Archive for A Rare Breed Indeed

Custom Shop: The Wurlitzer 106P

Check out this little orange beauty from the Wilco Loft! This is the 44 note Wurlitzer 106P Student Piano. Have a look:

Wurlitzer 106 Orange Front Faceplate

 

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.

Wurlitzer 106P Full Set

 

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.

Wurlitzer 106 Instructor Controls

 

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.

Wurlitzer 106 Reed Bar Angle

 

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.

Wurlitzer 106P Full Orange

 

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: 

Wurlitzer Custom 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.

106 Wurlitzer Switches

106 Wurlitzer Amp Knobs Variable Vibrato

 

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.

Wurlitzer Reed Bar Voltage

 

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.

Wurlitzer Reed Pyramid Shape Voicing 200, 106, 145

 

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!

Wurlitzer Whip Fly Felts

Wurlitzer 106 Whip Fly Felts

 

The key bed was completely leveled while lowering the black keys and regulated for a uniform 13/32″ across every black and white key.

Wurlitzer Key Bed Shims

Wurlitzer Key Bed

Wurlitzer 106 Key Bed

Wurlitzer 106 Key Bed with Keys Only

Wurlitzer Lost Motion

Wurlitzer Keys and Reed Bar

Wurlitzer Leveled Key Bed 106

Wurlitzer White Key Dip 106

Wurlitzer Black Key Height

Wurlitzer 106 Key Dip

 

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.

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Wurlitzer let off regulation lost motion

 

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.

Wurlitzer 106 Date Stamp 1972

Wurlitzer 106P Serial Plate

Wurlitzer 106 Front Orange

Wurlitzer 106 Full Angle View

 

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!

A Rare Breed Indeed: The Helpinstill Roadmaster

Another rare gem makes its way into The Chicago Electric Piano Company’s workshop! Here’s a look at a Helpinstill Roadmaster:

(Before)

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.

Helpinstill Road Case

Here’s a look at the foldable action assembly:

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This piano came in with a lot of ‘miles’ on it! Here’s a glimpse at the crooked keys before we rebuilt the keybed:

Helpinstill Crooked Keys

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…

Helpinstill Keybed

Helpinstill Soundboard

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!

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…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!

Jay Bennett Nametag copy

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.

A Rare Breed Indeed: The Wurlitzer 214A

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:

Main Shot

 

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!

Wurlitzer 214

back2

Knobs

leveled keys

white key dip copy

Black key heigh

black key dip

Outputs2

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! 

A Rare Breed Indeed: Rhodes Mark V

The Rebirth of a Rhodes Mark V

Mark V

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.

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…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.

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…And as always we promise that it sounds just as great as it looks and feels!

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Mark V_2

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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! 

What’s all the ‘Buz’ About?

Who is Buz Watson?

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

A Rare Breed Indeed: The Vox Jaguar

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

A Rare Breed Indeed: The Rhodes Electronic Piano

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:

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A Rare Breed Indeed: The Wurlitzer Student Model Classroom

A Rare Breed Indeed: The Wurlitzer Student Model Classroom

The People's Music School Classroom

The People’s Music School 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?

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A Rare Breed Indeed: The Gibson G101

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.
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A Rare Breed Indeed: The Amtrak Rhodes

Who wants to play a Mark I or Mark II when you can turn peoples heads sitting behind a 1977 Amtrak Rhodes?

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.

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