Choosing the Best Amplifier for a Rhodes or Wurlitzer

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.

Solid State v. Tube –

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. Is there a cooler sound than a Rhodes through an overdriven tube amp? We havent heard one yet! These are vintage instruments, and are made to be paired with vintage or vintage inspired amplifiers.

Speaker Size –

Generally speaking, the larger a speaker, the better it can handle low frequencies. While a Wurlitzer 200 series keyboard has a tighter range of only 64 keys, a Rhodes with 73 or 88 keys has an expanded frequency range (especially in the low end). Because of this, we suggest a minimum cone size of 12 inch. This size speaker will be able to accurately represent the full range of your electric piano. If you have a Rhodes 88 or piano bass, stepping up to a 15 inch full range speaker will be your best bet for reproducing the extended low end.

Vibrato v. Tremolo –

Over the years, and partially due to the Fender company’s misuse of the term vibrato, these two terms have become somewhat interchangeable. However, they are separate effects, and there is a distinct difference. Here is what you need to know:

– tremolo: swells in volume of a note over time

– vibrato: changes in the pitch of a note over time

Where vibrato changes the pitch of a note, tremolo changes the volume

As with their amplifiers, Fender mislabeled the vibrato circuitry of their suitcase Rhodes models. Wurlitzer, on the other hand, implemented the term correctly when they labeled their pitch-shifting vibrato circuitry in their most mass produced 200 and 200A amplifiers. In some ways, the two effects are inseparable from their respective instruments.

Practice or Performance? –

Will you be using your amplifier simply for home practice or will it need to be able to carry a small venue? Here in the city of Chicago you may never get your Fender Twin Reverb past “2” if you’re using it at home in your apartment so you may be better off with an amplifier better suited for home practice. Although you’ll be able to adjust the volume of the amp, some will sound better than others at low or high output levels depending on their circuitry.

Also, if you are going to be gigging with the amplifier you may need to consider the dimensions and weight of the amplifier since you are already hauling around an electric piano to your performance.

A word on going direct –

“I am already lugging around this super heavy instrument, why do I need an amp as well?” Good question. In some instances it may simply be more convenient to play an electric piano direct. Playing through just a direct insertion box will give you only the sound off the pickup within the instrument. The reason we will choose an amp for almost every situation is that it will give you more control over the sound of your piano. Through the equalization section on your amplifier, you can dial in the tone you are after quite easily – many times with added effects such as tremolo or reverb. If you are set on going after the DI route, we recommend using a good tube DI for the same reasons mentioned above.

Whats in our shop right now –

Here are the amplifiers we use in the shop for voicing and tuning electric pianos:

– Fender Twin Reverb (Re-Issue): all tube circuitry with two 12 inch speakers

– Fender Studio Bass (Circa 1978): all tube circuitry with one 15 inch speaker

2 comments

  1. Casey says:

    I’ve been running my 200a through a 1966 super reverb – 40 or 45 watts through 4 10s. It’s pretty glorious. I’ve also used a blackface twin and a vox ac30. The super just sounds much sweeter. Put it on about 3, lean it back on the tilt legs, reverb about 2.

  2. Patrick says:

    Hello I have 2 matching Fender Rhodes Cabinets and a 73 key MK II Rhodes that I just bought. I have a KC-350 as well. My question is what is the best way to get the right volume and crunch while running these cabinets in stereo? I need another place to change volume, the KC is okay, but I know the cabinets are more powerful and would prefer to try and get these running. Thanks! I have work to do on this beauty and am happy to keep upgrading it as I go.
    Thanks!

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