Tag Archive for Mark I

Custom Shop: “Champagne Cowboy” Rhodes

Here is a glimpse of the latest Custom Shop Rhodes from The Chicago Electric Piano Company: Did we finally go over the top with this one?

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This one will certainly turn some heads! We dubbed this finish with the nickname “Champagne Cowboy” because of it’s champagne sparkle top and brown western tolex. On top of that we outfitted the piano with walnut cheek blocks.

This Fender Rhodes is from 1973, right in the heart of the early Fender Rhodes production period. We restored the piano with our “Rebirth” level of restoration services, virtually rebuilding the piano from scratch. Throughout the process we leveled the key bed and set the proper black key height, replaced all action felts and aging rubber components such as the grommets and hammer tips. Our goal was to keep the sound of the Rhodes as true to the sound of the 1973 production period by using only period-correct vintage parts and top quality reproduction parts that bring out the early Rhodes’ signature sound.

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Custom Shop: The Black and Brown Suitcase

There goes another stunning custom Rhodes!

Have a look at the “Black and Brown” Rhodes Suitcase:

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A Rhodes Reborn!

Here’s the latest beauty from our workshop: 1975 Rhodes Mark I Suitcase 73.

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This beauty could have been yours but someone fell in love with it before we even had a chance to apply its new tolex! It’s not too surprising since this Rhodes is from one of our favorite eras of Rhodes production. This Rhodes originally came from a school and besides the tolex being torn up it was in incredible condition internally when it came in. (And the good news is we have a few more Rhodes from this classroom set if you are interested…)

As you have come to expect from our fully restored pianos we started with a complete leveling of the key bed and action setup. From there, all aging rubber and felt components were replaced or treated in order to make sure that this piano plays and sounds just like new. We source only the top quality parts for our restorations from a variety of parts suppliers as well as our collection of vintage parts. In the end, our pianos get a detailed restoration process that leaves them playing and sounding better than when they left the Rhodes factory–and ready for another 40 musical years. 

If you are interested in a completely restored Fender Rhodes piano please contact max@chicagoelectricpiano.com. We have a large inventory of pianos that are in the restoration process and would love to help you find just the sound that you are looking for!

 

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Fender Bandmaster and Mark I Restoration

How about this for a dream rig? ? ?

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There goes an amazing pairing from our workshop! We just wrapped up a complete “Rebirth” services restoration on this 1972 Rhodes Mark I Stage 73 and all new tolex and grill cloth on its Fender Bandmaster and 2×12″ extension cabinet. As always we promise that it sounds even better than it looks!

When this Rhodes walked in the door it looked like it could really tell a story from all the wear and tear. The case of the Rhodes came in with unbelievably torn tolex and a botched DIY repair. Someone had previously patched the tolex with new pieces and an unknown glue that gave us a hell of a time to clean up off the wooden cabinet. The lid was cracked and scratched, and cheek blocks had cigarette burns on them, but luckily the key tops were in pretty good shape.

We started the restoration with a complete leveling and regulation of the key bed and upgraded the key pedestal with the “pedestal bump” that was used in later Rhodes production giving it a more dynamic and expressive touch. The difference was night and day with the swampy action that it came in with.

Under the hood we replaced the tone bar grommets and the hammer tips with reproductions produced by Retro Linear. We find their grommets to be the best for bringing the sustain and bark back to the harp. Their cubed hammer tip sets capture the feel and the sound of the early Fender Rhodes era of this Rhodes and we wanted to stay as true to that sound as possible.

The lid and cheek blocks were replaced with a “Black Diamond” fiberglass sparkle top from Vintage Vibe. Up close and especially under stage lighting these lids really pop! This was the icing on the cake.

In addition to the new tolex on the Bandmaster, the speakers were also re-coned and a new rear baffle for the speaker cabinet needed to be cut. This cabinet contains a pair of JBL D120F speakers and they sound terrific!

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For Sale: 1973 Fender Rhodes Stage 88

For Sale: 1973 Fender Rhodes Stage 88

Fully Restored and Ships Worldwide!

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Here’s a quick showcase of one of our favorite stage models right now. This is a fully restored 1973 Fender Rhodes Stage 88 including new tolex giving it a mint condition look. The piano is from early 1973 which is right in the heart of the classic Fender Rhodes or early Mark I tone that everyone knows and loves. Along with the deep thumping bass of the full 88 key set This piano has the quintessential Rhodes bark that the Mark I is known for! (Sound samples below).

For a complete list of our inventory of pianos currently being restored click here.

This Fender Rhodes piano was restored using Retro Linear Grommets and Cubed hammer tips which we have found to by the best quality and the most true to the original sound of the Fender Rhodes production era. The action and key bed are fully setup and play wonderfully. The tolex was replaced and looks like new while keeping the original hardware and logos for that element of “elegant decay.” (New hardware or logos are available at the same price if you prefer)

Have a listen as you enjoy the pictures below:

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This piano can be yours for $3,599 and ships worldwide. Please contact Max Brink at (312)476-9528 or max@chicagoelectricpiano.com for ordering information.

***Free delivery to Minnesota or Wisconsin with in person setup for the Thanksgiving weekend***

Custom Shop: Tweed Rhodes Suitcase

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Many people were so blown away from our Tweed Two Tone Rhodes earlier this year that we were quickly contacted to tweed amplifiers and another two Rhodes in the custom finish. This one in particular has the shellac’d finish for the amber shine that we know and love from the classic Fender amps. This gives the tweed a classic aesthetic look and also prevents the tweed from getting stained or from fraying.

This is a 1975 Rhodes Suitcase from the late ’75 period with all plastic hammers. Although this period of production usually takes a little more work to regulate properly the Rhodes can sound and feel just as good as the earlier true Fender Rhodes period. The key to maintaining their classic tone is restoring them with the original cube shaped hammer tips that give them the signature Fender Rhodes attack.

When restoring a Rhodes cosmetically it’s always a tough decision whether or not to use the aging original hardware (corners, handles, logos, etc.) or whether or not to use shiny new hardware. The original hardware maintains the vintage vibes and mojo of the instrument while the new hardware completes the cosmetic overhaul for those that want a brand new finish. In this case the decision was a no brainer… The original Rhodes hardware’s patina and light rust looked way too good with the tweed and amber shellac.

 

Here’s a look at the Custom Tweed Rhodes:

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Custom Shop: The Navy Blue Rhodes Suitcase

Here’s a look at the latest Rhodes from our Custom Shop: The a Navy and Tan Suitcase from 1976.

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The 1972-1975 period is something that I consider the best era of Rhodes production but 1976 pianos have really grown on me over the course of the past year. Although it takes a little more labor to regulate their action properly the feel and tone of the early 1976 pianos is just as solid as ’74-75 pianos. This is especially true in early 1976 when the neoprene rubber hammer tips used were still the cubed tips that were used in the true Fender Rhodes period of production.

My mother raised me not to wear navy with black but sometimes rules are meant to be broken. And the blue strands in the tan grill cloth really ties the entire look together! Have a look:

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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.

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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.

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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.

How to Value a Fender Rhodes.

How to Value a Rhodes Piano

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Part 1: How much is a Fender Rhodes Piano Worth?

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!

Know Your Rhodes Models

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.

How to Date a Rhodes

How can you find the year your Rhodes was manufactured?

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).

Here are some examples from our workshop:
40th week of 1972

4072 = 40th week of 1972

0475 = 4th Week of 1975

0475 = 4th Week of 1975

1780 = 17th week of 1980

1780 = 17th week of 1980

2584 = 25th Week of 1984

2584 = 25th Week of 1984

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.

 

The Ultimate Fender Rhodes Timeline

The Evolution of Fender Rhodes Production and Sound

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.

1960’s: The Sparkle Top Years

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.

1969-Mid ’74: The Early Mark I

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.”

Mid ’74-Late ’75: The Golden Year of the Mark I

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.

Late ’75-1979: The Late Mark I (Pre-Mark II)

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.

1979-1982: 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.

1984: The Mark V

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.

 

UPDATE: For more information on how to find the year of your Rhodes piano, check our post How to Date a Rhodes.

Mark I vs. Mark II

What is the difference between a Fender Rhodes Mark I and Rhodes Mark II? Which model is better? How can I make my Mark I sound more like a Mark II (and vise versa)?

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.

I. The Hammer Tip

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!

II. The Tine

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.

III. Suitcase Model Amplification

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!