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Fender
Rhodes MK1
Stage 88-Note

Nord Stage 88 88-Note Weighted Keyboard

Per Day : $165
Per Week: $495

The Fender Rhodes electric piano possesses one of the most recognizable sounds in modern music. The Rhodes' popularity has waxed and waned over the decades since its introduction, but its sound is still in vogue today in Beck's rock, Brand New Heavies' funk, Chick Corea's jazz, and even in Emagic's EVP88 and EVP73 virtual electric-piano plug-ins.

The Rhodes piano was the brainchild of musician Harold Rhodes. While a flying instructor stationed in Greensboro, North Carolina, Rhodes designed his first portable acoustic piano for the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942. Beginning with a pile of aluminum tubing salvaged from a B-17 bomber, Rhodes fashioned a sort of xylophone with a 29-note keyboard. Following World War II, Rhodes built a self-amplified, 38-note electric model called the Pre-Piano after taking apart a chiming clock that used spun-metal rods called tines.

Introduced in 1970, the 132-pound Mark I is made of wood, covered in a fabric-reinforced vinyl called Tolex, and sized to fit into a box that measures 45.25 by 9.85 by 23.63 inches. A compartment in the top cover houses four telescoping tubular steel legs that screw into the instrument's underside at a splayed angle for sturdy setup. A long metal sustain pedal attaches to the keyboard mechanism through a small hole in the center of the piano's underside via interlocking rods.

The original Stage Piano's control panel is sparse, with a volume knob, a tone knob, and a stereo -inch TRS output jack. The Mark I's Bass Boost is a passive tone control, though some of the later models offer active tone control. The curved, sloping lid makes it impossible to stand your beer, sheet music, or another instrument on top without the framelike contraption that was seen occasionally in the 1970s.

With keys that are slightly shorter and narrower than standard piano keys, a typical Rhodes piano began life with a wrist-breakingly stiff action. The weighted keys usually took months to loosen up and settle down; most became knackered a term commonly used among Rhodes players in their first year or so. Accordingly, no two instruments feel or sound quite the same. Some are a pleasure to play, and others are simply murderous.

The classic Rhodes sound is highly expressive part bell, part xylophone, and part piano. With its relatively soft, muted tones and brilliant dynamics, the Rhodes piano is especially well suited to the subtleties of jazz. Hitting a note really hard produces anything from a harmonic or a dull thwack to a clear, loud, crystalline tone.

Two hardware pieces that greatly influence the Rhodes sound are the amplifier and the effects processor through which the piano is played. Shortly after the Mark I's introduction, the Fender Twin Reverb established itself as the amplifier of choice, in part because of its appropriately moody tremolo. The Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus is also an excellent choice for amplification, especially with its creamy built-in chorus effect. Before the JC-120, players had to rely on chorus and phaser pedals that were notoriously noisy and ate batteries for breakfast.

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