Baby You're a Rich Man, On the Cheap

Re-creating the Beatles' classic Clavioline tone
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For years, I thought the quirky, exotic keyboard riffs in the Beatles’ “Baby You’re A Rich Man” were recordings of a zurna or mizmar (both, oboe-like instruments common in Eastern Europe and the Middle East). It was only recently that I discovered that the source of those melodic runs was, in fact, a Clavioline. This took me by surprise, frankly, as I’ve always associated the sound of that instrument with “Telstar,” the Tornados’ 1962 instrumental hit produced by Joe Meek.

So, in honor of this issue’s focus on The Beatles, I’m going to re-create their unmistakable Clavioline sound using Xfer Records’ ultra-flexible Serum softsynth ( Between its massive collection of waveforms and extensive filtering options, Serum makes it quite easy to imitate the tones from this classic track. And if you don’t own Serum, you can get similar results using nearly any analog-modeling synth with similar features.

Step 1 While a sawtooth would be an acceptable waveform as your starting point, a narrow pulse is even more convincing, so start your patch by selecting the Basic Shapes wavetable and choose the narrowest pulse wave (wavetable position 6, to be specific). Leave the amp envelope at its default gate shape, as the Clavioline envelope is essentially the same.

Step 2 While it’s tempting to slather on portamento, restraint is key in nailing the sound from the original track. Set Serum’s mode to monophonic and the portamento rate to 15 milliseconds, with the Always box checked so the glide is on, regardless of playing style.

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Step 3 At this point, you’ll have a fairly standard single-oscillator lead patch. To re-create the nasal, overdriven timbre of the Clavioline, it is crucial to get the filter settings right. Select a 24dB bandpass filter (12dB just doesn’t sound right in this situation) and set the cutoff to around 2 kHz. From there, increase both the filter’s Drive and Fat settings to 45 percent, then add a tiny touch of resonance to narrow the band further. At this point, the sound should be very close to the original.

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Step 4 For the final touch, apply a highpass filter after the synth to make the tone even thinner, just as it is in the original song. If you want to retain a bit more body in the sound for live performance, you can omit this step.

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