The clavinet is a keyboard instrument that uses short strings to create a sharp, percussive sound. They can vary in design but the clavinet typically has a short 60-key range. This 1960s instrument was developed to create an electronic variation of the acoustic harpsichord and clavichord, but became associated with rock ‘n’ roll and funk music as it found its way into popular music.
History of the Clavinet
The clavinet is a modern electronic instrument, invented in the 1960s by Hohner engineer Ernst Zacharias. Its earliest ancestor is the clavichord which emerged in the 13th century, using a metal blade to strike the strings inside, creating a short harsh sound. However, the harpsichord and clavichord were usurped by the piano during the 18th century and these instruments faded in popularity to become relics of the baroque and romantic classical music periods. By the time the 1950s arrived, German manufacturer Hohner had begun making electrified keyboards and a new interest in these old classical music keyboards had begun. Engineer Ernst Zacharias created the first clavinet which would go on to find a surprising home in rock ‘n’ roll, thanks to bands like The Beach Boys and The Beatles that were experimenting with baroque sounds. The clavinet was later adopted by funk and R&B musicians with its natural affinity for syncopated, groovy rhythms. Today the clavinet is still a popular instrument for rock, funk, reggae and pop musicians.
Inventor: Ernst Zacharias

Where to Buy

£2,000 - £8,000

Hear the Clavinet

Audio of the Clavient is Coming Soon

How to Play

A keyboard instrument that is played by pressing keys that activate hammers to strike strings. It is similar to a piano but has a softer, more mellow tone.

In Popular Music

The distinctive electronic sound of the clavinet has become world famous through featuring on songs like: 'Superstition' by Stevie Wonder, 'Burning Down The House' by Talking Heads and 'Get Up Offa That Thing' by James Brown. It adds a funky element to all of these popular songs.

Famous Players

Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea

Close Relations

Harpsichord, Clavichord
Video Credit: Reverb
Understanding the Clavinet




18th century






Instruments of Music

Copyright © 2023 Instruments of Music. All Rights Reserved.