The Fender Rhodes is an electric piano invented by Harold Rhodes, which became particularly popular throughout the 1970s.
Like a piano, it generates sound using keys and hammers, but instead of strings, the hammers strike thin metal tines, which are then amplified via an electromagnetic pickup which is plugged into an external keyboard amplifier and speaker.
The instrument evolved from Rhodes' attempt to manufacture pianos to teach recovering soldiers during World War II under a strict budget, and development continued throughout the 1940s and 1950s. The instrument was mass-produced in the 1970s, and it was used extensively through the decade, particularly in jazz, pop, and soul music. It fell out of fashion for a while in the mid-1980s, principally due to the emergence of polyphonic and later digital synthesizers, especially the Yamaha DX7, and partly through inconsistent quality control in production due to cost-cutting measures. The company was eventually sold to Roland, who manufactured digital versions of the Rhodes without authorization or approval from its inventor.
The Rhodes piano features a keyboard with a similar layout to a traditional acoustic piano, but some models contain 73 keys instead of 88. The touch and action of the keyboard is designed to be as close to a piano as possible. Pressing a key results in a hammer striking a thin metal rod called a tine, connected to a larger "tone bar". The whole "tone generator assembly" acts as a tuning fork, the tone bar reinforcing and extending the vibrations of the tine. A pickup sits opposite the tine, picking up its vibrations and inducing an electric current in a similar manner to an electric guitar. The basic mechanical act of hitting tines does not need an external power supply and a Rhodes will make a sound even when not plugged into an amplifier, though like an unplugged electric guitar the sound will be weak.
The Suitcase model Rhodes includes a built-in power amplifier and a tremolo feature that bounces the output signal from the piano in stereo across two speakers.
Throughout its lifetime, many variations of the original Rhodes piano have been produced:
- 1946 "Pre piano"
- 1959 Piano bass
- 1965 MkI "suitcase"
- 1970 MkI "Stage"
- 1979 MkII
- 1984 Mk V
- 1987 Roland Rhodes MK 80
- 2007 Mark 7
Oscillator Induced current from a pickup
Synthesis type Electromechanical
Effects Tremolo, stereo auto-pan
Keyboard 73 or 88 keys
External control Line out or DIN connector to external amp /mixing board
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