A few years ago I got a call from a friend who said his parents were trying to unload an old Fender Rhodes suitcase electric piano. They wanted $200 for it. Knowing that the typical resale price is more like $1000, I jumped on it. They lived about an hour outside of town and had the poor thing stuffed in a storage closet under hundreds of boxes. The Tolex was stained and shredded and in many places, completely missing. The action was mushy. The amp had a ground buzz. The top case was missing. So maybe $200 was about right!

Over the years my ambitions to renovate the instrument exceeded my motivation to actually do so. The piano sat in a corner collecting dust. It got so bad that at one point a possum snuck into my studio and burrowed itself behind the Rhodes suitcase speakers — I only found the creature by chance. We had to carry the instrument outside and turn it on its side to get him out!

Long story short, the project is finally underway. First up, the felt dampers. Worn and grooved, they were screaming to be ripped out.

Sad, worn dampers

I ordered the Vintage Vibeย damper kitย and supplemented it with a tube of glue, a razor blade, a brush, and a painter’s palette to keep a basin of glue going.

Supplies: Vintage Vibe felt damper kit, E-6000 glue, razor, painter’s palette

Per their instructional video, I began by shaving off the worn dampers. The old dampers are surprisingly easy to remove. Just push the blade from behind and they’ll slide off.

slicing off old dampers

The fun (tedious) part is getting the old, dried glue off the damper module. This took about an hour, some were much worse than others. Not surprisingly I ended up cutting myself repeatedly. Battle scars. If you do this, may I recommend that you put something on your fingers, like band-aids, to protect from the inevitable slicing issue. My fingers got shredded doing this.

Dried glue on the damper module. I used a razor blade to remove the majority of it.

Once that’s done, just brush the glue (E-6000) across the tip of the damper module, then push on the new felt.ย This part goes quickly: just glue and stick. I felt so crafty.

Pretty new dampers!

Vintage Vibe has four types of felts, Low, Low Mid, Mid, Treble, which get progressively thinner. It’s important to pay attention to the orientation — the long side is always flush with the edge. Consequently, as they get smaller the required gluing surface area shrinks. I made the mistake of over brushing glue when I switched from Low Mid to Mid, for example.

Here’s the final product. I let it set for about two hours before playing. Then I only played to make sure the tines and dampers were aligned. After that, I let it sit overnight. This morning it was good-as-new!

Old vs. New

A few things, some of which you’ll pick up watching the video. ย 1) Only pre-glue three or four rods at a time. 2) Every few minutes, you should run a Baby Wipe over the glue brush to keep it from getting hard. E-6000 turns to rock within minutes. 3) Keep the cap on the glue when not using it for the same reason. 4) Only keep a small amount of glue on your palette, also for the same reason.

Here’s a part list: http://www.fenderrhodes.com/org/manual/ch2.html

And here’s the reference video from Vintage Vibe:

Next up, hammers. Then action. Then Tolex. But for that, I’m going to hire a professional.

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