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The fall and rise of Rhodes piano

The Rhodes MK8 Piano
Rhodes Logo History

🎬 The Rhodes piano (also known as the Fender Rhodes piano) is an electric piano invented by Harold Rhodes, which became popular in the 1970s.

Like a conventional piano, the Rhodes generates sound with keys and hammers, but instead of strings, the hammers strike thin metal tines, which vibrate between an electromagnetic pickup. The signal is then sent through a cable to an external keyboard amplifier and speaker.

The instrument evolved from Rhodes’s attempt to manufacture pianos while teaching recovering soldiers during World War II. Development continued after the war and into the following decade. In 1959, Fender began marketing the Piano Bass, a cut-down version; the full-size instrument did not appear until after Fender’s sale to CBS in 1965. CBS oversaw mass production of the Rhodes piano in the 1970s, and it was used extensively through the decade, particularly in jazz, pop, and soul music. It was less used in the 1980s because of competition with polyphonic and digital synthesizers such as the Yamaha DX7 and an inconsistent quality control caused by cost-cutting.

📉 In 1983, Rhodes was sold to CBS boss William Schultz, who closed the main factory in 1985 and sold the business to the Japanese corporation Roland in 1987. Roland manufactured digital pianos under the Rhodes name, but Harold Rhodes disapproved of the instruments, which were made without his consultation.

In the 1990s, the instrument experienced a resurgence in popularity, resulting in Rhodes re-obtaining the rights to the piano in 1997. By then, he was in ill health and died in December 2000. In 2007, a re-formed Rhodes Music Corporation introduced a reproduction of the original electric piano, the Rhodes Mark 7, housed in a molded plastic enclosure.

🔁 In 2021, a new company, Rhodes Music Group Ltd, announced a new model, the MK8, in development.


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