How to Determine the Value and Condition of a Rhodes

How to Value a Rhodes Piano Part 2: How to Determine the Condition of a Rhodes

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.

Here are the parts to look for in a Fender Rhodes:

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 Keys & Action:

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.

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Leveled Keys

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13/32″ Key Dip Block

Tines:

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.

Acceptable Clean Tines

Rusty Tines

Heavily Rusted Tines

 

Tone Bars:

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.

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Healthy Tone Bars

Grommets: 

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.

Warped Grommets

Warped Grommets

Healthy (New) Grommets

Healthy Grommets (New from our friends at Retro Linear)

Hammer Tips: 

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.

Original (early cube) Hammers with Gooves

Wood Core Hammer Tips (Upper Register) with Grooves

Healthy (New) Hammer Tips

 

Sustain Pedal and Damper Felts:

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.

Bad Damper Felts

Bad Fraying Damper Felts

 

Cosmetic Condition:

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.

Scratched Logo

Tears in Tolex

 

Original Accessories:

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.

Original Rhodes Case Accessories

Original Rhodes Accessories Including Legs Pouch and “Case Candy”

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.

Ask Good Questions

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:

  • “How long have you owned this Rhodes?”
  • “What issues have you had with it since you owned it?”
  • “When was the last time it was professionally serviced?” 
  • “Have any of the parts been replaced? Has anything been modified or updated?”

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.

37 comments

  1. Walter Cashew says:

    Hello there. Can you recommend some one that services a 1976 seventy three suitcase in the Detroit area. Chicago is a bit far for me.

    • mbrink says:

      I promise it’s well worth the drive. CEPCo is one of the most specialized Rhodes restoration shops in the world. Give me, Max Brink, a call at (312)476-9528. I will be in Detroit in October.

  2. D Coppola says:

    This was super helpful! Especially the pictures. Thanks!

  3. Lawrence M. Freeman says:

    I have a Rhodes Mark I Seventy Three suitcase piano that I would like to sell. I’m in the Baltimore area and if the price is right, I will even ship it to you.

  4. EP says:

    Thank you for putting this together. In terms of sound, I understand an 88 key will always sound different than a 73 key due to the active vs passive electronic difference. Is this true, or can you get an 88 to sound like a 73 through rebuilding? I’m currently hunting for a 73 key fixer upper if the answer is no…

    • mbrink says:

      The 88 and 73 key pianos are both available as active (suitcase) or passive (stage) models. The pickups themselves are identical, and the suitcase models just have a built in amplifier which can be bypassed if you want to send the signal straight from the pickups into another amplifier. In active/passive electric guitars and basses the pickups themselves usually have different impedance but in this case the pickups are perfectly identical.

      The difference is that there are more pickups wired together for the 88 models vs. 73 models and this pickup configuration difference is the main difference in tone between the 73 vs. 88 models. All other components between the 73/88 are identical besides the extra keys and the extra pickups which change the impedance of the instrument’s output.

      • EP says:

        Thanks for the explanation. It was clear, and helpful, and has solidified my intention to own a 73 at some point in the future. That and a Wurlitzer, which are just incredibly dreamy instruments. Thanks again!

  5. Nicolas says:

    Yo Max, do you know a contact in DFW that is in the restoration/set-up or maintenance business of these Fender Rhodes pianos. The only guy I knew had a stroke 2 years ago and my piano is in need if some TLC.

    • mbrink says:

      Sorry, I have not experienced anyone’s work from Texas first hand so I cannot make any endorsement of anyone’s services. If you are contacting a Jack-of-all-trades shop make sure that they actually know what they are doing and trust your gut. If you are looking for true restoration we might be the best shop closest to you.

  6. alfred says:

    I have the opportunity to buy a fender mark2, the price is good, but the guy to sells me, tell me that the pickups are borken, he tells me that because the piano do not sound, anyone knows if it coult be for another cause?

    Thank’s

    • mbrink says:

      It depends on how many pickups are dead. Sometimes it’s just one or two and other times it can land in the 20-40 range. It could be as simple as a bad connection but MKII pianos are very prone to dead pickups. Pickups will run $5-15 each plus the labor to install them. Unless the piano is partially restored or in exceptional condition we usually pick them up with dead pickups for around $300-500.

  7. Geff says:

    I have a Rhodes Eighty Eight 88 key that appears to be in excellent condition, no rips or scuffs on the case and nor heavily used as his primary instrument was the guitar. It has not been serviced in the past 10 years that I know of. It was my son’s who left to join the Navy and I need to get it out of the house as we are remodeling. What is the best way to sell this interment?

    • mbrink says:

      We would recommend Reverb.com if you are willing to ship the piano or craigslist if you want to sell it locally.

    • Tony Joseph says:

      Hi Geff,
      I saw your posting in the blog under
      ChicagoElectricPianoCompany.com regarding the Rhodes 88 you had and wanted to sell.
      I would be very interested in knowing more about it…seeing some pics and following up to purchase it from you.
      Please get back to me and let me know.
      Thank you,
      Tony

  8. Mark says:

    I am interested in purchasing a Rhodes and currently have two choices
    1) A 1974 Fender Rhodes 73 Stage Keyboard
    OR
    2) A 1976 Rhodes 73 Suitcase Keyboard

    With all things being equal which would be the better investment?

    Is one known to sound better than the other?

    Is one known to be less prone to problems?

    Note I haven’t played one since 1978 and would just like to get back into it.

    • mbrink says:

      We actually sold the 1976 suitcase this past month so it is not currently available. We have a great 1978 Rhodes Suitcase 73 that is currently being restored and we have three Stage 73 models from the 1974-1975 period of production. Contact Max Brink at max@chicagoelectricpiano.com for ordering information.

      • JohnM says:

        What is the approximate weight/cost of shipping a suitcase model to or from your location to San Antonio, Texas?

        • mbrink says:

          It depends on the delivery time frame. We usually use 3-5 day freight which can range around $300-400 with packaging. Or we can use piano moving companies which take much longer but are less expensive in most cases.

  9. johann sebastian says:

    Thank you so much for this valuable information. Anyway, I keep my 1975 88. Unfortunately, I’m to far away (Belgium) to get along and have it serviced at your workshop. Best wishes.

  10. John Homan says:

    Do you know a place in california that does good service work on a 1973 Mark 1 suitcase> thank you for the extremely informative postings.

  11. rhonda says:

    I have a Rhodes Mark 1 -73 keyboard,interested in maybe selling it,do you know of someone in the KC.Missouri area that can take a look at it for me?

  12. April says:

    Thanks for such helpful info! I recently inherited a 88 wooden key Rhodes piano and have yet to find a pic online of another Rhodes with identical characteristics to verify its model and year. It has 2 accessary inputs on front, input, and 3 black knobs (volume, treble/bass, and speed/intensity). The serial number is K 729853. Do you have any additional info to help me? Thank you for your time!!!

    • Paul says:

      There are 4 numbers imprinted on the inside when you take the top off. They are the week and year of manufacture. they’re located at the back-most right of the piano above the tines and sound bars.

  13. John says:

    What about the alignment of the tines? I’ve seen some Rhodes for sale where the tines look to be shiny and in relatively good shape but are either bent or just mis-aligned so tines for adjacent notes point away from each other or together rather than parallel.

    • mbrink says:

      That should come out in a “The Works” level of setup. I would still say the most important thing is that they are rust free. Everything else is serviceable to some degree but rust is an irreversible chemical reaction.

  14. James Stiller says:

    Hello, I have a 1979 (or 8) Mark I Stage Piano 73 in good shape. However, when I loaned it to a group of young musicians at the high school I was teaching at it came back without the pedal. Do you have or know where I could purchase one? Thanks. Jim

  15. Phil Leatherbury Sr. says:

    Hi I have an older Rhodes 88 Suitcase. it was purchased in the mid 70 and I would like to have it assessed and possible serviced. I live in the between Philadelphia and Lancaster in pa. can you recommend someone?
    Also are there opportunities to learn how service and repair Rhodes pianos

  16. Marilyn says:

    I have 1970 suitcase 73 key. I received it as part of an inheritance. I do not know the last service or the amount of time it was store in the home. However, I do not have use for it and want to list it. Can you recommend someone in Western Tennessee to appraise it for me?

    • KJamison says:

      Hello. If you wanted to sell it quickly and local then Craigslist is the best way. Depending on the condition of the piano you may get between $500 to $1000.

  17. Patrick Gallagher says:

    Hello Max!!!

    Thank you for this important read. I plan to buy a jacked 1978? Janus Suitcase from my Organ teacher. The keys stick, it’s been siting since the 90s and I’m not even sure if my teacher still has the 5 Pin Janus cable (because it wasn’t originally his). What is this Rhodes worth about?? I know it couldn’t possibly be over a $1000.

    Thanks!!

  18. Tony Williams says:

    I have a Mark 1 Stage Piano 73 and wonder if it’s worth anything.

    • mbrink says:

      Yes. It has some value. It’s hard to value rare instruments like this without sitting down with them in person. In the end the thing that affects the value the most is the potential buyer’s perception of the instrument and the ability (or patience!) to connect with a buyer that values it the highest.

  19. Elliott Gehr says:

    ANYTHING SPECIAL ABOUT AN APRIL 1970 RHODES SUITCASE 73, MODEL 1473 SERIAL # FR-2587? No grooves on the hammer tip .rubbers, grommets uniform throughout, straight, even keyboard. Thanks for the “what to look for…” One tone bar in the low end has a bit of corrosion, and no other tone bar is afflicted. It’s been a table for too long and needs to go where it can be loved. I had the electronics checked and the instrument tuned in 1987. More may have been done — I don’t remember. Value Range?

    • mbrink says:

      I hear of people paying anywhere from $200-1,000 for an unserviced Rhodes. I see others going for higher, but unless it’s been regularly serviced or partially restored (–professionally), then I would hesitate to recommend selling it for higher than that price range.

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