Farfisa is a brand name for a series of electric organs, and later multitimbral keyboards, made in Italy. The organs were marketed for years in the United States by the Chicago Musical Instrument Company.
Farfisa organs are small, portable transistorized organs that were an alternative to the heavy Hammond organs of the time. A direct competition to the Vox organs, Farfisa dominated the 1960s combo organ market with its bright and buzzy-sounding tones. At their peak in the late 1960s, Farfisa was Europe's largest maker of electronic instruments. Farfisa organs became popular among rock bands and other combos during the 1960s. Many listeners first heard a Farfisa on 1966's '96 Tears' by ? and the Mysterians, or 'Talk Talk' by Sean Bonniwell and The Music Machine.
With the advent of synthesizers, organs such as the classic Farfisa seemed to be headed for obsolescence, but time proved otherwise. In the late 1970s, with older models going cheap, numerous New Wave bands embraced Farfisas as substitutes for more sophisticated keyboards. Their classic sound, in turn, became a staple on multitimbral instruments, first synthesized, then sampled from the originals.
The Farfisa sound is today used to impart a stereotypically kitschy, 1960s-retro essence to music, and has appeared recently on albums by garage and alternative rock bands. The Farfisa brand name, meanwhile, continues to appear on contemporary MIDI keyboards.
In the early 1970s, the VIP line of Farfisas brought a new set of features to the marketplace. The Farfisa VIP has two 4-octave keyboards and a set of bass pedals. It has registrations similar to other organs, such as 'Brass', 'Reed,' 'Flute', and 'Horn'. The most unique feature of the Farfisa VIP was the 'Synthe-Slalom' setting, indicated on the front panel by a picture of a man on skis. The 'Synthe-Slalom' effect is a pitch-bend controlled by a foot pedal on the floor beneath the keyboard. It allows the player to glide the note up to the correct pitch by moving the pedal fully forward, and to drop it by pulling the pedal back down. This glide is very similar to the unique 'portamento' setting on many Yamaha GX1 analog synthesizers.
John Paul Jones used the Farfisa for the song 'Dancing Days' from Houses of the Holy. During the late 1972/early 1973 tours, the Farfisa VIP-255 was sometimes played while on top of the Hammond C-3 organ.