Last month Chicago native fusion trio Spare Parts dropped back to our warehouse to brew up some more of their jazz funk. Check out their new tune, “The Mad Scientist:”
Last month Chicago native fusion trio Spare Parts dropped back to our warehouse to brew up some more of their jazz funk. Check out their new tune, “The Mad Scientist:”
Here’s the latest Rhodes to leave our Custom Shop: The Orange Mark II. This Rhodes was inspired by the orange 44 note Wurlitzer 106 and a few vintage guitars with an orange finish. The piano was completely restored by our workshop and as always we promise she sounds even better than she looks!
This beauty is now back at Wilco’s recording loft where we will hopefully hear from it soon!
–Until then, here’s a glimpse of the custom finish:
Last month our friends at Reverb.com stopped by the warehouse to talk about Harold Rhodes and the piano that he invented. Here’s a quote on digital pianos from the article and you can read the whole Reverb article here.
‘Who the hell would think that a musical instrument would have vibrating components?’ Of course that’s a great idea! I think keyboardists get robbed having all of these pianos that have weighted action being what’s being sought after and then in the end you don’t get anything more than a digital sample being played depending on the velocity that you strike it with. What a bummer! Electric guitar players get an electric guitar, it’s not something that is made to sound like playing a Stratocaster, it is a Stratocaster.”
Here’s the latest from our Custom Shop: The Lunar Rhodes. Inspired by the white washed look of his Moog Voyager from the limited edition Lunar series, our client wished to recreate the look on his 1972 Fender Rhodes by replacing the cheek blocks and a new ivory tolex finish.
…Here you have it! The Lunar Rhodes:
Before we take a closer look at the woodwork let’s take a look at the MiniMoog Lunar Voyager that inspired it all:
The original plastic cheek blocks are one of our least favorite cosmetic parts of the instrument so we were excited to venture into new territory and replace them with gorgeous new pieces of oak to match the Lunar Moog. Plastic just seems to take away from the more organic nature of a Rhodes and somewhat undermine the craftsmanship that goes into an electro-mechanical instrument. In our opinion, plastic should be used as sparingly as possible on any musical instrument.
In order to achieve the lunar effect we used white washed oak in order to match the pronounced grain and color of the lunar Moog. The wood was then cut down to the exact dimensions of the plastic cheek block then routed with the appropriate edge.
(–We were lucky enough to work outside on our warehouse’s rear patio on this gorgeous August afternoon.)
And after receiving their white wash finish they were ready to be dropped into the Rhodes:
And we almost forgot to mention the gorgeous ivory tolex that was paired with the lunar cheek blocks…
–More customization on the lid will be done on a future date so stay tuned!
Check out this little orange beauty from the Wilco Loft! This is the 44 note Wurlitzer 106P Student Piano. Have a look:
The 106P’s were produced around the same time as the 200 era pianos and were sold to classrooms in a set of eight pianos mounted onto a single folding frame that allowed them to be stored without taking up too much floor space. All of the controls were mounted in the middle of the folding frame where a single “mother” amplifier that distributed the power and other controls for the individual pianos. On their own, the pianos cannot be simply removed from the set without expert modification to make them work properly.
Once unfolded the pianos only sit a few feet off of the ground and must have been intended for elementary school use.
A side mounted panel the instructor can control various basic functions of the classroom set.
Under the orange hood of the 106 the action assembly is nearly identical to the 200 series pianos with a few minor differences due to the 44 note reed bar that is unique to the 106. And not just because it is the only Wurlitzer model without 64 notes. Each of the reeds are mounted to a single reed bar that spans the entire piano which is also much lighter than any other Wurlitzer reed bar. The 200 series, and the previous 140/145 series, pianos have two 32 note reed bars split down the middle which severely limits the resonance transferred from one sustaining reed to another located on the other on the other reed bar. Having all of the reeds mounted on the same reed bar allows for more harmonics to be transferred between sustained notes which is one of the most wonderful sonic aspects of this instrument.
The other difference is that without serious modification these pianos have no sustain pedal function, which if implemented would only enhance the harmonic characteristics of the reed bar! Because of this, we designed a custom shop sustain pedal that allows this 106 piano to be played with a 200 series sustain pedal to bring the instrument to its absolute fullest musical potential.
In addition to our custom sustain pedal design the piano needed a replacement amplifier to power its internal speaker which is normally powered by the power supply mounted in the original folding frame… So here is a sneak peek of our soon to be released custom Wurlitzer tube amplifier:
There are a few replacement amplifiers currently available for the Wurlitzer and ours is designed to be a breed of its own. Instead of simply trying to improve upon the original Wurlitzer design, which has already been attempted with various degrees of success, we set out to design an amplifier from scratch and emphasize the characteristics that are normally desired from classic vintage amplifiers. This meant designing an amp with tubes, grit, vintage vibrato, and just that certain color and charm. Our goal was to design an amplifier with the inspirational qualities that guitar players find when playing classic vintage amps like a ’50’s Fender Deluxe or early Princetons or bass guitarists plugging into a vintage SVT or Motown’s B-15N.
…So began the quest for the cosmic Wurlitzer amp.
One of the other unique aspects of our amplifier was that it supplies the reed bar with nearly 300V instead of the typical 75-150V supplied by the other stock and other replacement Wurlitzer amplifiers available. The result is more responsiveness in the reed bar which also delivers higher fidelity.
After experimenting over a year with various circuits implementing different tubes including working with 12AT7’s and 12AU7’s in the preamplifier before the finally fine tuning the 12AX7 to give just the right range of control over the grit and sparkle of the amplifier’s output. And boy does this amplifier have grit and sparkle! It brings the internal Wurlitzer speakers alive in ways that you have never heard! –Truly an inspiration!
The vibrato circuit also uses a 12AX7 and is modeled after the classic Fender Brown Face tremolo circuit. Unlike the original Wurlitzer amplifiers, this gives the tremolo both intensity and speed controls. We also added a tremolo foot-switch on/off switch which allows you to turn the effect on and off without the need to raise a hand or sweep down the intensity control.
…Stay tuned for sound samples and a special offer on our limited addition first run of our new amplifier…
In addition to the Custom Shop work we also restored the piano from the key bed up and voiced each individual note of the piano to bring this electric piano to better than new condition. And ‘amplified’ by the fact that our new tube amp does not have the muddy EQ found in most Wurlitzer amplifiers, which covers up the irregular noises and voicing irregularities, we also spent a considerable amount of our expertise getting the reed’s solder shape just right to avoid any unwanted ghost notes, hissing, or irregular wave forms.
The importance of forming the proper shape to the solder tip of the Wurlitzer reed is an art form that cannot be overstated. The smallest irregularity, solder tab, or asymmetric imbalance can cause the reed to produce tones that are severely unpleasant. Even from the factory–particularly in the later years of 200A production, but also a commonly overlooked issue with throughout all production years–the quality control of the solder pyramid is not up to par with what is required of a Wurlitzer that is intended for live performance or studio use.
This Wurlitzer was refurbished with the proper craftsmanship and love to bring it to better-than-new condition. In addition to voicing each of the 44 individual reeds, every individual felt and spring was replaced with felts of the perfect thickness to ensure that the instrument can be regulated properly for a buttery-smooth feel and reliable dynamic play. You will have to play one for yourself to believe just how good our Wurlitzers sound and feel!
The key bed was completely leveled while lowering the black keys and regulated for a uniform 13/32″ across every black and white key.
From this foundation, once we built up, leveled, and regulated the key bed from scratch we can begin to perform the same tasks on the action assembly. After carefully selecting the proper thickness felts and springs to refurbish the aging action components we then regulate it for lost motion and let-off to insure that the instrument plays with a reliable and expressive dynamic range.
This is as close as you can get to a brand new Wurlitzer in 2013. In fact we have taken the craft to a level on this piano where we can confidently say that this Wurlitzer is in better condition than the day that it was born right here in Dekalb, IL in November 1972.
This one already turned a lot of heads at the warehouse and it will hopefully catch more attention now that it is back home at Wilco’s Loft along with good company. Hopefully we will be hearing from this one again soon!
…One down, seven more to go!
Friends of the workshop Spare Parts, a Chicago rooted fusion trio, stopped by to film a live performance in the back of our warehouse.
Here is one of the groovy live takes captured in the back of our warehouse featuring Kevin Kozol’s recently overhauled Wurlitzer 200A:
Another rare gem makes its way into The Chicago Electric Piano Company’s workshop! Here’s a look at a Helpinstill Roadmaster:
The Helpinstill Roadmaster was designed to be a gig-worthy acoustic piano that incorporated a true acoustic piano’s soundboard with an electormagnetic pickup and a custom designed foldable key bed. Helpinstill also designed the custom pickup that was incorporated into the piano and the Roadmaster pianos were built by Kimball to Helpinstill’s specifications using his unique pickup design.
In short, the Roadmaster is a Kimball piano soundboard installed into a road case with a foldable key bed and action assembly. The piano was available in 88 and 64 keys which collapsed into a road case with caster wheels that made it easier to move around.
This Roadmaster features 64 keys and had brass tacks installed on the hammer tips to give it an acoustically honky-tonk vibe and more attack through the electromagnet pickup.
Here’s a look at the foldable action assembly:
This piano came in with a lot of ‘miles’ on it! Here’s a glimpse at the crooked keys before we rebuilt the keybed:
In Chicago Electric Piano Company fashion we got to work first by rebuilding the key bed from the ground up, then restoring the action for the ideal expressive touch. Along the way a few stings needed to be replaced…
Although the piano was designed for transportation, three of us were breaking sweat lifting this into the van on a hot Chicago afternoon! –We look forward to hearing back from this rare beast again soon!
…This very piano has already been part of some very well known recording–chances are good that you have heard from this very piano before!
You can track this electric piano on your next record at Pieholden Studios, located in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village. Visit their web page for more information about their rare vintage gear collection.
As mentioned in the first half of this post, unserviced Rhodes and in summary pianos in comparable condition around the Chicago regional market vary from $300-1,000 on average. Other pianos that have been partially repaired can range are valued from $800-1,200+ but are only worth the additional investment if they include a good invested labor and maintenance that keeps them in top condition. Fully restored pianos from our workshop start at around $2,000 and range up to $4,000+ and are rebuilt from the key bed up with 15-25 hours of specialized restoration work. Unfortunately for the buyer, this range of pricing from $300-4,000+ can leave many confused about the wide range in prices. In order to make sure that the Rhodes is worth the asking price, it’s important to know what to look, feel, and listen for.
The main reason that you find such a wide range of prices for Rhodes pianos being sold is that people don’t understand how to spot deteriorating parts or even worse that the vintage parts were replaced with new parts of poor quality. Most of the parts insstrument will be easily accessible by lifting the vinyl lid and all of them will be accessible if you have a phillips screwdriver handy for removing the four screws that hold the wood harp bracket to its side supports.
The action of the instrument is more than just the feel of the instrument and will also impact the harmonics and dynamic levels of the Rhodes. You’re not going to get the most out of your Rhodes in terms of tone if the keys and hammers are not playing properly. First play notes in various octaves softly and make sure that there are good dynamics in the bass and mid sections. Next, play it with some forte and make sure that it has the proper setup to achieve the classic Rhodes bark. When playing with forte the notes should still be pronounced and there shouldn’t be any interference in the attack of the note. From there, make sure that the volume of the notes across the keyboard are even when played with varying dynamics.
It is critical that the keys are as level as possible and that they have the proper amount of key dip. This is a quick way to judge the condition of the piano’s action. In ideal condition the keys will feel stable from left to right movement and feel buttery smooth when depressed. The textbook level of key dip should be 3/8-13/32″ deep for all keys. Unless the Rhodes was professionally setup, however, it is likely to be well outside of those margins which can cause the action to feel slow, stiff, loose or sluggish.
Bushing felts are the felts in the center of the piano key and help guide the piano key as it is depressed. If you move the piano key gently from left to right there should be little movement. When there is a loose feeling in the key and there is a lot of lateral movement in the key then the bushings should be replaced to restore the proper feel of the keys. The feeling of a key being depressed should be snug but not tight as the key is depressed.
Simple action adjustments may only take a few hours but our full key bed setup can take more than 8 hours of service to achieve ideal action levels.
The tines are what makes a Rhodes a Rhodes. These are the vibrating pieces of metal that are amplified by the electromagnetic pickups (analogous to the relationship between the strings and pickups of an electric guitar). When tines go bad in the low register their pitch will usually shift and in the upper register they will lose sustain (however, both of these problems could also be due other issues with the setup of the instrument). Most importantly tines should be completely free of rust.
Tines were contracted by different companies throughout Rhodes production so when replacing tines they should be replaced with a piano of the proper production period. Many pianos which are being sold today will have replaced tines from improper periods which causes notes to have the wrong harmonic, attack, or sustain characteristics from other pianos. At The Chicago Electric Piano Company all of our tines are separated by the production period in order to make sure that the restorations performed are period-correct.
Replacing tines can cost around $15-25 each for most pianos.
Together with the tine the to like a tuning fork and the tone bar is mostly there to provide mass for the sustain of the tine. The tone bars are a great way to get a quick indication of the overall condition of a Rhodes. Corroded tone bars should not have a dramatic impact on tone but could be an indication that the Rhodes has been exposed to elements that have negatively affected other aspects of the instrument.
Re-plating the zinc finish on tone bars is possible for those who want a shiny new finish.
At this point in a Rhodes’ lifespan the grommets should be replaced to insure that the piano can be setup properly. Grommets are the small pieces of rubber in the center of the tone bar and suspend the tone bar so that a note can sustain and hold a consistent voice. When grommets start to age they harden and become loose in their sockets. Often their shape will hold the “memory” from years of pressure which can complicate the voicing process and can cause the voice to drift over time even after it has been setup. Grommets that look warped–especially ones that are pancaked under the washer–or grommets that are loose will definitely need to be replaced.
In the upper and lower registers, gently rock the tone bars from left to right to see if they are loose. These registers are the most prone to show the negative symptoms of bad grommets. When moving tone bars gently the tone bars should feel snug within the grommets.
There is a big difference in the tonality of a Rhodes with different grommets. We have experienced many Rhodes pianos with poor reproduction grommets that leave the pianos sounding nasally or thin often with oscillating notes because of improper tooling or density of the grommet. If you are planning on replacing the grommets yourself please make sure that you are using the highest quality components.
Grommet replacement requires completely re-voicing the Rhodes note-by-note and falls under our “the works” services.
Either with a flashlight or by unscrewing the harp bracket (two screws on either end of the tone bars), check the hammer tips for grooves created from striking the tine. There should be no groove at all on the wood core tips in the uppermost register or it will be nearly impossible to voice well. Like the grommets. the rubber hammer tips should have been replaced at this point in a Rhodes’ lifetime. If you see cube shaped hammer tips sometimes with yellow and red paint on the hammer tips they are the originals and are likely to need replacement.
In early Rhodes Mark I production the hammer tips were square cubes which gave the early Mark I it’s signature attack. Pianos from this period will not sound period-correct for an early Mark I piano without using cubed hammer tips. We offer either hand selected vintage hammer tips or new cubed hammer tips for these models (circa 1971-mid 1976).
For later model Rhodes the hammer tips were tapered. This presents challenges for the setup of the instrument because the changes in the height changes the strike line of the hammers with the tines across the piano. Rather than having a linear strike line of the cubed hammers the strike line is tapered because of the changes in hammer tip height. This was used in Rhodes production after mid 1976 and is also the signature shape of most reproduction hammer tips available before recently.
Look out for Early Mark I pianos with tapered hammer tips as they will most likely either have improper strike line or damper issues. When the height of the hammer tips is cut in half by using tapered hammer tips in an early Rhodes it requires that you reposition and service aspects of the Rhodes’ damper assembly, the strike line of the harp, and the height or escapement of the harp. In our opinion performing all of these adjustments for a sound that is not period-correct is too invasive and in most cases the adjustments are not even made in DIY repairs.
Hammer tips can be replaced on an as-needed basis but replacing them in full sets is the only way to get perfectly even voicing throughout the instrument.
If the owner has the sustain pedal, make sure you test it to make sure that it fits snugly within the instrument and properly pulls the damper felts down sustaining any notes evenly. The damper felts only have one function: to dampen the note after the key is released. Pay close attention to their ability to dampen the bass notes with ease. Once again, grooves should be avoided but as long as all of the notes are dampened then they are functioning perfectly fine. Still, it is important to make sure that they aren’t completely warn down.
Notes that don’t dampen can be eliminated within a typical standard tuneup but if there are many faulty notes there may be other more critical issues with the Rhodes.
This is the factor where the originality of the parts has the most impact on the value of the instrument. Vintage instruments should be all original cosmetically or restored professionally to the original specs to hold their value over time. Small tears in the tolex covering the instrument may give it a Rhode-worn vintage look, but larger tears will decrease the value of the instrument. Likewise, check the logos and scripts to see if they have broken off or have been scratched or broken.
The Rhodes Stage models should have four accessories to look for. Here’s the checklist: 1) four legs, 2) sustain pedal, 3) cross bars and knob, and 4) the case. All of these parts are critical to the instrument and can be very hard to replace.
Finding replacement parts can take time and costs can add up. Replacement case tops need to be custom fit to the Rhodes since cases vary up to 3/4″ in some instances.
Side Note: “Case Candy” refers to any additional parts or memorabilia that originally came within an vintage instrument’s case and can significantly increase the value of the instrument for a collector. Originally, the Rhodes came with an owners manual and replacement tines that can increase the instrument’s value.
Before shaking hands on a deal, or placing an offer or bid online, it’s important to learn as much as you can about the instrument and most importantly its upkeep over the years. Make sure that you have learned everything that you need to know about the instrument before shaking hands on a deal. Here are some good questions to get started:
Beware of sellers that claim “it was stored for the past ten years” as these pianos are just as likely to need service as pianos that were played for the past ten years. If a Rhodes has not been serviced in the past ten years it is more than likely that ‘the works’ is needed to get it back up to par. At this point in a Rhodes lifetime, there should be at least some restoration work in order to guarantee that it is playing at peak performance. Regular standard tuneups every one to four years can help prolong the instrument’s health and help the instrument maintain its value over time.
Determining the value of a rare vintage instrument is a difficult task. There are many factors to consider which may seem trivial to certain players while being crucial to others. Some of the most significant factors that will always affect the value include the geographic location or market, the rarity or demand for the specific model, and perhaps most importantly its playing condition. Unfortunately, from our first hand observations of Rhodes sold in the near Chicago market the playing condition of the instrument is not commonly reflected in the asking price of the piano. We have observed nearly identical instrument models going for between $300-1,000 in relatively the same unserviced condition. Other instruments get listed at prices higher than that range but seem to have a much harder time selling. Given this range of prices it is absolutely critical to know what to look for when determining the fair value of an instrument if you are going to purchase an instrument that is not professionally serviced or restored.
In the past decade the price of Rhodes pianos has increased fairly steadily but this has not always been the case. Up until the late 1990’s, Rhodes pianos were regularly sold for less than they are today and far less than their original retail price–even without adjusting for inflation. For instance, in 1973 a Fender Rhodes 73 key Stage piano sold for a retail price of approximately $720 (which in 2013 would have the same purchasing power of $3,764 according to the Consumer Price Index–which speaks to the craftsmanship that went into a Rhodes, which in still holds today–) and Suitcase models retailed for more than $1,000 ($5,228 today adjusted by the CPI). Unlike vintage Fender or Gibson guitars from the same era that have appreciated in price by leaps and bounds, Rhodes pianos have not kept up with the times as well until the past decade.
The drop in prices for Rhodes throughout the 80’s and 90’s was mainly due to the rising trend of players turning to synthesizers and digital keyboards as well as the lack of proper maintenance for Rhodes pianos throughout those decades. But even as the technology has advanced, no digital emulation to this day comes close to the feel and the sound of a real Rhodes (or Wurlitzer) piano. Players that have played both side by side often complain that they have a hard time relating to a digital keyboard the way that they find a natural connection with the real electro-mechanical instrument.
The trend over the past decade for digital keyboards, on the other hand, has been that they have not held their value, even over short periods of time. This is largely due to newer digital pianos constantly being introduced with advancing technologies and additional features, making many of the former models less desirable and often impossible to re-sell. Once a digital keyboard gets to be more than five years old the advanced technologies of newer models render the former relatively obsolete. Comparatively, digital keyboards are disposable instruments.
Although most stories of clients of finding their Rhodes or Wurlitzer dumpster-side happened in the 1990’s, these rare scores are still happening today. Many Rhodes owners are simply unaware that the instruments’ have value in today’s musical landscape. Most Rhodes that we follow on the Chicago area craigslist sell within a single one or two weeks when listed between $300-1,000 in average unserviced condition. And almost all Rhodes owners the we speak with have sold their Rhodes for the same amount that they purchased it for or more. The instrument has grown to have more than a cult following and are still continually heard on new recordings released every year. It seems that the electro-mechanical design of the Rhodes piano has stood the test of time.
Side Note: Just as another example of how skewed this market currently is near Chicago, any Rhodes purchased for $500-600 with $500-600 of service from our shop will be in a completely different league than any Rhodes for sale at $1,000-1,200! In most cases, that budget will be enough to cover a complete restoration of the voice and basic setup of the instrument if the action is at a desirable level. Aside from the Hammond M3, we believe that Rhodes pianos may be THE most undervalued vintage instrument that you will come across!
When it comes to getting great tone from a Rhodes a little setup goes a long way – but the instrument will always be limited by the parameters of the components within the Rhodes’ production era. Small design changes were made to the Rhodes piano practically every year which gives each era of production its own unique action and voicing characteristics. In our previous post we discuss some of the basic changes that are observed throughout the eras based on ideal setup conditions, and why certain eras are more desirable to some players.
Aside from those variations year by year, the Mark I and Mark II were offered in four common models throughout the years: the Stage and Suitcase, each offered with either 73 or 88 keys. In addition to these main four models, there was also a 54 key version of the Mark II and a Super Satellite (dual speaker cabinet for stereo tremolo offered as an alternative to the Suitcase) Rhodes that are more rare.
The Rhodes Suitcase models all have a 4×12″ cabinet with two speakers facing both directions resulting in a very unique sound when the stereo tremolo circuitry is activated (–as long as it isn’t pushed up against a wall!). In addition to this classic tremolo sound, the built in amplification is a huge bonus for players that do not have a competent amplifier to pair with their Rhodes (click here for our previous post on Rhodes amplification). Because of their bulkier size due to their speaker cabinet, Suitcase Rhodes are often in better cosmetic and playing condition since they are less likely to have seen time on the road.
In general the 73 key and 88 key models are valued around the same price (because of the tradeoffs in weight associated with the additional keys) but some cases may cause the 88 key model to draw a higher price or lower price. Since the 88 key model requires more service it may justify a higher asking price if it is recently serviced or a lower price if it is in need of service. Still, there are certain players who cannot perform without 88 keys.
Even though there are few official production numbers the most common Rhodes models seem to be Mark I Stage 73 models from ’76-79. Earlier Fender Rhodes models, suitcase models, and 88 key models are harder to come by. In the end, regardless of the rarity of the model, some Rhodes will be more sought after by players that are looking for a particular sound.
Once you have determined the model Rhodes that is right for you, the next step is to determine the Rhodes’ overall condition… Here is our detailed post with pictures that walks you through everything that you need to look and listen to in order to determine the value of a Rhodes piano.
Forgive us for the shameless self promotion but we are currently selling one of our favorite Wurlitzers that has come through our shop in some time. It’s not too often that you come across the Wurlitzer 214A and perhaps it could use a re-introduction. Here she is, the Wurlitzer 214A, a rare breed indeed:
The Wurlitzer 214A is one of the flagship pianos of the 200A family. Like other members of the 200 family it has an action assembly that can be setup and maintained to perform like a sports car. There’s no excuse for poor action in a Wurli!
Like the Student Model 206A the 214A was marketed to a classroom setting and likely has not seen the abuse that many 200A’s have experienced ‘living the rock and roll dream.’ For decades, many of the 203, 206, 207, and 214 pianos have been preserving themselves as time capsules in rehearsal rooms and classrooms for future generations to bring back to life. This makes them some of the most valuable instruments to pick up used.
The distinguishing characteristic to the 206A would be that it has four 8″ speakers, rather than two, and the 214 also has the signature Wurlitzer vibrato circuitry. On the 214A there are two sets of 8″ speakers are mounted on each side similar to the Rhodes suitcase piano which gives it a rich, full sound within the room. Another added feature from the 206 is the casters that allow you to easily transport the piano.
And this one in no exception! As always, we promise you she sounds even better than she looks!
As always, we have rebuilt this Wurlitzer from the key bed up for most expressive action possible. It comes with our 2 year parts warranty (under reasonable use) and a free tuneup within two years. –You won’t find a better 214A or service like ours anywhere else in the world!
Following a few other prototype models after the Rhodes Mark II production ended in 1982, Rhodes re-engineered the Mark V and introduced it in 1984. The model was marketed as the finest Rhodes ever built and in many ways it was. The improvements include a much more dynamic throw of the hammer arm by decreasing the surface area of the key’s pedestal and dramatically redesigning the external housing of the instrument which greatly reduced the weight.
Like all of our other rebirth jobs, this one began from scratch with a complete rebuild of the key bed. This is the only way to produce the dynamic action that most players have never experienced on a Rhodes piano.
…From there we can level the entire key bed, and adjust each individual key for the proper key dip and the proper height of the black keys.
…And as always we promise that it sounds just as great as it looks and feels!
This beauty is on its way back to it’s home at Victorian Recording in Barrington, IL. –Hopefully we’ll be hearing from it again soon!
How old is my Rhodes? This is one of the more frequently asked questions of our workshop when pianos are brought in for restoration or repair. Luckily, dating a Rhodes is extremely simple and can usually be determined within the precise week that it was ‘born.’ Here’s how you find out:
If you lift up the vinyl lid of your Rhodes you will find that there is a four digit stamp (red, blue, or black depending on the year) that will tell you what week of what year your Rhodes is from. The four digits will read as follows: WWYY (Week, Year).
As you can see, the numbering scheme was consistent from the first Mark I in 1969, through the Mark II’s of the early ’80’s and on to the Mark V of 1984. For more information about what makes each year different, check out our previous post, The Ultimate Rhodes Timeline, for more information about the characteristics of each era of production.
Side note: there are some typos from 1975 that will read as 1985. We have seen this a small handful of times and it seems that there was a week or two in 1975 where they were accidentally stamping them as 1985.
If you’ve played a handful of Rhodes pianos you may have noticed that they each have their own unique sound and feel. But what makes some Rhodes sound and play better than others? And what years of Rhodes are best for achieving the sound that you are looking for?
Over decades of Rhodes production from the 1960’s through the 1980’s the Rhodes piano’s design went through a number of changes that impacted the electric piano’s action and tone. While the setup of the Rhodes is critical to getting the most out of the Rhodes’ timbre, the instrument is still constrained to the components of the specific era of production giving each era of production its own unique sonic characteristics. Even though some of the design and production changes improved upon the previous era, many of the changes were simply cost-cutting measures that negatively impacted the Rhodes’ action and tone.
Here’s a brief overview and timeline of the changes:
Note: All opinions of the models are based on evaluating the Rhodes after it is professionally setup by our workshop in its ideal state. Some of these models will require more setup than others from their original design in order to achieve the ideal levels that we assume in our descriptions.
This is the Fender Rhodes that you will hear on an introspective journey through Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew or paired with Bill Evan’s Steinway on From Left to Right. These rhodes are significantly more rare and currently considered more collectible than other eras of production.
Rhodes electric piano production from this era of production is easily recognizable by their sparkle top. Their sound characterized by its felt teardrop hammer tips similar to those of an acoustic pianos and the tone bar and tine assembly was more primitive than the later model Rhodes.
This is the introduction of the classic Mark I tone. The Early Mark I was introduced in late 1969 and after a couple of design changes in the first couple years they settled into the classic Fender Rhodes design that more than holds its own against the test of time. Its tone throughout these years has the quintessential warm Rhodes bark that is sought after by most players making them more valuable then the later Mark I years.
These years are distinguished by their wood/plastic hybrid hammers and wooden harp supports that allow it to achieve its classic tone. One of the downfalls of this era is its “skirted” key caps which were plastic and curved on top. While this gives it a feel that is in some ways inseparable from The Early Mark I it lacks the feel that most players come to expect from a piano.
This era of production is also unique because it is the last years that you see the “Fender Rhodes” name before it was changed to simply “Rhodes.”
For just over one year in the mid 1970’s the Rhodes piano hit its stride. Although most of our favorite pianos happen to be from ’72, this single year of production has some of the best design characteristics. Mid ’74 is the same time that the Fender Rhodes name was changed to Rhodes and the curved skirted plastic key caps were replaced with the fitted key caps that you find on an acoustic piano which greatly improved the feel of the instrument. However, the key pedestal design was still lacking and some of the pianos from this era have sluggish action without being properly setup or modified for better response.
These are the only ‘Rhodes’ pianos that still have the quintessential ‘Fender Rhodes’ bark with beefier bass and mid tones.
The Late Mark I years are mostly shaped by cost cutting measures that greatly altered the classic Rhodes bark. Most of the change in tone is due to the change from wood/plastic hybrid hammers to the all plastic hammers as well as the change from wooden harp supports to aluminum supports. The action’s design went through several changes throughout this period marking both the worst action design (’76-77, with felt on the back of the hammers instead of the key) and best action design (post ’78, with the pedestal bump being re-implemented).
Side note: For the suitcase model Rhodes, this period could also be split in two with the former 80W Peterson amplifier being replaced with the updated 100W Janus design in 1977. Both amplifiers have their own strengths and weaknesses and we will need to save that discussion for another post. In short, the Peterson has a more charming tremolo due to the filament bulbs used in its circuitry and the Janus has much better EQ controls for shaping the amplifier’s EQ curve.
During these years the classic Rhodes bark begins to transform into a darker bell-like tones that are characteristic of the Mark II.
When introduced, the Mark II was identical to last design of The Late Mark I in every way with the exception of its new cosmetic design. For whatever reason, even though the pickups were identical in impedence, they changed the tape used to cover the pickups’ coils and the new white tape’s adhesive has a tendency to corrode copper wire causing them to fail over time. (It has also been pointed out by readers familiar with the pickups that the copper coating on the wires changed around this time which is also a smoking gun).
The Mark II is a classic benchmark in Rhodes sound and many players prefer its tone to the beefier sound of The Early Mark I and Golden Year of the Mark I.
Although it lacks the classic looks of the Mark I and Mark II, the Mark V is the best design that the Rhodes brand ever produced. –But that’s not to say that its design doesn’t have its own unique charm given that it was produced in 1984! The action was greatly improved with changes to the pedestal and the hammer that increased the dynamic play in each note. Also, with its new plastic enclosure, the Mark V is dramatically lighter than the earlier designs and is much more practical for a gigging musician.
The tone of the Mark V is analogous to the Mark II but with a little more clarity and response due to the dynamic play of the action.
Here’s a glimpse of Wilco’s new Wurlitzer 206A from our Custom Shop. Hopefully we will be hearing from this beauty soon!
It was a tough decision whether or not to re-cap the white keys to match the bright white tolex and lid. Luckily, the Wurlitzer’s keys were all equally faded and the two shades of white were enough to contrast one another. Have another look at the complete job:
And here she is. Home sweet home–and in good company! From the Wilco loft:
Because of their identical cosmetic design, it is common for people to mistake a 200 for a 200A and vise versa. Even when taking a close look under the hood, you will find that their action assemblies and the reeds that produce their sound are perfectly identical, leaving only a few distinguishing characteristics to look and listen for.
Side Note: Actually, the cosmetics of each instrument can be differentiated from one another in some cases. There were a few color options that were only available on the 200 (red, forest green, and beige) that were not available on the 200A. Another distinguishing cosmetic note is that the Wurlitzer emblem on the back of the keyboard from the player was only on the last few years of the 200A.
When the 200 was first introduced in 1968 its amplifier was an early transistor circuit with a straightforward design. Over the next four years, the amplifier would be redesigned a few times with a couple of minor improvements that marginally improved both the power amp and the clarity of the preamp. These four years are also characterize by the 200’s 4×8″ speakers driven by alnico magnets that were mounted on the amplifier rail inside of the instrument.
Wurlitzer discontinued the 200 in 1972 when they began the production of the 200A. The new 200A was nearly perfectly identical to the 200 with the exceptions of a newly designed amplifier additional shielding against interference that subtly improved the Wurlitzer Electric Piano. After a year or so of 200A production the alnico driven speakers were now driven by ceramic magnets and were mounted directly on the vinyl lid of the Wurlitzer rather than the amplifier. The mounting pins on the lid of the Wurlitzer are one of the fastest ways to identify most 200A’s.
The most notable improvement of the 200A is that it is naturally less susceptible to noise and interference the former 200 amplifier due to three new factors. First, the distance between the preamp and the amplifier reduced much of the noise caused by the amplifier’s electromagnetic field. Next, Wurlitzer added an additional pickup shield that helped protect the pickups from picking up radio frequencies and other external interference. Last, the AC wiring from the power source to the transformer was placed within a strip aluminum tubing that shielded the amplifier from the electromagnetic field produced by the AC current running to the power transformer behind the amplifier. (We can’t figure out why they didn’t just simply put the AC receptical on the other side of the instrument and avoid this design flaw all together!)
Aside from the noise reducing measures made by the 200A, the differences between the two amplifiers are negligible. Both have a vibrato (–tremolo) circuit, and a static equalizer curve set by their amplifier’s design that limits the players control over the tone of the instrument without additional external amplification. In the end, both incorporate one of the best action assemblies of any electric piano and deliver that classic Wurlitzer tone that we just can’t get enough of.
…It is also common that players will complain about their amplifier being “muddy” or “dull” when in fact the amplifier is perfectly fine. This is due to the fact that most Wurlitzers have not been regulated properly over the years and therefore their hammers do not produce the proper strike of the instrument. Bring your Wurlitzer in for a free estimate and we can show you how to instantly get more clarity and dynamics from your instrument!
If you’re the proud owner of a ’71 or ’72 Fender Rhodes you may have noticed that your Rhodes’ Harp Bracket is stamped with the name Buz Watson. But who is Buz Watson? And why is his name one of the few things that was stamped inside your Rhodes? Read more
As we begin to open our doors to more combo organs we present you with another rare breed, the Vox Jaguar:
Along with its sibling, the Vox Continental, the Jaguar features the classic 60’s and 70’s combo organ tone with an equally groovy aesthetic. The Jaguar is capable of a lot of similar tones as The Continental but is limited to four voice switches rather than organ stops that are featured on the continental. However, it has a “bass chord” switch which gives you the ability to switch the non-reversed white keys between octaves between the standard voicing and foot pedal/bass octaves and voicing.
Here’s a look under the hood: Read more
This holiday season we are extending an offer to all of our facebook followers to receive 20% off of all “The Works” and “Rebirth” services. Start 2013 off right with a fully serviced, fully customized, or fully restored Rhodes or Wurlitzer! Read more
There are many opinions floating around on the best way to amplify an electric piano. Most of which can inevitably be summed up by our favorite sound engineering cliche — “It all depends on the tone your are looking for!” While this is invariably true, here are some more concrete guidelines for choosing the right amp for your Fender Rhodes or Wurlitzer electric piano.
This is an ongoing argument that we could write paragraphs about. Perhaps here is where your personal sonic preferences will come most into play. To be concise, The Chicago Electric Piano Company fully endorses tube amplification The saturation of vacuum tubes really enhances the harmonic overtones created by the reeds/tines in these instruments. The warmth and depth of tube amplification brings out the best tones from your electric piano. Read more
Another gorgeous Rhodes receives The Chicago Electric Piano Company’s Custom Shop treatment this week. Have a look at the Burgundy Rhodes and let us know what you think:
You sure don’t see a rare breed like this every day! Here’s a “Rhodes Electronic Piano” from the ARP Synthesizer era circa 1983. Along with the Rhodes Chroma, also designed by ARP, this era of production was a huge departure from the electro-mechanical Rhodes pianos of the 60’s and 70’s that most people associate with the Rhodes name.
In fact, Harold Rhodes himself was reportedly furious when a Rhodes advertisement suggested that the synthesizer captured the essence of the piano that bears his name.
To Harold Rhodes’ defense, the “electric piano” emulator doesn’t come close to the sound of a piano. In fact, nearly twenty years later there still is no synthesizer or digital piano does the Rhodes or Wurlitzer sound any justice until you account for the convenience of carrying your Nord to a gig. Regardless, it has its own charm–especially its dated 80’s vibrato circuitry.
The Electronic Piano’s final design was a curious hybrid of the Rhodes piano’s action and synthesizer technologies of the early 1980’s. As you will see in the pictures below, the keys of hte piano were wood and extend through the piano giving it a much more expressive feel than the ‘sawtooth’ keys of a Moog or other synths of the same time frame. \
Take a look:
We received a lot of interesting input from our first post that shared our first time being introduced to the Amtrak Rhodes piano but we still haven’t learned too much concrete information about their lifetimes spent on the Amtrak lounge cars.
Since then, thanks to a friend of the workshop we have been given a photo of an Amtrak lounge car with a Rhodes piano:
However, we are still seeking any additional information that anyone may have regarding this piano so please feel free to let us know via the comments below or via our facebook page.
In addition to this photo, our friend Tim also introduced us to a model of Wurlitzer electric piano that was used on the Boeing 747 lounge cars. And according to one picture these were in coach! Check it out:
So here we go again! Once again this raises more questions than it answers and given what little information we have been able to find so far we are reaching out to you to help us tell more about the story of these two pianos. If anyone has any information at all about Wurlitzer’s Boeing 747 Lounge Piano or Amtrak’s Rhodes piano please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This past week The Chicago Electric Piano Company began its move to a new home in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood.The new space has more than ten times as much space for us by square foot at 4,000 square feet and many more that that by volume with 30 ft tall ceilings! Finally we can manage tolexing, woodworking, and all of our workshop needs under the same roof.
We’re in the process of setting up a YouTube channel for showcasing our fully serviced pianos and some of the more interesting restorations performed by our workshop. Here’s a short clip of our close friend Dan Patrevito, sitting down with his ‘new’ fully serviced 200 conversion that left our workshop yesterday:
In the future we hope to share with you videos of our fully serviced electric pianos for sale as well as other interesting highlights from out shop. –And we promise to have better audio quality moving forward!
For more of Dan Patrevito’s music, please visit www.danpatrevito.com
Thank you and stay tuned!
If you live in Chicago, then you already know that it’s hard to escape the sound of the jets screaming by overheard in formation for the Chicago Air and Water Show that is going on this weekend. But did you know that cousins of these giant metal birds gave birth to the very first Rhodes pianos?
A Rare Breed Indeed: The Wurlitzer Student Model Classroom
These days, more than half of the Wurlitzer Student models that are serviced by our shop have been chopped into pseudo 200a’s (and yes, we are even guilty of helping to carry out the operation properly–more in a later post). It’s fairly rare to find them intact, yet just last February I had the pleasure of sitting down with nine intact 206a’s as well as their 207 Instructor Console counterpart at The People’s Music School in Uptown.
So the question lies, were Wurlitzers from the late 1970’s better off living the rock and roll dream or bearing the abuse of decades of children’s piano lessons?
Ask Medeski any type of question, and you risk having to dodge some vehemently expressed convictions. For example, the mention of digital keyboards triggers an impassioned reaction. “Digital keyboards are toys,” exclaims Medeski Read more
A Rare Breed Indeed: The Gibson G101 Combo Organ
What a groovy combo organ! The Gibson G101 is similar to Farfisa Organs from the late 60’s and was used by Ray Manzarak after he grew tired of dealing with issues on his Vox Continental.
Compared to the Farfisas that we have opened up in the past working on the divider boards was a breeze! All of the components were conveniently mounted onto hinged platforms that allowed most components to be accessed with ease.
These are questions that are asked by Rhodes owners and electric piano enthusiasts. It’s not uncommon for a Mark II owner to request ‘more of a Mark I sound.’ The quick answer to these questions is surprisingly simple: when the Mark II was introduced in 1979, the only true changes were to the exterior aesthetic design of the instrument—the Mark II was nearly the identical instrument to the Mark I on its day of birth. It only becomes more complicated because of all of the changes throughout Mark I design that led up to the transition to the Mark II. Changes were made nearly year-by-year for the Mark I are what differentiate early Mark I pianos from a Mark II even though late Mark I’s will be more like a Mark II than a Mark I… Three factors have the greatest impact on Rhodes tone: The hammer and hammer tip, the tine, and the amplification system.
After the Mark I was introduced in late 1969, the first of major changes in production happened in the early 1971 when Fender Rhodes production switched over from felt hammer tips to cubed neoprene rubber hammer tips. This change was intended to give the hammer tips a longer life span because the felt tips developed deep grooves that needed to be filed by a tech and the harp or tine re-aligned for proper strike line to restore their sound (and the filing eventually would affect the height of the hammer). The cubed rubber tips gave a unique tone that had deep lows and more crystal clear highs. The early cubed tip sound is today part of the quintessential part of the Mark I Rhodes sound which lasted until early 1976. For many players that seek that classic sound there is no other way to get it than the original hammer tips or those produced by Retro Linear.
After mid 1976 Rhodes pianos began to feature tapered hammer tips that changed height within sections of the piano moving from the bass to the treble. This design caused a greater noticeable imbalance in tone at the points of crossover because it also affects the strike line of the hammer with the tine. Additionally, the attack of the bass notes dramatically changed because of the depth of the neoprene hammer tip used. Because the change in hammer tip happened halfway through Mark I production it is often a point of confusion for the differences between the Mark I and Mark II sound. In fact, we are huge fans of Mark II Pianos with the early Mark I style cubed tips because you get the balanced harmonics of the Mark II Tines with the early Mark I attack–particularly in the bass!
Even though it is less noticeable than the hammer tips from a visual perspective the tine is one of the most important aspects to the pianos voice. The tines were redesigned and commissioned to different manufacturers throughout the years. Almost every other year there were slight differences in production of the tines that affected the tone of the Rhodes piano. We always restore our pianos with period correct parts–especially when it comes to the tines–because of the dramatic impact that it has on the tone of the instrument.
The changes in tines’ production within the Rhodes piano is directly analogous to changes in strings of a piano or guitar and is especially analogous to the metallurgical makeup of guitar strings. Since the Rhodes’ tines and an electric guitar strings are both interpreted by an electromagnetic pickup before amplification the behavior of the vibrating parts and the metallurgical makeup of the parts themselves have a great impact on the timbre and the sustain characteristics of the instruments. In the case of early Rhodes Mark I pianos the tines were slightly more brittle with warmer bass and mids and brighter highs while the changes leading up to the Mark II piano gave it a more balanced moderately bright tone with more bell like highs and cooler mids and lows. The later tines were also developed to be more robust and had slightly different attack/sustain characteristics than the early tines.
Perhaps the single greatest change in Rhodes Mark I design was the change happened with amplifier built into its suitcase model. In 1977, the 80W Peterson design was replaced with an all new 100W design known as the Janus amplifier. Majority of the perceived differences in tone may be derived from the differences in these two systems which both have very subjective trade-offs. The later “Janus” model has better control of the EQ of the instrument while the earlier “Peterson” Design has less control but can be dialed in for great tone. The Peterson amplifier makes up for the less dynamic EQ sculpting with its warm alnico speakers and the incandescent lightbulbs in its vibrato circuitry that give it a quintessential silky smooth timbre. Both amplifiers have the same controls as one another but with very much their own characteristics within the sets of controls.
(to be continued)…
The final note: Up to 80-90% of the tone of the Rhodes depends on how well it was maintained and how the instrument is set up. Very minor changes in the pickup placement and the escapement levels of the piano will have a significant effect on the tone. These setup differences will have a much greater impact on the tone than the various changes year by year or model by model if you were to compare a poorly maintained instrument to one that was fully restored by our workshop. –If you don’t believe me come on by and check out our instruments for yourself!
The Fender Rhodes “bark” is the signature tone of the Rhodes that distinguishes it from other electric pianos. This is the tone that most Rhodes enthusiasts just can’t get enough of! It is described by players as that “punch,” “drive,” “bite,” “growl,” “grit,” or sometimes just “that certain something” that they are seeking from their Rhodes. But how can you get more “bark” from your Rhodes?
When set up properly, with dynamic action, escapement levels, voicing, and pickup placement, all Rhodes can produce this signature “bark.” Unfortunately, most of the Rhodes that have been living decades in the rock and roll lifestyle need to be adjusted and brought back into the proper setup in order to obtain this signature timbre.
If you’re already connected with our workshop on facebook, then you may have already seen this rare breed that we serviced back in early March. For those that are not connected or for anyone who missed it, this is your glimpse of the Amtrak Rhodes.
If you took a high school or university physics class that had a unit on the physics of sound, you may recall learning that notes an octave apart have a frequency ratio of 2:1. These are the place holders for the two ends of a scale. Taking this basic knowledge, it may seem reasonable to take the twelve notes of the scale and divide the octave into even portions. If this were the case, over the course of several octaves as on a piano’s keyboard manual, the harmonies would begin to sound dissonent. But why? In the most simplified terms, this is because as intervals move further apart, the human ear finds the beats generated by the two or more frequencies unpleasant. Luckily, there are alternate methods of tuning that produce more appealing harmonies.
When two intervals are played together, the combination of the two or more frequencies produce beats. The rate of the beats is a function of the differences in frequency of the two pitches, which is one of the components of how the human ear interprets harmonies. In order to produce the most appealing harmonies in a piano or ensemble, a number of tuning philosophies exist that create more pleasant beats, and can even account for inharmonicity within the instrument (more on inharmonicity in a later post). The philosophies typically use more pure major thirds, minor thirds, fourths, fifths—you name it— Read more