The Vox Continental is a transistorized combo organ that was manufactured between 1962 and 1971 by the musical equipment manufacturer Vox. It was designed for touring musicians and as an alternative to the heavy Hammond organ.
The Continental became a popular instrument, especially with garage and later New wave bands, and was used by The Beatles, The Animals, The Doors, Elvis Costello, and Madness. After being phased out of production in the early 1970s, the instrument remained a sought-after combo organ by enthusiasts.
As distinctive in look and sound today as when it was introduced in 1962, the Vox Continental Organ is a combo classic. Recognizable for its reverse-color keyboard and red hood, the Continental employed six drawbars controlling the voicing (reed or flute) and octave range for a streamlined answer to the bulky stop-tab systems on other organs of the time. Ethereal and breathy, this is the machine that gave the Doors" "Light My Fire" and The Animals" "House of the Rising Sun" their signature otherworldly sound. Also used extensively by Jeff Monoman Conoly in DMZ and the Lyres. Does it get better than the ultimate?
The instrument was commonly heard in 1960s rock music, and played by the Beatles' John Lennon, the Dave Clark Five's Mike Smith and the Animals' Alan Price. Lennon regularly played "I'm Down" on the Continental as a set closer for the Beatles, such as their 1965 concert at Shea Stadium. The Doors' Ray Manzarek played a Vox early in the group's career, in combination with a Rhodes Piano Bass.
The Vox Continental was rediscovered during the punk and new wave movements in the late 1970s. It was used by Steve Nieve, keyboard player for Elvis Costello & The Attractions, particularly in the early years up to This Year's Model. It was also used by several 2-Tone groups, including the Specials' Jerry Dammers and by Madness' Mike Barson. Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers has also frequently used a Vox Continental, and sometimes prefers its "drier, thinner, more cutting sound". On "Don't Do Me Like That", he played one through a Leslie speaker.
In the 21st century, the organist Rhys Webb, of the UK garage band The Horrors can be seen using the Continental.