MT's exclusive guide to every analogue synth made. Included are keyboards, expanders/sound modules and the better known electronic pianos and organs. Not included are drum machines, standalone sequencers and effects units, vocoders and those guitar/wind synths which aren't regularly used as expanders in their own right.
Readers are invited to submit details of little-known instruments which may be of use in compiling the series and also to point out any mistakes and/or omissions if these occur. All contributions will be fully credited. Compiled by Peter Forrest
A German firm of considerable antiquity who have produced a series of average-to-good instruments over the last three or four decades. In addition to the harmonicas and guitars for which they are better known, this has included a range of reliable, well-made keyboards which in one case - the Clavinet - must figure in the top 20 classic keyboards ever produced.
Velocity-sensitive electric clavichord. A succession of models were produced from 1964 onwards. All had the same basic action, with real strings (about the thickness of guitar strings) being hit by small hammers - so good tonal range and volume changes were possible simply from key velocity. Because the hammer stays in contact with the string, the player can also 'wobble' notes with judicious finger movements. The earliest Clavinets had an optional built-in amp and speaker, but all later models had an output socket for connection to an external amplifier - and thus could run on a PP3 battery, without the need for any mains supply. Users (actual model unknown) include: Don Airey, A Certain Ratio, John 'Rabbit' Bundrick (John Martyn: Solid Air), Chick Churchill (Ten Years After), Rick Davies (Supertramp), Geoff Downes, Tyrone Downie (Wallers), George Duke, Electric Lady Studio, Anders Eljas (Abba), Vic Emerson, Mitchell Froom, Michel Graillier (Magma), Herbie Hancock, Bernard Touter Harvey (Bob Marley), Heatwave ('Boogie Nights'), Heavy Metal Kids, Rupert Hine, Jools Holland, Chuck Leavell, John Lennon (aka Winston O'Boogie: 'Mind Games'), Patrick Leonard, Lonnie Liston Smith, Jon Lord, Robin Lumley, Bobby Lyle (Love), Stuart Mackillop, Nick Magnus (Steve Hackett), Joni Mitchell (Court and Spark), Francis Monkman, Billy Preston, Prince ('Electric Chair'), Phil Ramocon (King Sunny Ade: 'Aura'), Tomita, Wix Wickens, Pete Wingfield, Bernie Worrell, XTC.
• CLAVINET I/II
60-note clavinets with optional built-in amp and speakers. 1964 - c.1968. Advertising blurb at the time: "it is hoped they will prove popular with many small groups". Original price: £115 (£125 with speaker) Target price: £50 - 150
Amp and speaker positioned to left of the instrument, above keyboard.
Included wire music stand.
Deeper than later models; oblong wooden casing, with bolt-on wooden legs which fix to the outside of the case and make it look like a '60s school desk.
Shown in Aug '66 at the British Musical Instrument Trade Fair.
Lettering on front, 'CLAVINET I' not on earliest models.
Two models were available by the late '60s - I and II, but there is some confusion as to what the differences between models actually were. Possibly, model I came with the speaker and the model II didn't. Rocker switches for tone selection didn't appear on early models, but were included on at least some model I versions.
The Clavinet was re-styled in Autumn'68, with a thinner red and white case.
The earliest of the classic Clavinets, the very first one was delivered to Brian Auger, and one of the next few to Stevie Wonder who's funky, biting two-handed chops were to be taken up by every funk band in the world.
Such a classic sound that almost every synth since produced has had a Clavi sound in its patchbook or as a factory preset.
Quite a heavy instrument to carry around, despite being slimmer than its predecessors.
Built-in legs were stored in a compartment under the hinged top - which is also where you had to delve to change batteries.
Front plate under keyboard gave access for tuning.
Flightcase style top gave good protection to the working bits, but was difficult to take on and off - and also made for a very heavy instrument.
Ease of use:
• CLAVINET D6
60-note clavinet. 1971 - '78. Original price: £350 (1975); £540 (1978); £399 (1979) Target price: £120 - £200 Users include: 808 State, Patrick Moraz, Stevie Wonder. MT retrospective: March '93.
Basically, the same design as the model C (no built-in speaker; no mains power), but with good-quality veneer-finished plywood on top, and black leatherette-covered plywood underneath.
Featured slider on right-hand-side of keyboard to dampen strings; more effective (naturally) at top of range than on bass notes.
Four rocker switches for tone - Brilliant, Treble, Medium and Soft (selectable in any combination) - and two for pick-up selection.
The pick-up selectors are labelled A/B and C/D, and seem to route the signal in different ways from the two pickups, including reversing polarity. The result can be a fairly straight signal, or something with a good deal of phasing.
Rotary volume knob doubles as on/off switch.
Socket for mains adaptor.
Several companies designed mods for the D6 - to provide the equivalent of a sustain pedal, for instance.
Fundamentally the same design as the D6, except for slider instead of knob for volume, and change of position (and terminology?) of tone rocker switches. Also, separate on/off switch.
Black leatherette covering on all of casing. End-cheeks fitted to protect instrument.
Mains adaptor input recessed; battery holder easily accessible through small hatch on top cover.
Noise suppression filter (to cut interference from stage dimmers, etc.). Some people say this interfered itself with the original classic sound, but difference is marginal.
Some early models were actually labelled 'D6'.
Ease of use:
• CLAVINET L
60-note clavinet with built-in amp and speaker, c.1968. Original price: Unknown Target price: £60 - £100 Users include: Triona Ni Dhomhnaill
Bizarre 3-legged instrument (two legs to right, one on left) with speaker positioned in top left of plain, tapering case.
Reverse colour keys.
Very much a classical-type instrument with no rocker switches for change of tone or even a volume control (on the main panel at least) for the built-in amp.
Highly usable for world/folk music.
61-note electric piano. 1958 - 1971 Original price: Unknown Target price: £75 Users include: Dave Greenfield
Optional built-in combo amp slung under keyboard towards the back.
Neat and effective stand, plus foot pedal.
Used amplified accordion reeds: the action hit the reed, the reed vibrated, the pick-ups amplified it.
'N' model had wood finish and a cover which folded and formed a full-length music stand.
60-note combined pianet and clavinet. 1978 - c.1981. Original price: £723 (1978) Target price: £70 - £120 Users include: Andy Bown, Camel, Brian Chatton, Chick Corea, Duncan Mackay (10cc).
A Clavinet E7 and Pianet T in one box.
Similar design to Clavinet - same arrangement of six rocker switches for pickup selection/tone; damper in roughly the same position but works in reverse direction from D6 Clavinet - and not as effectively, either.
The different positions of sound-generation mechanism on pianet and clavinet mean that both can fit in easily. Main compromise is on damper mechanism, which suffers accordingly.
Keyboard action isn't as good as Clavinet.
Pianet and clavinet have separate and combined outputs.
Footswitch for instant change from clavinet to pianet: two rocker switches (labelled 1/2 and 1/3) control what happens when you press the footswitch.
Supplied by 9V battery or mains adaptor.
Separate sliders for pianet and clavinet volume and separate power on/off switch.
One of first keyboards to offer splits and layering.
Choice of four positions on rotary switch, to select between layered sound, clavi bass and pianet treble, pianet bass and clavi treble, or pianet bass and both treble. Split point is fixed, twenty notes on bass, forty on treble.
Sounds pretty good, particularly when layered to produce unique mix of clavinet's bite and pianet's warmth.
Pianet seems to be tuned fractionally higher than clavinet, for chorusing effect.
Extra filter to protect against hum from stage light faders etc. is thought by some people to take edge off sound, but the difference is minute in a straight A/B comparison through the same amplification system. (You do get some faint but unwanted atonal harmonics from the pianet, though, even with it's turned right off.)
One of the first keyboards ever to feature a 5-pin DIN socket. Unfortunately, this wasn't for MIDI, it was just an alternative audio output.
Solid (slightly shock-absorbent) end cheeks jut out to protect the keys.
Murderously difficult hinges and clasps fitted to flight cases which, though not much heavier, were much more roadworthy than the D6's.
Aimed at taking some of the sales from Fender Rhodes - nearly every clavinet player needed a piano as well.
Ease of use:
• ELECTRA PIANO T
73-note electric piano c.1968 - c.'7S Original price: £499 (1975) Target price: £60 - £120
Different tone generation system than Pianet: one tuning fork for each note.
Much deeper than typical Hohner products, with a steeply sloping back panel - like an exaggerated version of a Fender Rhodes.
Fitted only with a volume control on the left of the keyboard.
49-note string synthesiser. c.1975 - c.'82. Original price: £425 Target price: £25 - £50 Users include: John Entwistle, Patrick Moraz (Yes)
Four faders control volume and decay of cello and strings sounds. Two push-buttons switch these tones in and out, and a third brings in the ensemble effect.
Power supply, swell pedal and footswitch came as standard.
Re-designed in 1979, with power supply built into keyboard.
• ORCHESTRAL STRING PERFORMER
60-note multi-instrument keyboard, c. 1978 - c.1982. Original price: £790 Target price: £70 - £140 Users include: Massive Attack
Tones include polyphonic clavichord, piano, cello, violin, viola, and monophonic brass, strings, clarinet and pianet.
Split keyboard with separate controls for each side of the split. Variable sustain on strings, variable percussion on bass sounds.
Separate outputs for strings, bass, and your choice of piano/clavichord/solo voice.
Sustain footswitch for piano; swell pedal for strings.
Large, chunky - and not cheap.
Ease of use:
A series of pianos using reeds set in vibration by sticky or suction pads. Slightly touch-sensitive - you can get a little bite to the attack of the note, and a marginal increase in volume, by playing hard. Users (actual model unknown) include: Rod Argent (Zombies: 'She's not There'), Beatles ('Help'), Geoff Downes, Johnny Fingers, Al Kooper, Led Zeppelin ('Stairway To Heaven'), Manfred Mann, Roxy Music, Mel Wesson (TV Smith's Explorers).
• PIANET L
61-note electric piano, c.1962 Original price: Unknown Target price: £20 - £40
The 'living room' model, with dangerously spindly legs and right-angled comers.
May eventually become collectable as a '60s German piece of furniture!
• PIANET N
61-note electric piano, c.1962 Original price: £239 (1975) Target price: £40 - £80 Users include: Ian McLagan (Small Faces - including first LP Small Faces).
The successor to the Cymblet, with an improved (but still rather Heath Robinson) action: pads made of leather and sticky foam pull the reeds and set them vibrating. It's a mystery how they didn't lose their stickiness.
Very difficult to find replacements pads now (something to look out for when buying older Pianets)
Tremelo on/off, mains power supply
Wooden case with folding top which doubled as music stand.
Optional 15-watt amp slung underneath keyboard.
• COMBO PIANET
60-note electric piano. 1972 - 1977. Original price: £188(1975); £345(1978) Target price: £40 - £80
No mains supply, so no optional amplifier and no tremelo circuit.
A no-frills simple piano, with its own, quite decent, sound.
• PIANET T
60-note electric piano. 1977 - 1979. Original price: £240 (1978) Target price: £50 - £100
An update of the Combo Pianet, again with no mains, etc; not even a battery-driven pre-amp.
No controls at all.
Black leatherette slimed-down case, more portable than earlier models.
Re-incarnated a couple of years later as half of the Duo.
Redesigned pads and reeds - rubber suction pads required smooth steel reeds, instead of the rough accordion reeds of earlier models. Consequently a slightly different (more metallic) sound.