Sunday, November 13, 2022


Rhodes MK8 with optional effects unit

It absolutely makes sense that I would covet an electric piano that costs from eight thousand pounds to buy. As much as the opening theme I composed for my YouTube channel, and my song “Nostalgia’s Gonna Get You” [link] both use synth chords recreating the “E Piano 1” sound of the Yamaha DX7, what that sound is itself recreating is a kind of electric instrument holy grail – and one that no longer has to be bought second-hand.

Ray Manzarek’s piano line on The Doors’ song “Riders on the Storm” proves that “Rhodes” is an electric piano brand that evokes a certain mellow tone, almost like an electrified glockenspiel, especially on higher notes. Like a standard piano, Rhodes pianos are mechanical, its keys connected to hammers that hit thin metal rods connected to tuning-fork-shaped bars, the vibrations feeding to electric pick-ups. Used by The Doors, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock among many others, the Rhodes sound is highly prized, but with the original Rhodes factory having closed in 1987, outside of a short-run production in 2007, the older units have been kept running continuously, meaning few have experienced hearing one that hasn’t been “broken in” through years of use.

This is until the British sound design company Loopmasters bought the rights to the name, producing a new Rhodes MK 8 piano, based on the Mark I stage model introduced in 1970. I have watched a good few videos featuring it being put through detailed musical tests by people who could afford to buy their own, one of which had to remind themselves its keys were firmer than on previous Rhodes pianos because they were brand new.

I am naturally jealous that some people can afford to drop eight thousand pounds on a musical instrument, which approaches ten thousand once you add the extra effects unit with more digital options to shape the analogue sound, and once you want it in a colour other than black. It all depends on what you want, but when a Yamaha baby grand piano – a standard one with strings, not a sample-based electric CLP model – approaches that figure, your only concerns are what sound you want, and how much weight is your floor able to take.

Arguably, I already have the Rhodes sound with my Yamaha reface DX synthesiser, which cost one thirtieth the price of a base Rhodes MK 8, and I am very happy with it, but I know it is a copy of a copy. The original Yamaha DX7 of 1983 was much lighter and more versatile than a Rhodes with the sounds it creates, entirely by digital means that the owner doesn’t have to think about - the rise of similar synthesisers at the time will have hastened the end of their production. 

I guess it may be that you develop a taste for certain sounds over time, and once you have heard one sound being approximated so many times, or reproduced on online plugins that recorded samples from a Rhodes, you want to experience the real thing directly, being in the presence of its particular tonal quality that cannot be emulated owing to its mix of mechanical and electronic machinery. 

I am sure there will be a Rhodes MK 9 by the time I can afford a MK 8, but when it comes, I will take one in pink, thank you.

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