What Is This Bizarre Keyboard That George Duke Played, And Why Does It Have A Whammy Bar?

In this video, George Duke (January 12, 1946 – August 5, 2013), plays a funk solo on Reach Out, using a bizarre transparent keyboard that sports a whammy bar. 

If you know anything about this instrument and its capabilities, let us know in the comments!

Update: Via the comments, it appears that this may be custom Castlebar Clavenette, with a clear case.

via Shotiko MakharashviliMarkAngelo Green

39 thoughts on “What Is This Bizarre Keyboard That George Duke Played, And Why Does It Have A Whammy Bar?

  1. looks like a modified EP (electric piano) of some kind… it would need to have physical strings in there to be able to use the whammy in the first place

    1. not true. Tensile steel could be used just as a physical controller, much like those spring action pitch wheels, used as a modulation source for pitch. it just probably feels nicer than than smaller synth style controllers

    2. I remember he played it on the old grey whistle test along with Stanley Clarke-I believe on the project album it was a clarinet and due to the construction of the clarinet tea with its anvil adding a whammy bar was quite easy. the original acoustic clavichord on which the clarinette was based allowed vibrato and pitch bend with finger movement

  2. That might be a clavinet w a whammy bar in a custom enclosure. Back in ’87 a guy named Guy Babylon won a reader contest at Keyboard Magazine playing one of those:

    1. That’s my dad! I still have the clav! And I can tell you that that is for sure what Duke is playing. Although my dad (and now I) used it more like a guitar, Duke is using it more to sound like a synth.

      1. Holy Shit!! Guy Babylon is your DAD??!! Dude. I was 16 years old when your Dad won that competition and I freaked out over this track–I still have my copy! Please give your pops massive props–I hope he still shreds. And it’s a modified Clav D6 right? BTW–you and your Dad might like my ‘Video’ page where I put all of my YouTube synth jams–I a disciple of Jan Hammer and probably many of the same influences. Props!

        1. Hahaha that’s so cool to hear! It is an incredible track! My dad actually passed away in 2009, unfortunately. But it is so cool to hear that a lot of people were really inspired by this track. He actually was the keyboardist for the Elton John Band from the mid-eighties until his death. But if you liked Babylon Bleu, you would love some of his other tracks . . . especially look up “Las Vegas Twister” where he uses the Castlebar. But there’s an album out called “Best Of Guy Babylon” if you want to hear a bunch of his songs . . . most actually using the Castlebar, along with a MidiMoog and EMU Emulator II+HD. And some Synclavier, of course. But I would have to say that the three stand out tracks are Babylon Bleu (of course), Barth, and Las Vegas Twister.

          To answer your question — yes it is a modified D6 I believe.

          Here’s “Las Vegas Twister”

          1. Oh man–so sorry to hear your Dad died. But seriously–I never forgot ‘Babylon Bleu.’ Cheers and thanks for the info–I didn’t know he was with Elton–that’s so rad. I’ll check out more stuff!

      2. OMG that’s amazing Ben Babylon! I worked at Cakewalk from ’97-2000, and I had the pleasure of taking a tech support call from your dad. I have to admit to geeking out a bit, and I must’ve asked him questions about that clav for like twenty minutes straight before we got to HIS tech support question, all on his dime of course. He was a super kind, gracious and humble guy all throughout that conversation. I remember it fondly to this day. I am beyond sorry to hear about his passing, but I just wanted you to know what a great guy he was and how generous he was with his time, to someone to whom he owed nothing. Wishing you and your family all the best, man.

        1. That’s so funny! I remember using Sonar all the time . . . . I have since switched to Logic and Pro Tools but I still have Sonar and it always brings back memories when I use it (:
          Thanks for sharing!
          -Ben

  3. Hypothesizing here. It’s a modified wah pedal with a spring, or just modified sustain pedal with spring. No sitting just dancing and getting funky.

  4. From what I can see the keybed is a waterfall type and there’s switches and a volume pot to the left. Sooooooo that suggests its probably a Clavinet D6 with a Castlebar (sometimes called a ‘whammy bar’) modification.

    PS and boy does GD know how to use it…wow!

  5. Yeah! It’s just a transparent Castlebar Clavinet. I have a Castlebar at my house (I’m very lucky to own one). My dad was Guy Babylon — I just saw somebody post about him in the comments. I still have the Castlebar and will never let it go. Such a unique instrument . . . love using it like a guitar, but it seems like Duke uses it almost like a monophonic synth (even though it is obviously a polyphonic instrument hahaha). Another place you can see this is with a band called the Crash Kings.
    -Ben Babylon

  6. I have a question: how, or why do George’s, and Guy’s modifications allow them to bend the pitch up, while Tony’s instrument can only bend the pitch down?

  7. Definitely a clav with a castlebar whammy – built by Ken Rich, if I’m not mistaken. I have a castlebar clav, also built by Ken, and it is a ton of fun. Gives a ton of extra expression to the instrument and really lets you go to town with the guitar riffs. It’s very consistent and stays in tune, but it does bend farther with the lhigher-tuned strings than the lower, so you have to adjust your bend amount based on where you are playing on the keyboard. Also, chords will necessarily get slightly out of tune when bending, since each string is tuned differently, so bends at a slightly different rate.

  8. for the record, while there were a very small number of clavs with the original castlebar mechanism ever constructed (Ken estimated 25 when I asked), Ken has a modern mechanism that he’ll install in any clav. I want to say that mine was a $500-$750 modification for my D6 (but he was also doing a basic overhaul of a newly purchased instrument), and the quality of the workmanship was superb. I haven’t had a single problem with it in several years of use. It still works just fine as a regular D6.

    To answer the question asked earlier about bending up vs bending down – I think the original castlebar mechanism can actually bend either direction, but that tuning stability was very poor. Mine has a physical stop which prevents the whammy mechanism from bending up AT ALL, but it has very stable tuning, even if I play and bend it a lot. Ken was telling me that he had to come up with the stop because a customer was having problems with tuning – could easily have been George Duke. I was in Ken’s shop the day he died and they were definitely still close.

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