During World War II Harold Rhodes made small pianos for wounded Army Air corps personnel using aluminum pipes from B-17 bombers instead of strings. In 1946 his Rhodes Piano Company debuted the Pre-Piano, a small electric piano for students. Rhodes tried various designs over the next several years. In 1959 Rhodes joined forces with Leo Fender's electric instrument company. His piano became known as the Fender Rhodes Piano. When CBS bought Fender in 1965, the instrument simply became the Rhodes Piano, although many people still refer to any Rhodes piano as a "Fender Rhodes."
The tones are generated by a hammer striking a tine much like a tuning fork. Each note has its own tine and adjacent electromagnetic pickup. The piano is tuned by precisely sliding a small spring on the tine. The Suitcase model has an amplifier/speaker cabinet which forms the base, while the Stage model has detachable legs and requires an external amp.
The first Fender Rhodes piano was the Fender Rhodes Piano Bass, a short low-pitched model allowing the piano player to take over the role of the bass player with his left hand. The standard Rhodes has 73 keys, beginning with a low E, matching the lowest note of a bass. An 88-note model, matching the range of a traditional piano, and a more portable 54-note model were also manufactured.
The Rhodes is noted for its clear bell-like tone. The percussive quality can be emphasized or minimized with equalizers and other audio processing devices. The notes have a relatively long sustain, and players often use sparser chord voicings than they would on a traditional piano to avoid muddiness.
Pianos at performance venues varied greatly in quality and state of repair, and were difficult to amplify adequately to keep up with electric instruments and drums. The Rhodes solved these problems and many working pianists became Rhodes players, traveling with their own instruments. Gradually Rhodes players became Multi-keyboard players, stacking other keyboards on the Rhodes. In 1979 Rhodes accommodated this trend with the introduction of the Rhodes Mark II with a flat top.
The Rhodes became a staple on the pop charts as well as with jazz musicians like Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. Adding flanging, phase shifting, or chorus effects created an iconic sound for ballads. This is the sound heard in the Billy Joel standard "Just the Way You Are," Styx's "Babe," and the Doobie Brothers's "Minute by Minute."
The Rhodes piano sounds are still very popular. There are emulations of them in virtually every digital keyboard available today.
Rhodes Demo - Jam on "Lucky Southern"
Soundchecking after finishing the restoration.
The Hammond organ is the brainchild of Laurens Hammond. He started producing his electric organs in 1935 as a practical alternative to large pipe organs for churches, entertainment venues, and homes.
The famous Hammond sound is created by a shaft rotating at a constant speed. The shaft sets a number of disks spinning at various speeds using a complex gear assembly. Adjacent to each spinning disk, or tonewheel, is a magnet and coil pickup assembly. Because the tonewheels spin at various speeds and have different configurations of bumps on them, each generates a unique frequency, or pitch. The pickups feed the signal to an internal tube preamplifier before being sent out to a main amplifier.
The organist uses drawbars to combine the simple tones in varying intensities to create complex sounds. Hammonds, like pipe organs, were originally intended to imitate the instruments of an orchestra. In effect, these organs were early electric additive synthesizers.
Hammond organs evolved through the years beginning with the A models, then various B and C models, among others. The ultimate evolution of this technology is the B-3, which is the model most people think of when someone mentions a Hammond organ. What many do not know is that the C-3 is an identical organ in a church-style cabinet, the RT-3 is a C-3 with an expanded pedal section, and the A-100 series are B-3s in home furniture-style cabinets with internal speakers, amplifiers, and reverb units.
Hammond dealerships sold their organs with matching Hammond speaker/amplifier cabinets. Although they very aggressively discouraged the use of competing models, Don Leslie's rotating speaker cabinets became the standard for most uses. The Leslie speaker is a large part of "the B-3 sound" we know today.
Hammond stopped making B-3 style organs in 1974. They had to resort to making cheap transistor-based instruments to keep up with the competition. Most of these later organs are junk by now, but the earlier tonewheel organs were built to last. Even the first Model A organs are still in use today.
Spare parts are readily available on the internet. The definitive source of information for all things Hammond is Hamtech.org.
1936 Hammond BCV Organ Demonstration
1936 Hammond BCV Demonstration - Jazz Organ Blues
Wurlitzer Electric Piano
The Wurlitzer company was originally known as the Randolph Wurlitzer Company, founded in Cincinnati, OH in 1853. First the company sold orchestral instruments and was successful selling to the US military for its various bands. In 1880 the company began making pianos, and later made a variety of organs, then electric pianos, jukeboxes (up until 2013) and vending machines.
Wurlitzer electric pianos were made from 1954 until 1982. The mechanical action is a simplified acoustic piano action with 64 keys and hammers that strike steel reeds. Electrostatic pickups convert the vibrations to electrical signals. There are amps and speakers built in, but usually a separate amplification system is used for performance and recording. The tone is bright and pure, less harmonically complex than a Rhodes electric piano, and cuts through a mix well. A built in tremolo circuit is part of the iconic sound. To tune the reeds, solder is added or filed off, a rather tedious process. When the keys are hit hard, the piano emits a somewhat distorted tone or "bark."
Early models such as the portable 100 (1954) and 120 (1957) and console model 700 (1958) used all tube circuitry. Later models such as the popular 200 (1968) and 200A (1974) used transistor circuits.
Many well known pop, jazz, and soul recordings feature Wurlitzer electric pianos, or "Wurlies," including Sun Ra's "Angels and Demons" (1956), Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" (1958), and numerous 70s hits like Marvin Gaye's "Heard it through the Grapevine," Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World," Supertramp's "Bloody Well Right," Queen's "You're my Best Friend," and "Miss You" by the Rolling Stones.
Wurlitzer electric piano, although long out of production, are still very popular. Most modern digital synths have a patch that mimics the classic Wurlie sound. Original Wurlies are available on the used market, and both new and old stock parts can easily be found on the internet.
The Hohner Clavinet is one of the most unique and sought after vintage keyboards. Originally designed to be an electric harpsichord, it was embraced by funk, rock, and reggae musicians and used on many hit records. Some of the most recognizable Clavinet recordings are Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" and "Superstition," Bill Withers's "Use Me," and Herbie Hancock's Headhunters album. Reggae artists like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh as well as disco acts like KC and the Sunshine Band also feature Clavinet prominently.
The Clavinet is strung like a guitar. There are tuning pegs for each note behind the front panel that are adjusted with a screwdriver. There are two coil pickups inside near the bridge, one over and one under the strings. When a key is depressed, a small rubber-tipped hammer strikes the string. Releasing the key mutes the note. On the D6 and E7 models there is a slider on the right end of the keyboard to create a mute effect similar to the sound of a guitarist muting the strings with the palm of his picking hand. Various pickup combinations are available using switches on the left end of the keyboard.
Given the design of the instrument, it is no surprise that its sound can sometimes be mistaken for an electric guitar. It lends itself well to the use of guitar amps and effects boxes. Many players have hooked it up to a wah-wah pedal or an envelope filter (auto-wah), especially in funk music. Various distortion or overdrive effects are commonly used as well. The Clav blends well with guitars and so was an immensely popular keyboard by the 1970s.
Hohner Clavinets evolved over the years beginning with model I in 1964, followed by models II, C, L, the ubiquitous wood-grained D6, and culminating in the E7. The E7 had improved shielding which helped to solve the common problem of hum and RFI noise. Hohner also made a Clavinet-Pianet Duo which combined a Clavinet E7 and a Pianet in one instrument.
Although Hohner has ceased making Clavinets, parts are readily available on the internet. Newly-manufactured and NOS parts can be found at Clavinet.com and other sites.
Moog synthesizers were created by Bob Moog (who preferred that his name be pronounced to rhyme with "rogue"). He started out building theremins in the early 50s. In the early 60s he founded R.A.Moog Co. which eventually became Moog Music.
At that time an experimental electronic music known as "Musique Concete" was being composed at institutions such as Vladimir Ussachevsky's department at Columbia University. Notes were recorded one at a time and were manipulated using magnetic tape. Recitals of new works consisted of a tape recorder on a stage. Lacking visual interest, performances were enhanced with experimental motion pictures that leaned toward the psychedelic. Ussachevsky later worked with Moog suggesting devices that would be useful to electronic music composers.
The Moog sounds are generated by electronic oscillator circuits creating voltages analogous to simple sine waves and more complex waveforms such as sawtooth and square waves. These basic building blocks generate tones similar to flutes, brass or strings, and reeds respectively. From there the signals are shaped in the time and loudness domains with voltage-controlled amplifiers (VCAs). Additionally tones are harmonically filtered with voltage-controlled filters (VCFs). The name "subtractive synthesis" is derived from this filtering of overtones. It was Moog's patented filter that made his instruments unique. Moog successfully defended his filter patent against imitations made by his competition.
At the AES conference in 1964 Moog presented his paper "Voltage-Controlled Electronic Music Modules" and demonstrated his protypes. These early designs chained together VCOs, VCAs, VCFs, and other devices in various configurations using patch cords. Early electronic music purists resisted the addition of an organ-style keyboard. They preferred charting their own new course and triggering sounds by other means rather than drawing on the Western European keyboard tradition. Moog did add keyboards to his systems, but included control voltage (CV) inputs to bypass them if desired. The synth's keyboard was a big factor in its eventual widespread popularity.
The first instruments were the rather bulky custom-made modular systems, built for cutting edge institutions and composers. Keith Emerson was an early high profile user. He still tours with a large Moog modular synth today. Next came the model 900, the first production model. In 1967 Moog's new instrument was demonstrated to musicians at the Monterey Pop Festival. The Doors, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Byrds expressed keen interest. Walter Carlos (now Wendy Carlos), working with a Moog synthesizer, released Switched-On Bach in 1968. Soon the new sounds were reaching a wide audience and many other musical artists were jumping aboard.
The Minimoog model D, a more portable and user-friendly instrument, came out in 1970. Its hard-wired configuration of modules made it less flexible than a fully modular system, but was much easier to manipulate in real time for live performance, requiring no patch cords.
All of the synths to this point were monophonic, producing one note at a time, and so were mainly used as solo voices. Features were included to allow the player to articulate notes expressively as a soloist would on say, a sax or guitar. While playing the keyboard with the right hand, the left hand can control pitch bends and modulation effects like vibrato or tremolo. A master of this technique is Jan Hammer, as heard in his collaborations with Jeff Beck and Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Some recording artists overdubbed layers of monophonic tracks to create ensemble textures. Rick Wakeman, of Yes fame, was one of the most highly visible artists to work this way, as in his solo record Six Wives of Henry the Eighth. The record cover folds open to show Wakeman at his array of keyboards, featuring two Minimoogs side by side.
Several other offshoots like the Micromoog, Multimoog, and Prodigy were marketed in the ensuing years, until the digital revolution took over keyboard instrument technology in the early 80s. At that time analog instruments were considered obsolete and were available for next to nothing. However, once the newness of digital synths faded a bit, the demand for analog synthesizers soared again and Moogs that had been cast aside were getting top dollar. In response to this demand, Moog retooled the Minimoog with new hi-tech enhancements and released the current production model, the Minimoog Voyager.
Moog Synthesizer Jam
Kawai Electric Piano
The Kawaii EP-608 is an electro-acoustic piano with a genuine piano hammer action and piano strings. It has a marvelous, unique sound and is part of a brief but important period in keyboard history.
When playing with electric guitars and drums pianists often get lost in the mix. Microphones in the pianos help, but have their problems. They are prone to feedback, making it hard to get enough gain. Also, the surrounding stage sound from other instruments bleeds through, causing difficulty isolating the piano sound.
An electrical engineer and pianist named Charles Helpinstill solved these problems for himself by creating electro-magnetic bar pickups similar to electric guitar pickups, but customized for acoustic piano use. When Elton John began touring with this system in the early '70s, the secret was out and everyone wanted one. Later Helpinstill marketed touring pianos made to his specs by Kimball and incorporating his pickup system. The 64-note model was the more portable, built into its own roadcase with a keyboard that folded down and in for travel. There was also an 88-note grand piano version.
Yamaha came up with their own portable grands, the CP70 (73 notes) and the CP80 (full 88 note keyboard). Unlike the Helpinstills, these pianos did away with the wooden soundboards and used piezo type pickups to amplify the vibrating strings. To cut down on size, the bass strings were shorter than standard. The resulting sound was very bright and cut through the mix well in live use. Yamaha made use of their excellent grand piano action, a favorite feature for pianists. For transporting, the keyboard section and the harp/string section came apart in two pieces. These pianos became the touring standard in the early '80s and were used by many artists including Billy Joel, Peter Gabriel Bon Jovi, Little Feat, and countless others. These pianos required constant tuning and players usually kept tuning hammers close by.
Piano maker Kawai entered the market with their EP-608 upright and EP-308 grand electro-acoustic pianos. These were also built with real piano actions and strings and without a soundboard. They too were designed to be packed and moved relatively easily. They create a very unique distinctive sound.
As digital technology began to take over in the mid to late '80s, production of these pianos came to a halt, though there are still artists who feature these instruments as part of their distinct sounds. Vintage electro-acoustic pianos are still available on the used market. Charles Helpinstill ceased manufacturing his pickup systems in 1985, but resumed production in 2001 due to strong demand, particularly from churches, and continues to market them to this day.
No page of vintage keyboards can be complete without a discussion of the acoustic piano, the mother of them all. The instrument is formally called the "pianoforte," which is Italian for "softloud." It is so named because it allows the player great control over volume, unlike its predecessors.
From about 1400 to 1800, the harpsichord and clavichord were in widespread use, predominantly among royalty and the wealthy class. The harpsichord plucks strings to produce sounds. The player cannot directly control the volume of a played note, but can play louder by playing more keys at once. On the clavichord, pressing keys causes strings to be struck by a brass blade. The string is thus divided in two segments, similar to placing a finger on the fretboard of a guitar. The clavichord allows some control of dynamics, but is a rather quiet instrument.
Around 1700 Bartolomeo Cristofori introduced the "gravicembalo col piano e forte," or "harpsichord with soft and loud" in Florence for his wealthy patron. This new instrument allowed subtle gradations of volume and featured an escapement action and a sustain knee lever. Later came the sustain pedal as well as some material changes to make a bigger sound, and in 1890 Albert Steinway patented the sostenuto pedal for selective sustain. By this time the piano had pretty much completed its evolution, with a range of 88 notes, and a double escapement action. The earlier versions are called fortepianos to differentiate them from modern pianofortes.
At the dawn of the 20th century piano manufacturers were abundant and pianos were in middle class households everywhere. Ordinary people routinely made music together, playing piano and singing at social gatherings. There was always someone around who could strike up a tune. These skills began to decline with the rise of player pianos, then radio, television and most of all recorded music. Gradually music came to be thought of as a marketable physical object created mysteriously by specially gifted people. Piano manufacturers began to go out of business, especially during the Great Depression. Near the end of the 20th century digital pianos took the place of acoustic instruments for most common uses. Excellent pianos are still being made and sold, but aside from institutions and professionals, the new piano trade caters mainly to an upscale market once again.
One O'Clock Boogie
One O'Clock Jump performed on piano boogie woogie style