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Fender Rhodes piano
A Rhodes Mark II
Inventor(s) Harold Rhodes
Developed 1946-1965, 1965-1984, 1987-1991, 1997, 2007
Related instruments

Fender Keyboard bass
Rhodes Mark I Tube amp
File:Rhodes Mark I Tubeamp.ogg
A Rhodes Mark I played on a tube amplifier (overdriven).

Problems playing this file? See media help.

The Rhodes piano is an electro-mechanical piano, invented by Harold Rhodes[1] during the 1950s. It was later manufactured in a number of models, first in collaboration with Fender who after 1965, was bought by CBS.

As a member of the electrophone sub-group of percussion instruments, it employs a piano-like keyboard with hammers that hit small metal tines, amplified by electromagnetic pickups.[1] A 2001 New York Times article described the instrument as "a pianistic counterpart to the electric guitar"[2] having a "shimmering, ethereal sound."[2]

The Rhodes piano was used extensively throughout the 1970s in all styles of music. It fell out of fashion for a while in the middle 1980s, principally due to the emergence of polyphonic and later digital synthesizers, but has enjoyed a huge resurgence of popularity since the 1990s.[2]

The last model, the MkV, was released in 1984, when the factory in Fullerton was closed. Rhodes Music Corporation tried to re-introduce a version of the instrument in 2007.[3]


WWII: The Army Air Corps piano[1] was an acoustic instrument invented by Harold Rhodes during World War II in an effort to create a piano that injured soldiers could play while lying in a hospital bed. Rhodes built the first model in 1942,[1] a 29-note keyboard using aluminum tubing from a B-17 bomber aircraft.[1]

Rhodes Pre-Piano
Rhodes PianoBass
Rhodes Mark II 73 Stage
Rhodes Mark 7 on stage

The Air Force asked Rhodes to write a training manual and draw blueprints of what came to be known as the Army Air Corps piano,[1] so soldiers could make their own. Also called a "Xylette," thousands of the rudimentary models were built.[4]

1946-1965: Harold Rhodes subsequently founded The Rhodes Piano Corporation and introduced the Pre-Piano at NAMM 1946.[5] In 1959, Rhodes entered a joint venture with Leo Fender to manufacture the instruments under a company named Fender & Rhodes. The partnership lasted for six years with the model marketed as the Fender Rhodes Piano Bass, a 32-note version with only the low range of the piano, accounting for the bulk of the sales. The Fender Rhodes Celeste was a similar keyboard covering the midrange of the piano, and electric pianos with tube amplifiers were prototyped at the time. The Piano 73 would become known as the Fender Rhodes Electric Piano, with an amplifier cabinet used as a base for supporting the piano keyboard.[4]

1965-1984: CBS purchased the Fender company in 1965,[6] and offered Rhodes a release from his Fender agreement.[4] Rhodes stayed with CBS,[4] with the company first offering the full 73-note Suitcase model, in addition to the Piano Bass and the Celeste. In 1969 the 73-note Mark I Stage Piano was introduced as a one-piece alternative to the Suitcase style, featuring four detachable legs (used in Fender steel pedal guitars), a sustain pedal with an adjustable pushrod (the main component in a Rogers hi-hat) and a single output (mislabeled INPUT) for use with an outboard guitar cabinet or other source of amplification. The Fender Twin Reverb was the amplifier shown in catalogs as the cabinet of choice for the Stage Piano, and many Rhodes players rely on that particular 2 x 12" tube amp to get the classic tone. 1970 saw the release of an 88-key Suitcase Piano, and improvements in both the piano action and tone generator life were made a priority. In 1974 the decision was made to drop "Fender" from the name[4] for marketing purposes. Production in the 16-year "CBS period" reached as high as 50 units per day around 1978-79,[4] but sales declined as 1980 approached, and the Mark II Stage Piano was introduced in an attempt to revitalize the product. Production ended in 1984, with the Rhodes Mark V being the final CBS model.[4] No records exist on how many pianos were produced in total by the time CBS Musical Instruments ceased production. Harold Rhodes himself never kept any records of production, but during the 1970s it might have reached ten thousand instruments each year.

1987-1991: Roland acquired the Rhodes trademark from CBS for $20,000 in 1987. It manufactured only two digital piano models, the MK-80 (88 key) and the MK-60 (64 key), using S/A (Structured Adaptive) Synthesis method and weighted action, but the sound of the Roland piano disgusted Harold Rhodes.[4]

1997: Harold Rhodes re-acquired the Rhodes trademark to re-issue the original mechanical Rhodes piano, but he died in December 2000.[4]

2007: In 2007, a re-formed Rhodes Music Corporation introduced a reproduction of the original electric piano called the Rhodes Mark 7. This was a version of the Rhodes housed in a molded plastic housing, most similar to the CBS Rhodes Mark V in terms of style and mechanics. Total sales of this specific piano have not been disclosed.[3]


The first Fender Rhodes product was the FenderRhodes PianoBass, a 32-key model. No other models were mass-produced until after the CBS takeover of Fender in 1965. Shortly afterwards the 73-key FenderRhodes ElectricPiano went into production.

FenderRhodes PianoBass
(1960, Fiesta Red finish)
FenderRhodes Electric Piano
(1965, Sparkletop)

The '60s also saw the FenderRhodes Celeste, the Student/Instructor models and systems as well as the very rare Domestic models. In 1970 the more portable Stage MK I model was added to the range as well as the two Stage 88 and Suitcase 88 models. The Suitcase models included a built in pre-amp with the famous StereoVibrato, plus a cabinet with stereo amplifier and speakers. In 1980, a Stage 54 model was also produced.

Fender Rhodes Mark I Stage 88 (1971-74)
Rhodes Mark I Stage 73 (post 1975)
Rhodes Mark I Suitcase 88 (1977-79)

The Rhodes went through continuous internal improvements: the hammers became all plastic, the pedestals changed shape (and were bare for a short while, the felt was on the underside of the hammer), the pickups were altered, and the tine structure modified to endure more wear. The Mk II model was introduced in late 1979.

Also manufactured for a brief period was the Rhodes Mk III EK-10 which had analog oscillators and filters alongside the existing electromechanical elements. The overall effect was that of a Rhodes piano and a synthesizer being played simultaneously. Compared with the new polyphonic synthesizers being marketed at the same time it was limited in scope and sound, and very few units were sold.

The final classic Rhodes was the Mk V, introduced in 1984. Among other improvements, it had a lighter body and all new action with an improved cam, increasing the hammer stroke by 23%. With competition from digital and polyphonic synthesizers and the introduction of MIDI, production of Rhodes instruments ended in late 1984.

Rhodes Mark II (1979, bottom)

Rhodes Mark III (1980)
Rhodes Mark V (1984)
Rhodes Mark 7 (2007, rear)

A new Rhodes Mark 7 was introduced at NAMM 2007 and Musik Messe 2007, featuring the same electromechanical design as the original instrument, but with a new futuristic look and number of changes.[7]

The Mark 7 was the first instrument to be released under the Rhodes name since the late Harold Rhodes purchased it back from Roland.

Sound-producing mechanism

The Rhodes piano employs an asymmetrical tone bar, with a stiff wire (called a "tine") struck by a felt-tipped (neoprene rubber-tipped after 1970) hammer acting as one side of the tone bar, and a counterbalancing resonating tone bar above the tine acting as the other side. This tone generator kit's vibrations are then picked up by an electromagnetic pickup (one for each tine), and amplified. The pickups' output is (on a Stage-model) fed through a volume and a tone potentiometer on the namerail, and then to an output for external amplification.

The sound produced has a bell-like character not unlike a vibraphone, celesta or glockenspiel. Because the instrument produces sound electrically, the signal can be processed to yield many different timbral colors. On the Suitcase model the signal is processed through a "StereoVibrato", a low-frequency pan oscillation (actually a tremolo, but Leo Fender insisted on calling it vibrato, like on his amplifiers) effects unit, which pans the signal back and forth between right and left channels. It is this "rounded" or chiming sound that is called the classic Rhodes sound, which can be heard on, for example, many of Stevie Wonder's or Herbie Hancock's songs. The preamp with vibrato was included on the original Fender Rhodes Electric Pianos and after 1970 (with stereo panning) on the "suitcase" models; the "stage" models lack the preamp and the amplified speaker cabinet, but can be retrofitted.

During the 1980s a set of Rhodes modifications done by a company called "Dyno My Piano" became popular, inspired by one particular and very famous rental piano in L.A., the E-Rhodes, which can be heard on many records from that time. The modifications made the sound brighter, harder, and more bell-like, bringing out more of the attack in the Rhodes sound and making it cut through a mix like a grand piano. For instance, when notes are played forcefully, the sound becomes less sweet, as nonlinear distortion creates a characteristic "growling" or "snarling", called "bark" by pianists. Skilled players can contrast the sweet and rough sounds to create an extremely expressive performance. This sound was emulated by the Yamaha DX7 with a patch that was enormously popular during the 80's (see DX7 Rhodes).

Notable users

See also


External links

  • The Rhodes Super Site – The dedicated website since 1996.
  • Rhodes Music Corporation - The new Mark 7 manufacturer's website.
  • Video highlighting the Rhodes Piano sound

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