The New Rhodes

The Rhodes electric piano came into existence in 1965, the culmination of years and years of innovation by inventor Harold Rhodes in collaboration with Fender and CBS. The instrument’s impact was immediate and revolutionary. The Beatles employed it extensively on Let It Be (tasking Billy Preston to funk up the group’s sound), Pink Floyd plastered it all over Wish You Were Here, and Stevie Wonder always had at least one hand on the thing (“I Wish” and “You Are The Sunshine of My Life” being standout examples). Billy Joel crooned “Just The Way You Are” behind a phase-shifted Suitcase 88. The Doobie Brothers counted the minutes with one. That sultry, biting sound had become a ubiquitous radio favorite.

Rhodes with a MiniMoog

Oh, but it was heavy to move. It’s two pieces — the keyboard and the amp, called a “suitcase” — often took a pair of strong backs to get it loaded from a car to a stage. Yet it was still far lighter and simpler to deal with than a real piano. Digital emulations eventually usurped the bulky original, solidifying its legacy, and its endurance — today every electronic keyboard on the market includes a set of Rhodes-like sounds.

In 1997 Harold Rhodes regained ownership of his trademarks from the Japanese synthesizer manufacturer Roland, who had acquired the rights to it ten years earlier. He died three years later, just weeks shy of this 90th birthday. In took another ten years for Rhodes’ posthumous dream of building an updated mechanical electric piano to reach fruition. At long last, the Rhodes Mark 7 made its debut at this year’s N.A.M.M. show. Stevie Wonder, George Duke, Jeff Lorber, and other piano luminaries all showed up at the Rhodes booth for test drives and impromptu concerts. Meanwhile, throngs of musicians elbowed one other trying to get peek at the classic sound emanating from its sleek curved shell.

The Rhodes Mark 7 is the progeny of the newly formed Rhodes Music Corporation — their CEO is the lawyer who organized the transfer of the trademarks a decade earlier. It retains the mechanical guts (tines and hammers and all the rest), but it’s also fully modernized with MIDI, LED screens, and built-in digital effects (a long way from the suitcase tremolo of old). Also unlike the original, it’s available in three striking colors (cherry red, white, and black).

If you’re curious how it sounds, the company web site is flush with videos, testimonials, and audio clips. Having owned several Rhodes pianos over the years (including my current 73 suitcase), it appears to be a perfect replica. Prices, on the other hand, are harder to find (as in, there are no prices listed). Purchase info can only be obtained via a contact form, which I used. The next day I received the following response. In a nutshell, these things aren’t cheap.

We are currently shipping our 73 and 88 Rhodes Mark 7 S, A and AM models at this time. Here is a list of the prices (all prices in US Dollars):

73 Rhodes Mark 7 S……… $3299.00 USD
73 Rhodes Mark 7 A……… $3999.00 USD
73 Rhodes Mark 7 AM….. $4999.00 USD
73 Speaker Platform……. $2199.00 USD
73 Travel Case………………$799.00 USD

88 Rhodes Mark 7 S……….. $3899.00 USD
88 Rhodes Mark 7 A………. $4599.00 USD
88 Rhodes Mark 7 AM….. $5699.00 USD
88 Speaker Platform…….. $2499.00 USD
88 Travel Case………………$899.00 USD

*RhodesTouch finish will be an additional $100 USD

That’s $9000 to get an 88 Suitcase deluxe model with a travel case. A lowly 73 stage model is a mere $3300.