A clavinet is an electrophonic keyboard instrument, manufactured by the Hohner, a German company well-known for its harmonicas and accordions. It is essentially an electronically amplified clavichord, analogous to an electric guitar. Its distinctive bright staccato sound has appeared particularly in funk, disco, and rock songs.
The Clavinet is a stringed keyboard instrument built by Hohner, In the 1960's, Hohner inventor Ernst Zacharias created several keyboards to replicate traditional Baroque instruments, especially those used by Johann Sebastian Bach. However, Zacharias' instruments were used for new musical forms and rarely for classical music, as intended.
The Clavinet was related to the Clavichord of the late 1700's, a favourite instrument of Bach. The Clavinet uses a fairly simple mechanism, whereby a tilting key strikes a string inside the instrument. Each key uses a small rubber tip to do a 'hammer on' (forcefully fret the string) to a guitar-type string when it is pressed, as with a conventional clavichord. The string is pushed down onto a metal bar (like a fret on a guitar), causing the string to vibrate. The end of each string farthest from the pickups passes through a weave of yarn. When the key is released, the yarn makes the string immediately stop vibrating. A simple electromagnetic pickup senses the vibration and converts it to a musical waveform that is output to the amp. This mechanism is completely different from the other Hohner keyboard products, the Cembalet and Pianet, which use the principle of plectra or sticky pads plucking metal reeds.
Most Clavinets have two sets of pickups, which are positioned above and below the strings. The Clavinet has pickup selector switches, and a guitar-level output which can be patched to a guitar amp.
Various models were produced over the years, and including the models I, II, L, C, D6, and E7. Most models consist of 60 keys and 60 associated strings, giving it a five-octave range from F0 to E5.
Early clavinet models featured single-coil pickups; the D6 a model released in late 1971, introduced a six-core pickup design. Stevie Wonder and Billy Preston had already made the Clavinet a standard pop keyboard, using the earlier Model C. Unlike the C, the Clavinet D6 had more control of the tone, by using a more complicated pickup and preamp system. The D6 has switches on the left hand side of the keyboard. By selecting different combinations, the player can choose between different pickup sounds in or out of phase with each other. This can make the sound rich and full, or thin and biting. There are also adjustments for overall brightness, plus volume and mechanical 'mute' controls.
L and E7 series
The Clavinet L, introduced in 1968 was a domestic model and featured a wood-veneered triangular body with wooden legs, reverse-colour keys and an acrylic glass music stand. The final E7 model saw the culmination of several engineering improvements to make the instrument more suitable for use in live amplified rock music, where its use had become commonplace.
By 1982 however, the Hohner corporation had ceased production of the Clavinet. It should be noted that the 'Clavinet DP' name was applied by Hohner to a range of Japanese-made digital pianos during the late 1980s. These instruments were designed for the home market and made no attempt to emulate any characteristics of the true Clavinet, and should be seen as the equivalent of a badge engineering exercise. In 2000 Hohner disassociated themselves from the Clavinet completely by unloading their spare parts inventory to a restoration website.
The archetypal clavinet sound can be heard on Stevie Wonder's 'Superstition' and 'Higher Ground', Led Zeppelin's 'Custard Pie', and 'Trampled Under Foot' from Physical Graffiti, the Rolling Stones' 'Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)', Billy Preston's 'Outa-Space', Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Tank (as well as the live cover of 'Nut Rocker' from the Pictures at an Exhibition album), Part 8 of Pink Floyd's 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' and 'Empty Spaces', Tori Amos' 'Not David Bowie', and Soundgarden's 'Fresh Tendrils'
John Paul Jones used the Clavinet D6, recording most of the clavinet parts 'direct' (that is, using a DI transformer box directly into the mixer). On stage, however, he used Fender Dual Showman amplifiers for the keyboards.