As vintage purists will tell you, it takes a lot of guts to hack apart a piece of vintage music equipment to install a modification. With so many wretched stories of people routing Floyd Rose tremolo cavities into '57 Les Pauls or slapping some obscene servo sticker onto a pre-CBS Stratocaster, it's difficult to comprehend the idea of someone actually modifying a piece of old equipment in a way which doesn't turn out disastrous.
If there is one positive case study of gear modification done right, however, it rests with Lachy Doley: the highly-respected and sought after Sydney keyboardist who's helped to bring more attention to the weird and whacky contraption known as the Whammy Clav.
While not an original design of Lachy's - that privilege can be given to Ken Rich, who hails from California - it's undeniable that Lachy's certainly made the quirky instrument his own. Several of his videos featuring the Whammy Clav have gone viral online, with listeners immediately falling for the face-scrunching tone of the Whammy Clav and Doley's own sheer talent as a performer.
To find out more about this particular monster from Dr. Funkenstein's laboratory, we caught up with Lachy to chat about his history as a keys player, how he first came about the Whammy Clav, and exactly how it works.
Tell us about your history as a musician - how long have you been playing for? Who are your keyboard heroes?
When I was a kid, my mum’s boyfriend was a blues guitar player that loved to smoke pot and play the blues. Therefore, I grew up listening to all these incredible blues artists like Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and I started trying to mimic them on the home piano.
From there I became a huge fan of the blues, rock’n’roll, soul and funk and soon started doing little gigs around town from the age of 15. From there I’ve been lucky enough to tour and record with most of Australia’s top artists like Powderfinger and Jimmy Barnes as well as rock legends like Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple), while also having a solo career which as seen me tour Europe and Northern America consistently since 2015. Some of my keyboard heroes are Jerry Lee Lewis, Booker T Jones, Billy Preston and more recently Jon Lord.
Obviously Stevie Wonder is among some of the best known clavinet players - who else rocks a clavinet as good as Stevie does? Who else should we be listening to so we can hear it in action?
I think Billy Preston (The Beatles, Rolling Stones) and Bernie Worrell (Parliament, Funkadelic) were incredible Clavinet players which people should check out. The Clavinet has usually been an extra in a keys players arsenal, not often someone’s main keyboard like a piano or a Hammond, so there aren’t mainly specialized Clav players out there.
Your Whammy Clav is pretty out of this world. Tell us about it - how’d you first find out about the whammy bar modification?
I got my first clavinet when I was 17 from pawn shop for $150. I believe around 1997 someone approached me and mentioned that once upon a time someone had put a whammy bar on the clav. I was like NO WAY! It always stuck with me just how cool that would be.
I think I got the internet around 2001 and I would periodically try to find any evidence of its existence. Until around 2007 someone posted a video of George Duke playing his Perspex whammy clav. I could not believe it. IT WAS REAL!! But I was no better off than before. There were no details on how it worked.
It wasn’t until 2012, searching the net again, I found that Ken Rich in California had started making the modification again. I immediately sold everything I had to get one shipped over. It was a small fortune, but I’m so glad I did.
Can you explain how you had to modify your Clavinet in order to install the whammy mechanism?
Well luckily, they shipped it over already installed. But it’s quite a feat. You need to semi-butcher the clavinet to install it. It bolts onto the harp itself and then you also need a huge strip hole cut into the top panel for the Whammy Bar to stick out off. You wouldn’t want to mess it up!
Tell us about the action of the whammy itself - how far can you bend the overall pitch of the Clav? What’s the gnarliest sound you can make with it?
Much like a guitar, the range of pitch change is different across the board. Then with every string gauge change it drastically jumps too. Therefore, you need to learn exactly where to land the whammy bar to get the correct note in tune. Roughly speaking though it moves around a tone. With some of the very low notes and very high notes reaching two tones.
A great thing about the clav is that they feedback extremely well when gained up through an amplifier. I love being on the edge of that feedback and really warping the harmonies out of each note. It can get very gnarly.
It sounds like you’re using a pretty sweet setup in conjunction with the Whammy Clav. What amps or effects are you using?
I go straight into a Crybaby Wah pedal then into the dirty channel of a 4x10 Fender Deville. I love those amps.
Have you got any new music coming out soon that makes full use of the Whammy Clav?
I’ve just released a version of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Child’ which is having an amazing response. I only recorded it because many of my fans have been wanting me to for years. Turns out it was just perfect for the Whammy Clavinet.
Some of my favourite comments come from guitar players like “I hate that I love this” or “You get a better guitar sound on that thing than I do on my guitar” or my absolute fave is “when you always wanted to play guitar but your mum made you play piano.”
Find out more about Lachy's work and where to catch him live via his website.