Strange Instrument #3: The Clavinet

The Clavinet is not really a strange instrument, yet the story of this musical instrument in contemporary music is a weird one… Well at least a funny one, so that’s why I decided to put it in this category.

This eletrophonic keyboard released in the mid 1960s was made by German company, Hohner, as an instrument designed to emulate the harpsichord tone. Its twangy kinda sound was so close to the tone of an electric guitar that many keyboardists looking for new tone territories to explore adopted the Clavinet. This was particularly the case of Reggae and Funk keyboardists.

To me, as many music geeks out there, one of the biggest hits, if not the biggest, of Clavinet music was created by Stevie Wonder in one of the funkiest song ever: Supersition.


This song is one of my very first and early music souvenir from my childhood. Until my 20th birthday maybe, I’ve always thought that the main riff of the song was played with a guitar… duh!! Actually, this is one of the funniest facts about Clavinet as historically, keyboardists found a good way to get a funky electric guitar tone from a keyboard… And several years later, armies of guitar players wanted to imitate the Clavinet tone stacking wah pedals, compressors and so on… Ain’t that funny?

It reminds me that recently, Noise Addicts reported a cool anecdote about this tune and its Clavinet part that so many keyboard players tried to copy… No wonder why nobody actually got really close to the original tune as Stevie Wonder recorded 8 distinct parts with different effects on most of the tracks!!

As for the instrument itself, Hohner stopped the production during the early 1980s because of a poor commercial viability. It doesn’t seem to be any modern clavinet production…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *