Clavioline: early synthesizer

I put my Gibson Clavioline on eBay yesterday.  My back room is full of keyboards to fix, I just bought an expensive piece of gear (and several cheap pieces), need to replenish the hobby money and I just don’t see myself getting around to fixing this thing any time soon.

The Clavioline is basically a primitive mono synthesizer with presets and some variations on each preset.  The chassis was designed to bolt under the keyboard of a piano, to give the piano player a little something extra in the sound generating department.  ‘Runaway’, ‘Telstar’ and ‘Baby, You’re a rich man’ are the most famous instances of Clavioline in popular music.

Simple as that.  Rocker switch toggles for tone presets, effects etc, sliders for octave I believe and sprung plastic keys.

A bit dusty looking.  The metal flanges at each side that look a bit like rack mount ears are the part you bolt to the underside of a piano.  The lack of screw holes in this one tells me it never was mounted that way.

End caps or ‘cheeks’ as I see a lot in the vintage synth world are wood.  A Clavioline is powered like some Leslie speakers -through a multi-pin connector umbilical cord.  Receiver is seen here behind the tuning knob.

I think this is a tuning knob over here too -has a little arrow that can barely be seen pointing to 4 o’clock in the picture.  All the screws on this thing are original and appear to be nickle or cadmium plated possible hand made items.

Lot’s of geriatric ‘Tiny Chief’ capacitors that will no doubt blow up if power is applied.  Mechanism in the upper right corner is the volume potentiometer sweep that is knee operated via a lever not pictured.  Everyone loves tubes -they just hearken to a simpler time.

Key mechanism is pretty simple -essentially a piece of plastic mounted to a leaf spring.  A piece of felt and protrusion at the front of the key keeps it from rising up too far and the leading edge of the spring grounds a contact, completing a circuit and making a sound. 

While the mechanism is simple, the assembly itself -with three tiny screws, a VERY tiny nut, a floating nut plate inside the key and lots of adjust-ability in the form of sloppy tolerances, you can spend a lot of time getting it apart, adjusted and back together.  This one key was 30 minutes work -though a lot of that time was exploratory.

That white speck is a nut I thought I had lost while working on the keyboard.  About the size of a peppercorn.  Phew -I didn’t lose it!

My plan was to replace all the capacitors, test the tubes, clean all the key contacts and rocker switch contacts then build a break-out box with a transformer and instrument jack that plugged in to the six pin connector.  Alas -someone else gets to do that fun.


2 thoughts on “Clavioline: early synthesizer

  1. I now have 4 Selmer Claviolines. Two have been fully overalled, one is being overalled now and one is awaiting repair. Repairs are not cheap so it’s worth getting a Service Manual like I did. Web details for manual on my web site on the Clavioline page. I used one to play Telstar in the 1960’s then sold it for £10 !!!! I now use one on my instrumental cd albums Meek/Tornado’s style.

  2. Hi. I own an ” italian clavioline “, the ONDIOLA. It’s basically the same thing as the Selmer Clavioline and the schematics I’ve found on a Selmer site for the keyboard and the amp are almost identical ( except for the vibrato amount ). But the keyboard works with ecc83/12AX7, not GT type tubes. I suppose yours has not the sub-oscillator circuit? ( don’t know anything about Gibson Clavioline, sorry ) Well, after cleaning all the contacts, changing ALL electrolytic and paper capacitors and gluing some parts of the amp box, it sounds!!! Really good and powerful basses : a tubes minimoog!!!! Other presets……..mmmmmh.

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