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.
Various Pianet models are the metallic-sounding electric pianos you hear on The Zombies’ “She’s Not There,” 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 very 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 most vulnerable area is between the tip of the reed and the pickup. Try cleaning both with 99% isopropyl alcohol and a pipe cleaner.
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 weak for my tastes. I discovered that there are two trimmers on the preamp board. The one on the left controls the speed of the vibrato. The one more toward the right controls the intensity. On my Pianet, I liked the result of adjusting the speed to the slowest position, and turning-up the intensity to the maximum. It’s still a fairly subtle effect, but quite lovely.
(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?)
Update, March 2021: The first generation Ken Rich pads I used kept splitting. For a couple of years, I nursed them along by re-gluing the layers on them as they split. But recently, I gave up on that, and installed a new set of his pads. (Ken thoughtfully sold me this new set at half price to make up for the issues on the earlier pair.)
When I installed them, the lowest bass notes were very low in volume. I tried all the usual tricks: Cleaning the reeds, moving the pickups closer to the reeds, making sure the levers on which the pads ride weren’t bent, and experimenting with different pad positions. That produced some improvement, but not enough.
My theory was that the pads weren’t sticky enough to produce a nice “boing!” on the heaviest reeds. So, I got online and bought two small bottles of high viscosity silicone oil. The original pads probably came with 50,000 cSt oil on their leather bottom surface. I bought a bottle of 150,000 cSt and one of 300,000 cSt. On the half dozen or so low volume bass notes, I blotted the bottom of the pads with a clean cloth to remove some of the original oil, and then I added a drop of the 150,000 oil and spread it around with my finger.
That did the trick on most of the notes. But on a couple, I needed a drop of 300,000 cSt oil to do the trick. When I was done, all was well. The volume was even across the keys, and the heavier oils did not change the feel of the keys that were treated. By the way, these oils are commonly used in radio-controlled model cars, and I bought them from two hobby stores.
So, now everything works perfectly. (Much thanks to David Robertson, my Classic Keys co-author, who generously shared his expert advice throughout my work on this Pianet.)
Hear the sounds of the Pianet: