Vox: Dual Manual Continentals

There were three basic models of dual-manual portable Continental (the Continental 301 was a Continental 300 in a console cabinet).  Each was produced in both the UK and Italy, for a total of 6 variations.  Each took the basic Continental design and added a 2nd keyboard and a few additional features.  In addition to these, there was the Baroque, which was much more of a departure than the others, and was produced only in Italy, and the Futura, a rare, UK-only instrument.


Continental II / Super Continental

The Continental II was largely developed by Derek Underdown, but was not introduced until after he had left JMI, in 1967 (but see below for information on a 1966 incarnation).  It's Italian counterpart, the Super Continental, was introduced around the same time.  The two organs are functionally the same, differing mainly in outward appearance - the Continental II having a grey nameplate above the keyboards, and the Super having a black one.  Both have plastic keys, but while the Super has keys just like those found on the other Italian models (plastic with metal rods attached), the Continental II has sturdier, all-plastic keys.  No dual-manual Continental EVER had wooden keys.  The UK plastic keys were made by a UK company called Kimber-Allen, located in Swanley, Kent (I don't know who made the Italian keys).

Features

The upper manual is similar to the Continental but the IV mixture is replaced by II and III.  The  II mixture includes two ranks (remember, the Roman numeral indicates the number of ranks in the mixture): 5-1/3' and 1-3/5', and the III mixture includes three: 2-2/3', 2' and 1'.   The lower manual drawbars are exactly like the Continental, except they're all up one octave (so it lines it up with the upper keyboard), and it has a 12-note (C-B) bass section with a choice of 16'-only or 16' plus 8' voices. Interestingly, the bass section keys are not a different color, as they are in the Jaguar.  Sound-wise, the lower keyboard is identical to the single-keyboard Continental.

A later version of each organ included a percussion feature similar (but not identical) to that found on the later Continental 300 models.  At the time, Thomas already had percussion on their larger organs, and may have used the same circuitry on the Italian Super Continentals.  The Percussion on the Continental II was developed at Vox Sound, Ltd.

Continental II's have ivory/red drawbar tips, similar to those found on US single-manual models, and Super's have the typical Italian white/black drawbar tips. 

Some, but not all dual-manual Continentals had a jack for a bass pedalboard.  A 1967 Price List shows this pedalboard as model number V835, price $100.

Model names/numbers

On the UK models, "TC" means "Transistorized Continental", and "STC" means "Silicon Transistorized Continental".  It seems that the "2" identifies it as a dual-manual model.  I don't know what the assortment of "M", "N" and "MP" suffixes mean.

Controls:

    Switches/Knobs: Mains, Bass 8'/16'+8', Bass Sustain knob, Vibrato Off/On
    Bass Drawbars: "~", "M"
    Lower Drawbars: 8', 4', 2', IV, "~", "M"
    Upper Drawbars: 16', 8', 4', II, III, "~", "M"
    Percussion (on those that have it):
   
     Continental II: 1, 2, Long, Soft  
        Super Continental: 8', 4', Mixture, Short/Long

List Prices:


1966 Continental II?

BI1966Super.jpg (66926 bytes) I thought I'd start the model rundown by confusing matters a bit with this ad from a 1966 issue of Beat Instrumental.  Note the absence of the metal name strip over the keyboard, otherwise found on all other dual-manual Continentals I've seen.  Also, the ad seems to have the keyboard descriptions backwards. It's the LOWER keyboard that's just like a standard Continental, and the 5-1/3' pitch is only available (as part of a mixture) on the UPPER keyboard.  They also seem a bit confused about the ranks:  2-3/4?  11/5th? I suspect this was just a case of marketing getting ahead of itself.  As stated above, the Continental II was did not go into production until after it's designer, Derek Underdown, left JMI in 1967.  

265 Guineas in 1966 was about $663.

 

New Stuff!:   I've not yet seen or heard of a date on a Continental II, but all the Super Continentals I have dates for are from mid-1967 thru mid-1968.  

All of the recent pictures of Continental II's I've seen show that metal name strip.  That's the only difference I know of between the Continental II's I've found in existence today, and the ones in photos and literature from 1966.  There are a few pictures of these in both "The Vox Story", and "Beatles Gear".  The latter book indicates that the Beatles were using a Continental II as early as 1966.  According to Andy Babiuk:

"For the years I knew Dick Denney he would always stress to me that anything that Vox made was given to the Beatles first. This meant boat loads of odd, one of a kind Vox proto-type pieces of gear. Dick said that if the Beatles liked and used it, then Tom would put it into production"

So the Continental II may or may not have been available to the public that early, but the Beatles certainly had them.

BeatlesApril66.jpg (69683 bytes)

Thanks to Andy Babiuk for this shot of the Beatles in the studio in April, 1966, with a "name-strip-less" Continental II

BeatlesEssen6-25-66.jpg (94083 bytes)

This picture is from an older Beatles book called "Four Ever - Die Geschichte der Beatles", published in Germany.  It shows the Beatles playing at the "Gruga-Halle", Essen, Germany, on June 25, 1966. It's a bit hard to tell, from the lights, but it's pretty clear this one does not have the metal name strip over the keyboard.

(Many thanks to Christian Z. for this picture and information)

 

 

BeatlesJapan.jpg (52764 bytes)

And yet another, this one from a concert in Tokyo on June 30, 1966.

(Picture courtesy of //www.bekkoame.ne.jp/~garp/ where there are a few more pictures of this concert) 

 

Super1969Cat.jpg (70398 bytes) Continental II from a 1969 catalog.  They got the description right this time.

Ok, now that the "1966" stuff is out of the way, let's move on to the more common model variations......


UK Models

All UK dual-manual continentals that I've seen are covered in "charcoal basketweave".  You can see it in several of the pictures below.

Continental II (standard)

The standard Continental II, distinguishable by the red top, and lack of percussion. 

Continental II
(Picture courtesy of Audities)

Conti2IDPlate.jpg (34370 bytes)

Rear name plate

Continental II Nameplate

ID Badge

Tone Generator Board

Continental II (with percussion) aka "Continental Super II"

The Continental II with Percussion was, as far as I know, ONLY available with a grey top.  The only date I have for one is  September 9, 1971, so these were from well into the Vox Sound era.  I've seen several with model numbers of STC-2M, one STC-2N, and one STC-2MP.  According to Dave Linsell, and supported by the nameplate seen below, this model was known as the "Super II".  I have, however, seen two different models WITHOUT percussion, but with the same "Continental Super II" nameplate.

Dave Linsell expounds a bit on the percussion circuitry: "There were two different types of percussion circuit in the UK models, although externally the systems were identical.  The earlier types had an on-board transformer(s) within the circuit, and, although temperamental, were the best (if you got a good one, or knew how to set it up properly).  The circuits were UK-designed, and not related to Thomas, although there may have been some similarities!"

(Pictures courtesy of Henry Badowski)

Left side control panel

Percussion controls

NEWSometimes the buttons are all white, sometimes 2 white and 2 black, as shown here)

So is it a Super Continental, or a Continental II?  Neither - it's a " Continental Super II"!

Bass pedal connector.  Check out that "charcoal basketweave".

ID Badge: Model STC-2MP.  Most others are STC-2M.  NEWSome are like this one, some say "Vox Sound Equipment Limited, Erith, Kent", and some say "Vox Sound Limited, Erith, Kent".

 

Conti2PercIDPlate.jpg (60724 bytes) Henry has another Super II that appears in all respects just like the others, with one exception - this unusual ID plate.  He tells me it's the same plate used on the amps.  The model name shown is STC-2

 


Italian Models

All of the Italian dual-manual models have red/orange tops.  Most of the coverings I've seen are the older "textured" type of vinyl used on the earlier Italian Continentals and Jaguars.  I have, however, seen a few  with the later, light grey, "chain-mail" (aka "little squares or diamonds") covering.

Super Continental (standard) 

Super Continental
(Thanks, Neil)

Drawbars

Nameplate - model number, obscured, is V303E

Super Continental (with percussion)

(Thanks to K. Diesel for the following pictures)

And here's a few more of another Super with Percussion.  This one is shown on the tiltable stand, but I'm nearly certain it's not original.  To my knowledge, the Super Continental, with or without percussion, only came with the standard "Z" stand. Dave Linsell has confirmed that the tiltable stand was exclusive to the Continental 300.  The stand and organ shown here have been together through at least the last 3 owners, going back as far as possibly the early 80's, and they're all in excellent condition.  Maybe it was next to a Continental 300 in the music store, and they sent this one home with the wrong stand - who knows?

 Nice pedals, too.

(Pictures courtesy of Matt Randall)

SuperContPerc3.jpg (56037 bytes)SuperContPerc4.jpg (97568 bytes)

SuperContPerc5.jpg (58318 bytes)SuperContPerc6.jpg (67603 bytes)


Continental 300

The Continental 300 introduced presets, reverb, and Integrated Circuits to the dual-manual Continentals.  The Presets (pretty much identical to those found on the Continental 71) operate in a manner similar to the Hammond presets, in that selecting any one disables the drawbars.  Then there's one "preset" that selects the drawbars alone (like the Hammond "A#" and "B" presets).  The Presets operate only on the upper manual.  The lower manual has a single set of drawbars, just like in the regular Super and Continental II.

Like the "basic" and "percussion" models listed above, the '300 came in both a UK and an Italian version.  They seem to be pretty much the same instrument, feature-wise, but with a different control layout and style.  The model number on the UK version is "300H", the model number on the Italian version is simply "300".  

The standard Continental "Z" stand, which was a bit "bouncy" to begin with (and part of the fun, I guess), was probably a bit too springy when fitted to the Continental II/Super Continental.  So with the '300, they must have decided to remedy it.  Two stands were available, the regular "Z" stand with an additional reinforcing brace on the side, and a new "tiltable" stand made of square tubing instead of round.  I believe both stand types were available with both UK and Italian 300's. 

Here's Dave Linsell's recollection of the '300: "The Continental 300 series were the first to introduce the Integrated Circuit generator/divider circuits (around 1970) and not after the1972 CBS-Arbiter involvement.  I know, I was in the R&D department at the time, and was personally involved.  The 300 was similar to the earlier dual-manual Continentals, having percussion, but had an added feature – upper manual presets.  Reverb was not successful in this portable version as it was difficult to make it stable enough in its Z-legged stand – you could get the thing bouncing nicely until a sudden thunder-crash signified that the springs had reached their limits!!"

This assessment, from a happy '300 owner, is based on info in Peter Forrest's book:

"It appears that the Super Continental and its counterpart the Continental II or Super II were contemporaries around 1966.  Then around 1968, a version with percussion came out. Soon after that, presets were added and it was renamed the 300. That seems to be where mine comes in. It has a gray top with a control panel that is still continuous from left to right. This one continued the recent problem of drawbars coming out over the keys of the top keyboard slightly, no problem if you avoid playing any sharps or flats. Then the orange-topped one with the recessed drawbars section ... came along to solve that problem. Finally, the post-Vox Jennings version with the added 3-octave keyboard was released in the later 70's. I am guessing the Baroque came out around the same time as the 300."

(I think in this quote, the reference to the "post-Vox Jennings version" is actually the Jennings J71)

And here's what "The Vox Story" has to say about the 300:

"...the Continental 300 was introduced in or around 1972, when CBS-Arbiter bought out VOX. ...a revamped twin-manual called the Continental 300 replaced the earlier (Continental) II, with new integrated circuits replacing the earlier transistorized dividers and top octave generators for increased flexibility, and some added features, including on-board reverberation and some new percussion effects such as harpsichord and piano tones."


UK Continental 300

Here's Henry B's '300 with the tiltable stand

Conti300UKa.jpg (76248 bytes) Conti300UKb.jpg (71945 bytes) Conti300UKc.jpg (66340 bytes)

And here's one with the braced "Z" stand:

Conti300UKZa.jpg (19545 bytes) Conti300UKZb.jpg (17262 bytes) Conti300UKZc.jpg (31094 bytes)
Conti300UKZd.jpg (24729 bytes)

(The following pictures are courtesy of Henry Badowski)

Conti300UKosc.jpg (15155 bytes)

UK '300 generator board

 

Conti300UKosc2.jpg (23794 bytes)

Closeup of the IC

Conti300UKkeys.jpg (28281 bytes)

The sturdier, "all-plastic" keys used on the UK dual-manual Continentals

Controls:

    Preset Tabs: Vox, Mood, Club, Church, Jazz, D/Bars 
    Drawbars: 
        Bass: Foundation, Reed  ("~" and "M")
        Lower: 8', 4', 2', IV, Foundation, Reed
        Upper: 16', 8', 4', II, III, Foundation, Reed
    Percussion Tabs: 8', 4', II, Decay short/long
    Knobs to Left of upper Keyboard: (two unknown), Reverb, Bass Sustain
    Switches to left of upper keyboard: Mains (on/off), 8'-16' Bass, Vibrato (off/on)

UK3001971BI.jpg (90148 bytes)

Here we have a page from a 1971 issue of Beat Instrumental, depicting the '300 on the tiltable stand.

 


Italian Continental 300

The Italian Continental 300 seems to share some traits with the Continental 71.  The recessed drawbars, preset levers, and sliders. I've seen pictures of these with both the braced "Z" stand, and the tiltable stand, but don't have any with a '300.  See the Super Continental w/Percussion on a tilt stand (above).

Controls:

    Preset Tabs: Vox, Mood, Club, Church, Jazz, D/Bars 
    Drawbars: 
        Bass: Foundation, Reed  ("~" and "M")
        Lower: 8', 4', 2', IV, Foundation, Reed
        Upper: 16', 8', 4', II, III, Foundation, Reed
    Tabs to left of upper keyboard: Bass 8'/8'-16', Reverb Off/On, Vibrato, 
    Sliders to left of upper keyboard: Reverb, Bass Sustain
    Tabs to right of lower keyboard: Percussion 8', 4', Mixture, Decay short/long

Conti300ITa.jpg (82461 bytes)Conti300ITd.jpg (35876 bytes)

Conti300ITb.jpg (47227 bytes)Conti300ITe.jpg (50098 bytes)

Conti300ITosc1.jpg (20258 bytes)Conti300ITosc2.jpg (30352 bytes)


Home Club Continental 301

Pretty much an Italian Continental 300 in a spinet-style cabinet. If you're a combo organ nut, but you want a "respectable" instrument to put in the living room, this would be the one to get.

Here's what Dave Linsell has to say about the 301: "The 301 was a ‘console’ version – the bottom half mated to the top with a self-aligning connector, and contained the amplifier and static speakers etc.  The amplifier was the solid-state power stage taken from the Defiant and Conqueror amplifiers that were current at that time.  This did have a reverb unit."

     


Continental Baroque (V305E)

Baroque1.jpg (68314 bytes) Introduced in 1968, and built in Italy by EME, the Baroque added even more unusual features to the Vox lineup. The lower keyboard is set up just like on the Super Continental, but the upper keyboard, which was actually designed by the Thomas Organ company, offers a selection of percussive voices. In addition, the Baroque featured Bass Sustain (like the Super) and Bass Chords (like the Jaguar) on the lower keyboard, plus a knee lever that can be switched to function as either a pitch-bend or wah-wah effect. It also has a built-in amp and speakers - quite an unusual feature on an organ of this caliber (typically, only small, inexpensive combo's have amps and speakers built-in).

It's really like two independent instruments.  The upper keyboard, with it's percussive voices, is totally independent of the lower keyboard, and does not share any of the circuitry.  The voices for the upper keyboard can only be selected one at a time.  

Controls:

    Switches/Knobs: Power Switch, Vibrato Off/On, Bass Sustain knob, Bass 16'/8' switch, Bass Chords Off/On, Volume, Tone, Knee Control:  Bend Off/On, Wah Off/On
    Bass Drawbars: Bass: "~", "M"
    Lower Drawbars: 8', 4', 2', IV, "~", "M"
    Upper Tabs: Harpsichord I, Banjo, Piano, Harpsichord II, Cimbalom, Vibes, Celesta, Lute, Carousel, Organ

The knee lever Wah-Wah sounds exactly like a Thomas/Vox wah-wah pedal (or so I'm told). The pitch-bend bends the note played down a half-step (adjustable by an internal pot). 

Here are descriptions of the upper manual sounds provided by happy Baroque owner, Les Bell:

Harpsichord I: 8' organ voice
Banjo: Very close, slightly reminiscent of muted clavinet
Piano: Similar to RMI only closer to real piano
Harpsichord I I: 8' + 4' organ voice
Cimbalom: Cross between cimbalom with super-soft attack and long sustaining pipe organ type sound
Vibes: Amazing until samplers came out
Celesta: Very close, soft attack though
Lute: Harp sounding
Carousel: Two tones two octaves apart with separate echo delays... very "spacey" sound
Organ: Vibes sound without the vibrato and sustain... nothing like the organ sound of the lower keyboard

1970 list price on the Baroque was $1,499

1970 list price on the Baroque was $1,499

Dave Linsell's take: "The Baroque was not produced in UK , but appeared around 1968 from the Thomas company, not around the time of the 300-series as stated in an earlier article.  There was no relationship at all between the Baroque and the 300."

Baroque2.jpg (55706 bytes)Baroque3.jpg (120406 bytes)Baroque4.jpg (100769 bytes)

(Pictures above courtesy of the The Audities Foundation)

 

Keyboard coloring variations

 

Baroque1969Cat.jpg (77866 bytes) "Normal" keyboard Baroque from a 1969 catalog

 

Baroque5.jpg (199293 bytes) The only actual Baroque's I've seen pictures of are like the one shown above, with a full reverse-color upper manual, and a lower manual like a Jaguar (reverse for the treble section, normal for the bass).  However, one or two other versions may have existed.  The most commonly known one is from a 1968 Vox catalog, shown here, where the keyboard color scheme is exactly reversed.  I have heard from one person who confirms the existence of one of these, so it wasn't just a prototype or mock-up.
paulrevere.jpg (199415 bytes) And here, courtesy of Barry Carson, is an ad showing the other keyboard setup, with Barry's description:

"Paul Revere attempts to play his new Vox Continental Baroque, but is distracted by Robert Bloomberg, then president of Thomas Organ, who keeps asking him for the words to “Louie, Louie”!  Seriously, this is an unusual Baroque because the color of the entire lower manual is reversed while the upper manual is normal colored.  Since this picture was part of a press release introducing the Baroque, this instrument is probably a prototype or very early production model."

 

 


Continental Futura

All I have to go on for this one is what Dave Linsell told me: "Even rarer [than the] Riviera, this was a dual-manual instrument that was a hybrid of the Continental and the Riviera. It had 8 harmonic drawbars on the top manual, four on the lower, percussion, sustain and reverb.  The development work was carried-out in Erith in 1970 resulting in an incredible instrument for its time, packing a massive punchy sound into a very small space.  Housed in the same casing as the Continental Super and Continental II it was the bridge to the Riviera .  Only a handful were made, to special order"