It was invented by Constant Martin in 1947. It consists of a keyboard and a separate amplifier and speaker unit. The keyboard usually covered three octaves, and had a number of switches to alter the tone of the sound produced, add vibrato, and provide other effects. The Clavioline used a vacuum tube oscillator to produce a buzzy waveform, almost a square wave, which could then be altered using high-pass and low-pass filtering, as well as the vibrato. The amplifier also deliberately provided a large amount of distortion.
Several models were produced by different companies; among the more important were the Standard, Reverb, and Concert models by Gibson and Selmer in the 1950s. The 6-octave model developed by Harald Bode employed octave transposition. In England the Jennings Organ Company's first successful product was the Univox, an early self-powered electronic keyboard based on the Selmer Clavioline. Also in Japan, Ace Tone's first product Canary S-2 (1962) was designed based on Clavioline.
The clavioline has been utilized on a number of recordings in popular music as well as in film. A selection follows.
- Little Red Monkey (1953) by Frank Chacksfield’s Tunesmiths features Jack Jordan on clavioline. This was the first record featuring an electronic instrument to feature on the UK pop chart (April 1953).
- In 1953–54, Van Phillips composed music for the clavioline for the science-fiction radio trilogy Journey Into Space.
- In the Bollywood Hindi film Nagin (1954), Kalyanji Virji Shah plays the legendary snake-charmer tune "Man dole mera, tan dole mere" on the clavioline, under the musical direction of Hemant Kumar.
- "Runaway" (1961) by Del Shannon features a famous bridge solo by Max Crook, performed on a heavily modified clavioline that he called the “Musitron”.
- The Joe Meek hit instrumental "Telstar" (1962) by The Tornados features the Univox Clavioline.
- On the jazz albums The Magic City (1966) and The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volume Two (1966) by Sun Ra, the clavioline can be heard.
- Icky Thump (2007) by the White Stripes.
- Good morning (2012) by BAM
- John Lennon makes clavioline arrangements in the song Baby, You're a Rich Man, in the Beatles album Magical Mystery Tour
- Reid, Gordon. “The Story of the Clavioline.” Sound on Sound (March 2007)
- Music Soul, Vox Electronic Organs.
- All About Electronic & Electric Musical Instruments. Seibundo ShinkoSha. 1966. p. 32. ASIN B000JAAXH6, 電子楽器と電気楽器のすべて.
- Interview with Charles Chilton on “Round Midnight”, BBC Radio 2, 1989.
- Carlo Nardi (July 2011). "The Cultural Economy of Sound: Reinventing Technology in Indian Popular Cinema". Journal on the Art of Record Production, Issue 5 ISSN: 1754-9892.