Lost Instruments: The Claviola

Bookending the live premiere of Radiolab season four last night at the Angelika Film Center, a charmingly twee band called "One Ring Zero" played accordion and...something. It was like an accordion, but you blew into a pipe winding from the top. It made an intriguingly clear tone that sounded almost digital. Turns out it's a claviola, an instrument designed by Ernst Zacharias (of musical equipment manufacturer Hohner) that was only available on the market for a few months in 1996. It's rare enough that a quick pass through eBay resulted only in listings of "craviola," a type of guitar. Too bad. I know I'll never learn to play the accordion, but I bet I could figure out how to blow into a tube. You can hear claviola on its own at he beginning of One Ring Zero's "Mean Marcus," which can be streamed from their site. (And on most of their songs, too, but deeper in the mix.) Update: Apparently I have no idea what the claviola sounds like. One Ring Zero's Michael Hearst tells me:
Mean Marcus" has hardly any audible claviola on it. "The Long Day," however, is all claviola playing lead at the beginning.
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13 Responses to Lost Instruments: The Claviola

  1. Freddie Freelance says:

    I’ll foster a guess that the main difference between the Claviola & other Keyboard Harmonicas is the use of reeds tuned to a single pitch, or a Labial or Fipple whistle in place of a reed, and tuned to particular note by the vibrating column of air in the attached pipes; the band’s description makes me think it has a tone something like the strings stop on a pipe organ, which would point at a Labial whistle.

  2. Ryan Rapolsive says:

    What is the instrument Ben Folds uses on some songs? Like on ‘Smoke’?
    From the looks of the Claviola, it seems to be very close to what he uses.

  3. Daisy Bond says:

    Repeating what others have said, it looks like a glorified melodica to me. Melodicas do have a very clear sound, more clarinet than accordion.

  4. Doctor Popular says:

    this device looks pretty similar to the Melodica.
    a quick eBay search (or visit to a pawnshop) will yeild a wide variety of Melodicas to choose from.
    I can’t listen to the song now, but I’d be surprised if the two devices sounded any different.

  5. License Farm says:

    I was trying to remember where I’d previously heard of One Ring Zero until I looked at my Amazon Wish List. 1R0 often has guest lyricists like Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon and Lemony Snicket. Meanwhile, Michael Hearst also got some ink last summer on BoingBoing, Wired and elsewhere for a collection he put out of new compositions for ice cream truck jingles.

  6. Anonymous says:

    You can hear the Hohner Claviola on Youtube. Find the

  7. melodist says:


    I think Ben definitely uses a Melioca or Melodian on “Smoke.” I have played both quite a bit and the way he’s phrasing his notes, and the breath control, sounds dead-on.

  8. claud9999 says:

    Ah! Radiolab is amazing. If you’re a science geek, check out the previous episodes. I support WNYC partially because of Radiolab.

    I so wish I were in NYC so’s I could attend their live events…

  9. Anonymous says:

    To those who think it’s just a melodica. It ain’t. The sound is very different, as the reeds are sitting in their own chambers. A melodica sounds like a crappy accordion, a claviola sounds quite unique, which is an achievement for totally new instrument.

  10. Anonymous says:

    As someone who has sought out and puchased often hard to find melodicas, (That is, melodicas are generally hard to find, not that the particular melodicas I was looking for were rare among melodicas) it might be worth pointing out that I somehow recall more traditional melodicas from hohner, also bearing the claviola name.

    This one seems different in that it appears to use pipes rather than the typical harmonica and accordian reeds, and would accordingly sound less reedy.

    Can anyone point to an mp3 of how this shown instrument sounds?

  11. melodist says:

    I played with this band in San Francisco, at Hotel Utah! Very kooky and unique, and also kind of snooty in a “we’re from NYC” sort of way.

    The guys in the band worked at the Hohner factory for a while. That is how they had access to such instruments as the Claviola, and cool Melodica and Melodian variants.

    These types of instruments are all breath-controlled and use reeds, like an accordion or harmonica. They are very easy to play and are featured in songs like “Midnight Cowboy.”

  12. Paula Wirth says:

    You’ll be happy to know it is extremely easy to buy something like this — it is called a pianica, and it is the instrument japanese children often learn music on… I have a pink one by Tokkai Gakka/Yamaha. You can either insert the mouthpiece directly into the end of the keyboard and play it vertically, or you can attach the straw-like tube and then attach the mouthpiece.

    I also have a Hohner melodica, which is a more compact version of the pianica. And it has that 30s-40s-ish funky green color, to boot!!

    This page has an excellent selection of info on pianicas, melodicas, claviettas, accordinas, melodihorns, and other accordian/keyboard/mouthpiece-driven devices.

    Not a great instrument to play if you like to sing lyrics along with your tunes. But otherwise, super fun!!!

  13. Anonymous says:

    More information on the Claviola:


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