Fender Rhodes Pianos

Fender Rhodes Piano Bass

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Army AirCorps Piano 1942

The first instrument that Harold Rhodes ever created.
During World War II, undergoing a Army Air Forces Flight Instructor Training Course, Harold gave piano lessons to fellow soldiers and one of the hospital surgeons on the base asked him if he also could do something to rehabilitate wounded soldiers. He soon realized that there was a need for an instrument that also could be played in bed. After finding tubes of aluminium in the wings of wrecks from bomber B-17 that sounded good, Harold assembled a 2 1/2 octave acoustic intrument ” The Xylette” and wrote the Air Corps Manual No. 29, so everyone interested could build their own.

Used at all the Air Force hospitals, his method became very popular and widely used. Some sources say that over 150.000 soldiers learned how to play the piano thus. After the war Harold was awarded the Medal of Honor for the War Department’s highest civilian honor, a Commemoration of Exceptional Civilian Service, for “the development of a patient participation musical therapy program.” He filed for U.S. patent No. 2469667 in June of 1945.

The Rhodes Pre-Piano 1946-48

After WWII Harold was hot stuff at the musicfairs. Everyone was into electrifying instruments and the new markets this opened up. The Rhodes Pre-Piano, was launched at NAMM 1946. This is Harolds first “electric” instrument, with built-in tube amp and speakers. Made for a class-room situation it has a stand which is a combined bench and a 38-note range keyboard. After a few years of frustrating problems with the quality of manufacturing Harold discontinued the Pre-Piano idea and shut his company down and got into farming instead.

The sound producing idea is said to have been copied in the Wurlitzer electric pianos that came out ten years later, and the patent that went with it was filed by Ben Meissner. He was the same guy who completely dissed Harolds later patent for the “tuning-fork”-idea that all Rhodes pianos are using.

The FenderRhodes Piano Bass 1959 - 1975

The Fender Rhodes Piano Bass came out as the product of Harold Rhodes and Leo Fender doing a joint venture in the late fifties. The 32-note keyboard is the lowest two and a half octaves of a full 73-note Rhodes. The Piano Bass was designed since Leo Fender didn’t like the sound of the upper octaves of the piano that Harold wanted to manufacture. The hand-made prototype “X-38″ is first shown at a fair in Las Vegas in 1960, but the first time the Piano Bass shows up in the Fender program isn’t until the 1962 - 1963 catalogue.

“Musicians have found that by adding the Piano Bass to their instrumental group they have achieved the complete and finished sound that is important to every musical organization.”

This was the only model Mr. Fender allowed Harold to produce, even though there’s a whole “family” of Fender Rhodes models in the 1963 - 1964 Fender catalogue, and Harold already had protoytypes for an 88-note instrument. The Piano Bass was meant to be placed on top of another keyboard to be played with your left hand. A stand was also provided. Ray Manzarek of the Doors made this instrument famous.

FenderRhodes Celeste 1966 - 1968

The Fender Rhodes Celeste is the most obscure model of all the different Rhodes pianos. It could be seen in the early 1963 - 1964 Fender catalogue (37-key verision), but was not officially launched until 1968. It was produced for a short period and there seems to be a few different types of Celestes with different range and also even a “Suitcase”-49-key verision.

Basically it could probably be argued that the idea to put out a mini-model without the low and high octaves resurfaced when Rhodes took the idea up again with the Rhodes 54 model in 1980.