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Clavia Nord Electro

There is one thing that is certain: As the years pass it becomes more difficult for me to haul equipment around. Clavia, the Swedish instrument manufacturer, must have had me in mind when it designed the Nord Electro. This bright-red 61-key model weighs a quaint 17-plus pounds (the 73-key version tops out at about 20 pounds). But don’t be fooled by its size like I was. In this case very little is sacrificed. This little beauty delivers quality sound equal to many of its heavier competitors.

The Electro has a total of six keyboard sounds, customizable with a wide array of effects. All the controls are in your face, right on the front panel, which eliminates a lot of guesswork, except when trying to access stored programs. Due to the lack of an LCD display, you have to remember what piano sounds you have saved in the six program banks by number.

The Electro has two basic components: it’s a B-3 emulator and a sample playback synth. It seems to be an organ with piano samples introduced as an afterthought, though I found that the electric-piano samples were more than adequate for a casual gig. The Rhodes sample has a pleasing bell tone, like the old stage model. The Wurley patch was reminiscent of the old Wurlitzer, with a very pleasant bite. I loved the clav and all its variations and, because of the Electro’s lightly weighted action, getting into some serious funk patterns was a pleasure. I’ve favored electric-grand patches on various occasions, especially when the venue’s sound setup was questionable, and the Electro’s electric-grand sound was great. The acoustic-grand program was the weakest, though it would be OK as long as the piano wasn’t out front.

The first gig I used the Electro on, I ran it though the PA system and on the next gig I used a small amp. The tremolo, chorus and wah-wah worked well through each system. I didn’t get into the deep phasing and flanging; I’ll leave that to the more courageous. The octave shift will take you up or down an octave if you need it, and although you lose a couple of notes at either end they’re probably not notes you would be using anyway.

Changing sounds works well when you use the program or bank buttons, but if you use the instrument-select buttons your effects settings are carried over to the instrument you are switching to. This could create a problem. The Electro demands you spend time learning its setup.

My B-3 days began in the ’60s and into ’70s, when many of the jazz clubs had B-3s. Drawbars were the thing and a lot of players worked them constantly. The Nord Electro comes as close to capturing the essence of the Hammond B-3 as any simulator on the market. Every setting was so close to the real thing that it didn’t even matter. The percussion and vibrato settings did what they were meant to do, and the Leslie simulation is totally convincing. The Electro has button-controlled drawbars that are easy to manage and favorite drawbar settings can easily be saved as presets. There’s a slight key click that doesn’t really have to be there. The only clicks I remember on the Hammond B-3 were the shoes hitting the foot pedals in unison with the left-hand bass. The Leslie effect takes the click off slightly but if I was using this as an organ the click might take some getting used to. An expression pedal controls the volume on the organ patch, but when used on the other keyboard patches it controls the wah-wah. As a consolation to the true showman, the Electro has “waterfall” keys that have no jutting edges. If you like to gliss, slide and smear up and down the keys you can do so without fear of cutting your hands up.

The $2,099 list price seems high for a keyboard that only plays one sound at a time, but it’s an excellent board that you can carry with you on the subway, on a bicycle, in a backpack; then, when you get to the gig, plug it in and jam. It’s also a good second keyboard to release you from the fake organ sounds that most keyboards are stuck with. Plus, Clavia offers Internet download capability for new sounds. Once you get into this little board I’m pretty sure that you will get more than your money’s worth.

Billy Mitchell is a Southern California-based musician, producer and author. He conducts high school and college clinics based on his book The Gigging Musician.

Originally Published