Renowned the world over, the iconic Fender Rhodes electric piano graces countless top hits. Over the years different Rhodes models have been released, each with their own distinct characteristics. Here’s our simple guide to help you understand the extended Rhodes family of pianos.
The first Fender Rhodes ‘Silver Top’ electrical piano
The first Fender Rhodes were built between 1965 and 1969 in slightly varying models; they all feature the distinctive silver-coloured top cover, and the most common version has 73 keys and a 50W amp. Their sound might be described as bell-like and a little rough.
Fender Rhodes Mark I
The Fender Rhodes Mark I was produced from 1975 onwards, and by this point featured a black top and a silver bar for the controls. Two versions were offered: one including an amp and a lighter (the Suitcase), and another significantly cheaper and easier to produce version without (the Stage). Their original wooden hammers were prone to wear and tear so soon made way for replaceable rubber heads, whose hardness was optimized for each octave group, achieving a uniform sound over the whole range. The resonators were improved, decreasing the weight of the instrument. In 1972 the first Mark I with 88 keys was introduced.
Rhodes Mark I
1975 saw not just a change in brand name, but a continuous improvement in sound quality. From then on the hammers were made entirely of plastic, except for the rubber heads. The Rhodes sound of the 70s was less bright and a little softer. The amp in the Suitcase version grew to 100W and gained additional outputs for mixers and effects. A vibrato effect and an equalizer were also added.
Rhodes Mark II
1979 was perhaps the most popular year ever for the Fender Rhodes. The main changes were aesthetic, giving it a refined black look. The redesigned hood now contained a secondary instrument. In 1980 a 54-key version was added to the palette. Alternative versions with wood or plastic keys were offered. The plastic keys improved longevity but produced a different feeling which didn’t appeal to most customers.
Rhodes Mark III
The Mark III represents for many the end of the classic Fender Rhodes Piano. The Mark III is essentially a Stage 73 with added synthesizer components to achieve a modern, almost futuristic sound. The new synth and the original Rhodes could be played separately lending the Rhodes far greater diversity.
Today almost no two Rhodes sound the same, since the wear and tear of the decades and the different repairs and modifications they have undergone give each instrument their own individual characteristics.
Go out and play some to see for yourself!