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Some of the most exciting Led Zeppelin tracks were created when John Paul Jones played the Hohner clavinet, such as on "Trampled Under Foot" from Physical Graffiti. The Clavinet is a stringed keyboard instrument built by Hohner, a German company well-known for its harmonicas and accordians. In the 1960's, Hohner inventor Ernst Zacharias created several keyboards to replicate traditional Baroque instruments, especially those used by Johann Sebastian Bach. However, Zacharias' instruments were used for new musical forms and rarely for classical music, as intended.

The Clavinet was related to the Clavichord of the late 1700's, a favorite instrument of Bach. The Clavinet uses a fairly simple mechanism, whereby a tilting key strikes a string inside the instrument. The string is pushed down onto a metal bar (like a fret on a guitar), causing the string to vibrate. A simple electromagnetic pickup senses the vibration and converts it to a musical waveform that is ouput to the amp.

John Paul Jones used the Clavinet D, a model released in the mid-1970's. Stevie Wonder and Billy Preston had already made the Clavinet a standard pop keyboard, using the earlier Model C. Unlike the C, the Clavinet D had more control of the tone, by using a more complicated pickup and preamp system. The Clavinet D has switches on the left hand side of the keyboard. By selecting different combinations, the player can choose between different pickup sounds in or out of phase with each other. This can make the sound rich and full, or thin and biting. There are also adjustments for overall brightness, plus volume and mechanical "mute" controls.

A clavinet, ready to rock

JPJ used the Clavinet on the Physical Graffiti album, and his use of the clavinet became a rock standard, copied by many other clavinet players. It first appeared on "Custard Pie," where the clavinet sounds like a very percussive guitar track.

"Trampled Under Foot" is Jones' classic clavinet track, and it was one of their best songs when played live. The song begins with the clavinet part, and its heavy, driving "stomp" rhythm pushes the song throughout. It is fairly simple, but leaves room for the fascinating guitar effects. The clavinet solo is an energetic and busy chordal improvisation. As the solo plays, a second clavinet track is added -- a dark, muted sound that was created by running the clavinet through a wah-wah pedal set back to a very low range. On the studio version, JPJ played electric bass; live, the steady bass part was replicated on his floor bass pedals.

"In The Light" (also from Physical Graffiti) uses the clavinet as a harpsichord-like sound during the breaks at 3:54 and 6:35.

Jones recalls recording most of the clavinet parts "direct" (that is, using a D.I. transformer box directly into the mixer). On stage, however, he used Fender Dual Showman amplifiers for the keyboards. Most of the keyboards sounded quite bad through the Fenders, and he was happy to change to a better system in 1977, but he still feels the clavinet sounded best through those earlier guitar amps.

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