The Lowrey Fanfare has come in at the smaller end of the Lowrey range but has a huge sound and a very wide and versatile specification. I really loved it. It is one of their newer models described as a Lowrey Virtual Orchestra, which I guess is in some ways a marketing idea to help us all realise that, in fact for some time now, Lowrey Organs have been so much more than just organ sounds but, in fact, come equipped with some very satisfying and effective orchestral and band voicing.
Funnily enough, this campaign may have worked too well, as I have heard recently of someone who didn’t think they had organ sounds any more, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The Fanfare has lots of very good organ voicing, which we shall come to in a minute. The Fanfare is in a totally fresh design of cabinet, with a full width smoked-Perspex music desk, which folds down when not in use to protect all of the buttons but leaves the keys visible, which I rather like, as I always feel being able to see the keyboard can inspire you to want to play.
The smart modern brushed metal control panels are housed in a very smart dark cherry cabinet. It is fairly compact, in fact not having a much larger footprint than a top of range keyboard, as at 45 Wide, 24.5” Deep and 46” high, it is much the same width as a Yamaha Tyros and only about 6 or 7 inches deeper. Having a luxurious wooden cabinet, it is of course much heavier than a keyboard, weighing 189lbs with its bench. It has a 49-note upper, 61- note Lower and 13 Bass Pedals, and I can confirm that they feel very nice to play.
There is Initial Touch on the keyboards but if you prefer to have standard organ touch, there is a dedicated button to turn it off. I think this organ has possibly the clearest layout of any I have ever seen. All of the stops have their names above them in clear black type on the silver background, and they are nicely spread out as well, so it is superbly simple to navigate. There is a small monotone screen for selecting menu options using a scroll and select system, and I did think it a shame that the words appearing in here aren’t as clear as the panel markings, but this didn’t detract at all from my enjoyment of the instrument.
There are some new Styles and Features that we haven’t yet seen on other Lowreys. These include a really straightforward Balance control between the Upper and Lower keyboards (including the Style features). This organ has a lovely lot of sound layering available. For the Upper keyboard you can have 5 sections on all at once. These are the Organ section, two Orchestral sections, the Ensemble section and the Solo voice, which is monophonic. This allows for some really big and rich sounds. This also provides enough sound sections available to give a viable third manual if using the Lower Split to place your choice or Upper sounds on the treble end of the Lower. I must also applaud the fact that there are two dedicated voice banks for the bass pedals, one for traditional organ basses and the other to add the orchestral and modern edge to them. This Lowrey doesn’t have individual Flute pitches, but it has so many organ flute presets that it doesn’t really matter, as they include not only combinations such as Open (like 16′ & 2′) and Sweet (16′ & 4′) but also 8′ & 4′: 8’ & 2′: 8′, 4′ & 2′: and Full and Rich and Jazz. In other words, there is more than enough choice to make whatever combination you want and, of course, for many owners they are happier having a nice preset sound than having to create their own, though for a skilled player, having the freedom and flexibility of individually pitched stops is still handy.
The sounds in the ensemble section very much complement the organ voices as this section contains the more traditional Lowrey sounds from some older models, the big Strings and Vocals, which aren’t as real as we are now used to but add colour and thicken and enhance the organ voices. For more realistic voicing you have to move into the Orchestral and Solo sections. A change here from previous Lowreys is that there is no longer a Genius button for random voices but instead we have Family Headings, including Pianos, Guitars and Brass, and then there is a Family for More, which contains the other voices. This is nice and clear to use. My only very slight criticism here, and it is one I have about quite a few different products since the days of menus in screens first appeared, is that if I am using the 9ft Grand Piano sound and decide I want to move onto the Octave Piano, if I have touched any sound since selecting the first piano, in order to get the Piano menu to reappear it is necessary to double press the Piano stop button to re-activate it, which means effectively you have to turn off the sound on the keyboards for a fraction of a second. As I say, this is not an uncommon issue but is one that could be better resolved by manufacturers I feel. In this instance, there is a proper On/Off Button for every section of the instrument, so I would make it not possible to not have one sound selected in every section, so repressing would just bring up the menu again, rather than remove the sound. That said, I think perhaps this is a personal gripe of mine, as I don’t think I have met anyone else who seems to share the issue with me and I know many players who like to leave all of the sections active all of the time and then just add or remove the stops as they want them, so perhaps it’s me!
Being a Virtual Orchestra model, it has some lovely voices. The String Ensemble, especially number 3, are a very full and smooth sound. There is a beautiful vibrato on the Louis (Armstrong) Trumpet. The Church bells are wonderful, as are the Bagpipes, which it being New Years Eve seems extra appropriate! I think the only disappointing sound I came across was the Scat Choir, which is a shame, as the normal Choir sounds like a whole load of Boy Trebles singing and is very effective.
Some voices respond to touch, not only sometimes changing timbre or volume, perhaps like piano, but also where appropriate by adding a glide into notes, as with some guitars. On the subject of Glides, the left foot switch defaults to either glide or sustain to suit the instrument you have on at the time. This is a very clever and useful idea, though you do of course have to be careful if you have one of each type of voice on at the same time, or you may get effects you don’t want!
Having set up a sound you like, as we expect these days, you can save it in a preset. Unusually, there is no USB or Floppy Disk facility to take your sound to a different instrument but, since alongside hundreds of factory settings of various sorts, it also stores 180 of your own sounds (in 20 banks of 9), I am quite happy with this.
One of my touring instruments is a Hammond XE-1, which I love and use at dances and for small gigs. This has the opportunity to store 100 sounds at a time and that’s more than I need, so the 180 here on the Fanfare is masses! There are some advanced Lowrey features here, I think this is first time they have been on one of the smaller models rather than the flagship instruments.
One regular Lowrey feature is the Harmony feature, which they created many, many years ago as AOC and now has been copied by all of the manufacturers under one name or another (Melody On Chord, Technichord etc, etc). In its most basic (and original) form, AOC took the right hand melody note you played, then played its octave and filled in the gap in-between with the notes you played on the lower keyboard. This option, Block, is still available and possibly is the most useful, either for big theatre organ sounds, or voiced with Piano and Guitar for George Shearing, or with Clarinets and Saxes for Glenn Miller, but these days there are other variations as well, including Duet, Open Harmony and Rock Harmony.
This Lowrey also has the Lowrey Golden Harp, which is not a feature to be overused but, used tastefully it adds the most beautiful glissandos and arpeggios to your music. A relatively new Lowrey invention is the Fake It feature. I looked at this in depth when it first came out, so perhaps here I will just mention that it is a clever invention to help players to sound better perhaps than they really are! There are lots of Styles and here, as on the Lowrey EZ10 we looked at last year, they are arranged in categories: Full Band, Pianist and Guitarist. These give a nice quick way of hearing a full big arrangement, or something leaning to perhaps a more lean but often also more useful backing.
There is now also an extra selector marked Group 2, which brings along another Style from each of the main selectors. To go with each of the 72 Styles, there are Rhythm Presets, which set up the whole organ but, better than that, they also load up the preset bank, so actually there are 9 suitable presets here for each Style and the Lowrey team have really thought about making them useful in the options they give and also in the way they make subtle changes to the Rhythm and Backing as you move through them.
That reminds me, I must mention the Lock facility, which means you can lock everything about the accompaniment, or just parts of it, to keep that element the same whilst you change presets. As well as the 72 Styles, there are actually quite a lot more hidden away, some taken from the larger models and some which are completely new. These are called Signature Styles and are selected by song title. Once you have them playing, you will notice that no rhythm style is selected on the panel, as they are extras, but you can then use them and change sounds to suit yourself, and save them into your own presets.
I couldn’t resist trying out some of these styles, and was first tempted by Dry Bones, as it isn’t something I expected to find on the list! I think of this in connection with the King of the Minstrels, the great Dai Francis, and also from Patrick McGoohan in cult series The Prisoner, as I seem to remember that when he finally thought he’d escaped from The Village he ended up being driven around London on the back of an open lorry with all of these people dressed in skeleton costumes singing Dry Bones! Here the Signature Style is brilliant, as it gives a wonderfully lively Gospel intro with organ sounds and hand claps – excellent!
Next I tried one of my absolute favourite songs, I Can’t Get Started With You, which I associate with the great trumpeter, Bunny Berrigan, who used to play with Tommy Dorsey and with Benny Goodman. Here there is a glorious intro with the rich string orchestra supporting cascading harp lines and French Horns and yes, when it came to be time to play, a good trumpet voice just as I hoped.
In the early 90s I used to regularly play The House of the Rising Sun in concerts so I thought I’d give that a whirl. The introduction is exactly what you expect to hear from the record. Quite wonderful. The sounds preset include a Rock Organ but then move up to a really full sound using all of the sound sections combined to give the hugeness the piece deserves.
Having conceived and toured a show called ‘Liberace Live from Las Vegas’ and being aware that the great artiste made an advert for Lowrey playing his popular Beer Barrel Polka on one of them, I thought I’d try that next. The rhythm and sounds are great but for me, it is a little slow, so I just speeded it all up with the tempo button until it was how fast I thought it should be!
The same thing applied when I tried out Benny Goodman’s Woodchoppers Ball, brilliant band sounds, brilliant arrangement, just a tad slower than I like it. I suppose though, this is set on the cautionary side so that home players can keep up with it. Of all of them I tried, I think the one that most captivated me, and yes, I did play it a few times because it was fun, is Ghost Riders in the Sky, which uses a style called Classic Western. The intro is phenomenal, with references to all sorts of Western themes. There are the big soaring strings, the whistling from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, gunshots, horses galloping, it really is outstanding.The suggested melody is Ghost Riders in the Sky and the guitar rhythm playing in the style is just perfect for it. The Ending even adds in a bit of a Red Indian theme and some applause at the very end! Superb!
All in all this new Lowrey Fanfare is a lot of organ for the money. I think it feels like an expensive instrument, which is always nice, and it looks very smart indeed. The main thing is of course that it is very, very playable and makes a wonderful sound. It has many features, some of which I’ve not had time to go into here, including a very simple and effective voice edit facility.