Harold Rhodes (inventor)

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Harold Rhodes
Harold Burroughs Rhodes

(1910-12-28)December 28, 1910
DiedDecember 17, 2000(2000-12-17) (aged 89)
OccupationInventor, music teacher
Known forRhodes piano
Margit Rhodes (m. 1991)

Harold Burroughs Rhodes (December 28, 1910 – December 17, 2000) was the inventor of the Army Air Corps Piano, the Pre-piano and the Rhodes piano (Fender Rhodes). Rhodes started his career by running piano schools around the United States.

Early life and career[edit]

Pre-piano, 1946
Rhodes Mark V

Rhodes was born in San Fernando, California and became interested in music and architecture. He received a scholarship to study architecture at the University of Southern California but in 1929, as the Depression began, he dropped out to support his family. He began teaching piano when he was 19, and developed his own method that was designed to bridge classical piano instruction, with its reliance on written music, and jazz improvisation. The Rhodes Method was picked up across the United States.[1]

During World War II he joined the Army Air Corps, where he gave lessons to fellow servicemen and entertained wounded airmen. To bring a small, portable piano to bedridden patients, in 1942 he built a 29-note keyboard using aluminum tubing from a B-17 to make a xylophone-like instrument, called the Army Air Corps lap model piano. After the war, he founded the Rhodes Piano Corporation, which built what he called the Pre-Piano in 1946.

Leo Fender, the electric guitar pioneer, bought Mr. Rhodes's company in 1959 and began manufacturing the Piano Bass, a keyboard instrument with the bottom 32 notes of a piano. The Doors' keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, was one of the most prominent musicians to use the Piano Bass; he also gave the later Fender Rhodes piano a showcase in the song ''Riders on the Storm.''

CBS bought Fender's instrument company in 1965.[2] Working for CBS, Mr. Rhodes introduced the 73-note Fender Rhodes Suitcase Piano, which combined a keyboard, amplifier and speaker cabinets. In 1970, the company started making the Stage Piano, without the speakers, which could be transported more easily and plugged into amplifiers or sound systems. Full, 88-key models were also made. Soon, the Fender Rhodes tones were heard everywhere.

The Rhodes company was sold in 1983 to William Schultz, formerly with Fender Rhodes, and Mr. Schultz then sold the Rhodes name to the Roland Corporation, a Japanese instrument manufacturer, in 1987. Mr. Rhodes was not informed, Mrs. Rhodes said. Under the Rhodes name, Roland made keyboards that included a digital version of the Rhodes piano sound. Mr. Rhodes disapproved. ''He wouldn't have one in the house,'' said Mrs. Rhodes. In 1997, Roland returned the rights to the Rhodes name to Harold Rhodes after Joe Brandstetter, a music-store owner, paid Roland $10,000, according to Rhodes's wife, Margit.

Rhodes continued to promulgate the Rhodes Method of teaching piano, and in 1991 made a video version financed by Brandstetter, who started a chain of Rhodes Method piano studios.


Mr. Rhodes suffered a stroke in 1996, and his declining health eventually led him to reside in a nursing home, where he died of complications of pneumonia in 2000, 11 days shy of his 90th birthday. He was survived by Margit Rhodes, their eleven children, nine grandchildren, and Rhodes' brother John.[3]

Trademark rights & legacy[edit]

The trademark is currently under legal dispute in Los Angeles, claimed by the Rhodes family and by Mr. Brandstetter. Since 1997, there have been consistent rumors that a new Rhodes electric piano, returning to the original approach, will be made. ''It is our intention to manufacture a piano,'' said Harold Rhodes, Jr. Meanwhile, Rhodes instruments from the 1970s and the early 80s are cherished by collectors, producers and working musicians.


  • Rhodes, Harold (1997). The Rhodes piano method: Instruction manual, beginner through advanced. E-Z Way Productions. ASIN B0006FDWQS.


External links[edit]