Fortunately, the smart designers at Neo Instruments of Germany have created the Ventilator. Chuck Leavell, the Rolling Stones keyboard player for 30 years, is responsible for elevating the profile of the Ventilator to a group of talented and seasoned audio professionals.
“I was introduced to the Ventilator by a very good Hammond technician in this part of the world named Greg Black (blackhammond.com),” Leavell explains to me. “One day he called and asked if I had heard about the Ventilator. My usual reaction, because I had tried every Leslie simulator over the years, was ‘yeah right.’ He assured me that this unit was special and encouraged me to listen to it. I tried it, was amazed, and thought to myself, ‘Is this as good as I think it is?’
“At the time I’d been working some with John Mayer, who works with a very talented engineer, Chad Franscoviak,” Leavell continues. “Chad just loved it and I have nothing but the highest respect for him. That really confirmed my thoughts about the Ventilator.”
For years Leavell has kept his Leslies in road cases that convert to iso booths, with mics permanently mounted inside the units. The obvious advantage of the Ventilator is elimination of the closed-in sound that happens with an iso booth situation, which still sounds like a Leslie in a box. The other problem the Ventilator solves is the wind noise (from the rotating horn and drum). There isn’t the need to use wind screens or to worry about mic placement.
“For those that may be wondering,” he adds, “I haven’t talked to anyone from Neo. I don’t have any kind of endorsement arrangement or anything, I don’t even know them. I bought the four units I own.”
When approached by Leavell about using the Ventilator with the Stones, Natale confirms that initially he wasn’t very excited about trying the box.
“You know I don’t like anything, so I don’t look for anything new because what works still works,” he states. “We were rehearsing in Paris, and when Chuck brought it in, I went ‘oh my what is this thing? Why do I have to try it?’ And then I thought ‘don’t be a jerk. He brought in this piece so let’s listen to it.’ So we set it up. Chuck played about two chords and I came running back in the room screaming ‘it’s amazing!’.”
According to the manufacturer, the Ventilator is a “digital FX device that simulates a Leslie model 122 rotary speaker cabinet miked up with a stereo pair for the highs and a single mono mic for the lows.” This configuration mirrors the mic setup used by most touring engineers I know. The folks at Neo have done a remarkable job of developing algorithms that recreate the rotating Doppler effect.
• Independent emulations of bass and treble rotors
• Reproduction of the Leslie’s mechanical properties
• Emulation of the 122’s frequency response
• Identical 800 Hz crossover point as found in the 122
• Adjustable rotary speed and acceleration
• Adjustable drive section that simulates distortion and power tube saturation typical of the Leslie’s amplifier
• Variable placement of virtual mics
• Relay-equipped true bypass circuit
• Port for a remote footswitch or organ-mounted “half moon” speed switch
• Full rotary stop