A "B" Without The Bulk
Taking The Korg CX3 For A Spin
By Tony DiLorenzo
When I first heard that Korg was bringing out a new CX3 I was very intrigued. When I heard that I was going to get my hands on this new CX3, I was ecstatic! About 20 years ago Korg had a big hit with the original CX3. This was a portable organ designed to emulate that classic tone wheel sound found in the Hammond B3 and C3 organs. The original CX3 had drawer bars, a built-in rotating speaker effect and adjustable "key click" to add a little grit to your sound. Soon after it was discontinued, the original CX3 became a hot commodity on the vintage keyboard market. A leading industry magazine once did a comparison shoot out between some of the top B3 imitations. The original CX3 won high praise even though it had been discontinued years before. Pretty good huh? Now I was getting a chance to examine the new CX3 and put it through it's paces. There was one problem – it was only a loaner. I had to return the CX3 once I completed my review (what a drag).
Korg did their homework here and a great deal of homework it was. Voicing sessions took place between Korg and some of the legends associated with the "B". Artists like Al Kooper, Brian Auger, Bill Champlin, Don Muro, Derek Sherinian, Greg Phillinganes, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Tom Coster were consulted during the CX3's development. These artists also helped to create some of the amazing presets found in the CX3. The signature presets from these artists bare their initials. It's simple, if you see "BA" in a preset then that's a Brian Auger preset. If you see "TC" in a preset then that's a Tom Coster preset. You get it? You get a total of 128 programs: 64 in Normal Mode and 64 in EX or Extended Drawbar Mode. When you're in EX mode the two sets of drawbars are linked so you have even more sonic possibilities. This was not available on the original B3.
Let's take a closer look.
When the unit arrived, I opened the case and just played the keyboard without plugging it in. From that first riff, I was hooked. This is a great feeling keyboard. The action is quick and you'll notice that the keys trigger immediately even if you only press down slightly. The original "B3" had "Waterfall" style keys. Simply put, these are keys without any sort of ledge at the front of the key. The keys on the CX3 are as close as anyone can get to original "Waterfall" style keys. As soon as you encounter the CX3's wood sides and top, beefy switches and drawbars and a keyboard that held up to my heavy handed palm glisses, you'll get the feeling that Korg was trying to pay homage to the designs of yesterday. The layout is simple and straight forward - in fact, if you're new to this type of organ you'll find the CX3 to be both intuitive and friendly.
This looks familiar.
If you've been playing B3s the CX3 is going to feel like home to you. Two sets of nine drawbars function just like you'd expect them to plus they send MIDI control data so that your MIDI sequencer could record and play back your drawbar edits. The Vibrato and Chorus control can be assigned to the Upper, Lower or both. The Master Level control is where you adjust your overall volume. Can you guess what the Bass and Treble controls do? The Expression Overdrive pot controls the amount of overdrive in any sound. Crank it up for more grit or back it off for a cleaner sound. This can also be controlled by the OXP-1 pedal. The set of switches that control the rotary speaker effect are going to be familiar to any "B" player. "ON" means the horn is moving, but slowly, FAST is fast and STOP means no movement at all. I'd like to point out that when you hit the FAST key the rotating speaker effect accelerates slowly just like the real thing. The PERCUSSION controls are set up like our old friend too. Here you have ON, SOFT, FAST and 3RD. These will come in handy if your trying to get that Keith Emerson kind of percussive bite a la "Tarkus." Korg has even included a preset called "Turkish" that is so much like Mr. Emerson's signature sound, I felt I needed to practice just to be worthy of playing it!
If you're a fan of Classic 70's British Rock like Emerson Lake & Palmer or Deep Purple then you know what a Hammond sounds like when it's run through a combination of a rotating speaker and a crunchy British guitar amp. Wouldn't it be cool to be able to get that sound when you needed it without having to hire a moving company to get you to your gigs? The CX3 offers two "AMP TYPES" in your edit page. Type1 is a rotary speaker and Type2 is the rotating speaker and guitar amp combo. While we're on the subject of moving gear, I'd like to point out that the CX3 weighs in at a slim 38 pounds! Your crew will love you for this one.
Editing presets is a breeze thanks to Korg's logical layout. Press EDIT and Program 1 and you get OUTPUT LEVEL. EDIT and Program 2 gets you into the UPPER DRAWBAR settings. EDIT and Program 3 brings you to PERCUSSION LEVEL. EDIT and Program 4 is where you select AMP TYPE. Edit and Program 5 is for selecting REVERB TYPE. EDIT and Program 6 bring you to the ROTATING SPEAKER controls like HORN/ROTOR MIX, HORN SPEEDS, ROTOR SPEEDS. You even have MIC DISTANCE and MIC SPREAD controls for both the horn and rotor. EDIT and Program 7 gets you to the SPLIT POINT. And finally, EDIT and Program 8 is PROGRAM RENAME.
To access additional parameters found behind these first few you would simply press the CURSUR buttons to drill down deeper into the CX3's editing environment. For example, if you press Edit and Program 2 you'll get the UPPER DRAWBAR settings. Now if you press the right cursor (>) you'll get to the LOWER DRAWBAR settings. Each edit key has additional functions behind it.
Alive and well.
We all know how handy sampling can be in the studio and in live situations but sampling is not without limitations. When you sample a sound you are taking a "snapshot" of what that instrument sounded like at the time you sampled it. This is not how real instruments work. Have a sax player play the same note 10 or 20 times and you'll hear differences between each note. The attack might be different or maybe the vibrato. Maybe he hit the reed a little harder and got more of a pop or a growl. My point is each note has it's own "personality." The CX3 is "Modeling" technology in all it's glory! No sampling here. The sound of the CX3 is animated and alive just like a real B3.
The CX3 is a single manual organ that thinks it's a double manual. It's simple, you can connect a MIDI controller keyboard to the CX3 to act as the Lower Manual with it's own fully polyphonic tone generator. If the SPLIT light is on when you call up a preset, press it once to turn if off. Now you have a double manual organ with 61 note polyphony and full drawbar capability for both the upper and lower keyboards!
The CX3’s robust construction, intuitive interface, and spot-on recreations of the tone-wheel sound are enough to make any devout Hammond disciple sit up and take notice. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – if this is true, Korg has paid the mighty Hammond B3 the ultimate compliment. You see my friends, with eyes closed you won't be able to hear the difference between a B3 and the new Korg CX3!
Until Next Time... Stay Well.