When you go to a concert today and see the massive PA systems that allow you to hear every whisper and scream of your favorite artists, you can thank one man for making it possible, Bob Heil. But few know that Bob’s roots (and passion) lie in the Hammond Organ.
Like Don Leslie, the pioneer inventor who developed the speakers that bear his name, Bob started as a lover of the Theatre Pipe Organ, and became a proficient player of the Mighty Wurlitzer, but those behemoths could not be moved; and you would not find them in clubs and restaurants, where the paying gigs were.
This led Bob to embrace the Hammond Organ, and its then-new vibrant sound. Bob, however, wanted to make his Hammond experience unique. Relying on his expert talent in electronic engineering, he set out to modify and expand his Hammonds, in ways that have seldom been matched,
Today, when you see a Full-sized Grand Piano onstage at a concert, you can be relatively assured that it is a wooden shell, with a Digital Grand Piano inside actually providing the sound (no tuning, no repairs). That illusion is nothing compared to Bob Heil’s rig from almost 50 years ago. Bob took a full-sized Wurlitzer Theatre Organ console, gutted it, and installed the workings of a Hammond inside, with an extra manual to boot. If you view the accompanying photo, you can see Bob even kept the “Horseshoe” stoprail.
In another instance, Bob adapted the “Toy Counter” of a Theatre Organ, with its real trap drums, cymbals, latin percussion, glockenspiels and other novelty instruments to play from the Hammond Console. See the photo for Bob’s idea of a “one-man-band”.
Bob was the innovator who realized the inadequate and primitive speaker-based “public address” systems used to amplify an announcer in theatres and auditoriums was no match for the high energy music of the 60’s. He revolutionized concert sound, for artists like the Who and Jeff Beck, and built a highly successful business that continues to this day, in bringing innovative musical products for the Professional Audio market. But the road to that success was powered by drawbars and tonewheels, Bob will tell you so, and for that, we thank this essential and vital part of the Hammond Family.