Classic Gear: The Fender Rhodes
Press your hand to these keys for the first time and you’ll hear it, the smooth electric ring with a touch of grit and lots of soul. It’s hard not to sound good on a keyboard this classic, but the best players can muscle out a powerful growl. You probably know the sound.
The Rhodes is not an electronic instrument or a synthesizer, it works mechanically like a regular piano. Rather than hammering strings, each key on the Rhodes strikes a thin metal rod, called a tine, that is cut to length and amplified through a pickup. A few knobs on the faceplate can alter the tone or vibrato, but modification of the raw sound is barely needed. Plug this baby in a Twin Reverb and you’re good to go.
It was invented by Harold Rhodes as a bedside piano for wounded GIs, and manufactured by the Fender company as early as 1959, but portable (though damn heavy) stage models produced in the late 60s would drive its popularity and acceptance by artists from jazz, rock, soul, or any genre. Being one of the most important piano innovations of our time, the Rhodes is still dearly loved and highly collected today. As Ray Charles would say during Harold Rhodes’ lifetime achievement Grammy award presentation, “The Rhodes was a musical atom bomb, changing the face of the music landscape forever.”
First let’s hear from Herbie Hancock from his 1970s Rhodes promo record. This is a great introduction to the capability and sound of the Rhodes from one of the deepest keyboard explorers ever.
Herbie Hancock “Demonstrates The Rhodes Sound; Side A”
Get Back features some nasty Rhodes soloing by “fifth Beatle,” Billy Preston. The Let It Be Naked release is said to better represent Preston’s fine contributions to the Beatles’ music.
The Beatles “Get Back”
“Excuse me, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the action on this piano…”