VOX's 1960s garage-rock keyboard is reborn with a vastly expanded tonal palette plus 21st-century stage-ready tools.
Originally introduced in 1962, the visually striking VOX Continental Combo Organ, a transistor-based solid-state design, gave performers an easy-on-the back alternative to the heavy tone-wheel organs of the time (Hammond B3, Hammond M3, etc.). Five plus decades on, the Continental has been completely reimagined. To call this a reissue would frankly be doing the Continental a disservice. Focusing on classic organ tones plus electric and acoustic pianos, it also offers a host of other performance-friendly sounds, functions, and features unimaginable in 1962.
So, what’s new in this reincarnated VOX Continental? Let’s take a look.
A Keyboard Designed for Live Performance
Much like its predecessor, this new VOX Continental is clearly designed for the performing musician and is available in 61- and 73-key configurations. The smart, intuitive layout offers quick access to the four sections: Organ, E. Piano, Piano, Key/Layer allowing you to quickly activate sounds and switch between layered states.
The Continental features a newly developed waterfall keyboard with a fast, comfortable touch that’s ideal for organ techniques. It’s also semi-weighted for great touch in piano modes. This is exactly the keyboard action you want when you’re playing high-energy, two-hour rock ‘n’ roll sets under hot stage lights. You can use the Dynamics knob to control the degree to which the Continental responds to your playing dynamics, giving you greatly enhanced expression possibilities.
Perhaps the most revolutionary element of the new Continental is its LED-equipped touch bars. Their functions shift according to what you’re doing. While playing an Organ part using the VOX engine or CX-3 engine, they transform into touch-sensitive drawbars. While playing an Organ part using the COMPACT engine, they turn into Stop controls for on/off. If you play a Key/Layer part, they become touch strips to control EG, filter, and other parameters. When EQ is activated, they function as the sliders for a nine-band master EQ. These touch sensors are engineered to respond smoothly and precisely, giving you excellent tactile feedback.
You can save your favorite sounds and variations for instant recall using 16 scene locations organized into four banks. You can also save and load up to 100 sets in 16 scenes. If you play in a lot of different recurring venues or with different bands, this can be a big timesaver.
Taking a quick look at the rear panel of the Continental reveals an incredibly versatile keyboard. Standard MIDI IN and MIDI OUT jacks are available for connecting with other MIDI hardware, while a USB B port allows for connectivity to a PC or Mac for MIDI transmission. A USB A port is also there to hook up external storage (to save and load scene data). Moving down the panel there are three pedal jacks for Damper, Rotor Speed and Control, offering plenty of real-time control. Finally, stereo outputs are available via 1/4" and XLR connections.
Finally, the Continental also ships with two dedicated accessories: a very adjustable keyboard stand and volume/expression pedal.
Take a quick look at all the killer sounds and amazing control the Continental delivers.
Exploring the VOX Continental’s Inspiring Sounds
As mentioned, the new VOX Continental covers three primary instrument categories: Organ, Electric Piano, and Piano, plus a Key/Layer part for building complex sonic tapestries. The latter is organized into six categories: Keys, Strings, Brass, Lead, Synth, and Other, putting an awesome array of sonic options at your fingertips.
Aside from the core piano and organ sounds we discuss below, there’s a vast range of voices available in the Key/Layer part. Included are a variety of sounds including clavs, poly synths, tape flutes, strings, leads, and more—a well stocked toolbox of non-keys sounds, ripe for layering beneath piano or organ parts.
The Split and Layer functions are a huge asset for gigging musicians, allowing you to exploit the sound library in real time. You can save your split and layer settings in “Scene” memories, then use the very responsive touch strips as faders to control your layers with smooth precision.
The Organ Sounds - Continental, Compact and CX-3
The Continental’s Organ section covers quite a bit of territory with three distinct organ models: VOX, which captures the classic Continental sounds; Compact, that covers the other classic combo organ of the ‘60s (wink, wink), and, the CX-3, KORG’s classic combo organ. These sounds are controlled by revolutionary new touch drawbars that allow you to freely control your overall harmonic structure and tone on the fly.
Notably, the VOX and the CX-3 organs can be switched between their upper and lower keyboards and can also be split at the touch of a button. Of course, you can also run each sound through the onboard vibrato/chorus effects and rotary-speaker simulation.
Additional functions include the percussion sound of the CX-3 to give your tone a little bite. The multi-tone booster (MTB) lets you fine tune the organ engine, dialing in everything from edgy and bright to sweet and mellow. Dedicated knobs and switches confirm VOX’s commitment to delivering top-notch performance tools.
Electric Piano and Acoustic Piano Sounds
The new VOX Continental delivers a rather diverse range of piano and electric piano sounds. They include Grand Piano, Upright Piano, and Electric Grand, a sound that took on particular prominence in the late 1970s.
The convincing electric piano models include Tine, Reed, and FM. Tine is based on electric pianos that generate sound via percussively struck metal bars whereas the Reed covers keyboards that used percussively struck vibrating reeds. The third voice, FM, captures that iconic sound—one that was inescapable from the early ‘80s until the mid ‘90s, both onstage and in the studio.
NuTube, Effects & EQ
All these voices and functions wouldn’t add up to much if the Continental didn’t sound great. A key element in the Continental’s signal path is a vacuum tube dubbed the Nutube. KORG joined forces with Noritake Itron Corporation to develop this device that incorporates fluorescent display technology to impart the warmth and response associated with traditional tubes while adding a visual element to its output. It generates pleasingly overdriven sound that harkens back to the original Continental’s glory days. Balanced XLR output means every sonic nuance of the superb keyboard models is captured without need for an external DI box.
In addition to NuTube the Continental features some great on-board effects. First, you can choose one effect from the following: Chorus, Phaser, Flanger, Compressor, Drive and Wah. These have a dedicated control knob so you can tweak the sound for your needs. From there you can run your signal chain into one of 4 different delay models (Delay, Cross Delay, Tape Delay and Mod Delay), with dedicated control knob to tweak depth or feedback level. Note, your delay time is adjusted via the convenient Tap Tempo button. Finally, you can then pump your signal into one of 5 different reverb types (HALL1, HALL2, ROOM1, ROOM2 and SPRING). Again, a dedicated knob is on-hand for control of depth, reverb time and room size.
If you're looking to tweak even further, an on-board Master EQ is available which is controllable from the touch panel.
If you love the sounds of vintage keyboards from the last half of the 20th century, the updated VOX Continental gives you a healthy suite of authentic sounds. But as opposed to true vintage keyboards with their heft, dicey electronics and high-maintenance mechanical functions, the Continental is packed with stage-friendly features that draw on the best in today’s music tech.