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On Thursday, August 21, 2003, at 2:45pm, my wife of 34 years, Rebecca, died in my arms in an emergency room.
The last words we spoke were in perfect synchronization: "I love you with all my heart."
Regulating the Hohner Clavinet
Many clavinets have seen a long, hard life. The constant pounding is really a part of playing, since the clav is such a dynamic instrument. Over the years, I've had to work on my own instruments which has led me to many interesting little "discoveries" .... some of which I'll share with y'all right here. I've rebuilt some clavinets. Actually, I've owned about 30 of them. When I rebuild, the price starts around $1,200.00. And the price goes up fast - very fast.
Here We Go
Regulating the clav action is going to require removing/replacing all the clavinet keys. If you've tried this with a pair of needle nose pliers, you're working way too hard, and could possibly damage the springs. Let me suggest the following .......
My official "Clavinet Key Removal-Replacement Tool Kit" consists of (1) Xcelite R3164 straight screwdriver, and (1) Xcelite P3321 straight screwdriver.
The 3164 is a simple 4" long, 3/16" wide screwdriver, and it's used to "walk" the springs right off their hook mounts. With the keyboard removed from the case, and placed upside down, you'll see the row of spring "hooks" across the back of the keyboard .... To remove the keys, simply hold the screwdriver in a near vertical position, placing the blade squarely behind the hoop of the spring, and - maintaining a slight but firm downward pressure - push the screwdriver away from you, towards the keys, keeping the blade in firm contact with the hook. The blade of the screwdriver "rides" against the hook, the spring stretches slightly, and easily pops the spring right off the hook. It will not deform, as happens sometimes when using needle nose pliers, and it won't stretch out of shape. Once you try this, you'll see that nose pliers aren't the ideal tool to use, but a screwdriver is. The keys at the very ends of the keyboard will require a little manipulating, but the screwdriver can go behind these springs also. Typically, you should be able to remove all the keys in less than 3 minutes.
Now On To Regulating
The key guides on a clav are stamped steel with a small rubber keyguide/upstop slid over the metal fingers. In Hammonds, we call these "keycombs". You'll want to remove all of the rubber keyguides, and store them in a plastic baggie for now. I'd suggest a good squirt of ArmorAll in the bag with the guides. It's very good treatment for the rubber.
Viewing the keycombs from the front, you'll probably notice that many of them are bent out of position. Some may seem higher than others, some may also be bent outwards or inwards. In order to regulate the keyboard, you'll need a straight edge, about 6"-12" long, and a strong pair of needle nose pliers. Lay your straight edge across the TOP of several keycombs, and bend carefully as needed to average them out. You're trying to level off all of the keycombs to a relatively straight line. Continue on with this process across the whole keyboard, making very slight changes. A bright light will help you find the combs which are slightly out of alignment. Next, use the straight edge on the INSIDE edge of the keycombs - ie; the vertical part. Again, bend slightly and carefully until the verticals are aligned correctly. If you notice a slight twist in any of them, straighten them out so they're all square and in alignment. Finally, repeat the alignment of the top sections where the rubber keyguides will go. A little extra time spent here with alignment will be worth it in the long run. You can replace the keyguides, now that the combs are aligned. Observe that the "wings" on the guides must be replaced just like they were when removed.
Align The Hammer Arms
Next step is to re-align the hammer arms on the keys themselves. The vertical "arm" which holds the hammer tips is often bent and deformed due to REALLY thumping on the keys. Using the FLAT section of your needle nose pliers, straighten the arms and remove any bends or twists. The hammer tip retainer is supposed to be at a slight angle - ie; not square to the playing key, but we'll regulate each key, one at a time, as we begin reassembly. You'll notice that pressure applied with the FLAT part of the needle nose pliers, the section near the pivot, but NOT the wire cutting part! - can really do a good job of straightening. Go through all the keys, and straighten as needed.
Install Playing Keys
It's time to reinstall the playing keys. Under each white key, you'll find the note stamped into the plastic. You can lay them out in octaves, starting with a low F and ending on a high E. All the black keys are the same, and must be installed first, to allow clearance for the white key channels. I find it easiest to install keys with the keyboard upside down. A strip of masking tape will keep the keys where you want them as you flip the keyboard upside down. Lay out the black keys, being sure to insert the keycomb into the keychannel, and press the notches of the keychannel into the pivot notches of the keyboard. Be sure the key spring is loose OUTSIDE of the keyboard, and not trapped inside of the keychannel. Using the little Xcelite P3321, place the screwdriver thru the eye of the spring, place the end (blade) of the screwdriver up and over the spring hook squarely, while keeping the screwdriver at a low angle, and simply lift up while maintaining the blade in good contact with the spring hook. POP! The spring "rides" right down the screwdriver as you lift it, and is installed perfectly in less than 1 second. You'll get the feel for keeping the blade perfectly aligned in a couple tries. Install all black keys, then the whites, checking note letters carefully. You should check the black and white key surface with the straight edge, and ensure they're relatively straight.
New Hammer Tips
When the keyboard is reassembled, it's time for new hammer tips. Install them in the now-straight key arms, being careful not to bend anything. I also like to put the hammer tips in a baggie with ArmorAll before installing them. Check the hammer tips with a straight edge and be sure they're all aligned well. Don't do this with the keyboard lying upside down on the black keys! Either block it up on the ends, or let the hammer tips hang off the edge of your workbench and check it right-side-up. Avoid hitting the tips with a tool to get them to seat fully, this might bend the hammer arms, requiring more straightening.
Reassemble the keyboard to the harp using the 3 crown nuts and the rear keyboard support (hoping you still have it!). If your harp assembly is outside of the case, all the better for the next step, but it's not required. Be sure the keyboard is mounted firmly on the harp, and using a BRIGHT flashlight, examine the way the hammer tip contacts the anvil on the lowest F key. You'll use strong needle nose pliers to do this alignment - seize the hammer arm low, just above the area of the hammer tip, and CAREFULLY rotate it so that the tip contacts the anvil squarely and fully when the key is struck. Keep in mind - the anvils are NOT square to the case or key edges, they're at a slight angle, square to the angle of the strings! That's why a strong light is so important during this step - please look very carefully before you start bending arms. Continue up the keyboard, adjusting each hammer strike individually.
Final FINAL Tweaks - "Whatchoo Hear Is Whatchoo Get"
Now it's time for the "whatchoo-hear" test. Reassemble the clav, including the damper (which should be off or blocked up out of contact with the strings), amplifier, and power. Starting at low F, play each note, and notice if any further adjustment of the strike is needed. Play 5ths, octaves, and carefully analyze if all notes seem to have similar initial attack and sustain. Now is the time to go thru and do the final little tweaks to those notes which seem out of character with their neighbors. Remember to go gently with the needle nose pliers - this metal is, unfortunately, CHEAP - and it won't take a lot of bending before it weakens or breaks.
If everything is good to go, it's time to hook up that strobe and put a real careful tuning on this clav.
More secrets to come next time!