It was invented by Constant Martin in 1947 in Versailles. 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 prototype, 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.
- 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 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 bridge solo by Max Crook, performed on a heavily modified clavioline that he called the “Musitron”.
- The Joe Meek instrumental "Telstar" (1962) by The Tornados features the Univox Clavioline.
- The jazz albums The Magic City (1966) and The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volume Two (1966) by Sun Ra include clavioline
- Icky Thump (2007) by the White Stripes.
- Good morning (2012) by BAM
- John Lennon played the clavioline in the song Baby, You're a Rich Man, which appears on 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.