A Brief History of the Clavinet

The German company Hohner, manufacturer of the D6 Clavinet, was known mainly for its reed instruments (harmonicas, accordions, melodicas, and so on) but had made several classic keyboards prior to the first incarnation of the Clavinet, known as the Cembalet.

Musician and inventor Ernst Zacharias designed the Cembalet in the 1950s. It was intended to be a portable version of the cembalo, or harpsichord—which could be amplified. Its mechanism worked by plucking the end of a flat reed with the key, which was then picked up and amplified, in much the same way as an electric guitar.

A year or two after the Cembalet’s release, two Pianet models appeared. Both the CH and N models used flat reeds for tone generation, but employed a very different plucking/striking action. When a key was depressed, it engaged a sticky pad with a foam backing, which actually stuck to the reed. When the key was released, the weight of the key caused the pad adhesive to free itself from the reed. This made the reed vibrate, and this vibration was then amplified.

The model T Pianet was released several years later and utilized a soft rubber suction pad on the reeds, rather than the adhesive of the CH and N models. This method still had several drawbacks, however, as the dynamics available from the keyboard were limited. As a further shortcoming, all reeds were damped on release, thus negating any possibility of sustaining the sound via a foot pedal. Despite these problems, the sound of the model T Pianet was popularized by bands such as the Zombies and Small Faces in the 1960s.

In the years between the releases of the Pianet N and T models, Zacharias invented what was to become Hohner’s most successful, and certainly funkiest, keyboard—the Clavinet. The Clavinet was designed to replicate the sound of a clavichord, but with an altogether fuller sound (the clavichord was notoriously thin sounding).

The early models—Clavinet I with a built-in amp, Clavinet II with tonal filters, Clavinet L with its bizarre triangular shape—all led to the Clavinet model C. This, in turn, was refined into the more portable D6. The D6 uses a hammer action, which strikes a string against a metal surface to produce a tone. It has a fully dynamic keyboard, as the striker is directly beneath the key—the harder you hit, the louder and more vibrant the tone.

Mention the Clavinet today and most people will automatically think of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”—a recording that owes as much to the D6 as it does to the artist that wrote and performed it. The D6 was later superseded by the E7 and the Clavinet/Pianet Duo. These were basically the same as the D6 but more roadworthy, quieter, and better protected against proximity hums than previous models.

How the D6 Clavinet Works

Each D6 keyboard key forms a single arm lever. When a key is depressed, a plunger below the key strikes the string and presses it onto an anvil. The string hits the anvil with a strength determined by key velocity, thus affecting both the dynamics and harmonics of the sounding string.

The mechanical vibrations of the action are captured by magnetic pickups and converted into electrical signals, which are amplified and reproduced through speakers.

As the key is released, contact between the plunger/striker and the anvil is immediately broken, leaving the wool-wound part of the string free. This immediately suppresses the string vibration.

Double-Triggered Notes

When experimenting with the EVD6, or auditioning some of the included settings, you may encounter sounds that seem to be triggered on both the note on and the note off.

This is actually a feature that emulates the original D6. The real D6 has the “problem” of strings sticking to worn-out hammers, producing a second trigger when the key is released. You can adjust the intensity of this key-off click using the Intensity slider in the Click section (see the Setting EVD6 Click Parameters). Move the slider to the left, and the second key-off trigger will no longer be audible.