Rhodes piano

From Academic Kids

A Rhodes piano is a musical instrument. Its distinctive sound has appeared particularly in jazz and rock songs of the last fifty years.

Missing image
Rhodes Electric Stage Piano Mark II 73 note


The Rhodes piano was invented in the 1940s by Harold Rhodes, and its principles are derived from both the celesta and the electric guitar. The action is similar to that of a conventional piano, but whereas in a conventional piano each key causes felt-covered hammers to strike sets of strings, in a Rhodes piano rubber-tipped hammers strike tuning fork-like constructions to sound the note.

Sound producing mechanism

The tuning forks themselves are "unbalanced" or asymmetrical: one arm consists of a short, stiff metal rod (essentially a stiff wire) called a "tine" which is struck by the hammer, and the other arm is a tuned resonator resembling a piece of metal bar stock, sized to sound the appropriate note. The actual sounded note is too soft to be practical, so each tine vibrates in front of an electric-guitar-style magnetic pickup. The pickups' output is fed to an amplifier which can be adjusted to produce the desired volume.

The sound produced has a bell-like character not unlike a celesta or glockenspiel. Because the instrument produces sound electrically, the signal can be processed to yield many different timbral colors. Often the signal is processed through a stereo tremolo (which was called Vibrato on the Rhodes front panel) effects unit, which pans the signal back and forth between right to left; it is this "rounded" or chiming sound that is most typically called a classic Rhodes sound, which can be heard on, for example, many of Stevie Wonder's songs. The preamp with stereo panning is included on the "suitcase" models; the "stage" models lack the preamp.

In the 80's a set of Rhodes modifications done by a company called "Dyno My Piano" became popular: it made the sound brighter, harder, and more bell-like. It can be heard on many records from that time. When notes are played forcefully, the sound becomes less sweet, as nonlinear distortion creates a characteristic "growling" or "snarling" overload -- skilled players can contrast the sweet and rough sounds to create an extremely expressive perfomance.

Artists who played Rhodes

The Rhodes was particularly popular during the 1960s and 1970s, and many of its signature songs date from this period: The Doors "Riders On The Storm", "Just the Way You Are" by Billy Joel, "Still Crazy After All These Years" by Paul Simon, "Gotta Serve Somebody" by Bob Dylan, or the theme from "Taxi" by Bob James.

Ray Charles played Shake ya tail feather on a Rhodes in the music store scene in the Blues Brothers movie.

The Rhodes was also used much in jazz-fusion throughout the 1970's. Chick Corea's album Light at a Feather featured the Rhodes throughout the whole album. Joe Zawinul of Weather Report and Jan Hammer of the Mahavishnu Orchestra also used the Rhodes.

The Fender buyout

The Fender Guitar Company bought the Rhodes company in the 1950s, and produced the instruments for many years, in conjunction with Fender-designed amplifiers. The instrument is thus often termed a "Fender Rhodes".

During the 70's CBS bought the company, after which the piano was simply called a "Rhodes". The pianos manufactured after that point were often poorly made; bad tolerances and alignments made them difficult to play, and considerable tweaking, shimming, and adjustment had to be made to a new instrument. Typically a tech would have to add or remove shims beneath the harp assembly to put the tines the proper distance from the hammers, change felts, and drill small holes into the bottoms of the keys in order to insert lead weights to balance them and make them easier to play. As time progressed, the post-CBS Rhodes manufacturing did get a little better.

Currently the Rhodes trademark is owned by Roland, but they only slap the name onto their electronic copies; they do not manufacture real Rhodes pianos.

The actual instruments are more rarely seen in latter days: they are fragile, heavy, and difficult to adjust and tune. Consumer-grade electronic keyboards usually include built-in "electric piano" patches that approximate the signature Rhodes sound with considerably more convenience but none of these is capable of the range of expression of an actual Rhodes piano.


Different models of the Rhodes pianos were manufactured, including 73 and 88 note versions, the stage model, and the suitcase model which included built in amplifier and speakers. The first models to be produced was the Mark 1. This was followed by the Mark II which was lighter and more portable with a more mellow sound.

See also

External links

  • Rhodes Super Site (http://www.fenderrhodes.com)
  • Rhodes 73 (http://boldt.us/things/music/keys/rhodes-seventy-three-73-piano.html) Photo Gallery.

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