I spotted it on eBay: A 1972 Fender Rhodes Piano Bass, a very cool silver Sparkletop one in pretty much mint condition. The seller was located close enough to my house that I could pick it up, and I wouldn’t have to worry about it being destroyed in shipping.
Bought it for a reasonable price (considering that it’s a “collectable”). It also included a rare, original (and highly beat-up) pedestal stand that I sold for enough to make the net cost of the PIano Bass a real bargain.
Now, I guess I’m a true Doors geek: Vox Continental, Rhodes Piano Bass and Gibson G101.
It’s a great-sounding instrument. When I got it, the action felt heavy, typical of many early-1970s Rhodes pianos. I improved it greatly by cleaning it, lubing the felts and pins, and re-setting the escapement. I also replaced its original aged and hardened tonebar grommets and screws, which improves its sustain and permits more precise voicing by keeping everything better aligned.
Many people add a plastic bump to the key pedestals of the early ’70s Rhodes models to lighten the action, but my experience has been that this is not always necessary on a properly adjusted and lubed instrument. It certainly was not necessary on this Piano Bass, which has the so-called “Marcel Curve,” a very slight concave shape to the top of the key pedestal, which tends to lighten the action somewhat.
Its sparkle-top lid is totally flawless. (Those are reflections in the photo.)
Some people have auto paint shops spray sparkle paint on the black plastic lids you’ll find on many Piano Basses. But looking inside the lid, shows that this one has the more costly, original fiberglass lid you’ll find on many early Rhodes products:
This model has the slightly rounded, skirted key caps (with plastic on the side of the key) of the era. Some people don’t like the feel of them, but I don’t find them to be a problem at all. Also, these keycaps are still snow white, unlike some later Rhodes models where either the front or the top of the keys tended to get yellow with age.
The Piano Bass is now perched on top of my Vox Continental, in true Ray Manzarek style:
Truth be told, Ray primarily played a ’60s-vintage gold Sparkletop Piano Bass. Obviously, that’s all that was available in the heyday of The Doors. But from a player’s standpoint, these ’70s models play and sound better, in my opinion. Parts are easier to come by, too. This is the model Ray should have played.
Clean as a whistle on the inside:
Many people think that the Piano Bass produces the same tones as the lowest 32 notes on a Rhodes 73 piano. While the tines and tonebars on those 32 keys are identical, the tone is not. The Piano Bass has a deeper, more fundamental tone than the corresponding notes on a 73 piano. The difference stems from the Piano Bass’s tone circuit built into its “name rail.” The Bass’s tone circuit was designed to filter out upper harmonics. If you had a Piano Bass and a 73, and ran each keyboard’s signal directly from it harp (bypassing their name rail circuits), those 32 notes would sound identical.
The 4472 stamp means its final assembly in CBS-Fender’s Fullerton Rhodes plant occured during the 44th week of 1972. So, its birthdate was somewhere between October 30 and November 3, 1972.