What are the basic controls that a Hammond B3 virtual instrument plugin would have that are usually assigned to controls on a MIDI controller keyboard?

And then it is right to assign the Leslie control to a modulation wheel controller instead of a switch pedal?

Thank you for your response.


Here is a screen shot of the basic layout of the Vintage B3 clone in Apple GarageBand and MainStage. A jazz Hammond organ player would want to be able to control each of these parameters in live performance. This assumes two keyboard manuals and a set of bass pedals. You may only be using one keyboard manual, in which case you would not worry about drawbar settings for the second manual or the bass pedals.

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(A real Hammond organ does not have a knob for "distortion" as that is something produced by turning up the instrument's volume very loud. However, many "clonewheel" instruments add a "distortion" knob to simulate the sound of overdriven output into a very loud amplifier for hard rock and metal.)

Here is a screen shot of the "performance" layout of the Apple Virtual B3, showing fewer controls accessible. You would want to have at least these controls mapped to your MIDI controller keyboard. (although "organ verb" and "reverb" are optional and would be different for different virtual instruments other than Apple's)

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(A real Hammond also does not have a setting for "key click"; key click is something that happens to a real Hammond when the instrument accumulates dust and dirt inside its mechanisms and they begin to wear out with age. However, modern players find that simulating the amount of key click with a control knob is desirable.)

There is one very important parameter not shown on this screen -- the expression pedal. It is operated with your foot, and it is plugged into the controller keyboard.

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A Hammond organ player is almost constantly adjusting the expression pedal to create dynamic contrast in the sound.

So you need a MIDI controller keyboard that has an expression pedal input, and you need to connect such a pedal and use it.


In my experience you have to manually map the controls and it depends on what your plug-in is and what kind of controller you have.

Here are the controls that a vintage Hammond B3 organ normally has that are usually replicated and available for mapping in most B3 plugins:

  • 9 Drawbars that control the overall tone - these are usually assigned to faders on a MIDI keyboard that has faders
  • Many emulations have three banks of 9 drawbars - one for the upper manual (the top keyboard), one for the lower manual (the bottom keyboard) and one for the pedalboard (a keyboard you play with your feet) - these keyboards may be mapped to separate MIDI keyboards and/or pedalboards

The following are usually assigned to on/off buttons on a MIDI keyboard:

  • "Percussion" on/off switch
  • "Percussion Volume" normal/soft switch
  • "Percussion Decay" slow/fast switch
  • "Percussion Harmonic" 2nd/3rd switch
  • Vibrato Scanner on/off switch

Other controls

  • There is a Vibrato/Chorus selector knob that has six different possible settings (V-1, V-2, V-3, C-1, C-2, C-3). Most MIDI keyboards don't have a control that works perfectly for this, but you could use a knob or a fader divided into six zones that selects between the options.
  • There is also a foot controlled volume pedal which is very important for some players. This is usually mapped to a volume type control pedal or a fader.

The Leslie slow/fast control for a real Leslie speaker is just a two-way switch. You can choose slow or fast and that's it. So from that point of view it makes perfect sense for it to be an on-off switch and not a wheel type control. If you assign it to a wheel control, it will probably switch from slow to fast when you get the wheel more than halfway up.

Actually, if you look closely, there is also a stop position on the Leslie control to stop the speaker entirely. You could use a knob or fader with three zones but most control mappings that I have seen have two switches: a slow/fast switch and a stop/start switch.

See below:

Actual Leslie Control Switch

Image Source

  • The Leslie speaker cabinet is what makes the rotary effect. You're thinking of the right thing. It just has two speeds: fast and slow. You can't slowly speed it up. When you switch, it doesn't instantly change from slow to fast, it has to speed up gradually, but you can't control how fast it speeds up. – Todd Wilcox Mar 4 '16 at 20:37

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