Hey Louie Louie! It’s Summer in the City!
In spring 2013, I put an ad on Craigslist looking for a Hohner Pianet N. Since I had never seen one for sale locally, I didn’t expect any responses. But soon, I heard from someone just a few miles from my house who wanted to sell one that his Mom had played in the late 1960s/early 1970s.
This is the funky sounding electric piano you hear on The Zombies’ “She’s Not There,” The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City,” The Beatles’ “The Night Before” and “I am the Walrus,” Guess Who’s “These Eyes” and the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie.”
I stopped by to take a look. It didn’t work at all, but it was very close to mint condition, and came with all the accessories — a hard-shell case, the legs, leg brace, volume pedal and all the knobs and thumbscrews to hold the legs in place.The seller offered it at an extremely reasonable price, so I bought it. Another project…
My first step was buying some new replacement sticky pads from Ken Rich Sounds. (In the rest position, the pads are stuck to the top of each reed. When you hit a note, it pulls the pad away from the reed, causing the reed to vibrate.) I removed the old pads, cleaned the reeds and slipped on the new pads. Sliding the pads up and down slightly helps you voice the notes. You can also adjust the volume by using the little wooden tool that is packed with a Pianet N to gently bend a note’s pickup closer to — or farther from — the reed. (Don’t use a metal tool; the voltage on the pickup is pretty high.)
The pads work wonderfully — far better than the Clavinet.com replacement pads that create all sort of static-y sounds and require some key arms to be bent to voice the keys properly. The pads seem to have a little excess silicon oil on them — so after a while, I’ve had to open the piano and clean off the excess. Too much oil on the reed can cause the note to sound flat. I’ve also learned that the Pianet needs to be very clean. A small amount of residue in the reed area can short out a note or cause a buzzy sound.
The vibrato (actually, despite the name of the control, it’s tremolo) didn’t work. I was puzzled why, until I noticed that a capacitor was missing on the preamp/vibrato board. Then, I noticed some bulging capacitors, a damaged transistor and a missing resistor. I ordered — and installed — the Clavinet.com upgrade kit, which gave me the parts needed to replace all the caps on the board, and some of the critical resistors. I also ordered replacement transistors for the two in the vibrato section of the board.
That got the vibrato working, but it was too low in volume. The vibrato works through a flashing bulb that activates a photo resistor. Moving the photo resistor (which is mounted on a flexible backet) slightly farther away from the bulb boosted the vibrato volume to more normal levels.
(It’s kind of funny that Rhodes, Wurlis and Pianets all have tremolo effects (pulsating volume) that are labelled as vibrato (which is pulsating pitch). You’ll find the same backwards labelling on many Fender amps. And, in the same strange way, many guitars have “tremolo bars,” which actually impart vibrato to the notes. Doesn’t anyone in the musical instrument industry have a dictionary?)
So, now everything works perfectly. (Much thanks to David Robertson, who generously shared his expert advice throughout my work on this Pianet.)