Clonewheel VXK Download: Free VST Plugin for Early 1980s Organ Sounds

Bob Leggitt | Wednesday, 13 May 2020 |

The Clonewheel VXK freeware VST organ plugin
The Clonewheel VXK. Unbeatable simulation of that early 1980s analogue clonewheel sound.

If you remember seeing a live Squeeze performance in the early 1980s, the sound of this VSTi will bring back some treasured memories. From 1980 through 1983, many bands used what was, at the time, acknowledged as the Hammond organ’s heroic successor. As it turned out, technology moved fast, and the sound of that analogue clonewheel organ was soon itself superseded by a certain digital marvel. But the Clonewheel VXK faithfully recaptures the lively and unmistakable early 1980s “K-type” analogue organ sound in a twin manual, 32-bit freeware VSTi.

To clarify, this VSTi was never meant to be a tonewheel simultor. It was built as a tonewheel simulator simulator – simulating the all-time king of analogue clonewheel organs. If you want a freebie that simulates an actual, mechanical tonewheel organ and real, tube-driven rotary rotary speaker, The Seductress tonehweel organ plugin will fulfil that role.

The tone engine and fakey-fake (but delightfully period) rotary simulator for the VSTi in this post was modelled alongside the genuine instrument. I even dismantled the vintage analogue organ and examined its electrical circuits to see how the sounds were created.

The VSTi recreates the sound of the twin-manual version of the clonewheel, and the two virtual manuals are splittable at any point across a single input keyboard.

LAYOUT


The layout is mainly self-explanatory…

At the top left of the console there’s a block of knobs respectively controlling the tuning, overdrive, bass, treble, key click, manuals balance, key split point, and volume. These are all master controls, affecting the whole instrument. The overdrive is not heavy. It’s just a light roughening, as on the original. And it’s important to note that the actual display for the key split point is separate from its control knob, on the opposite side of the console.

You then have the two sets of classic tonewheel/clonewheel drawbars – one for the lower manual, and one for the upper. And on the right of the top row there are the usual controls for the rotary – the only difference being that this is the definitive, fakey-fake early 1980s rotary. This is also where the key split display point appears.

Beneath all that, each keyboard has its own set of manual-specific controls. You’ll find a volume and decay, both of which relate to the 2nd and 3rd harmonic percussion, selectable via the buttons below. The percussion follows the original tonewheel style implementation, which is polyphonic, but with a monophonic envelope. That is, if you’re already holding down a note on the virtual manual in question, the percussion will not re-trigger. If you’re not, it will.

Each virtual manual has a button to switch on the vibrato/chorus, so you can opt to have it running on one side of your key split only, or both, or neither. The controls for the vib/chor are split across the two individual keyboards’ blocks. The Type knob selects from three depths of pure vibrato (positions 1,2 and 3), and the same three depths with chorus added (4, 5 and 6). Meanwhile, the Speed knob adjusts the vibrato speed. Although these controls are split across the individual keyboards’ sets, they both work universally, on BOTH virtual manuals.

And finally, you have three presets per manual. Preset 1 sets you up for jazz, if you keep the vib/chor off and the rotary on slow. Preset 2 is gospel tibia – works really well if you keep the rotary on slow and the vib/chor switched on, with Type set to max and Speed on notch 5. Preset 3 is your archetypal full clonewheel - switch the vib/chor off and put the rotary on fast, and you have instant 1982 organdom. When the presets are engaged on a given virtual manual, its drawbars become inactive. If you want to use a manual’s drawbars, make sure you have its BARS button selected.

Many bands and artists used analogue clonewheel organs, from Jools Holland, through Big Sound Authority, The Undertones, Doctor Feelgood, Serious Drinking and Musical Youth, to rougher rockers like Spear of Destiny. Some used the organs as is, whilst others disengaged the fakey-fake rotary and adopted a real Leslie. Although the real Leslie was always a lot more accurate in recreating the Hammond sound, it’s actually that characteristic fake electronic rotary which has come to define the sound of the era. The single manual version even appears in the legendary movie This is Spinal Tap - you hear it in its raw state, with onboard rotary, in Jazz Oddyssey.

THE SOUNDS


The “K-type” clonewheel organ on which this VSTi is based did not have the same drawbar foldback as a Hammond tonewheel organ. As a result, the top registers of the keyboards were a lot brighter and more ‘glassy’ when the short footage bars were pulled out. Some players embraced this as part of the lively and zingy sound – especially with that unique rotary effect running on fast. And it’s certainly become one of the characteristics that sets the “K-type” analogue organ apart from the “H-type” tonewheel on early 1980s records.

Other players, however, were keener to replicate authentic Hammond sounds, and so would keep the three highest-pitched drawbars pushed all the way in, or almost all the way in. Because drawbar foldback only affected the higher-pitched bars, this more or less eliminated the giveaway foldback difference.

Another old piece of advice on the grapevine of '80-'83 was for Hammond purists to turn the Bass control up to full and back the Treble off a little.

It was also fair to say the the “K-type”s electronic rotary only sounded inauthentic when set to fast, so players looking to “fool the audience” had a much better chance of doing so when they ran the rotary on slow. In summary, players who loved the analogue “K-type” as an instrument in its own right would usually use the high drawbars, run the electronic rotary on fast and possibly also turn up the Treble control. But players who were mimicking a Hammond would more likely kill the high drawbars, run the electronic rotary on slow, back off the Treble and max out the Bass.

There were, in addition, players who had a maverick stance, and used the drawbars without restriction, but in combination with a real, mechanical rotary speaker system. Jools Holland said in an early 1990s interview that he liked using his analogue clonewheel with a Leslie and the bars out. And session / Spear organist Neil Pyzer also used his clonewheel with a real rotary – once again, unmistakably with those biting high bars pulled out.

The pre-release of this VSTi actually had a separate rotary to mimic the real, mechanical version, but I then developed a completely separate tonewheel (not clonewheel) organ model, and used the mechanical rotary effect solely on that. The beast of which I speak has now been released, in the shape of The Seductress.

With regard to the rotary effects across all of the current series of Planet Botch organs, I would recommend you check the advice in the Undercult guide.

WARNING AND DISCLAIMER


The instrument has 32-bit architecture and was designed to operate at a sampling rate of 44.1K. It may not function correctly when used outside of its intended environment.

The VSTi was created with care, but it is home made, it has not been tested across a wide array of systems, it comes with no guarantee whatsoever, and it is used entirely at your own risk. In downloading and/or using this VSTi, you agree that you, and only you, will be responsible for any negative issues the VSTi should cause.

To use the Clonewheel VXK plugin, simply download the DLL file and place it into your VST plugins folder. Your host should then recognise it and add it automatically.

Please note that this is a DIRECT download link, and that hitting the link will actually start the download…

PlanetBotch Clonewheel VXK Direct Download Link



And if you haven't yet downloaded them, don't miss the previous two releases in this free series: The Vintage Ultima and The Undercult.

Keep an eye on the VST organs page or the VST feed for more recent releases.