UPDATE 2019: Our friends at reverb.com recently published an in depth and exhaustive article about legendary Rhodes tech Buz Watson which can be read here.
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?
It turns out that this story of Buz Watson is somewhat unclear. He is a bit of a legend within Fender Rhodes history. There is little known about him and if anyone has any more information please share it with us via email, facebook, or in the comments section below.
Here’s the short list of the little that we know, which raises more questions than answers…
1) That he was a tech at the Fender Rhodes factory in Fullerton, California.
2) He suddenly left the company to provide Rhodes services and custom modifications that were offered out of his apartment after his innovations were not implemented by the company. And even knowing this, what modifications and for how long?
3) Four of our top ten Rhodes to ever pass through CEPCo have been Buz Watson stamped Rhodes from 1972–and the rest of the top ten is randomly distributed between different models and years of production. But why do they play so much better than other Rhodes?
–And that is all.
…Which leaves us to ask the question: Who is Buz Watson?
I know who Buz Watson is.
He’s me. He’s you.
In fact, there’s a little Buz Watson in all of us.
May be you are right about Buz, but who are you and who am I to know there is a little Buz in you and me?
I’ve got a 72′ Seventy-Three stage model Rhodes with Buz’s name stamped inside it. You’ve already pointed out everything I knew about him. I do know that I’m convinced I have one of the most awesome sounding Rhodes! I hope someone else has more info!
I’ve got a 72 Watson and the Tolex was removed by a previous owner to reveal all hard wood for the box. Does anyone else have all hardwood? My other Rhodes have had particle-board for the box and I wonder if this was built in the factory or a later replacement.
In or around 1978 a lot of the keyboard players in San Diego were having their rhoads reworked by Buzz well after he left Fender. I helped my keybord player, Scott Gorham haul his Rhoads up to his place. His whole place was setup as a workshop. He was really into powered model air planes and had them all over the place in different stages of development. The first thing he did was take the top off and start telling us how Fender would just start running production and use what parts were on the shelf. He started taking off the rubber pads saying they weren’t the right ones etc. His place really smelled of model airplane glue and he had a real ruddy complexion. If he were alive today he would have to be in his early to mid ’70’s. I think I still have one of his business cards. I know I had it until a few years ago.
Hi-Buzz was a friend and worked on my 1976 Rhodes 73 Stage 1977 thru 1982 and was a great guy as you know! Chuck Monte offered to show him how to do his mods but Buzz did not like his sound. I hat Chuck’s preamp and tri-tremolo put in. Buzz was probably right about keeping the original sound! I lost touch with him in late eighties. I’m glad you knew him and I just wanted to say hi.
All the best-Bob Furgo
I still have the Fender Rhodes that I bought in the early 70’s from the original Tom’s Music in Apple Valley, CA. When I get home I will look under the cover and find the year but I know that it has the nice comfortable slightly rounded keys that I like better than the flatter ones of later Rhodes. In the mid 70’s I was not happy with the action and somehow found out about Buz Watson. I called him on the phone and made arrangements with him to bring it down to his apartment workshop and wait while he worked on it. I of course wanted to learn as much as I could about the Rhodes. He was actually quite willing to teach me about how it worked.
1st he took out the 4 wood screws that hold the harp on in relation to the keys and hammers and started moving it around while playing it so the hammers hit slightly different spots on the tines. He said the tines had “sweet spots” to hit to get the best overtones and the factory didn’t pay any attention to them. They just screw it down in a fairly close compromise without listening. I have arrows on my wood that mark the Buz Watson spots so when I take the harp off for some sort of repair, I get it in the “sweet spot” again.
Then he started moving the pickups in a little closer to the tines listening to each one for the optimal attack and overtones. When he had the volume and basic attack about right he would adjust slightly the relationship vertically between the tip of the tine and the end of the pickup (with the two spring loaded wood screws that hold the tines to the wood)which changes the timbre hugely. Tiny differences in tine to pickup distance and tiny differences in above/below or straight on to the pickups makes huge differences in sound and feel.
Sometimes the proper relationship between hammer/tine/pickup could not be had with just pickup movement and the two tine screws because it would mess up the hammer to tine distance and mess up the feel. In these cases he would set the tine to hammer distance similar to the successful neighboring keys, pull the pickup in similar to the neighbors and get a rather large flat screwdriver and gently bend the pickup into the “sweet spot”. Then he would make a fine adjustments again.
I was lucky to get my Rhodes adjusted and get a technicians lesson at the same time. I still have this Rhodes and it still sounds great. God Bless Buz Watson wherever he is!
What do you figure an 88 Key Mark 1 is worth? I have Buz’s service card under the hood indicating he completed work on it on Aug 1, 1978. It plays wonderfully and I think I’ll likely keep it but I’m not really sure what his involvement does to the marketability of one of these incredible pianos if I ever decided to sell. The guy sounds like a bit of a CA legend….
Hey- Matt, Tim, or anyone else out there- do you still have the Buz business cards? If so, I’d love to grab one. I had Buz service my Rhodes decades ago and he stuck his card on it. When I had it serviced again in recent years, the techs actually got rid of the card for no apparent reason at all. I’ve always wanted to have it back, just for sentimental reasons. Hopefully I hear back from someone. Thanks.
I am sorry, my english is very bad but i hope you’ll understand me. i am a old french guy and i was 60 years hold.
So in november 1972 i bought NEW !!! my firt Fender Rhodes,he came directly from Fender factory Fullerton C.A
That’s was a stage 73 notes, on the harp, date code upper right end, red ink 37-72 also with my piano, there was an factory tag QC with the name stamp in red BUZZ WATSON and in a small circle stamp number 15.
I have also another true Fender Rhodes 73 notes stage, date code 12-72 stamp red ink BUZ WATSON also one 1972 suitcase date code 28-72, stamp by B. Kehoe.
These pianos are 100% all original set up factory by buzz WATSON and B.kehoe are amazing, keyboard, harp set up diapason. Never repair or modified, fantastic sound
In generaly the best piano have been made since 1971 summer to middle 1974 but the holy grail year is 1972.
many guys said that’s Buzz Watson left the Fender Rhodes
factory before at the end of 1972 may but why my first
piano bought NEW in october 72 have a date code 37-72 and a original factory tag with his name stamp.
i think that B Watson left the factory only at the end of the 1972 october. Some guys said that’s Buzz stay it consultant for Harold Rhodes CBS Musical Instruments.
i have one 1978 Dyno my piano, the sound like the bell ring
You must do know that’s Leo Fender have spent many
time since 1959 to develope the Rhodes piano for ameliorations and inovations etc… beside his Fender guitars and amps.
Happy new year and pleasure with your all musical instruments.
Bern from PARIS
I just found a 1972 Stage with Buz’s Stamp inside . i am really looking forward to playing it . And yeas i would also like to know if he is still around . Max , I think i will make an appointment soon to have you guys take a look at it . Love your work