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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.

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.

How to Value a Fender Rhodes.

How to Value a Rhodes Piano

Ira Rhodes With Logo

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.