Gear Profiles: Farfisa organ

Welcome to Gear Profiles, where I highlight a specific instrument or piece of equipment within the Floyd arsenal. Today’s article, I will feature one of the key instruments that helped define the sound of the early Pink Floyd: the Farfisa organ.

In the latter part of the 1960s, transistor organs were everywhere. That reedy, rather cheesy organ sound was everywhere as psychedelic rock (and British pyschedelic rock in particular) reached its peak. The two big makers of these organs were the British company Vox and Italian company Farfisa. Vox was probably the more prominent of the two, with the Vox Continental being the instrument of choice for The Animals, Iron Butterfly, and perhaps most prominently, The Doors, where keyboardist Ray Manzerek established it as the defining part of the band’s sound. John Lennon even used one on stage during I’m Down, back when The Beatles were still playing live shows. The Farfisa, however, was the choice instrument of a certain Richard Wright of Pink Floyd.

Originally, before Rick owned an electric keyboard, his role in the primordial stage of Pink Floyd was dependant on whether or not there was a piano at the venue. If so, he was barely audible. If not, according to Nick Mason, he would “threaten” to bring his trombone to the gig. This all changed when Rick acquired a Farfisa Combo Compact, which you can see in the Tomorrow’s World clip that I posted earlier from Youtube. Sometime around late 1966 or early 1967, the Compact Combo was gone, in favour of the superior Compact Duo.

The Compact Duo was sort of a two manual version of the Compact Deluxe with some different features. Here’s what the Duo had (ripped directly from the Wikipedia page):

-Grey/Black Tolex
-Four-octave upper keyboard with 9 selectors: 16′ Bass, Strings; 8′ Flute, Oboe, Trumpet, Strings; 4′ Flute, Strings; 2-2/3′ (Flute), Brilliance
-Four-octave lower keyboard with three selectors: Dolce, Principale, Ottavo.
-Two inferior octaves on the left-hand side of the lower keyboard; one set of octaves were switch-controllable for choice of a bass or acute sound.
-4 vibrato settings
-3 reverb settings
-Multi-Tone Booster
-Swell (expression) pedal + knee control for Multi-Tone Booster (Note: I’m not sure Rick ever used this thing)
-Bass note volume control, sustain, sharp, and percussion.
-1/4″ Bass output
-Lower manual volume control
-Brilliance control which only works with the 2-2/3 (Flute) Tab.
-Later models also incorporate tremolo, percussion and repeat functions for both the upper and lower treble manuals independently. (Note: Rick apparently used one of these later models, as the repeat function appears prominently in the Ummagumma Live version of Astronomy Domine.)
-Unlike other Compact series organs, the Compat Duo models require a separate power supply/solid-state preamp/real spring reverb unit (called the Farfisa F/AR) to operate. The organ connects to the F/AR via a multi-lead cable. The cable on the American version used a 7-pin Amphenol connector, while European models used a Preh multipin. Treble output is only available via the F/AR. The Compact Duos could also operate directly (without the F/AR) with Farfisa Amplifier Models BR80 or Twin 80, which accept the 7-pin connector and provide the organ with power. The organs reverb switches activate the reverb in these two amplifier models.

Like Syd, and later David, Rick’s Farfisa sound was largely augmented by his use of the Binson Echorec, an echo device that was another key part of the Pink Floyd sound both in the studio and on stage (Roger also jumped on the Binson bandwagon when the band recorded One Of These Days.) Rick always used the Farfisa being fed into the Binson. Rick can be prominently be seen tweaking the Binson in Peter Whitehead’s London ’66-’67 footage.

From 1967 to 1969, the Farfisa Duo would be the only instrument that Rick used live, except at the odd show where he had access to an acoustic piano (i.e. The Man and The Journey shows of 1969, where he also made his trombone debut.) In 1970, Rick began using a Hammond M102 alongside the Farfisa. Both were still prominent (Echoes would prove to be a Farfisa highlight for Rick), but as Rick started using more synthesizers and electric pianos on stage, the Farfisa would gradually be used less on stage during the Dark Side of the Moon era. Dark Side would be it’s last use in the studio, where it appears in the background on Time. It’s final appearance on stage with Pink Floyd was on July 5, 1975, at the famed concert in Knebworth, England.

The Animals tour of 1977 was the first Pink Floyd tour in which Rick didn’t incorporate the Farfisa. The instrument was never used again on a Pink Floyd tour. However, on The Wall tour in 1980 and 1981, Rick used a Farfisa accordion on Outside the Wall, the only time ever that Rick played the accordion (the other three Floyd members also played instruments they only ever used on that song: David on mandolin, Nick on guitar (!!) and Roger on clarinet(!!!!!!!))

In 1994, at the insistance of Jon Carin, the Farfisa, amongst other keyboards and sounds from the band’s past, was sampled for use on the band’s new Kurzweil synthesizers. I don’t believe the Farfisa patch appears anywhere on The Division Bell, but either the Farfisa sample or the Farfisa itself can be heard on a few tracks from Rick’s 1996 solo album Broken China. I can hear Farfisa on Breakthrough, Along the Shoreline, and Far From The Harbour Wall.

In 2006, Rick performed as a member of David Gilmour’s solo band for his On An Island tour. Rick’s final tour, his rig had come full circle, incorporating the Hammond B3, the Kurweil, and the Farfisa for its first live appearance in 31 years. Again coupled with the Binson Echorec, Rick used it exclusively for the B minor section of Echoes. During the tour, other Farfisa songs crept their way into the set; Arnold Layne and Astronomy Domine. But for these songs, Rick preferred to use the Farfisa patch on the Kurweil synth, probably because he had to sing these tunes, where he had no vocal microphone at the difficult to see Farfisa.

Rick’s final use of the Farfisa was at the Syd Barrett tribute concert at the Barbican Center in London on May 10, 2007. Rick reunited with David Gilmour and Nick Mason for the final time in a surprise performance of Arnold Layne (Roger Waters performed the show too, but couldn’t participate in the Floyd reunion due to a prior commitment. Andy Bell from Oasis filled in on bass.) Rick assumed lead vocal duties on the song, just as he had been doing in David’s band. Not much is known about the show to those who didn’t attend (except through audience camera footage taken at the show and posted on Youtube), but it’s very possible that the Farfisa was also used by the house band or other performers at the concert, due to it’s key musical role in the early Pink Floyd.

In Pigs, I currently use a Farfisa Mini Compact organ. While physically very different from Rick’s Compact Duo, it’s sonically got the early Floyd characteristics that are incredibly difficult to recreate with most modern synthesizers. The legs are removable and stored inside a cavity underneath the organ (a feature that other Farfisa Compact models lack), making it highly portable. At the time of writing this, the organ is currently out of tune and emitting white noise, so it is currently under repair. Hopefully our organ will be up and running soon so it can be utilized on a regular basis. In the meantime, I have been occasionally using a matching Mini Compact lent to me by Marshall Baer. It has been used twice on stage thus far, and it has sounded magical every occasion that I used it. Many thanks to Marshall for his generosity for allowing us to use this amazing instrument of his in our shows.

11 thoughts on “Gear Profiles: Farfisa organ

  1. I am truly honored to have you play it Adam. It has been in my family for forty years, I appreciate you mentioning it in a beautifully written article. I think Richard would be proud.

  2. There are actually two versions of the Farfisa Compact Duo. I've seen youtube video of Rick playing the first version live (I have one of these). The second version came out sometime around the beginning of 1967 and added Tremolo and Repeat/Percussion effects to the Upper & Lower manuals. Rick uses this version at Pompeii–and in 2006–but it's hard to tell exactly when he switched.

  3. re: two versions of Farfisa. Thank you for your comment. I have checked the footage on Youtube, and verified that you are in fact correct. Rick had the earlier version (no repeat function) throughout the Syd era, and in parts of 1968.

    He must have switched around late '68 or early '69, since the repeat function is clearly audible on Ummagumma. But the early version can be seen during the first months of Gilmour's employment (time periods can be gauged by what guitars David's using.)

  4. There's a little bit of Farfisa on the Animals LP also. The keyboard drones which accompany the acoustic guitar into to Dogs are done on a Farfisa.

  5. I know I am jumping in late to this thread, but you seem to be the guy to ask.

    I am looking for the specifics on the farfisa's use on Time. There is a complex kind of quasi-vibrato, quasi-chorus effect that sounds to me like 'nervous warbling'. It sounds very different from any other kind of vibrato or chorus I have ever heard.
    Do you know how this was done? Is this effect part of the onboard farfisa FX or was the organ run thru outboard fx of some kind? It definitely doesn't sound like a leslie, but it may be an amalgamation of leslie plus other factors. The effect seems periodic, but there seem to be multiple overlapping cycles, running at different speeds, within this periodic nature. Any info is much appreciated.

  6. Re: effect on Time. I know there's a vibrato control on board with the Farfisa, and to add depth to the sound it was probably ran through the Binson Echorec as Rick did regularly. Since writing this article originally, I've added a Nord C1 to my rig which accurately simulates Farfisa sounds and parameters, and I recreate this sound with the vibrato and delay, playing with only the Trumpet 8 tab turned on.

    It's also possible the Farfisa was run through a device called a Frequency Translator. It's an Abbey Road device used for a chorusey sound, and it can be heard on the background singers on Time, as well as the sax and David's vocals on Money. I read somewhere that Pink Floyd used this machine differently from what it was actually built for.

  7. The Time modulation is caused by the vibrato effect going through the Binson. I have played my Compact Duo through various Binson type effects and it gives this sound. What happens is that each pulse of the vibrato effect echoes so you get this infinate overlap of echoes. If you play with out vibrato then the echo unit gives you a chorusy chorale (slow Leslie effect).

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