Q2. Which models are truly different from
the late ones, if any?
Are there models with differences relevant to
the sound, and what are the differences?
Prior going any further, let's just say
that the true "Rhodes character", and the desirable “sweet and rich" tone
must be somewhere there in every Rhodes, yes even in yours, regardless it
being the new or old-style. If
you don't hear it now, it just means that your Rhodes is not properly adjusted!
It is as simple as that. The out
of order old models will also sound dull, and too mellow.
The models which bear the old sign Fender Rhodes,
and also some of the earliest bearing the new name Rhodes (but probably not later than 1974),
have the following important differences from the newer models:
piano hammer is not all plastic, but has a wooden rubber-tip bearer mounted
on the lower plastic part (compare also Q1.a). Thus the part of the
hammer that hits the tine is wooden.
On the later models this was simplified, and the whole hammer was build in
one plastic piece.
support is made of wood, not aluminum (compare the Q1.c).
if we disregard the features which are irrelevant to sound, as are the type
of keys, the style of hinges on the keyboard cover, etc...
-- this is all. As
far as for the models from 1974 on, there are no other significant
differences in the mechanical part of the Rhodes pianos.
The models that are even older may have some more differences.
There specifics in sound could be desirable, but there are also a few drawbacks in mechanics. They have the
old-style tone bars, lower quality tines that go bad much sooner, etc…
In the official Rhodes Service Manual, a series of modifications and updates
are suggested for the old models to improve their key action and
To turn back to the comparison of the most common models and to
distinguish between them, we shall use the terms older and newer style models.
The former has the features described above -- the wooden tip bearer and the
wooden harp support, while the latter, representing both the late Mark Is and the
sound-wise identical Mark IIs, has the all-plastic hammers and the aluminum
It is true that the wooden parts on the hammer, and probably the wooden
harp support, too, do affect the nuances of the sound. The tests that I've
performed on two old-style pianos, one Fender-Rhodes Stage Piano
EightyEight from 1974, and an old-style Rhodes Stage SeventyThree
from 1973, showed a slight difference in sound
character comparing to the new-style models. It can be described as being bit closer to the
sound of acoustic
piano. Well, since all Rhodes pianos are quite away from the acoustic ones,
this may sound a bit confusing! Let's say that the desirable higher
harmonics sound a bit different from the newer style models (to remember
you, these are the late Mark Is and Mark IIs). It is true that some people will still
prefer to have that old-style sound, especially if they are used to the
influences from mid 70s. On the other hand, the new-style models have their
own charm, which may turn out to be as irresistible as the old one. In fact,
so irresistible, that many of the Rhodes fans choose, as I did, to keep
both, the old and new-style Rhodes.
Q3. Were the new models getting worse and
worse? Don't I get the best of everything with an old model?
In other words, isn't it possible that the Rhodes factory built
worse and worse models by introducing simplifications and cheaper materials, more
plastic and aluminum parts, less wood, etc.?
If I buy the old model, don’t I get the best of everything? What is good, if
anything on the newer models?
answer here cannot be straightforward, although the readers who didn't skip
the previous question, can already hint what it is. To say that the newer Rhodes
versions were worse than the old ones would be dishonest and oversimplified
policy of the Rhodes inventor and innovator Harold Rhodes, who was also a playing instructor,
composer and music enthusiast, was
always truly honest, and aimed toward improving his invention as far as
possible. But in the same time, he and his team based in Fullerton California, were
urged to simplify parts and rationalize production wherever possible. There are quotes on
Rhodes Super Site
saying that every single change was carefully studied before introduced, in
order not to compromise the
famous Rhodes sound in its crucial aspects. But also, it is not hard to
guess that Rhodes factory got under pressure of competitors producing other
keyboard instruments in the late 70s. Relatively expensive Rhodes pianos
with many mechanical parts had to fight electronic instruments which were easier and cheaper for mass
While some of the parts introduced on the newer models did happen
to be of worse quality -- like the keyboard, which turned out to be quite
uneven, with unequal spacing between the keys, etc..., some other were
although the keys itself looked worse, their action was improved. Yet the
simplifications and modifications, like introducing the all-plastic hammers
and the aluminum harp support, did change the sound, but to the different,
not the worse. The new-style models have softer key action that
will hardly ever result in the notorious sticky keys syndrome,
no matter how old piano is. On the other hand, the sticky keys is a common
problem on all old-style models. It is almost impossible to find an
old-style model (e.g. with the Fender-Rhodes
name) with keys that have a normal key response and a good feel. Please feel
free to disapprove me. It’s not that the keys are just heavy like on the
classic piano, they tend to be “sticky” and hard to play because of the
thick felt used on different (wrong) places in the mechanism. It causes slow
and heavy action. A lot of different advances and serious modifications are
suggested to remedy this problem on old-style Rhodes pianos. Sometimes only
a clever combination of many different approaches will produce a desirable
effect and make the keyboard playable. If this is not done, you may have a
nice old Rhodes sound and no wish to play the piano at all --- knowing that your fingers will
ache after a half an hour of playing! When buying an old-style Rhodes
without the action improvement, you better be prepared for that.
Because of the key action problems, a lot of effort was made to improve the
keyboard "touch and feel". It was successfully done about the same time the hammers
were changed to all-plastic version and the aluminum harp support was
introduced. Some time later, a "bump" was introduced on the key pedestal,
which further improved the feel of playing. All Mark II’s have it, including
the Mark Is produced after mid 1979 (just to confirm that the renaming was
done completely irrelevant of the important changes). Rhodes Service Manual
recommends the introduction of the key pedestal bump on all models without
it. It really improves the feel of playing, though it may not be considered
as truly important for the newer style models.
To resume, if you have the new-style Rhodes, one serious thing you really don’t have to care
about is the sticky keys problem. Not a small thing, even if missing the “touch of wood” in the
sound. And as stated above, although the sound of the new-style models is
different, the sound passed the rigorous test of Harold Rhodes and his team.
It passed the test of thousands of players around the world, and it did
appeared on records as much, if not more, as its predecessor. The new-style
models brought the new sound, which was still Rhodes, and which was still
Q4. Why my Rhodes doesn't sound as I
heard on records?
article on the
Rhodes Super Site), insisted on bringing the piano up to the the original
specifications in every single detail. In other words, as first they did all the things the operators should
do in the factory, but most of the times didn’t. Probably because they didn’t have enough
time. Or Rhodes pianos would cost significantly more than it did, and
that was commercially unacceptable.
answer was partly hinted above, and is quite simple: because your
Rhodes is not properly
It may be true that the old models were adjusted
slightly better than the new ones -- but that’s just a vague opinion based on
the total of about 10 pianos we have serviced and about 10 more we had a
chance to inspect. The reason may be in the higher
pressure put on the factory workers and operators in the latter days of the
Rhodes company. But nevertheless, all the models that we have
encountered, be they old or new, needed the proper adjustment again
after some time. And the
proper adjustment exactly follows the
described in Rhodes technical specifications. It is a curiosity that the most
famous Rhodes modification, known under the name “Dyno-My-Piano” and done by an independent company in San Francisco
The Rhodes electric pianos are quite
complicated instruments, with very simple electronic part, and quite complex
mechanics. There are a lot of movable and adjustable parts with a lot of
details to take care of. Consequently, there are a lot of problems that must be dealt with, in both, creating such a
device and adjusting it. If some parts were made in a better and more
elaborate way, the adjustment would be whole lot of easier and more precise. But than
would be more expensive, resulting in the more expensive product. Thus, the
end success of this instrument greatly depends on this elaborate and time
consuming adjustment, that should be done by a qualified and, yes, even talented personal.
Rhodes tech need not
only elaborate technical skills, but also a good ear, and soft fingers of
a keyboard player! Was it easy to organize a factory with enough workers
skills. Or provide them enough time to complete the adjustment. No wonder that
Rhodes pianos were leaving the factory in
quite a bad
tonal shape, far from the sound they were being able to produce. The Dyno-My-Piano
for more than a decade finishing the job not done in Fullerton. That is,
they were not only installing upgrades and additional accessories, but as mentioned above,
they were providing thorough proper adjustment in the first place.
To summarize our discussion on the good and bad sounding Rhodes
pianos -- there are good Mark I and Mark II pianos, and there are bad both
of these. Following our distinction, there are good and bad old and
new-style models. If nowhere else, you could have noticed that in many TV documentaries
and live concerts of famous musicians (to avoid mentioning the music spots
where you never know what was brought up for the purpose of playback). And
all of these
are, as you can guess by now –
the properly adjusted Rhodes pianos.
And their exact model concerns just the subtle differences in the timbre.
The Rhodes sound can, and often is processed, even quite heavily. But
if you are after that, you have to know what you are doing, or the result can be bad. A lot of, but carefully chosen EQ can be put on.
The best solution is to use the Rhodes specific preamplifiers, designed to
produce certain types of sound. The phaser and chorus
effects are also very usable, in subtle or abundant form. All these together can make wonders
-- but nothing of these is really indispensable. And
nothing of these can substitute the need for the basic proper adjustment, which, if
done correctly, will produce an excellent sound, with or without processing.
Q5. What is your rationale for writing this?
On what experience do you base your statements?
Q6. There are "perfect" digital replicas
of Rhodes, why bother with the real thing and many of its problems?
After you fall in love with
Rhodes pianos, it is no wonder that you want to know more about them. When
you learn about their history and the dramatic life of their inventor Harold
Rhodes, then it all gets another dimension, and you become quite proud if
you feel that you learned and cleared a thing or few. I write about this
controversy to enlighten many Rhodes fans, who were, like myself,
by the hear-say statements, often spread by people who didn't carefully studied the problem, or
didn't have nerves to compare models, or didn't even bother to check what was
the hood". I write this also to answer the
people inquiring on
specifically the “Mark I” Rhodes -- the one with the “better
sound”, or "very-old" Rhodes models, or don't know why the Mark II
sounds so bad.
the story about how I get into this is connected with my collecting passion
which lead to the Web site
Robert L’s Analog Synths you are now visiting. (After the move toward
electro-acoustic instruments, the site could, perhaps, be renamed into
something else, but for now, the name stays.)
I bought my first Rhodes piano back in 1981. It was Mark I. Having
the engineering background and knowledge of acoustics I didn’t hesitate to
open the hood, investigate the mechanics and remedy some minor defects.
Unluckily, tempering the Rhodes mechanics without the Servicing Manual was a
wrong way to do it. Before soon I was caught in
screwing the bolts on the tone bars in and out, not really knowing their
exact function. And you guess -- I have never had the sound I wanted, although I
tried to improve it
by phasing effects and EQs. So naturally, having a Mark I with the dull
sound, I was dreaming of – you guess what -- a Mark II. And I am
quite aware that all of you folks who had Mark II dreamt of
some nice "old Mark I". For me, "out there somewhere" was the new
model (didn't we always assumed that the newer model was the better one?) having the funky tone color I was missing.
In 1987 I sold my Mark I being mislead by the possibilities of digital synths (yes
that was still the era of the DX-7 digital pianos). It was almost 15 years
later when I bought my second
While I was still searching for a Mark II -- remembering the too mellow sound of my Mark I
-- I’ve started hearing rumors
that Mark I is better. On the other hand, few people said that they have changed
their old Fender-Rhodes pianos because they couldn’t play the stiff keys on
them. One man I talked to was satisfied with his Mark II, and many Mark I’s I’ve
encountered had the same dull sound I had on my first Rhodes! No end to confusion...
Finally in 2001 I’ve managed to purchase
an old Fender-Rhodes from 1974. Not that I searched for this model
particularly, but it was available and not too expensive. And of course, it
the particularly hard syndrome of sticky keys! That was the start of my new occupation
with the Rhodes pianos. After all, I thought, the hype was all back! These pianos
would have greater, and greater collectible value, even if I won't use them
much in my music production. That’s how I thought at first! Of course, when I started to play them
again, I’ve found a long-lost love that I wouldn’t give up for anything
now. And all of you who play the real
Rhodes around the world know exactly what I'm talking about. In the
sound of Rhodes I’ve found life, I’ve found the inspiration, I’ve found the
relentless source of music…
chance to service quite a few different Rhodes pianos, I started to investigate
differences. The confusion introduced by the Mark II name was easy
to note, as well as the true differences regarding the sound producing mechanism.
After having personally spent several months of work on the
key-action modification, repairs of all kinds, I have also started the
procedure of -- here heavily quoted -- proper adjustment. I
have brought several new-style models to sound in a
"desirable way" -- with a lot of overtones (harmonics), resembling
the legendary funky sound. Also, I managed to solve the key-action problem
on many old-style pianos.
If taking a rational stand,
the answer would probably be -- why bother!
Especially if you are into getting the sound fast and are not interested in
all the subtleties of the analog sound. Go and use the digital clones you
already have, and you'll spare yourself quite a large amount of money and a
lot of time. Not to mention the weight of your load when you go to the next
But if you
start to hear things carefully, if you feel that
something's missing in the digital versions of Rhodes you have, you can be
sure that you'll soon forget the rational approach, and like many others
forget that you are talking about
a keyboard weighing
60-70kg, with all the problems a real electro-mechanical instrument can
But still, to the most of the Rhodes lovers it's nothing comparing
to the magic this electric piano will make for you and your music.
Describing the feeling of
playing a nice Rhodes piano brings me right to religious, or at least
metaphysical spheres. So, all that follows must be interpreted as a strictly
personal opinion of the author. But don't be surprised if you find many
similar thoughts, irrational as they may be, from the people around the
Let me start that after having played the best and most acclaimed digital
pianos -- the ones that you never have to adjust, nor bother about the bad
tines and dampers -- not to mention the need for proper adjustment -- the
experience of playing the real thing was totally different... Yes I know,
there are excellent digital simulations and emulations, with samples taken
from allegedly the best originals the reach keyboard-making companies could
find in the world, already with EQs and the best sound processing available.
But, when your
fingers move the real piano hammers, which strike the real tines, producing
the whole new world emerges... Or to put it simply -- the experience is like
finally playing the electric piano again.
I think you know the story.
The first time you hear a digital sound you say – oh, that’s excellent, an
excellent sample! What do I need the real thing for? But the next time you
find yourself tweaking EQ pots, adding some reverb, or, a little bit of
chorus, phaser, something to help it out, or will I try another sample? And
before soon it becomes just another dull reproduction your digital machine
has frozen in its memory. Of course, you perhaps didn’t realize it, you
couldn’t have realized it before comparing it to the sound of real Rhodes.
Only then you have that feeling of true playing and producing a real, vivid
sound. Want to have some effect, OK, put it! Or leave it as it is, plain and
simple. Not to mention the magic when depressing the sustain pedal. What
digital copy can make that? What DSP software can even closely mimic this?
The sound that has a bite when played hard. The sound without bell-like high
notes (well, we don't like them too loud and annoying, OK), the sound with
warm and still harsh basses, and the sweetest possible mid and low mid range
you can imagine! The range which is ideal for playing chords of all kinds.
The best in the world. No matter if you play them simple, with only a few
notes, or rich five and six note harmonies -- the Rhodes gives the best of
everything. The ultimate chord playing keyboard!
But it's not just the sound! It is the amazing feeling and unbelievable
feedback you get from this instrument. The only dangerous thing is that
you’ll find yourself playing in the small hours, unable to unhook yourself
from this magic instrument. Because it brings a completely new experience of
effortless playing. It brings a source of inspiration and wonder, and a true
relief from the torture of digital machinery.
Q7. What is the "Proper Rhodes Adjustment"
Is it tuning? My piano is tuned well to
the standard 440Hz, but doesn't sound well. Can I perform the adjustment
adjustment includes several procedures meant to bring the Rhodes
mechanics in order, and to produce the sound we all expect. It is not just tuning of the
pitch, which is, in fact, most commonly not a problem on Rhodes in the first
However there are
several other things to do: like establishing the proper striking line,
aligning the tone bars, adjustment of the “key escapement”, both globally
and locally. And than, and if necessary, some of the steps must be repeated.
Than the timbre adjustment comes, together with the volume adjustment
-- achieved by changing distance of the pickups. Is that
all? No, there are much more problems awaiting for you, and one them that
almost nothing can be achieved in just one passage. The proper adjustment is an iterative procedure that has to be
times, sometimes seemingly without ending. Even if you had luck to find the
good-sounding tines and few other spare parts you are missing.
And can you do that yourself. Yes you can. If you are
technically skilled, if you have proper tools and a lot of enthusiasm. The latter
is crucial, and the former is a prerequisite! No, I’m not making fun of you,
I'm just saying that you have to be really motivated to do it right, and
prepared to learn a lot. After having learned the book, one still must be
ready to implement this in practice, and then learn from practice many things that
just don't fit in a book. For this you'll need some time, but eventually
you'll start to discover a Rhodes technician being born in you.
On the already mentioned
Rhodes Super Site you can find everything you need to start, including
the electronic versions of Rhodes Service Manual. Your success depends on
several factors, some of which include your technical and musical talents.
I came to adjusting Rhodes after years and years of experience
with electronic instruments,
but found many challenges here. 73 or even more mechanical oscillators wait for your attention. 88 keys
could be in need for improved action modification. It’s not only the quality of
but the quantity, too. And one adjustment is appropriate for the basses,
another for treble tones. Sometimes it seems like there’s really no end to the
procedure. You may even wonder why you have left the ideal digital world in
the first place. Because even when it seems that you have finally
finished the procedure, some tone bars may require a slight timbre correction, or a damper doesn't
do its job, or a tine went bad...
But after having done it all,
and laying your hands on a
properly adjusted Rhodes, you’ll
probably forget all the troubles you've been through! I forget, over and
over again. Though the
Phillips screwdriver #2 is still standing there on the right-hand chick of
my favorite electric piano.
Q8. Would you help me with your
advices in servicing and adjusting my Rhodes?
In the scope of Lexonic project we now offer online
and servicing help on analog instruments, including Rhodes pianos. There is a lot of very informative pages on
the Web, and the most recommendable is the already mentioned original Rhodes
Service Manual (you can download it on
Rhodes Super Site).
also try to answer a few of the most obvious questions here:
key action improvement necessary for the old models?
knowledge yes. All models with the old Fender-Rhodes names and the earliest
ones with Rhodes-only name have the serious problem of the stiff keys. Even for a classical pianist the Rhodes with “sticky keys” is
a real trouble to play. Follow many instructions available on the Web about
how to address the problem, and start with the
Rhodes Super Site. An excellent improvement is the installation of the
bump on the key pedestal. I have done it by using a specially stiff cardboard, and got excellent results. I
also did an additional modification, which is even more important for the
you are interested in buying the kit with detailed instructions for this
modification, please contact me. If there will be enough people interested
in it, I may start to produce it.
you who are technically skilled take a piece of advice which is already
written somewhere on the
Rhodes Super Site: carefully determine what (mechanical) problem, or
problems add to the stiff key action in your particular case. I have tried
some of the proposed solutions, but without significant improvements.
b) Do you have the Rhodes spare
Generally not. I don’t have any extra tines, tone bars, or similar mostly
wanted Rhodes spare parts. I order them from established Rhodes part
suppliers. All the parts that I needed and that can be
manufactured in the professional workshops, I had produced in smaller
quantities needed for myself This may change in the future, so you may
come and revisit this site again.
do have is the following:
plate for Rhodes Mark II. It is 412 mm x 50 mm plate fixed with four bolts on
the black name plate of the Mark II, it has the title Mark II on the left,
then there is the hole for input socket, and two holes for bass boost and
volume. It is remanufactured in original black eloxated aluminum, with the
exact original white lettering. No potentiometers, no input jack, just the
plate. Price EUR 65.00;
tips of the hardness 65, close to that of hardness 70 of the “yellow” rubbers,
and of their exact measures. [Please note that I do not recommend replacing
soft rubbers with harder, because this will change the sound. I suggest, as
does Dyno-My-Piano strict compliance with the Rhodes Technical Specs. So this
tips are recommended to serve instead of those marked with yellow color, and
perhaps those of red color (hardness 50), but not other]. A package of 10
pcs EUR 35.00;
that pulls out from the pedal-rod (for adjusting the pedal-rod length).