Crumar Mojo review (updated/revised March 2016)

Please note that I'm NOW AN OFFICIAL Crumar endorser. I hope that you'll appreciate that my review of Crumar products will still be as honest as possible, but it's only fair that I should be up front about the change in situation. I'm tweaking this review in light of the most recent software update, and the latest hardware development, namely the new (slightly)lighter action keyboard which is being introduced as of Summer 2015.

I'm assuming that if you're reading this page you're familiar with the vintage Hammond console organs and are probably, like myself, for ever chasing the Holy grail of clonewheel perfection... In other words... the following review will be of little interest to non-Hammond heads!!!

I've only focussed on the features that are important to me as a gigging jazz organ player... there are MIDI capabilities etc. which I have no knowledge of, or much use for. The user manual is available for download from the Crumar website and will be a mine of information I'm sure. Remember these are just my opinions, but hope they are of use to all those millions of jazz organists out there.

Having taken delivery of my original Mojo keyboard in August 2012, I've now been using it for over three years of years in which time Crumar have updated and improved the software and firmware periodically via free downloads from their website. the updating process is fairly straightforward and well documented.

Sometimes in this review I'll be comparing the Mojo with my previous clonewheel - the Nord C1. There are some features of the Nord which the Mojo lacks, but I'm so pleased with the sound and character of the Mojo, that I can live without them.


Pasted Graphic

....................My Mojo rig..................... (Photo: Mark Fletcher)



The System


Firstly, Crumar is a tiny business based near Venice, Italy and they presently deal only via their website (at least for non-Italian customers). This daunted me at first, as I like to try stuff out before buying, and I had visions of possible hassle resulting from dealing with a foreign business, language barrier etc., but the whole process couldn't have been smoother and communications were excellent. In fact, the service I have received both pre and post-sale has been first-rate. Emailed questions and queries were answered promptly and one or two technical obstacles (due to the basic nature of my home-brew bass pedals!) were sorted out for me with astonishing ease (see below). Crumar do seem to go the extra mile for you!

I ordered my Mojo complete with a padded wheeled gig bag, a half-moon rotary switch (see below) and a short throw swell pedal (I already own several Yamaha FC7 pedals which are compatible). The short throw pedal will be a useful spare.

The gig-bag is more compact than the one that Nord sell for their C series organs, and it's easier to wheel/carry about due to the extending handle. After two years of gigging with it, there was still enough protection for all the buttons and knobs, but after three years, I've decided it's time to renew the case as holes were starting to appear from rubbing against other equipment in my van, and other ravages of the road. It was interesting to note that the new wheeled gig bag is pretty much identical to the old one. I do try to be careful how the Mojo gets packed in the back of tour vans etc, but there's a limit to how much a soft bag can protect the wooden end pieces not to mention the switches, keys and drawbars. I reckon it's good practice to push all the drawbars in before packing the keyboard away, but there's not much to be done about keys and buttons. Having said that, my Mojo hasn't been damaged over the three years of ownership apart from dings to the woodwork. The extending trolley handle needs periodic tightening of the screws which prevent it over-extending, and I'll be being extra careful with the new gig bag

There is a hard case option available, but obviously this involves more weight and bulk. Incidentally, the soft-case for my Nord C1 needed repair after a year or two (wheels & zip) and every soft keyboard gig-bag I've ever owned has worn out eventually.

Compared to the Nord C-series, the Mojo is slightly deeper front to back, and weighs a little more. It has real wooden end-pieces of a more sober (and traditional) brown colour than the bright red Nord's. As part of my endorsement deal, Crumar have just sent me a replacement Mojo, which is a limited edition with black textured wooden ends, which will hopefully not show up the dents/dings etc. so much. Apart from this paint job, my new Mojo is identical looking to the old, though the knobs and buttons have been replaced (and improved). The Mojo's wooden parts were silky smooth verging on slippery when brand new, and I found manhandling it in and out of its case and onto the keyboard stand a bit more troublesome than my old C1, but not significantly so. Once aged, it doesn't seem so elusive to my grasp (and no doubt I've got used to it!).

New-Old Mojos



Subjectively, the Mojo looks great. Quite conservative in styling and the build-quality is reassuringly solid. People come up to me on gigs and presume that the Mojo's some kind of vintage instrument! I think Crumar puts everything together in-house and quality control seems excellent. The original button switches were bigger than on the Nord and had a light and shallow action. I've never been a big fan of this switch type despite the clear LED on each one. The latest Mojos have switches with chamfered sides, and a slightly deeper action, which makes it much harder to accidentally press two switches at once. The rotary knobs are also slimmer and easier to see in poor lighting condtions. Improvements both! (The original rotary knobs were knurled metal and harder to read).

New switches
New "chamfered" switches. Slightly more positive action, and more tolerant of fat fingers!

The original keyboard action was reassuringly positive, neither light nor overly heavy to play. Apparently these waterfall keybeds are a standard Fatar product used in other organ clones. The keys don't "clatter" and they trigger at a similar depth to the vintage Hammond consoles. My only complaint here is that just like every other clonewheel using these keybeds, the keys pivot at a much shorter radius point than the vintage console Hammonds. I'd love someone one day to replicate the old key length on a clone. It would increase the size (and weight) I expect, but would be worth it in my view. Three years of moderately hard use, and no problems with broken keys, bad contacts etc.


The latest Mojo's have a tweaked version of this keboard. The pivot length is the same, but they're sprung slightly lighter, and the trigger point is also a couple of milimetres higher. I wasn't sure I was going to like this when I heard about it (as I find the original keyboard fine to play) but I'm happy to say that I think the new keyboard's an improvement too. I'm not equipped to measure things precisely, but it would seem to take over 10g less weight applied to the front of a white key to get it moving, and the trigger point happens when the key is a few milimetres down. Perhaps the velocity curve has been tweaked too, as when playing with the extra sounds (see below) the electric pianos feel easier to play dynamically, which I was not expecting with the slightly lighter action.


new trigger
New keyboard trigger depth




old trigger
Original keyboard trigger depth


I guess that whatever they may look like, most digital keyboards these days are basically stripped down computers, running lean, customized operating systems and software. Crumar are upfront about the fact that the Mojo is based on a PC running Windows XP Embedded and the excellent VB3 Version II. Rest assured there are no hard drives or other moving parts that would otherwise give cause for concern - the system boots up from flash-memory chips. The bottom line is that after around 24 seconds from switching on, the Mojo's up and ready. This is longer than I was used to with the Nord C1, and has caused at least one embarrassing pause on stage after a temporary power-cut . However, I've experienced zero crashes/freezes/note-hangs etc. other than problems attribuable to power-outs, and I've not read many complaints in this regard from other users. It seems thus-far, rock solid. (Phew!) I tend to keep the firmware to the most recent version, and also the VB3 software is easy to update as and when updates become available. One thing you have to be careful of (and the manual warns you of this) is to connect/disconnect your expression pedal while the organ's switched OFF. I forgot this the other day and pulled out the expression pedal without powering down , and the Mojo didn't like it! No lasting harm was done, but I had to reboot. In contrast, my Nord C1 never seemed fussy like that.

Unlike most modern keyboards, and all other current clonewheel offerings I'm aware of, the Mojo has no LCD screen or alphanumeric display. However... Although most network ports of the inbuilt PC system have been disconnected, it is possible to connect a USB mouse and VGA monitor via (normally covered-up) ports on the rear of the organ. This enables a normal computer display to be connected revealing access to parameters not catered for via the knobs and switches on the instruments top panel.

As an alternative to the monitor/mouse method, Crumar have introduced an optional extra called MojoEditor which is a small piece of hardware which plugs into the Mojo's USB socket and magnetically attaches to the Mojo's steel top panel. MojoEditor has an LCD display, selector buttons and wheel allowing access to all of the parameters. I have recently received a MojoEditor and it performs flawlessly. All of the "deep" parameters are accessible via a few clicks and turns of the dial. The box also allows you to save up to six completely different performance set-ups, which is not possible on the organ alone, or via the mouse/monitor editing method (see below).

There are two sets of nine drawbars (one for each manual) and two pedal drawbars. There are six (initially empty) drawbar preset locations per manual. It's very easy to create presets. You just adjust the drawbars in "manual" and then hold down one of the preset buttons for a few seconds until the LED blinks. It's like programming the stations into a car radio. These are just drawbar registration presets, rather than patches of complete parameter settings, just like the preset keys on a console Hammond. I'd really like to be able to assign both sets of drawbars to the upper manual and toggle between them as that suits my playing style, but alas this is not possible. Since my lower manual (left hand bass) registration rarely varies, I'd happily survive off presets for the lower, but as things stand it's one drawbar set per manual. The drawbars work as you would expect and seem of high quality.

The Mojo accepts its power (12V DC) via a wall-wart power supply. We all hate them, but they make sense to boutique instrument manufacturers who have less safety legislation to worry about if their designs don't involve mains power directly. Initially I was getting earth (ground) loop hum at the Mojo's line out from the 3-pin adapter, but Andrea at Crumar sent a 2-pin version as a replacement, and the hum disappeared. I know that it takes "two to tango" for an earth loop to appear, but I really think that manufacturers should see this problem coming, and to be fair, most keyboards and synths I've bought over the years have 2-pin AC plugs to avoid this... The new Mojo ships with a 2-pin adapter it seems, so this shouldn't be a problem any more.

The rear panel offers the usual Left/Right jack sockets, Headphone jack, MIDI In/Out, USB (for connection to a computer workstation, and to enable system upgrades) and a Swell/Expression pedal jack. There are also a sustain pedal jack and rotary speed jack. I opted to buy my Mojo complete with a half-moon rotary switch which screws neatly to the front rail. I use a Yamaha FC7 expression pedal which works very well for me, though Crumar can supply their own short-throw and long-throw swell pedals if required. The VGA connector and mouse USB sockets lie behind a screwed-on metal plate, out of harm's way.

One feature that I'd like to have seen on the Mojo, which Nord provide on their C series organs, is a high-level line output and dedicated 11-pin Leslie output. With the aid of a leslie 1147 interface, I was able to drive my vintage Leslie 145, and control it's speed from the C1's half-moon switch. With the Mojo, the output has to be boosted to drive the Leslie, and a separate control box used to power the Leslie and switch speeds. Luckily, I made a power/control box for my 145 some years ago, and I'm able to boost the Mojo's output using a tiny Behringer mixer which I've inserted in the chain. I've now built the power/control box into the back of the Leslie, with a 1/4" jack to accept the boosted signal. This will cut down on set-up time, and reduce the number of gizmos in the gig bag. (NB Third-party manufacturers offer various solutions to interfacing modern keyboards with vintage Leslies.) I notice that Crumar are now selling a circuit board which helps to interface between the Mojo (or other MIDI keyboards) and the motor switching of vintage Leslies.

Because I need to use my home-brew bass pedals (an old set of Hammond console pedals which I cut down and MIDI-fied to transmit only on channel 1) I was initially vexed to learn that the Mojo only accepts bass pedal messages on MIDI channel three. I've since replaced the entire MIDI workings of my bass pedals with an Arduino-based unit from http://www.midikits.net.

Operating and Editing

The printed manual that comes with the Mojo is clearly written and it doesn't take long to find your way around.

There are two basic modes - "Normal" and "Edit". In normal mode all switches and knobs behave as they are labeled. Since firmware 6.1, the "Shift "button (Edit mode) functions have been slightly limited. In previous firmware (ending at version 2.5) when editing with a mouse and monitor connected it was possible to reassign the "Edit" mode functions of the rotary knobs to your favourite parameters. For reasons of simplifying the user interface, things have changed, and reassigning the rotary knobs isn't possible unless firmware 2.5 is retro- installed. This firmware is no longer available on the Crumar site but can be found in the files section MojoMusicians Yahoo! Group if you REALLY want it.

Crumar would prefer you to buy the MojoEditor device which to be fair, is a more transparent way of keeping track of what you're editing. With the old firmware, users were apparently getting in a muddle, as pressing some of the switches (or turning knobs) with the shift button enabled could screw things up for you to a degree that you may have to attach ascreen and mouse to discover what you'd mistakenly adjusted. As far as I know, with firmware 6.1 you can still use a VGA screen and USB mouse to edit (connections are behind a plate on the rear of the Mojo). Once you're happy with the settings, it's possible to save them as your default via the on-screen control panel's "store" button. When you've done this you can disconnect the mouse and monitor and replace the blanking plate on the rear of the Mojo.

The software includes extra sounds in the form of electric piano sounds (think Rhodes and Wurlies) and Vox/Farfisa sounds. Although not particularly flexible or editable, I find the four provided configurations quite useful on some gigs. They combine the drawbar organ (upper manual) with electric piano (lower manual). Relative volumes are fixed but there are some non-editable effects (amp simulation, mono & stereo tremolo, phaser, chorus distortion) plus a downward octave shift button. The output of the electric piano and organ can be routed to separate jacks. These extra sounds sounds sound great despite the lack of edit-ability.


The Sound

Youtube video #1
Youtube video #2

As the Mojo's "sound engine" is down to the VB3 Version II software, what follows is my impression of that.. and I'm very much impressed!

For some years, things in clonewheel-land have been getting ever closer to capturing the nuances and idiosyncrasies of vintage Hammonds. We now take for granted that the 91 tonewheels are faithfully modeled and tuned correctly, but the way in which harmonic percussion, vibrato/chorus and rotary speaker emulation are implemented is still up for improvement. And how it all gels together. I think that the VB3 II offers a significant step forward on all fronts.

For several years I've been very happy with my Nord C1, but compared to my vintage Hammond A-100, even through the same Leslie 145 cabinet, the clonewheel lacks something. There's thickness or girth that the A-100 has in spades, and although the Nord's very clear, and can really scream when required, it doesn't quite fill the room with a big warm cushion of sound like the old Hammond (which can still scream with the best of them!). This is no doubt in part due to my A-100 having "drifted" electronically speaking over it's nearly fifty year life, but my other vintage consoles all have a weighty quality which I was missing in the Nord.

After three+ years of playing the Mojo through a couple of vintage Leslies, as well as using the internal rotary simulation through "flat" studio monitors and my full-range mini PA system, I can confirm that it delivers a creamy, thick, well-balanced vintage tone. As a bonus, there are twenty different tonewheel sets to switch between. Basically, the VB3's creators have measured the output levels of all 91 tonewheels in various vintage hammond organs. No two Hammonds will sound exactly alike due to tolerances of manufacture and the effects of component degradation over time etc. and in VB3 II one can choose between 20 different models of C-3, B-3 and A-100 (and its variants). Hence some of the tonewheel sets are mellower or brighter than each other, or are stronger in some registers than others. Having spent some time auditioning the various tone wheel sets, I found that often I needed to readjust the percussion, vibrato and keyclick settings to taste after selecting a different set. This makes one realize how interdependent these features are in the vintage consoles, although of course it would be a much harder proposition to tweak them, as re-calibrating a Hammond tone generator is not for the fainthearted!

The harmonic percussion is very realistic in it's shape and behaviour and can be tweaked within useful real-world ranges for volume, length and "drop out" (the amount of attenuation applied to the drawbars when percussion is set to "soft").

Likewise, I'm very impressed with the vibrato/chorus, which can be edited to adjust depth and "V/C mix" which is a nice touch. It would be great to be able to adjust this on vintage consoles (dream on, Pete!) Depending on the acoustics of where you're playing or what amplification you're using, tweaking these parameters can make the difference between a fantastic shimmer or cheesy warbling.

The keyclick sounds very authentic too, and is editable volume wise and for duration. Generator leakage and crosstalk are also very convincing and adjustable. These elements certainly add to the vintage vibe of the Mojo. In a creditable attempt to emulate the nine contacts per key on vintage Hammonds, the keyclick has a random quality which goes some of the way to convincing the player that there's a mechanical process going on.

In judging rotary speaker simulations (Leslie effects) one has to be aware that how the output is amplified is crucial. Stereo simulations are never going to replicate the sound of a physically rotating speaker in the room with you, as the real thing "sprays" the sound around the room and it bounces off the walls and furniture etc. in a very particular way. So the best that any simulation can achieve is to faithfully reproduce the sound of a stereo recording of a Leslie (in a neutral acoustic) which can be reproduced through mono or stereo speakers. To judge how successful the Leslie simulation is, the best way is to listen on headphones. As for amplifying the result in a gig situation, anything less than a hi-quality, well EQ-ed full-range system will be likely to add undesirable colour to the result... Part of the Leslie effect is a phasey-sweep through the mids, which can sound very "boxy" or "honky" if the speaker system isn't relatively flat. It's no use using your average generic "keyboard amp" for this. I use FBT powered PA cabs, over a subwoofer in my gig rig, which I can usually coax into rendering acceptable results. Anyway, what follows are my impressions of the Mojo's rotary effect monitored via headphones and my home-studio monitors.

Obviously there are hundreds of ways to mic a Leslie cabinet, so the software designer has to make a few predetermined decisions as to mic set-up/type/placement and the amount of room ambience and so-on.

On the Mojo, the only controls available from the front panel in normal playing mode are buttons to switch the Leslie from "stop" to "on", and from "slow" to "fast". in edit mode the "bass" control knob will tweak the balance between the upper and lower rotors, which is handy. In it's default state, all other Leslie tweaks are only available when a display and mouse are plugged in to the relevant ports.

The VB3 software in the Mojo seems to follow the tried and tested method of mic-ing the top of the Leslie with two mics, and the bass end with one. The upper two mics can be placed on the same side of the cab, at 90 degrees (i.e. on adjacent sides of the cab) or at 180 degrees (on opposite sides). Control is also offered over the distance of the mics to the cabinet, from very close (accentuating the amplitude modulation) to "very far away" (a few metres?).

Another useful parameter is called "rotary cabinet" which varies the amount of cabinet resonance on the effect as a whole. In early versions of the VB3 II software I found that it could make the sound too "tubby" if not used sparingly, though recent software updates have reduced the "tubby" quality I percieved, and I now dial a bit of "rotary cabinet" into my setup. There's also a "rotary ambience" parameter, which introduces a bit of the recording studio acoustic. This can be useful if recording with the Mojo, but I personally prefer to have my live sound as "present" as possible, with a hint of digital reverb (which the Mojo does fine). Of course these are matters of taste, and we each have our own...

There's also a control for "rotary horn eq" which can emphasize or attenuate the treble. This could be useful for matching up with the horn response of various live sound systems so it maybe worth fiddling with it in the MojoEditor or on via a monitor/mouse.

The software now allows adjustment of the ramp-up/down speeds and the absolute speeds of fast and slow. To my ears it spins up and slows down very authentically. It's also worth mentioning that when the rotors are set to "stop" they come to rest in random positions rather than dead-centre, but in the latest update there is an option to have the rotors rest in a central position, which is useful for those of us who spend a lot of time in "stop' mode.

Since the VB3 2.21 update, the rotary simulation has been comprehensively overhauled and has been very much improved. The EQ of the virtual Leslie is far more to my liking (I found the original EQ a bit harsh in the treble) and the animation of the chorale and tremolo are second to none.

The "drive" control knob can induce a nice overdrive to the sound, but I prefer a little rather than a lot. The drive knob works whether or not the Leslie simulation is in or out (I sometimes use a hint of drive when playing the Mojo through my Leslie 145 at lower volumes), and this suggests that it's an overdrive of the organ's output rather than overdrive of the rotary effect, though it may be affecting both elements. It would be nice to have the option to independently push the virtual speakers into distortion, which would be the ultimate in realism, but this is probably requires another level of modeling (and the necessary processing power). Of all the Mojo's sound-elements, the drive is the one I'd like to see improved, I suppose. Again, the latest software has improved things a lot.

Through my studio headphones and through neutral studio monitors, the Mojo's rotary sounds great. It's much more realistic than the Nord C1's, but it's fair to say that all the manufacturers have improved their rotary simulations in recent years. Until the latest VB3 update I thought that the Neo Instruments Ventilator had the edge over all of them, but since VB3 2.21 I no longer use the Ventilator with my Mojo though I'll keep it for use with other keyboards and for home studio use with my Hammond C3. I'm still very fond of the Vent's EQ character but now the Mojo does the job on its own. Both the cabinet tone/resonance (which can be varied) and the animation are very convincing. As stated above, and as with any Leslie simulation, a good, flat response PA (carefully EQ'd) will bring out the best of it when playing live.

At the time of writing, the VB3 II software is up to version 2.3. The most rent update concentrated on adding a seepable mid eq (accessible via the MojoEditor or VGA/screen mouse) plus further honing the basic drawbar sound. It's worth noting that this mid EQ is pre-rotary effect.
Summary

Positives :

  • GREAT sound, and vibe.
  • Multiple vintage generator profiles.
  • Sturdy build quality.
  • Easy to edit most used parameters.
  • Excellent customer service.
  • Excellent free updates.

Negatives :
  • Both sets of drawbars can't be assigned to the same manual (and toggled).
  • Vulnerability to earth loops without 2-pin power supply. (New Mojo's are supplied with 2-pin wall-warts so this shouldn't be a problem any more.)
  • Lack of dedicated Leslie output.
  • Takes longer to boot up than my old Nord C1.
  • Expression pedal must be connected/unplugged with power off.
  • Editing of deeper parameters requires plugging in of a VGA monitor and USB mouse, or purchse of the MojoEditor .

Sorry there aren't many pictures on this review(!), but there are plenty on the Crumar site which show the controls/layout etc. Click here for a link to the Mojo page.

There's also the very active MojoMusicians user's group on Yahoo! Groups. Plenty of info!