Wurlitzer electric piano
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The Wurlitzer electric piano, trademarked the "Electronic Piano" and referred to by musicians as the "Wurly," was one of a series of electromechanical stringless pianos manufactured and marketed by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company of Corinth, Mississippi, U.S. and Tonawanda, New York. The earliest models were made in 1954 and the last model was made in 1984. Since then the Wurlitzer electric piano sound has been recreated on digital keyboards, and the vintage models are sought out by musicians and collectors.
Prominent recordings featuring Wurlitzers include "Dancing in the Moonlight" by King Harvest, "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" by Joe Zawinul, "What'd I Say" by Ray Charles, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye, "Queen of the Highway" and "Crawling King Snake" by The Doors, "You're My Best Friend" by Queen, "Miss You" by the Rolling Stones, "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night, "Where It's At" by Beck and, more recently, "Two Weeks" by Grizzly Bear. Supertramp have used the Wurlitzer on several of their hits and the instrument provided their signature sound.
The Wurlitzer piano is usually a 64-note instrument whose keyboard range is from A an octave above the lowest note of a standard 88-note piano to the C an octave below the top note of an 88-note piano. Tone production in all models comprises a single steel reed for each key, activated by a miniature version of a conventional grand piano action and forming part of an electrostatic pickup system using a DC voltage of 170v. A mechanical sustain pedal similar to that of a conventional piano is fitted.
Inventor Benjamin Miessner had designed an amplified conventional upright piano in the 1930s, and Wurlitzer used his electrostatic pickup design, but replaced the strings with struck steel reeds. The instrument entered production in 1954 as the EP-110, followed by the 111 and 112 of 1955, and continued to be produced in various forms until about 1982 when production of the EP-200A ceased.
Most Wurlitzer electric pianos are portable models with removable legs and the sustain pedal attached via a Bowden cable; console, "grand" and "spinet" models were also produced with a permanently attached pedal. The early models sustain pedals actually attached through the side of the instrument, with the pedal eventually being connected directly under the unit in the late 50s.
The earliest versions were the "100" series; these had a case made from painted fibreboard or wood and were fitted with a single loudspeaker mounted in the rear of the case. Apart from the very first models, the portable Wurlitzer pianos featured a tremolo effect with fixed rate but adjustable depth. Models produced until the early 1960s used vacuum tube circuitry; the 140B was the first solid-state model, introduced in 1962. The model 145 was tube and came out around the same time as the 140 solid state pianos. Ultimately both were replaced in 1968 by the plastic-bodied 200, a much lighter instrument (56 lbs, without the legs or pedal) with two loudspeakers facing the player. This model was updated as the 200A in 1972 and continued in production into 1980. The 200 was available in black, dark "Forest Green", red or beige. The 200A was only available in black and avocado green. The white Wurlitzer sometimes seen being used by bands such as The Beach Boys, The Carpenters and Supertramp was a custom painted finish not made by the manufacturer. The last version to be introduced was the 200B in 1978; this was visually identical to the 200A but was designed to be powered by a pair of medium-tension (85v) rechargeable batteries; it had no internal speakers or amplifier.
One important role for the Wurlitzer piano was as a student instrument in school and college music labs, and non-portable console versions were made for this purpose. The teacher had a headphone and microphone to be able to listen into each student individually and talk to them without others hearing them. All students listened to each of their instruments through headphones. Up to 48 individual student instruments could be connected together. According to former Wurlitzer employee Bill Fuller, 75% of all universities used Wurlitzer piano labs in the late 1960s or early 1970s, and some facilities were still in operation as late as 2000. Those usually seen resemble a beige or light green Model 200 mounted on a matching pedestal containing a loudspeaker, headphone niche and sustain pedal. On these models there is no tremolo (although later models simply have the facility disabled). Some of these models were given the designation 206/206A. Many console models have recently[when?] been modified to 200/200A specification for use on stage. Rarer than the student models are the teacher consoles, featuring multiple monitor/mute switches and, in some cases the facility to add a large illuminated display panel operated via the keyboard.
A rare version, and the only known model not to have 64 keys is the 106P (P for "Pupil"), a 44-note classroom model with a plastic case, no controls, one loudspeaker and no sustain pedal. The 106P was available as a set of eight on a folding frame, forming a portable keyboard lab. They were attached by an umbilical to a full size teacher piano with controls to feature each pupil piano. This model appears to date from the early 1970s and was available in orange or beige.
Since production began, small numbers of wood-cased spinet-style instruments were made for domestic use. These usually had an upright-piano style soft pedal (actually an electronic attenuator) as well as the sustain pedal. The mechanism of these pianos is identical to that of the contemporary portable version. The model 700 was the same amplifier and action as the portable model 120. The model 700 was produced circa 1959-1962. The model 720 was the spinet version of the 140 series (140B, 145) piano. The model 720 was produced circa 1962-1965.
The rarest of all Wurlitzers was the Europe-only model 300, which was a spinet type piano based on the model 200A. This was the very last model produced and is even rarer than the model 270, butterfly grand. The model 300 looked similar to a modern digital piano.
Butterfly Baby Grand
The 200 uniquely had a domestic sister model 270 called the "Butterfly Baby Grand", a semicircular, walnut finish wooden-cased piano with twin quadrant[disambiguation needed]-shaped lids angled above horizontally-mounted 8" loudspeakers. This was among the last Wurlitzers produced, and is very difficult to find. It is also the heaviest Wurlitzer ever produced.
Compared with its erstwhile rival, the (Fender) Rhodes electric piano, the Wurlitzer has a brighter, more hollow sound. When played gently the sound can be quite sweet and vibraphone-like, sounding very similar to the Rhodes; while becoming more aggressive with harder playing, producing a characteristic slightly overdriven tone usually described as a "bark". In a pop or rock band setting with guitar(s), bass and drums the Wurlitzer has a distinctive and clear sound where a Rhodes would tend to blend in. However, it has also been used successfully in MOR ballads and even country music.
The reeds are notorious for metal fatigue caused by hard playing which can make them go out of tune and eventually break. This phenomenon can be minimized by having the action adjusted by a trained technician.
The reeds are tuned by filing off solder on the ends of them to make them go sharper and adding solder to them to make them go flatter. For those not handy with a soldering iron and in search of a quick tuning fix, beeswax may be added to the tip of the reed rather than solder.
New old stock and newly manufactured reeds are readily available from on-line specialists.
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Other recent Wurlitzer users include Cotton Jones, The Reformation, Derek Sherinian, Metronomy, Belle & Sebastian, Clutch, Juston Stens & the Get Real Gang, Passion Pit, The Hush Sound, Stereophonics, Kaiser Chiefs, Carmen Consoli, Bright Eyes, Panic at the Disco, The Good Life, Jenny Lewis, Elvis Costello & the Imposters, The Blood Brothers, John McAll of the Public Opinion Afro Orchestra, Norah Jones, Grace Potter, John Medeski of Medeski Martin & Wood, Page McConnell of Phish, Winter Palace, Gnarls Barkley, Ben Folds, Tori Amos, Sheryl Crow, Spooner Oldham, Vanessa Paradis, Chuck Prophet, Chester French, Wilco, The Dead Weather, Black Whales and Westfall. Adam Green also features Wurlitzer electric pianos in his music, and Matthew Bellamy singer for Muse.
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- The Alan Parsons Project - "I Robot", "The Voice", "Eye in the Sky" (song)
- American Football - "The One With The Wurlitzer"
- The Animals - "Around and Around"
- The Archies - "Sugar Sugar"
- Atlanta Rhythm Section - "So Into You", "Imaginary Lover", "Alien", and many others.
- Beck - "Where It's At"
- Beirut - "Guyamas Sonora"
- Belle & Sebastian - "The Boy with the Arab Strap", The BBC Sessions, "Don't Leave The Light On Baby"
- Benevento/Russo Duo - "Play Pause Stop"
- Big Boi - "Turns Me On"
- The Black Crowes - "Remedy" and other songs on the album The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
- Black Whales (On the songs: Young Blood & Books on Tape).
- Blood Brothers - "Laser Life", "Set Fire to the Face on Fire", "Peacock Skeleton With Crooked Feathers"
- Bob Dylan - "'Til I Fell In Love With You"
- Booker T. and the MG's - "Chinese Checkers"
- Boston - "My Destination"
- Michiel Braam Wurli Trio - "Hosting Changes"
- Dan Bryk - "BBW (Chunky Girl)"
- Bruce Hornsby - "The Chill"
- The Carpenters - "Top of the World"
- Cannonball Adderley with Joe Zawinul on the Wurlitzer "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy"
- Carl Weathersby - "Feels Like Rain"
- Charlie Peacock - "Personal Revolution"
- Chester French - "Wurlitzer Interlude"
- Chicago - "Feelin' Stronger Every Day", "Poem 58"
- Company of Thieves (band) - "Gorgeous/Grotesque"
- The Crusaders (and maybe other stuff by Joe Sample) - "Tough Talk"
- Daft Punk - "Digital Love"
- Dave Barnes - "Someday Sarah"
- Death Cab for Cutie - "Photobooth"
- The Doors- "Queen of the Highway", "Crawling King Snake"
- David Gray/Lost Songs/Wurlitzer
- Dhani Harrison - "Stuck Inside a Cloud"
- Donny Hathaway - "The Ghetto-Pt 1" & "What's Going On?"
- Eels - "Agony"
- Electric Light Orchestra - "Strange Magic", "Nightrider"
- Elton John - "Lady Samantha", "Take Me Back", "Heart in the Right Place", 'The Scaffold," "Sails", "Where Have all the Good Times Gone", "Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)"
- Faces - "Stay With Me"
- Foreigner - "Waiting for a Girl Like You"
- Gentle Giant - "Proclamation" Live in Brussels, Belgium, 1974
- George Harrison - "All Those Years Ago" (performed by Al Kooper), "Dark Horse"
- Gov't Mule - "Soulshine"
- Adam Green- "Emily"
- Grizzly Bear (band) - "Two Weeks (Grizzly Bear song)"
- The Guess Who - "These Eyes"
- Jellyfish - "That Is Why", "New Mistake"
- JET (band) - "Bring It on Back", "Skin and Bones"
- Joanna Newsom - "Peach, Plum, Pear" (version on "Walnut Whales"), "This Side of the Blue"
- John Lennon - "How Do You Sleep?"
- John Scofield - "Green Tea"
- Joni Mitchell - "Woodstock"
- Justice - Valentine
- Kevin Ayers - "Rheinhardt & Geraldine/Para Dolores"
- King Harvest - "Dancing in the Moonlight"
- Little Feat - "Rock and Roll Doctor" "Long Distance Love", "Got No Shadow", "Romance Dance"
- Looking Glass - "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)"
- Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Cheatin' Woman"
- Madeleine Peyroux - "I'm All Right"
- The Mars Volta - "Inertiatic ESP"
- Marvin Gaye - "I Heard It Through the Grapevine"
- Malajube - "Labyrinthes"
- Money Mark - "Hand In Your Head"
- Muse - "Feeling Good", "Hate This and I'll Love You"
- Neil Young - "The Old Laughing Lady", "See The Sky About To Rain"
- Norah Jones - "What Am I to You?", "In The Morning", "Chasing Pirates"
- Panic at the Disco - "Mad As Rabbits"
- Paul McCartney - "Ram On", many of the tracks on the "Driving Rain" album (played by Gabe Dixon).
- Paul Weller - "Broken Stones"
- Pink Floyd - "Breathe", "Money", "Time", "Have a Cigar"
- Quarterflash - "Harden My Heart"
- Queen - "You're My Best Friend"
- Ray Charles - "What'd I Say", "Sticks and Stones"
- The Reformation - "Ghost House Funk", "Between Two Times"
- The Sun Society - "Purple Moon"
- The Rolling Stones - "Miss You"
- Sheryl Crow - "The Book", "All I Wanna Do"
- The Small Faces - "Lazy Sunday"
- Rick Springfield - "Souls"
- Steely Dan - "Pretzel Logic", "Black Friday", "Godwhacker", "Do It Again," "Jack Of Speed", "Two Against Nature", "Your Gold Teeth," "Everyone's Gone To The Movies."
- Stereolab - "Infinity Girl"
- Stevie Wonder - "Love Having You Around", "Sweet Little Girl",
- Styx - "Lady"
- Sufjan Stevens - "Chicago"
- Sun Ra (1956 first Wurlitzer record including) - "India", "Dreams Come True"
- Supertramp - "The Logical Song", "Dreamer", "Bloody Well Right", "Goodbye Stranger", "Lady" and countless other songs; their "Breakfast in America" album can be considered a treatise on Wurlitzer electric piano's possibilities.
- Three Dog Night - "Mama Told Me Not To Come"; "Joy to the World"
- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - "Breakdown", "You Don't Know How It Feels"
- Tony Toni Tone - "Anniversary"
- Tori Amos - "Tombigbee", "Pancake", "Strange", "Taxi Ride", "Scarlet's Walk", "Strange Little Girl", "New Age", "Dark Side of the Sun", "Star of Wonder"
- Under Byen - "Palads"
- Usher - "That's What It's Made For"
- Van Halen - "And the Cradle Will Rock..." (run through a flanger)
- Wilco - "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco", "War on War", "Jesus, etc.", "I'm The Man Who Loves You", "Poor Places"
- Joe Zawinul - "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy"
- The Dirty Heads - "Cabin By the Sea"
- Dave Grohl, Josh Homme, Trent Reznor - "Mantra"
- Vail, Mark (2000). Vintage Synthesizers. Miller Freedman. pp. 276–277. ISBN 0-87930-603-3.
- Electronic Piano Series 200 and 200A Service Manual, DeKalb, Illinois: The Wurlitzer Company
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