The Otherworldly Sounds of the Clavioline

The Clavioline is a musical instrument you may have never heard of, but you’ve heard it. The Clavioline was invented in 1947 as an accompanying orchestral keyboard for pianos. Outside the orchestra, most folks first heard it used in the 1962 instrumental “Telstar.”

Keyboardist Byron Elwell has been playing Claviolines since 1966, when he was in a pop combo called the Maylegends. “Every other group at the time was doing Shadows material,” he told me recently via Skype from his home in Derbyshire, England, “so we decided to do Tornados material instead.” Both were pre-Beatles, instrumental groups, but the Shadows had a larger following.

Covering “Telstar,” which takes its name from the AT&T communications satellite that had launched a few months before the song’s release, would be a key part of the Maylegends’ repertoire, which suited Elwell just fine. “It blew me away when I first heard it,” he says with undimmed enthusiasm all these years alter. “It sounded like something between a wailing cat and a distorted keyboard. I thought, ‘I’ve got to create that sound.’”

Elwell is also a collector of Claviolines, and he gives us the peculiar history of the instrument at Collectors Weekly.

(Image credit: Phil’s Old Radios)

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