Whack Job: 1965 Wurlitzer Spectratone Project

February 7, 2014
There are all kinds of ways to add a rotating speaker sound to your guitar. In fact, countless pedals offer the “Leslie effect,” and while some are more realistic than others, they all produce interesting sounds. Since the 1960s, companies such as Fender, Cordovox, MTI, Motion Sound, and Leslie themselves have even manufactured guitar amps with rotating speakers built-in. But I wanted to get more adventurous...
Weirdo Factor
One thing all rotating speaker units have in common is that the speakers are safely enclosed in a cabinet. No one was ever in danger of losing a finger if they got too close to the organ. Until now. I bought this 1965 Wurlitzer “The Spectratone” unit that was already torn out of a dead Wurlitzer Model 4500 home organ. My buddy Dave Stein checked the wiring to figure out which were speaker leads and which were power leads, and we ran signal from the external speaker output of a Fender Deluxe when we were putting this whack job together. Dave also added a power cord jack and a speaker input jack for ease of use. It was now officially a menacing and dangerous piece of gear. The voltage wires are exposed, and the twin-speaker “coffee can” assembly spins so fast that if you dropped your car keys into it, it could hurl them through a window and into the next county!
Playability & Sound
Okay, it looks wrong, but it sounds like a real Leslie—with a caveat. The wiring to change the speed of the rotating speakers was not to be found, so Dave and I hooked up an on/ off pedal instead. So, when you turn on this weirdo, you wait for it to ramp up to the fast speed. You can play it at the fast speed for as long as you like, and when you cut the power, you get the sonic effect of the speaker slowly winding down. If you’ve ever played through a rotating speaker unit, you know that the “secret” sweet spot is neither the fast nor the slow speed, but the awesome phasiness of the signal while the unit changes speeds. While easy and varied speed control is not an option, you do get rewarded with some strange and unique warbles.
I paid $30 for the raw unit, and another $20 for the on/off pedal. Dave spent a couple of hours figuring out which wires were which, so I bought him a cheeseburger and a small salad for his trouble.  
Why It Rules
I do not endorse pulling these speaker units out of fully functioning organs, but the Spectratone was a cheap purchase, it works, it sounds great, and it looks absolutely treacherous. And risk is fun, right?
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