The legendary Rhodes electric piano, often referred to as the Fender Rhodes, is now reincarnated in the form of the Rhodes MK8. This is an electric piano – not a digital, virtual or even electronic version, and it truly captures the essence of the outstanding original 1970s/80s instrument.
The new Rhodes MK8 has been developed by a new company, Rhodes Music Group Ltd, with input from various high-profile music industry engineers and designers. The pianos will be built at a new factory in Leeds (UK).
It all started back during World War II. Harold Rhodes, a young piano teacher from San Fernando, California, was serving in the Army Air Corps. Rhodes wanted to give injured bedridden airmen piano lessons to help with their recuperation, and so built a small portable keyboard instrument (known as the Xylette). A set of tuned aluminium tubes acted as the sound source, and these were struck with a crude piano action. Such was the instrument’s success that over 100,000 were built.
After the war, Rhodes wanted to take his designs further and in 1946 launched the Pre-Piano — a 38 note keyboard with piezo pick-ups and a built-in tube amplifier and speaker. The Pre-Piano wasn’t a great success and was only manufactured for a couple of years.
However, in 1959 Rhodes joined forces with Leo Fender (of Fender guitar fame) and released the Fender Rhodes Piano Bass. This had a 32 note keyboard that approximately encompassed the range of a bass guitar, and used tuned metal rods (tines) as the sound source.
The Fender company was sold to CBS in 1965, and four years later a full-range version of the Piano Bass was launched — the Fender Rhodes Electric Piano (Mark 1). CBS dropped the “Fender” part of the name in 1974.
The Rhodes Piano was a must-have instrument for touring rock and jazz musicians. Unlike an acoustic instrument, it was portable and easily “amplifiable”. It didn’t have the sound of an acoustic piano, but had a bell-like timbre, which found favour with a wide range of musicians. And, at the time, the choice of instruments available to a professional keyboard player was basically… Hammond organ, acoustic piano, Wurlitzer piano, Hohner Clavinet.
During the CBS years, there were five generations of Rhodes piano… Mark I to Mark V. But in the 1980s, lower-cost polyphonic synthesizers started to appear, and some were very good at recreating the sound of the Rhodes (especially Yamaha’s DX-7 with sales of over 200,000 ). This led to the eventual demise of the mass-produced electric piano, and CBS lost interest in the project.
The Japanese Roland Corporation purchased the Rhodes piano brand in 1987 and released the Rhodes MK-80 and MK-60 digital pianos. These were the Mark VI versions but were never actually referred to as such. Harold Rhodes was not happy with these instruments!
A Mark VII model was released in 2007 by a re-formed Rhodes Music Corporation, but in the eyes of many was felt to be just too expensive.
Press a key of an acoustic piano and a hammer strikes a string producing a sound that is amplified by the soundboard. The Rhodes Piano replaces the strings with tuning fork assemblies, and the bridge/ soundboard with electrostatic pick-ups and an amplifier.
The tuning fork assembly (shown above) is interesting in that it consists of a metal tine or rod (4) bolted to a tuned twisted-metal tone bar (1). The hammer strikes the tine which vibrates in front of the pick-up (2). The note is sustained by the tone bar, and can be fine-tuned by moving a small spring (3) along the tine. In 1971 the traditional teardrop-shaped hammers were replaced with hybrid neoprene-tipped hammers.
The new Rhodes MK8 (Mark VIII) retains all the core elements of the original electro-mechanical Rhodes, but with many physical/mechanical improvements, and advanced analogue electronics. See specifications below. It does however retain the traditional look and feel of a Rhodes piano.
The Rhodes Music Group are keen to ensure that the new MK8 is built to the highest standard. The custom tines and tone bars have been specially manufactured. The 73 note spruce keyboard has been sourced from Kluge Klaviaturen, a division of Steinway Hamburg. And the Alnico (aluminium, nickel, copper) pickups have also been specially wound for optimum performance.
But the main new features that the MK8 brings to the party lie in the electronics, controls for which are mounted on two panels (left and right) located just above the keys.
Preamp, Equaliser and Vari-Pan controls are on the left panel, whilst on the right is the optional FX section. This includes a VCA compressor, phaser, chorus and delay. The designers have used analogue circuitry (bucket brigade delay lines) for the effects section. This preserves the analogue characteristics of the sound.
Our mission is to continue founder Harold Rhodes’ development of the highest quality musical instruments. We will stay true to Rhodes’ heritage whilst future-proofing the Rhodes brand for new generations of artists, with an evolving suite of beautifully designed, lovingly made and inspirational music products.Matt Pelling, Chairman, Rhodes Music Group Ltd.
Rhodes Music Group is playing its cards close to its chest with the launch of the MK8. Details about price and availability have not yet been released, however, the company has said that it has plans to produce 500 units throughout 2022. All instruments will be built to order.
Subscribers to the company’s newsletter will receive a code to gain full access to the new website on 1st November 2021, non-subscribers will have to wait until 1st December.
See Also: Introducing the Rhodes V8 and V8 Pro
|RHODES MK8 Specifications|
|TONE GENERATION||Custom precision steel tines and tonebar|
|ACTION||Custom high-impact black ABS hammers with in-built lubrication|
|KEYBOARD||73-note Rhodes custom spruce keyboard by Kluge Klaviaturen GmbH, oak and beech key frame|
|PICKUPS||Custom precision-wound alnico (aluminium, nickel, and cobalt) pickups with anti-slip adjustment for accurate voicing and flat-ended pickup heads for accurate volume adjustment.|
|EFFECTS OPTION||Custom analogue stereo effects processing unit: VCA compressor with adjustable ratio and blend control; phaser; bucket brigade chorus; bucket brigade delay.|
|FRONT PANEL AND REAR GRILLE||Black/Silver anodised aluminium.|
|UI PANELS||Brushed-aluminium foil. Black with silver legend or silver with black legend.|
|LEFT SIDE CONNECTION PANEL||2x Balanced XLR outputs (L/R), 2x 1/4′′ jack outputs (L/R). |
1x 1/4′′ jack send, 1x 1/4′′ jack return.
Direct pickup out via send socket.
1x 1/4′′ left cheek block-mounted headphone jack, with independent headphone volume control.
|RIGHT SIDE CONNECTION PANEL||USB (Reserved for future firmware updates). |
Expression control input jacks 1 and 2.
|ANALOGUE PREAMP SECTION||Analogue signal path from pickup rail to output. Volume, drive, envelope (auto-wah) controls.|
|ANALOGUE EQ SECTION||Active EQ (low, mid, high, +/- 15dB). |
Voltage-controlled mid-filter frequency control accessible by envelope and/or expression pedal for real analogue wah effects and keyboard- controlled slow-phase effect.
|VARI-PAN ||Custom vari-pan circuit with rate and depth controls. Four selectable wave shapes (square/cats-eye, upwards ramp, triangle, sine). LFOs can be run into audio rates, performing anything from classic Rhodes stereo panning to modulated soundscapes and polyphonic synth-like layers. Use the depth control to blend between dry Rhodes signal and audio-rate modulation effects.|
|STAND||Custom telescopic polished steel stand in tough powder-coated black or classic mirror-polished chrome. Height-adjustable front legs. Packs compactly for transport.|
|LID||ABS black, custom colours.|
|CASE||Lightweight ply case with tolex, aluminium base plate, solid walnut option.|
|SUSTAIN PEDAL||Custom twist-lock piano connector with flexi-cable. Damper mechanism adjustment access via rear badge. Chrome footplate. Aluminium shell. Rhodes folding protective rubber non-slip mat. Standard matte black, custom colours to match lid.|
|ASSIGNABLE PEDAL CONTROL||Volume, mid frequency (wah), both (pedal 1). Pan rate, pan depth, both (pedal 2). Phaser rate, chorus rate (pedal 1, FX version). Delay time, delay feedback (pedal 2, FX version).|
|POWER SUPPLY||15volt, 4-pin locking XLR external supply with universal voltage.|
|DIMENSIONS (APPROX)||1153mm (W) x 563mm (D) x 225mm (H).|
Website: Rhodes Music Group