Even though the product is primarily intended to be used in early electric church organs, is the Leslie Organ Speaker the ultimate electric guitar speaker?
By: Ringo Bones
Maybe it is its built-in paper coned woofer that is the primary reason for its sweet as honey sounds, or the rotating horn being rotated by a surprisingly silent motor system, or maybe the built-in vacuum tube based amplifier – which resembles like either a Leak TL12 Point One or a Quad II – that makes it the ultimate electric guitar speaker and amplifier. Either way, why can’t today’s electric guitar amplifier / speaker manufacturers offer something similar or even something better than the original Leslie Organ Speaker?
The often used model of the Leslie Organ Speaker by electric guitar players is the Leslie Model 145 Organ Speaker. It was used as a recording session electric guitar amplifier when the late guitar legend Jimi Hendrix recorded the studio version of Little Wing during the late 1960s. And despite his preference of using Fender guitars an Marshall amplifiers during his live performances, Jimi Hendrix prefer to use low-powered 1950s era Fender tweed amplifiers connected to dual cone / whizzer cone equipped 15-inch musical instrument speakers and Mosrite electric guitars with Bigsby tremolo bars.
All guitarists have the US Navy researcher Donald Leslie (any relation to John Leslie?) to be eternally grateful to because it was he who designed the first generation of Leslie Organ Speakers equipped with a silent motor system to rotate the middle frequency-high frequency horn speaker to make its sound to fill a rather large church space despite its built in vacuum tube based amplifier is only capable of producing 12 watts or so. The good thing about the Leslie Model 145 Organ Speaker is that its built in vacuum tube amplifier can easily be modified – with just as easily as equipping it with a ¼-inch electric guitar input jack – to be able to accept and play an electric guitar. And by the way, other famous legendary guitarists who use the Leslie Organ Speakers when playing and recording electric guitar were Stevie Ray Vaughan and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.
Even though there are digital guitar effects processors today that allow you to be able to replicate the sound of a classic Leslie Organ Speaker, they usually fall short in replicating the sweetness and the sound-staging capabilities of the real thing – like the iconic Leslie Model 145 Organ Speaker if one wants to mimic Hendrix’s Little Wing riff as he originally recorded it. Sadly, most Leslie Organ Speakers – especially the Leslie Model 145 Organ Speaker – is too low powered sound wise to be used in live stadium rock settings.
As a “solution” to the Leslie Organ Speaker’s inability to play loud enough in stadium rock concert settings, Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour tried using Maestro Rover units. Even though they are clearly much louder than the Leslies in studio recording session settings, the Maestro Rover revolving / rotating full range electric guitar speakers were still deemed not loud enough for stadium rock concert application settings. Then Phil Taylor and Paul Leader designed something that provided Gilmour with that distinctive “Leslie” effect that was adequately loud enough for stadium rock concert use – thus the Doppolas were born. The Doppolas are rotating speakers - la Leslie Model 145 Organ Speaker - except that the Doppolas are equipped with two six inch 100-watt drivers making them loud enough for live stadium rock concert use. Looks like today’s digital audio processing modeling technology for electric guitar effects processing use is still not advanced enough to replicate that rotating and whooshing Leslie Organ Speaker tone.