A Rhodes Mark II
|Developed||1946–1965, 1965–1984, 1987–1991, 1997, 2007|
|Fender Keyboard bass|
The Rhodes piano (also known as the Fender Rhodes piano or simply Fender Rhodes or Rhodes) is an electric piano, invented by Harold Rhodes during the 1950s, becoming particularly popular throughout the 1970s. It generates sound using keys and hammers in the same manner as an acoustic piano, but the hammers strike pieces of wound metal known as tines, which are then amplified via an electromagnetic pickup.
The instrument evolved from Rhodes attempt to manufacture pianos to teach recovering soldiers during World War II under a strict budget, and development continued throughout the 1940s and 50s. Fender started marketing the Piano Bass, a cut-down version of the piano, but the full-size instrument did not appear until after the sale to CBS in 1965.
The Rhodes piano was used extensively throughout the 1970s, particularly in jazz, pop and soul music. It fell out of fashion for a while in the mid-1980s, principally due to the emergence of polyphonic and later digital synthesizers, especially the Yamaha DX7, and the company was eventually sold to Roland, who manufactured digital versions of the Rhodes without authorisation or approval from its inventor.
In the 1990s, the instrument enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, resulting in Rhodes re-obtaining the rights to the piano in 1997. Although he himself died in 2000, the instrument has since been reissued, and his teaching methods are still receiving active use.
The Rhodes piano features a keyboard with a similar layout to an acoustic piano, but some models contain 73 keys instead of 88. The touch and action of the keyboard is designed to be as close to an acoustic piano as possible. Pressing a key results in a hammer striking a wire wound tightly around bar resembling a tuning fork, known as a tine. A second tone bar sits above this assembly, providing balance. The resulting vibrations from the tine sit below a pickup, which induces an electric current in a similar manner to an electric guitar. The basic mechanical act of hitting tines does not need an external power supply and a Rhodes will make a sound even when not plugged into an amplifier.
Some models of Rhodes include a built-in power amplifier and a tremolo effect that varies the volume of the produced sound. The tremolo feature is mistakenly called "vibrato" (which is a variation in pitch) on some models to be consistent with the labelling on Fender's amplifiers.
Rhodes had begun to teach piano at the age of 19. He dropped out of studying at the University of Southern California in 1929 to support his family through the great depression by full-time teaching, and designed a method that combined classical and jazz music. The teaching course became popular across the United States, and resulted in an hour-long nationally syndicated radio show. Rhodes continued to teach the piano through his lifetime, and the piano method continues to be taught today by a team led by Joseph Brandsetter.
By 1942, Rhodes was working for the Army Air Corps, where he was asked to devise a teaching program to provide therapy for soldiers recovering from combat in hospital. He was unable to supply enough acoustic pianos, so decided to develop a miniature electric model that could be made from surplus army parts. Rhodes won a service award for his piano design and subsequently put the model into production for piano teachers during the 1950s. These were retrospectively known as the "Pre-Piano".
In 1959, Rhodes entered a joint venture with Leo Fender to manufacture the instruments. Fender, however, disliked the higher tones of the pre-piano, and decided to manufacture a keyboard bass using the bottom 32 notes, known as the "Piano Bass". The instrument introduced the design that would become common to subsequent Rhodes pianos, with the same tolex body as Fender amplifiers and a fiberglass top. The tops came from a boat manufacturer who supplied whatever colour happened to be available; consequently a number of different coloured piano basses went into production.
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Fender was bought by CBS in 1965. Rhodes stayed with the company, and released the first Fender Rhodes piano, a 73 note model. The instrument came in two components - the piano itself, and an accompanying power amplifier and speaker, which sat underneath it. Like the piano bass, it was finished in black tolex, and came with a fiberglass top. During the late 1960s, two models of the Fender Rhodes Celeste also became available, which used the top three or four octaves respectively of the Fender Rhodes piano. The Celeste didn't sell particularly well and models are now hard to find. Also in production at this time were the Student/Instructor models and systems as well as the very rare Domestic models.
In 1970, the 73-note Stage Piano was introduced as a standalone alternative to the two-piece style that was easier to transport, featuring four detachable legs (used in Fender steel pedal guitars), a sustain pedal and a single output jack. Although the Stage could be used with any amplifier, catalogs suggested the use of the Fender Twin Reverb. The older style piano continued to be sold alongside the Stage and was renamed the Suitcase Piano, with 88 note models also becoming available. During the 1970s, various internal improvements were made to the tone generation and amplifier, with the result that some players prefer Rhodes pianos manufactured during a specific timetrame.
Production in the 16-year "CBS period" reached as high as 50 units per day around 1978–79, but sales declined as 1980 approached, and the Mark II Stage Piano was introduced in an attempt to revitalize the product. Production ended in 1984, with the Rhodes Mark V being the final CBS model.[unreliable source?]
The Rhodes went through continuous internal improvements: the hammers became all plastic, the pedestals changed shape (and were bare for a short while, the 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. Among other improvements, it had a lighter body and all new action with an improved cam, increasing the hammer stroke by 23%.
In 1983, Rhodes was sold to former employee William Schultz, who in turn sold it to Roland in 1987. Roland subsequently manufactured digital pianos under the Rhodes name, but Harold Rhodes disapproved of the instruments, which were made without his consultation or endorsements.
Rhodes subsequently re-acquired the rights to the instrument in 1997. However, by this time he was in ill health and died in December 2000. In 2007, a re-formed Rhodes Music Corporation introduced a reproduction of the original electric piano, called the Rhodes Mark 7. This was a version of the Rhodes housed in a molded plastic housing.
Dyno My Piano
During the late 1970s and 1980s, Chuck Montie manufactured an after-market modification to the Rhodes, known as "Dyno My Piano". It included a level that moved the relative position of the tines to the pickups, modifying the sound, and fed the output signal through additional electronics. The modifications made the sound brighter, harder, and more bell-like, bringing out more of the attack in the Rhodes sound and making it cut through a mix like a grand piano. This sound was emulated by the Yamaha DX7 with a patch that was enormously popular during the 1980s, and caused several players to abandon the Rhodes in favour of the DX7.
The Rhodes piano became a popular instrument in jazz in the late 1960s, particularly for several sideman who played with Miles Davis. Herbie Hancock first encountered the instrument in 1968 while booked for a session with Davis. He immediately became an enthusiast, noting that the amplification allowed him to be heard much more easily in groups when compared to the acoustic piano. Hancock continued to experiment with the Rhodes over the next few years, including playing it through a wah wah. Another former Davis sideman, Chick Corea started using the Rhodes prominently during the 1970s, as did Weather Report founder Josef Zawinul.
Many of Stevie Wonder's recordings from the 1970s feature him playing the Rhodes, often alongside the Hohner Clavinet. Donny Hathaway regularly used the Rhodes. His hit single, This Christmas, which receives seasonal radio play on African American stations, makes a prominent use of the instrument.
- Electric piano
- Wurlitzer electric piano
- Keyboard bass
- DX7 Rhodes, a synthetic Fender Rhodes emulation
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rhodes pianos.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fender Rhodes.|
- The Rhodes Super Site – The dedicated website since 1996.
- Rhodes Music Corporation - The new Mark 7 manufacturer's website.
- Video highlighting the Rhodes Piano sound