The Wurlitzer electric piano, trademarked the "Electronic Piano" and referred to by musicians as the "Wurly", was one of a series of electromechanical stringless pianos manufactured and marketed by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company of Corinth, Mississippi, U.S. and North Tonawanda, New York. The earliest models were made in 1954 and the last model was made in 1984.
Inventor Benjamin Miessner had designed an amplified conventional upright piano in 1935, and Wurlitzer used his electrostatic pickup design, but replaced the strings with struck steel reeds. The instrument entered production in 1954 as the EP-110, followed by the 111 and 112 of 1955, and continued to be produced in various forms until about 1982 when production of the 200A ceased.
The earliest versions were the "100" series; these had a case made from painted plywood and were fitted with a single loudspeaker mounted in the rear of the case. Apart from the 1950s models (110, 111, 112, 112A, 120), the portable Wurlitzer pianos featured a tremolo effect with fixed rate but adjustable depth. Models produced until the early 1960s used vacuum tube circuitry; the 140 was the first solid-state model, introduced in 1962. The model 145 was tube and came out around the same time as the 140 solid state pianos. Ultimately, after revisions designated with "A" and "B" suffixes, both were replaced in 1968 by the plastic-bodied 200, a much lighter instrument (56 lbs, without the legs or pedal) with two loudspeakers facing the player. This model was updated as the 200A in 1974 and continued in production into 1983. The 200 was available in black, dark "Forest Green", red or beige. The 200A was only available in black and avocado green. The white Wurlitzer sometimes seen being used by bands such as The Beach Boys, The Carpenters and Supertramp was a custom painted finish not made by the manufacturer. The last version to be introduced was the 200B in 1978; this was visually identical to the 200A but was designed to be powered by a pair of medium-tension (85v) rechargeable batteries; it had no internal speakers or amplifier.
Compared with its rival, the (Fender) Rhodes electric piano, the Wurlitzer has a less harmonically-complex, darker sound, while the Rhodes is more bell-like, containing high harmonics not as present in the Wurlitzer. This is seen by some as an advantage in a dense arrangement as the Wurlitzer can clearly be heard, occupying its own space without dominating. When played gently the sound can be quite sweet and vibraphone-like, sounding very similar to the Rhodes; while becoming more aggressive with harder playing, producing a characteristic slightly overdriven tone usually described as a "bark".
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