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Rhodes Mark II 73 Stage Piano

The Rhodes piano is an electro-mechanical piano, invented by Harold Rhodes[1] during the fifties and later manufactured in a number of models, first in collaboration with Fender and after 1965 by [CBS].

As a member of the electrophone sub-group of percussion instruments, it employs a piano-like keyboard with hammers that hit small metal tines, amplified by electromagnetic pickups.[1] A 2001 New York Times article described the instrument as "a pianistic counterpart to the electric guitar"[2] having a "shimmering, ethereal sound."[2] Artist D'Angelo described it has having a "thick, almost gooey sound."[3]

Listen: Video highlighting the Rhodes Piano sound.

The instrument gained popularity in the 1960's and 1970's,[1] used by musicians including Herbie Hancock, the Doors, Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder. In the late 1960's, along with other electric piano's from Wurlitzer and Baldwin, the Rhodes piano had allowed music classes for the first time to incorporate the piano — with earphones enabling multiple students in the same room to effectively learn the instrument without disturbing each other.[4]

Due to the unique timbre and special sound, the Rhodes piano enjoyed a huge resurgence of popularity beginning in the 1990s[2] — with contemporary artists highlighting the instrument, including Portishead, Jamiroquai, Cibo Matto, D'Angelo and Erykah Badu.[2] The popularity is still huge today, and Rhodes pianos sell for high prices.

The last model, the MkV, was released in 1984, when the factory in Fullerton was closed down. Rhodes Music Corporation re-introduced the instrument in 2007.[5]



Rhodes Pre-Piano
Rhodes PianoBass
Fender Rhodes 73 Suitecase (Silver Top)
Fender Rhodes Mk I 88 Stage
Rhodes Mk I 88 Suitecase
Rhodes Mk II 73 Stage

WWII Initially called the Army Air Corps piano,[1] the instrument was invented during World War II by Harold Rhodes[1] (1910-2000) in an effort to create a piano that injured soldiers could play while lying in a hospital bed. Rhodes built the first model in 1942,[1] a 29-note keyboard using aluminum tubing from a B-17 bomber aircraft.[1]

During World War II (after the battle of the Bulge), the Air Surgeon General asked Rhodes, by now America's most popular piano teacher, to devise a musical therapy program for convalescing GI's. At a loss to know where to get enough pianos, Rhodes hit upon the brilliant idea of using Air-Force surplus parts from U.S. bombers to make miniature "lap-top" piano kits the troops could build for themselves.[6]

The Air Force asked Rhodes to write a training manual and draw blueprints of what came to be known as the Army Air Corps piano,[1] so soldiers could make their own. Also called a "Xylette," thousands of the rudimentary models were built.[7]

1946-1965: Harold Rhodes subsequently founded The Rhodes Piano Corporation and introduced the Pre-Piano at NAMM 1946. In 1959, Rhodes entered a joint venture with Fender Electric Instrument Company to manufacture the instruments. The arrangement lasted for six years — with a single model marketed as FenderRhodes PianoBass, a 32-note version with only of the low range of the piano.[7]

1965-1983: CBS purchased the Fender company in 1965,[8] and offered Rhodes a release from his Fender agreement.[7] Rhodes stayed with CBS,[7] with the company then offering a full 73-note model, following with numerous other models and improvements and only dropping the Fender portion of the Fender Rhodes name in 1974.[7] Production in the 16 year CBS period reached as high as 50 units per day.[7]

1983-1996: Bill Schultz, head of CBS, bought Rhodes in 1983.[7] Roland Corporation (Kakehashi Corporation) then acquired the Rhodes trademark from Bill Schultz in 1987.[7] Production ended 1984.[7]

2007: In 2007, the Rhodes Music Corporation re-introduced the instrument.[5]


The first Fender Rhodes product was the FenderRhodes PianoBass, a 32-note model. No other models were mass-produced until after the CBS takeover of Fender in 1965. Shortly afterwards the 73 and 61 key Fender Rhodes Electric Piano went into production.

The '60s also saw the Fender Rhodes Celeste, the Student/Instructor models and systems as well as the very rare Domestic models. In 1970 the more portable Mk I Stage model was added to the range as well as the two 88 note Stage and Suitcase models. The Suitcase models included a built in pre-amp with the famous Stereo-Vibrato, plus a cabinet with stereo amplifier and speakers. In 1980, a 54-key Stage model was also produced.

The Rhodes went through continuous internal improvements: the hammers became all plastic, the pedestals changed shape (and were bare for a short while, with felt was on the underside of the hammer), the pickups were altered, and the tine structure modified to endure more wear. The Mk II model was introduced in late 1979.

Also manufactured for a brief period was the Rhodes Mk III EK-10 which had analog oscillators and filters alongside the existing electromechanical elements. The overall effect was that of a Rhodes piano and a synthesizer being played simultaneously. Compared with the new polyphonic synthesizers being marketed at the same time it was limited in scope and sound, and very few units were sold.

The final classic Rhodes was the Mk V, introduced in 1984. Among other improvements, it had a lighter body and all new action with an improved cam, increasing the hammer stroke by 23%. With competition from digital and polyphonic synthesizers and the introduction of MIDI, production of Rhodes instruments ended in late 1984.

A new Rhodes Mark 7 was introduced at NAMM 2007 and Musik Messe 2007, featuring the same electromechanical design as the original instrument, but with a new futuristic look and number of improvements.[9]

Sound-producing mechanism

Tuning forks of  Fender Rhodes Mk I

The Rhodes piano's tone-generating principles are derived from the concept of an asymmetrical tuning fork, with a stiff wire (called a "tine"), struck by a felt-tipped (neoprene rubber-tipped after 1970) hammer, acting as one side of the tuning fork, and a counterbalancing resonating tone bar above the tine acting as the other side. This tone generator kit's vibrations are then picked up by an electromagnetic pickup (one for each tine), and amplified. The pickups' output is fed through a volume and a tone potentiometer on the namerail, and then to an output for external amplification.

The sound produced has a bell-like character not unlike a vibraphone, celesta or glockenspiel. Because the instrument produces sound electrically, the signal can be processed to yield many different timbral colors. Often the signal is processed through a stereo low-frequency pan oscillation (which was called Vibrato on the Rhodes front panel) effects unit, which pans the signal back and forth between right and left channels. It is this "rounded" or chiming sound that is called the classic Rhodes sound, which can be heard on, for example, many of Stevie Wonder's or Herbie Hancock's songs. This "chiming sound" is, as an example, used in the Radiohead song "Subterranean Homesick Alien" from the album OK Computer. The preamp with vibrato was included on the original FenderRhodes Electric Pianos and after 1970 (with stereo panning) on the "suitcase" models; the "stage" models lack the preamp and the amplified speaker cabinet, but can be retrofitted.

During the 1980s a set of Rhodes modifications done by a company called "Dyno My Piano" became popular, inspired by one particular and very famous rental piano in L.A., the E-Rhodes, which can be heard on many records from that time. The modifications made the sound brighter, harder, and more bell-like, bringing out more of the attack in the Rhodes sound and making cut through a mix like a grand piano. For instance, when notes are played forcefully, the sound becomes less sweet, as nonlinear distortion creates a characteristic "growling" or "snarling", called "bark" by pianists. Skilled players can contrast the sweet and rough sounds to create an extremely expressive performance. This sound was emulated by the Yamaha DX7 with a patch that was enormously popular during the 80's (see DX7 Rhodes).

See also


External links



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