Rhodes Mark II 73 Stage Piano Restoration

Rhodes Mark II 73 Stage Piano
Rhodes Mark II 73 Stage Piano

This Rhodes is identical to my own, which I bought when I was 17 and gave a similar treatment to years ago.  The Rhodes piano is a beautiful and well-designed instrument which of course is prone to its share of issues. A Rhodes piano restoration is something that might be enjoyable to someone who doesn’t mind doing the same task 73 or 146 times.  Guess what… I enjoy it.

Like my own Rhodes, this one was a later-years Mark II (built in 1980) in which the pickups are very prone to failure.  Any post-1975 Rhodes in which the pickups are wrapped in white tape will suffer as a result of pickups being wound with magnet wire whose enamel coating breaks down easily over time, causing the wire itself to tarnish, corrode, and eventually break especially near where it has been subjected to the heat of soldering.

Rhodes piano pickups left to right – original Mark II (white), newly wound by me (shiny copper), salvaged Mark I (taped copper)

This piano had suffered 24 pickup failures.  Thirteen of those were entirely missing, and 11 of those I re-wound with new 38 AWG enamelled magnet wire.  I bought a bunch of replacement pickups from a 1974 piano on Ebay to replaced the broken ones and had to wind one of those too.  I have developed a pretty solid winding method using a simple frame I built out of wood, PVC pipe and a flat magnet to stabilize the pickup as it unwinds while letting it freely spin.  Depending on whether I’m reusing the wire or not, I’ll unwind it onto either a wool dowel held in the chuck of my power drill (if not reusing) or onto a spool on the bobbin pin of my sewing machine (if reusing).  The drill is faster, but the sewing machine method is cleaner and less likely to break the wire.  The pickup is wound by affixing it to a dowel held in the drill chuck.

I also worked on the keyboard to improve its playing feel.  Mark II pianos of this age are able to have decent action without needing the “action mod” popularized by Vintage Vibe, once the key guide pins are adjusted.  Over time, the holes in the wood keys for the guide pins gradually strip giving the keys a sloppy, wobbly feel and slow hammer response.  The oblong key tip guide pins can just be gently rotated 15 to 45 degrees (depending on the piano) with a nut driver until all the keys have a uniform, much tighter feel.  It makes an amazing difference to the playing feel and sound of the piano.

Rhodes piano harp
The beautiful Rhodes piano harp

I replaced all the screws, washers and rubber grommets with new ones as I put the tone bars back in. The final major task was voicing the harp, carefully adjusting the height and alignment of every tone bar, pickup and tine to make sure all the notes had a uniform sound.

Work done: Purchased 13 replacement pickups, unwound and re-wound 12 replacement pickups, resoldered and repaired damaged wiring between pickups, adjusted key guide end pins to balance keyboard feel, replaced tone bar screws, washers, and grommets, voice matched all harp elements, cleaned potentiometers, resoldered ground buss connection, cleaned pickup mix buss connector.

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