fifth drawbar is labelled III, and combines three pitches. The 16', 8' and 4' bars each introduce a single pitch of the said 'footage'. On the lower manual, the final white drawbar combines five pitches.


The instrument upon which this is based animated its sound electronically with a vibrato circuit, and featured only a vibrato on/off switch. However, owners with a modicum of technical curiosity could unscrew and lift the organ’s lid, then adjust some of the parameters via trimpots on the circuit boards. The most typically varied characteristic was the vibrato speed. The VSTV1 thus allows you to adjust the vibrato speed using a selector located next to the vib on/off knob.


Older organs had a noticeable key click ‘spit’ as electrical contact was made when a key was depressed. If you directly inject these organs to a hi-fi today the ‘spit’ will be pretty loud and noticeable, but the amps of the ‘60s rolled off a lot of top end and this made the ‘spit’ less prominent. The VSTV1 emits a sound intended to represent an amp-fed organ, rather than the DI sound, which would be excessively bright. You can vary the amount of key click on the VSTV1.


This adds a percussive attack to each note played on the organ, by amplifying the pitches of the 4’ and 2 2/3’ drawbars and changing the envelope so the sound decayed rather than sustained. The VSTV1's Percussion works as follows... The ‘1’ button adds 4’ percussion, the ‘2’ button adds 2 2/3’ percussion, the ‘LONG’ button allows a choice of two decay lengths, and the ‘SOFT’ button gives access to two volume options. Percussion can only be applied to the upper manual, so if you have the ‘Lower’ manual drawbar set selected, the percussion controls will be inactive.

Click here to download the VSTV1
Link no longer active. Please see the virtual organs landing page for the VSTV2, which replaces the VSTV1 from 9th January 2012.

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