Fender Rhodes

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Fender Rhodes
Rhodes Mk II 73 cropped.jpg
Counter strike diophone ( electrophone )
keyboard instrument
Related instruments
Wurlitzer 200 A , Hohner Pianet ,
Hohner Clavinet , Yamaha CP-70 / CP-80
Category: keyboard player

The Fender Rhodes , Rhodes Piano or simply Rhodes is an electromechanical musical instrument that was developed by Harold Rhodes (1910-2000). Originally intended as a portable piano replacement, it became popular due to its new and completely independent sound. The Fender Rhodes piano came and is used especially in jazz , pop , funk and soul music . Due to the unmistakable, bell -like sound, which is softer than other electric pianos such as the Wurlitzer 200 A , the good portability and the relatively high tuning stability, it quickly became very popular with musicians.

The Rhodes Electric Piano

Harold Rhodes has been experimenting on different versions of the electric piano since World War II . The breakthrough came in 1965 with the "Fender Rhodes Electric Piano", a portable piano with 73 keys and an integrated amplifier / loudspeaker system.

The most common variants of the piano are the Fender Rhodes Mark I, available from 1970, and the Fender Rhodes Mark II, introduced in 1979, which differs from its predecessor primarily through its flat upper shell. Both models have undergone minor technical modifications over time and are equipped with 73 (pitch range E 1 to E 4 ) or 88 keys (pitch range A 2 to c 5 ) and are available in two versions: the "Suitcase" and the "Stage" variant. The former has an integrated transistor amplifier with loudspeaker system as well as a stereo pan effect (which, to be precise, consists of two coordinated tremolo effects, one for the left and one for the right channel) and, due to its enormous weight, is particularly suitable as a Suitable for both home and studio use, whereas the “stage” version requires an external amplifier - the most common are the Roland Jazz Chorus JC-120 and Fender Twin Reverb (the latter was also used by Rhodes to test the Rhodes pianos) . The better portability as well as the need for external amplification on stages, which is usually the case anyway, ensured that the models with 73 keys in the “stage” version are still the most common today.

Although the Fender Rhodes is no longer in production and has been increasingly forgotten since the late 1980s, the instrument has experienced a renaissance in the field of electronic music since the late 1990s. The characteristic Rhodes sound has recently been in great demand, especially in house , nu-jazz and R&B productions, which has also led to an increased demand for old Rhodes pianos.

Digital instruments that try to imitate the sound, feel and dynamics of the Fender Rhodes (among other things) and represent a more pleasantly transportable alternative are available from some major manufacturers, for example the GEM Promega series, Hammond SK series, Kawai MP series , Clavia Nord Stage and Nord Electro, Roland, Yamaha and the Korg SV-1.

Sound generation

The asymmetrical tuning fork, the sound generator of the Rhodes piano

With the Rhodes, the sound is generated by a so-called "asymmetrical tuning fork ". This consists of an approx. 1 mm thin, round tuning rod ("Tine"), which is made to vibrate by a rubber mallet triggered by the key. This rod is firmly connected to the tonebar, a resonator that resembles a vibraphone plate , by a metal block . By pressing a key, both sides of the tuning fork are made to vibrate . Both low-frequency tones are created by the tuning rod as well as high-frequency overtones , but due to the inharmonicity, these are very widely spread because, in contrast to a string , there is no string tension - the tuning rod can be viewed as a one-sided string. The first overtone has 7 times the frequency of the fundamental, the second overtone 21 times. Further overtones of the output signal are created by the magnetic pickup, which is inherently non-linear.

The tone bar, like a vibraphone, cannot get out of tune ; the pitch of the tuning rod is determined by a tuning spring that can be pushed back and forth on the tuning rod. The Rhodes is therefore more out of tune from being transported than from temperature differences, as is common with a piano or grand piano . The sound is picked up by a pickup similar to that of an electric guitar.


Early models

The Army Air Corps Piano (1942–1945)

During World War II, Harold Rhodes , who served in the Air Force, was hired to use his method to teach wounded soldiers how to play the piano in order to speed their recovery process. So that the bedridden patients could practice the piano, Rhodes built a small portable instrument that was played while sitting in bed. “He put the first copies together from material that was simply lying around in the barracks, mostly old aircraft parts. To do this, instead of the strings, he cut pressure lines made of aluminum like the sound tubes of a xylophone as a sound generator ”. Around 125,000 of this Army Air Corps piano, called "Xylette", were built between 1942 and 1945.

The Pre-Piano (1946)

A Rhodes pre-piano

Due to the great success in the hospitals of the US Army (over 250,000 GIs received Rhodes piano lessons, Rhodes himself received a Commemoration of Exceptional Civilian Service for his therapeutic successes) Rhodes founded his own small company after the war and established the so-called “Pre -Piano “, already with built-in amplifier. He had taught himself the necessary skills in metalworking and electronics . However, the project failed and for the next few years the idea of ​​a small, electric piano was on hold. However, the pre-piano from Wurlitzer was noticed, which took this as the starting point for the development of their own electronic pianos.

The collaboration with Leo Fender, "Red Top" series (1959–65)

Rhodes piano bass

Despite the failure, Rhodes continued to work tirelessly and developed a larger piano the size of a smaller piano. This instrument caught the attention of Leo Fender , who had taken a dominant position in the market in the 1950s through the development of electric guitars such as Telecaster or Stratocaster, as well as various amplifiers. Fender provided Rhodes with money, space, and opportunities to market his piano. The collaboration between the two autodidacts, sealed by the founding of the Fender Rhodes company, lasted from 1959 to 1965. Leo Fender did some things to improve the design, for example he increased the service life of the tuning rods from 40,000 to 1.5 million strokes. However, the relationship between the two developers was fraught with personal tension. At that time the first series of Fender Rhodes pianos came on the market. The products in the series were the now extremely rare "Piano Bass" (1960), "Piano 61", "Piano 73" and "Piano Celeste" (the last three appeared in 1963 and 1964), which were and 4-octave versions existed. Because of the red lid that was present on all models in the series, these Rhodes are now called "Red-Top" Rhodes. The piano bass, which only covers two and a half octaves, became known through Ray Manzarek from the Doors (who did not have a permanent bass player in their line-up): during live performances he played the piano bass with his left hand and the organ with his right hand .

The era of classic electric pianos (1965–83)

In 1965 "Fender Rhodes" was sold to the CBS company, with which the triumphant advance of the Fender Rhodes electric piano began. Up to 50 Rhodes pianos were delivered daily for the next 18 years. This era produced eight series, almost every series consisted of different models:

Fender Rhodes "Silver-Top" Electric Piano (1965–69)

Fender Rhodes Silver-Top Suitcase

The Fender Rhodes "Silver-Top" had a characteristic silver lid and was the first real Rhodes electric piano. Of the various versions available at the time, the most common was the version with 73 keys, superimposed on a 50 W amplifier (4 × 12 ″ speakers, mono), with built-in EQ (bass / treble) and tremolo effect. The sound was rough and bell-like.

This model can be heard, for example, on " Bitches Brew " (1969/70) by Miles Davis , one of the first jazz records on which a Rhodes was used. It is interesting to compare this record (which is consciously looking for new stylistic devices) with the recordings made just a few weeks later by Bill Evans , who uses the Fender Rhodes Electric Piano in his already established, chamber music trio style. Evans said: “I've been happy to use the Fender Rhodes to add a little color to certain performances - but only as an adjunct. [...] No electric instrument can begin to compare with the quality and resources of a good acoustic instrument. " What is surprising about Evans' - relatively critical - position on his own recordings is that his idea of ​​the sound of the acoustic piano often came astonishingly close to the characteristic "bell-like" sound of the Rhodes.

Fender Rhodes Mark I (1969-75)

With the beginning of the 1970s, the Fender Rhodes product line continued to develop. The “Fender Rhodes Electric Piano” was renamed “Fender Rhodes Mark I”, which for the first time brought with it the black lid and the matt, silver control strip (“Namerail”). In addition, a suitcase version with amplifier (80 W, stereo) and a stage version without amplifier (which made it much lighter and cheaper) were now available. The construction was further developed: the wooden hammers, which formed furrows after prolonged use and were difficult to repair, were replaced by those with replaceable rubber heads, whereby the hardness of the rubber varied depending on the octave groups. This ensured that the sound remained the same despite different pitches. The resonators became thinner and lighter, which reduced the overall weight of the piano and increased the sound quality. The tuning rods were made more durable, resulting in a more stable sound, while maintaining the bell-like character for the most part. In 1972 the sound generation was so far developed that even tones in the extreme bass and treble range could be reproduced stably, so that for the first time a model with 88 keys could be released.

Rhodes Mark I (1975-79)

Rhodes Mark I SeventyThree Stage

From 1975 the name Fender was deleted from the brand name, there was now the Rhodes Suitcase Piano and the Rhodes Mark I Stage Piano, each with either 73 or 88 keys. But not only the name, the sound generation had also changed: The hammers were now completely made of plastic, which further reduced the weight and the tuning rods were made even more durable. However, the heads were still made of rubber, with the hardness of the rubber differing depending on the octave groups. This ensured that the sound remained the same despite different pitches. This also changed the sound of the instruments compared to the previous generation: The Rhodes sound of the late 1970s was softer and less bell-like. Most of the other changes were made to the Suitcase version: The amplifier now had 100 W stereo as well as inputs and outputs for connection to a mixer , so that the Rhodes amplifier no longer had to be microphone-off during live use. The control panel was redesigned and now offered sliders for EQ, intensity and speed controls for the stereo tremolo effect and jack sockets for inserting external effects devices .

Rhodes Mark II (1979-83)

Rhodes Mark II

In 1979, at the height of the popularity of the Rhodes pianos, CBS decided to give the instruments a new look with a view to the new decade: the Rhodes Suitcase Piano and the Rhodes Mark II Stage Piano were almost identical in terms of sound behavior the Mark I models, but the design was revised: The instruments were now mainly black, and the lid was designed so that an additional small keyboard instrument could be placed on it. In 1980 a smaller version, the Rhodes 54, was introduced. Also this year, against the will of Harold Rhodes, pianos with plastic keys were offered for the first time, which should compensate for the disadvantage of the wooden keys that warped over time. However, this changed the feel of the playing negatively, it was similar to that of the later digital piano . At the same time, however, the versions with wooden keys continued to be sold.

Rhodes Mark III EK-10 (1980-1983)

Rhodes Mark III EK-10

Although this model was still made in the classic era of the Fender Rhodes electric pianos, it can only be counted towards this era for chronological reasons. First built in 1980, the Mark III EK-10 had a completely new approach: a synthesizer component was built into a Stage 73 model in order to create a "futuristic" sound by changing the original Rhodes tone. The background to this was the takeover of the synthesizer company ARP by CBS, which also led to the new edition of the ARP Chroma in 1981 under the name Rhodes Chroma.

While the Rhodes Chroma had nothing to do with the prized Rhodes sound, the Mark III Ek-10 was essentially a Mark II with an additional built-in analog-electronic sound generator. The original Rhodes sound and the electronically generated sound could be played independently of one another, mixed together and continuously detuned from one another, which resulted in an expansion of the instrument's sound possibilities. Harold Rhodes was apparently very angry that the Mark III was advertised as the "new Rhodes".

Student Models (~ 1965–1974), Home Piano (1974–1977) and the Club Model (1982)

Similar to Wurlitzer , Rhodes also brought out his own models for music lessons, schools and universities. These "student piano" models were technically completely identical to the Stage and Suitcase Rhodes. They were available in different colors (“KBS 7024” 1965–1966 gold; “Jetsons model” 1967–1969 in light yellow, avocado green, fiesta red and cinnamon red) and had the so-called “fish fin design”, a slightly rounder design with only one stand, in that the pedal was integrated. In contrast to the stage version, these models had a headphone output, a music stand and an integrated metronome. The matching amplifier was intended as a bench. A specially made mixer with headphones was provided for the teacher, from which he could either listen to or mute all students.

From 1969 this series was replaced by the KMC-1, which came with the lid of a Mark I, but had the features of the student model (metronome, music stand and headphone output) and was attached to an amplifier just like a suitcase. The only major innovation of this model was the cassette recorder built in for training purposes . For the first time, this model had a walnut paneling on the sides.

1974 Rhodes withdrew from music education. The KMC-1 was replaced by the “Rhodes Home Piano”, which was completely clad with walnut wood, but was otherwise identical to the Student Piano. This model was produced only 250 times from 1974 to 1977.

There was also the "Club Model" made in Great Britain in 1982 , which, as the name suggests, was intended for clubs. Apart from the black wooden paneling and the controls for setting under the keyboard, this model was identical to the suitcase model.

Dyno-My-Rhodes - The Famous Modification (1974– ~ 1985)

Rhodes Mark II with Dyno Flat Top, Pro Piano Preamp and Tri-Stereo Chorus; on top: a Hohner Clavinet D6

In the 1970s, Chuck Monte began in the USA to develop various modifications for the Rhodes under the name "Dyno-My-Piano" and bring them onto the market. In addition to the "Flat Top" lid, which also made it possible for Mark I owners to place additional keyboards on the Rhodes, which was previously problematic because of the round lid, there was the "Percussion Pedal", with which you can adjust the distances between Tines and pickups, and thus also the tone, could be changed in real time with a movement of a controller with the knee (which is why the name “pedal” is actually inappropriate). With the "Tri-Stereo-Chorus" the Rhodes signal became stereo , and you could create different effects and insert additional external effects devices . The "Stereochorus" only offered a normal chorus effect and no insert option, but it was cheaper. The “Ground Shield Kit” was interesting for live and studio use with several keyboards (and thus also sources of interference), which isolated the Rhodes, which is otherwise very susceptible to interference. The Dyno-My Midification made it possible for the first time to control the emerging midi expanders and keyboards via the Rhodes keyboard. What made the company famous, however, was the Dyno-My “Pro Piano” preamp, a preamplifier with an integrated equalizer that made the Rhodes' naturally relatively muffled and mid-range sound “big” and “shiny”. This preamp was used by a large number of artists in the 1970s and 1980s, including Marvin Gaye , Michael Jackson , Earth, Wind & Fire , Rick James , Santana , Steely Dan , George Duke and Joe Zawinul . For many people, the “Dyno” sound is the epitome of the Rhodes sound. From the Dyno sound, Yamaha also developed the well-known Rhodes sound on FM synthesis (first represented in series production in the Yamaha DX 7), which was used a lot in pop music in the late 1980s and which differs so much from the original that Today it has its own replica in many keyboards. With the end of the classic Rhodes era in the mid-1980s, the time of the Dyno-My-Piano company also ended.

After the classic era

Rhodes Mark V

Displacement by Digital Keyboards, Mark V (1984)

In 1983, Rhodes was sold by CBS to William Schultz, who also took over Fender in 1985 . This meant the end of the classic Rhodes electric pianos. After the Mark IV, which supposedly should have steel keys, never reached the market, Rhodes released the Mark V. In the course of the increasing digital boom, the successor model Mark V, which was only sold as a stage version with 73 keys appeared, and is now considered the ultimate Rhodes, just bad. Of this Mark V, prototypes with MIDI connection were also developed, of which only three were built - one of these rarities is owned by Chick Corea , who used it on the first album of his “Chick Corea Elektric Band”. In 1987 the “Rhodes” trademark was sold to the Japanese company Roland . The now almost 80-year-old Harold Rhodes was officially included in the product development for a new electric piano, but the Rhodes MK-80, presented two years later, only appeared as a digital piano with imitations of various electric piano sounds. In the years that followed, other instruments came onto the market under the name Rhodes, including the VK-1000 drawbar organ. Harold Rhodes himself was hugely disappointed with the brand's reorientation towards digital instruments. In 1997 he announced that he had bought back the naming rights and, together with family members, was considering building a new electric piano. Before these plans could be implemented, however, Harold Rhodes died in 2000 shortly before his 90th birthday.

Present and Future

In late 2000, Major Key's John R. McLaren designed and built a prototype for a new series that never hit the market, the Rhodes "Major Key 54". This Rhodes officially consists of 65% new parts made with the old, restored machines, 30% unused original parts, and 5% completely redesigned parts, including the Harmonic Clarifier, a preamp that is also regularly used on the Market is available. McLaren justifies the somewhat unusual color scheme (silver lid, brown nameplate, cream-colored cover) as follows: "As for the choice of new cosmetics, it was simply 'for fun'".

With the death of Harold Rhodes in 2000, the naming rights of the company passed to Joseph A. Brandstetter. According to an email with which he addressed the members of the Yahoo -Rhodes-Mailgroup in 2006, he is developing a series of 5 different new Rhodes models with the involvement of some American Rhodes specialists, which should again have completely electromechanical sound generation, and which is to be presented at the NAMM Show 2007.

The statement of this e-mail was obviously confirmed on January 7th, 2007, as the new management of the company Rhodes put its own website (see web links) online. The presentation of 9 different new electromechanical pianos with various new features will be announced at the Namm 2007 in Anaheim between January 18th and 21st.

At the Namm in Anaheim and the Musikmesse in Frankfurt 2007, Rhodes presented the new models in different colors with the mechanics of the Mark V and a completely newly developed preamp. The active models have an integrated equalizer and a tremolo function, there is also an active version with midi and a completely passive one. There will be models with 61, 73 and 88 keys. The Mark VII is expected to hit the US market at the end of 2007; sales for Europe have not yet been confirmed.

According to a press release dated June 19, 2009, Rhodes Music Corporation has commenced manufacturing operations for the Mark VII in Longbeach, California. On the homepage of rhodespiano.com you can see videos of the trade magazine Keyboard which show the manufacturing process.

On the company website there is only a contact form under the heading “Shop” because all instruments are delivered “Custom Built”. A price is also not given. The new Rhodes can also be used as a master keyboard, it has MIDI and USB connections.

At Musikmesse 2010 it was announced that the new Rhodes products are expected to be available for testing and ordering from numerous German and Austrian musical instrument retailers in the first half of 2010. This is made possible by two German trading agents who will process the dealer orders for the German and Austrian markets. The cheapest model (S-series) with 73 keys may be available at a “street price” of around EUR 3,200. The sale of the 61-key models is not planned, only the instruments with 73 and 88 keys should be available.

Audio samples

See also

Related instruments


Web links

Commons : Rhodes pianos  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Richard R. Smith: Fender. A sound makes history. 2nd Edition. Nikol, Hamburg 2005, ISBN 3-937872-18-3 , p. 235.
  2. Keith Shadwick : Bill Evans. Everything happens to me, a musical biography. Backbeat Books et al. a., San Francisco CA et al. a. 2002, ISBN 0-87930-708-0 , p. 150.
  3. Major Key 54 on fenderrhodes.com, accessed January 2, 2016
  4. ^ History . RhodesPiano.com, p. 3; Retrieved October 18, 2007
  5. Musical Merchandise Review , cf. News section of the company website
  6. youtube.com: On Green Dolphin Street
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on May 3, 2006 in this version .