The electric chord organ was first introduced by Magnus Harmonica Corporation in the late 1950s. A new version of the original reed organs and home organs developed by Magnus in the ‘40s and ‘50s, the design was based on an entirely new idea, to cater mainly to beginners.
The electric organ later separated from the newer electronic models, and is now seen as an intermediary stage of development, between classical reed organs and cutting edge electronic organs.
Magnus’ Revolution in Crafting Fine Chord Organs
Regular chord organs have been around for a long time. They are a variety of home organ featuring a short keyboard and a set of chord buttons that allows musicians to play the melody using one hand and access the controls for accompanying chords with the other hand.
Magnus Harmonica Corporation was the first company to introduce the electric chord organ. But even before that, Magnus had a hand in developing improved mechanical organs through a then-revolutionary molded plastic reed comb.
1958 and the Start of a New Era
The success of their design led Magnus Harmonica Corporation to begin developing newer, more affordable and easier to use organs that would be convenient for buyers. The earlier version took a little bit longer to learn how to play. In 1958, they teamed up with television salesman Eugene Tracey, and promoted the electric chord organ – a device similar to classical chord organs, but with electric functionality and, often, a tabletop design.
For more than two decades, the Magnus electric chord organ was a successful sell. Beginners continued to buy it until the 1970s, and millions of organs were sold until that time. At the height of the organ’s popularity, Magnus employed more than 1,800 workers to produce organs of various shapes and sizes, some featuring tabletop designs, others with lit music stands and/or integrated legs.
Notable Musicians Who Used Electric Chord Organs
The first Magnus electric organ model was the 300: a two-octave, six major chord version developed around 1960. Since then, many other tabletop and free-standing models have appeared, some of the most popular being the portable model 1510, the 303 (this was the first free-standing model) and the popular 391 – one of the most successful and frequently sold electric organs developed by the company.
These organs and many other Magnus models were used by renowned musicians during the Flower Power and Disco eras of the 1960s and ‘70s. Some of the most well-known bands and artists included Johnny and the Hurricanes, Cortney Tidwell and a surprising number of bands from the ‘90s and even 2000s, when the electric chord organ started to make a comeback.