A Csound Novachord

February 2019

This year, 2019, is the 80th birthday of the Hammond Novachord. Laurens Hammond is most known for his “Mighty B3” and its family, but in many respects the Novachord was a more remarkable invention. First appearing in 1939, it was a polyphonic electronic synthesizer, years before anyone else played with the idea. Unfortunately production ceased in 1942, and never resumed after the war. Only a handful still exist, though a couple have been rebuilt to full working condition by their heroic owners.

AThough the hardware is hard to come by these days, it was fun to try to reincarnate it in Csound. The code tries to reproduce the working of the original electronics as closely as possible, with its particular harmonic-laden raw waveform, and the high-pass, low-pass, and tuned filters that modified this. It had a unique true vibrato, driving different notes at different rates, adding richness to the sound. And it was based on tube oscillators, which would drift in tune slightly, so this is modelled too.

A few enhancements not in the original are included, like velocity-sensitivity, overdrive and reverb. All are optional and can be easily suppressed if preferred.

This reproduction is heavily oriented to live playing from a fairly capable keyboard controller, such as an Axiom. It uses a total of 14 MIDI controllers (faders and encoder knobs on my Axiom) to emulate the front-panel controls of the Novachord. There are default initial settings for everything, so just feeding notes on MIDI channel 1 will produce a reasonable sound, but the range of the instrument would not be apparent without controllers. Provided you have a keyboard with suitable controls, editing the controller assignments in the file to your liking should be straightforward.

To learn more about the Novachord, this page is a good starting point.

There is also an emulation of a Hammond Organ here .

The downloadable package has the following files:

  • novachord.csd
       The Unified Csound file, containing all the Instrument code.
  • README.html
       Description and Usage information.
  • Axiom.html
       Shows the setup of my own system.
Download a zip archive (267K)
Download a gzipped tar archive (266K)
If you have any questions or comments,email me at either of the addesses below and I’ll be glad to help if I can.

                                Pete Goodeve
                                Berkeley, California

                e-mail: pete@GoodeveCa.NET

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