NMM 10878. Vivi-Tone clavier by Vivi-Tone Company, Kalamazoo or Detroit, Michigan, ca. 1934-1937.
Ex coll.: Lloyd Allayre Loar, Evanston, Illinois.
Gift of Roger Siminoff, Arroyo Grande, California, 2005.
The Vivi-Tone Clavier combined Lloyd Loar's interests in keyboard instruments and electro-acoustic tone production. In 1928 and 1929, between the time he worked for Gibson and when he co-founded Vivi-Tone, Loar had consulted for the Gulbranson Piano Company, patenting two novel piano soundboard and bridge designs. After co-founding the Vivi-Tone Company in 1933, Loar continued working on new developments for keyboard instruments. In 1934, he applied for two patents for a keyboard instrument whose mechanism struck tuned, metal reeds, the sound of which were electronically amplified. The tuned reeds allowed Loar to produce a keyboard instrument with as pure a sound as possible, emphasizing the fundamental and minimizing overtones and partials. The instrument features three petals with similar functions to those on a piano: a damper (sustain) on the right, a sostenuto (sustain in the bass) in the center, and a potentiometer (volume control) petal, akin to the una corda, on the left. The action was also designed to be touch sensitive, so that the player had considerable control over volume and expression. While the instrument had the advantages of being significantly lighter than a piano and did not require tuning, its construction required many custom parts and complicated assembly, which would have affected the cost of production.
Loar was awarded a final patent for the Vivi-Tone Clavier in 1937, a division of one of the patents for which he had applied in 1934. Unlike the previous patents, which were assigned to the Acousti-Lectric Company, affiliated with Loar, Lewis Williams, and Walter Moon, co-founders of Vivi-Tone, this patent was reassigned to Vivi-Tone itself, reflecting the restructuring of the faltering company in 1936. At this time, the company moved from Kalamazoo to Detroit. It likely ceased production within a year.
The Vivi Tone Clavier was used with an amplifier (NMM 10879), probably made by Webster Electric Company, Racine, Wisconsin, and a Vivi Tone speaker cabinet with a twelve-inch speaker and a motorized tremolo effect (NMM 10880).
Inscriptions: Decal on nameboard, centered above middle C: ViVi-Tone / Clavier (stylized script, gold with black outline)
Stamped in wood on bottom of pedal mount: C 1004
Stamped on lowest internal key mechanism with purple ink: IVORINE
Written in white chalk underneath instrument body on treble side: 4
Written in yellow chalk underneath instrument on treble side: 8-875/47
Rectangular wood body with mahogany veneer with a hinged lid over the keyboard. A wood music rack is attached with hinges above the nameboard. Body is supported by four legs, with braces between each side pair and the back legs. Three pedals on a pedal lyre; one bass sustain, one total sustain, and one pedal connected to an electronic volume control. An unfinished wooden platform is mounted on the right side leg braces to support the amplifier. Sparse ornamentation includes a raised strip of vertical reeding, with floral accents at both ends, under the keyboard, and wide fluting on the legs.
Keyboard: Standard, piano-sized keys, six-octave range, CC-c5.
Sounding mechanism: Instead of strings, the hammers strike metal reeds whose pitch is determined by their length, which is adjustable for tuning. These reeds function as armatures for magnetic pickups. A volume knob (numbered 0-100) is mounted on the right side of the nameboard.
Height: 85.5 cm / 33.66″
Width: 127 cm / 50″
Depth: 67.6 cm / 26.6″
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