Electone is the trademark used for electronic organs produced by Yamaha.
History of the Electone
After Hammond pioneered the electronic organ in the 1930s, other manufacturers began to market their own versions of the instrument. By the end of the 1950s, familiar brand names of home organs in addition to Hammond included Conn, Kimball, Lowrey, and others, while companies such as Allen and Rodgers manufactured large electronic organs designed for church and other public settings.
The Yamaha Electone series debuted in 1959 with the D-1, a home instrument. This was a bad moment to enter the market; as early “home entertainment centers,” electronic organs were facing heavy (and strengthening) competition from both television and high fidelity audio systems, neither of which required any musical skill, unlike the electronic organ. But by 1970, with the market waning sharply, and some manufacturers ceasing production, the Electone line, as did its competitors, embraced digital technology. This would be the key to the Electone’s survival as the traditional home electronic organ market dried up.
By the 1980s, many of the most famous names had ceased home production, but the Electone successfully translated into the modern world of digital synthesizers, now competing with such new electronic products as Moog Music, Wersi, and later Kurzweil. Electones were to be found not only in homes, especially in Japan and elsewhere in the East Asia, but also in bands and other solo and group public performances.
While the traditional home electronic organ is a relative rarity today, the Electone's late 20th-century transformation into a true synthesizer, capability and portability led to its becoming, along with its competitors, the successor in many ways to the famous Hammond electronic organ models of mid-century.
Notable Electone models
Yamaha began importing Electones to the United States, starting with the D-2B in 1967. In 1968, Yamaha released the EX-21 prototype. This Electone was different from prior Electones, as it was expressly designed for stage performances. Two years later, the EX-42 became Yamaha's first commercially available stage model Electone. The EX-42 was also the first to use integrated circuits, although it was still based on analog technology. By 1974, Yamaha began designing Electones around synthesizers, instead of organs, starting with the CSY-1 that was based on the SY-1 synthesizer.
The GX-1, released in 1975, was the first polyphonic synthesizer in Electone form, bridging the gap between synthesizer and organ. The GX-1 utilized velocity-sensitive keyboards and the solo keyboard was even pressure, or aftertouch, sensitive. Some notable users of the GX-1 include: Stevie Wonder, Keith Emerson, John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, and Benny Andersson of ABBA.
The E-70, from 1977, was one of the first home based organs to feature Yamaha's PASS analog synthesis in a console cabinet.
The FC/FE/FS/FX series from 1983-1986 featured FM tone generators and the FX series featured the company's first digitally sampled sounds for the onboard percussion/rhythm units. The F series Electones were the first to allow users to digitally save registrations via pistons and then save them to RAM packs or an external disk drive unit: MDR-1.
With the HS/HX series, Electones became more digital. This series, released in 1987, used more integrated circuit technology to make components smaller, and allow for a sleeker design. The HX/HS series was the first to use AWM "sampling" technology for both voices and rhythm. The HX series also featured 16-operator FM voices.
In 1991, Yamaha released the EL series of Electones. They included an attached Music Disk Recorder (rather than the previous add-on MIDI-based units), which enabled players to record their registrations and performances. The EL series introduced new synthesis, filtering, and expression technologies that made instrument voices on the Electone even more realistic.
Modern Electones and their competitors are best described as synthesizers rather than electronic organs, since they can imitate the sounds of many orchestral instruments, singly or in combination, through the use of digital sampling; nevertheless, in their basic configuration and operation they continue to resemble the organ. This is largely because the organ-style interface allows great flexibility and control, which is necessary given the Electone's vast capabilities. The interface includes three keyboards--two manuals and a pedalboard, each of which may be configured to play a different registration or emulate a different instrument.
The Electone may be configured both before and during playing to mimic a wide variety of instruments, up to and including a full orchestra. Various conveniently-located controls allow on-the-fly changes in configuration. Depending on their selections, the performer may produce the sounds of, for example, a piano at one moment and then a string section the next, followed by more exotic instruments. Most of these selections are ones that they have programmed in before playing.
The newest model Electone, STAGEA (seen above) uses all AWM (Digitized) voices and features over 180 digital effects, built-in registration menu, VA voices, and a Style File compatible expanded rhythm and accompaniment section. There are four models currently including the ELB-01, ELS-01, ELS-01C and ELS-01X. The ELB-01, also called Stagea Mini, is the entry level model, the ELS-01 the standard model, and the ELS-01C the so called custom model, carrying a larger number of voices and other features. The ELS-01X takes the ELS-01C and adds 61-note keyboards, a full-sized 25-note pedal board and XLR external audio jacks.
Because STAGEA is officially distributed only in Asian countries, those wanting to update to the newest Electone model and living in other parts of the world must import the instrument. This is often called purchasing "grey market" goods.
Similar to the Stagea in software, the D-Deck is a portable keyboard with two manuals (double-deck) featuring 49 keys on the upper keyboard and 61 keys on the lower stretch. The D-Deck carries over the menu, registration buttons between keyboards, after-touch, and many other features from the Stagea which would be comparable to that as of the ELS-01 model. An optional pedalboard helps the D-Deck mimic a Stagea even more. It is also noted that the D-Deck STAGEA package is only known as DDK-7 in certain regions.
Playing the Electone
Playing the Electone is a physically engaging activity requiring considerable dexterity and coordination. The performer sits facing the console at a comfortable distance, with the lower manual at about elbow height and with their feet suspended slightly over the pedals. Their right hand typically plays the upper manual, while their left hand plays the lower manual, though in practice both hands may often play the same manual, especially if each mimics a different instrument or orchestral section. As they play, they may change registrations with conveniently-located finger controls located near the manuals. Their left foot plays the pedalboard with dancelike motions that can range from lively to languorous depending on the character of the music, Meanwhile, their outstretched right foot rests firmly on the expression pedal, which they pump gently in order to change the instrument's overall volume or to accent their music dynamics. When they wish to make more pronounced dynamic changes, they simply use firmer heel or toe pressure on the pedal. They may also occasionally play the pedalboard briefly with both feet. (Many Electone performers play barefoot so as to achieve greater precision with the pedals.) Some Electone models also include a second expression pedal, known as an effects pedal, which can produce changes in pitch or other effects; toe switches on the main expression pedal with which the performer can change registration; and a knee lever, operated with the right knee, with which the performer can sustain notes (as with a piano’s sustain pedal) or produce other effects. In addition to these controls, modern Electones also have data storage systems, LCD screens, and Internet connectivity.
Notable Electone players
- Kori Gardner of the indie rock duo Mates of State
- Max Takano, Yamaha Japan
- Claude Dupras, Yamaha Canada
- Yayoi Hirabe, Yamaha Japan 
- Electone.TV - The ultimate Yamaha Electone TV channel that brings you the best electone performances.
- Electone Station (Japanese) - The official Yamaha Corporation Electone web site. Includes software updates for the new STAGEA instruments.
- Electone Zone - The first Electone web site ever on the web. Now a full community portal, serving Electone enthusiasts all over the world. Talk Forums include videos, news and over a decade of accumulated Electone knowledge. The Electone Museum documents the history of the instrument.
- Zona Electone Italia - The most important European Electone site. Community members, News,Photo Gallery, Audio and Video download and many others resources for Electone players.
- Electone Society - Based in the UK with many people from all over the world on its newsletter list, the Society (mirror site) reaches out to people of all ages and background. Look out for the Open Competition and Open Concert series with players from Europe (including the UK), USA and China.
- jazzhooves.com Features information and articles about Yamaha Electone models.
- A talented young girl pushes a Yamaha Electone ELS-01 through its paces playing "YYZ" by RUSH.