1974 Fender Rhodes Mark I Stage Piano

For several years, I had been quite happily playing my 1979 Rhodes Stage 73. There was a lot to like about that piano.  It had the fast, light action of the last Mark I pianos, and it looked like new.  But I missed the richer tone of its predecessor: a 1973 Student Rhodes.  (See “Formerly in the Collection” page.)

In the fall of 2015, I saw an ad for a 1974 Fender Rhodes Mark I Stage 73. It was built in mid-’74, which put it in the heart of what a lot of Rhodes enthusiasts regard as the “golden era” of the Rhodes: It had sweet-sounding Torrington tines.  Wooden harp supports. Hybrid wood and plastic hammers (which were soon to become all plastic). Flat-top plastic key caps. (Some earlier models have rounded tops on the keys, which bothers some players.)  It had the “cool” Fender Rhodes badges (a few months later, the Fender name was taken off the piano). It  was built at a time when the assembly quality in the Rhodes factory in Fullerton, CA was arguably at its peak. The price was reasonable. And it came with all its accessories:  the legs, braces, sustain pedal and sustain rod.P1000983What’s not to like, right?

Well, it needed a lot of help:  It needed new sustain grommets.  The harp cover was scratched-up.  The hardware had some corrosion.  The action was desperately heavy. The Tolex in the back was ripped and scuffed. There was lots of residue from someone’s attempt to repair Tolex damage with duct tape. The two lowest bass tines were missing.  (Likely harvested and cut down by a past owner to replace broken tines in more heavily trafficked areas of the keyboard.) The large Fender Rhodes logo on the back had lost all its chrome plating, and some of its letters. (I was now the proud owner of a  “Fenaer Rhod”).

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But it just sounded incredible. That was all the motivation I needed to get to work.

So, I replaced the grommets, screws and washers.  Polished all the metal parts, and they ended up looking quite nice. Sourced and replaced the two missing tines. Scrubbed everything clean  — inside and out —  including the duct tape residue, which seemed to take forever. (Don’t ever put duct tape on Tolex!) Lubed the pedestal felts (silicon spray) and the key pins (with Protek CLP, the gold-standard for lubing acoustic piano actions). Tightened and aligned the tines to the tone bars. Replaced the broken logo with a new replica one.  Replaced the scratched harp cover with a near-perfect one from another Stage 73 piano I owned.  Leveled a couple of keys, and installed a few tonebar clips to improve the sustain of the highest notes.

The good news about the Tolex was that while there were some rips, there were no missing pieces.  Just gluing the Tolex down solved most of the problems, but it was a painstaking job to get all the little pieces glued. Rubbed a little 303 vinyl protectant on the harp cover and Tolex.  (It leaves a little shine without  making everything greasy like Armor All.)

The lubing helped lighten the action, but lowering the escapement on both sides of the harp really made the difference. I had been planning to add a “bump mod” to the key pedestals to lighten the action, but it’s not necessary now, since the piano plays quite nicely without it.

I checked the strikeline. (It was perfect in its original factory setting.)  Voiced it.  Adjusted the volume of the notes to make them consistent. It arrived in near-perfect tuning, but I did a little touch-up of that. Added the correct grommets to the sustain pedal and the opening in the bottom of the piano (where the sustain rod goes). Added the proper non-slip vinyl “boots” to the tips of the front legs.

Visually, here’s how it came out:

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Aside from some scrapes on the audience side, it looks almost like new.

But the real story is what you hear.  It has a rich, creamy sound from those wonderful Torrington tines. (It really sounds considerably different than the ’79 Stage it replaced.)  It has the best dynamic range of any Rhodes I’ve ever played:  It can play anything from a whisper to a real angry bark, which makes it a very expressive instrument. It sounds great played through my 1977 Twin Reverb, with a little reverb and tremolo.

It’s just an amazing instrument…

 

 

8 thoughts on “1974 Fender Rhodes Mark I Stage Piano

  1. Congratulations! It looks great, and apparently sounds great as well.

    I acquired a 1973 or 74 88 key stage; it also needs work, and I’m watching the Vintage Vibe repair video and shopping their repair kits, etc.

    I have some questions if you’re into answering; kindly let me know.

    Best,

    – Jeff Newton (professional saxophonist and trying to get there on piano too).

    1. Jeff: I’d be glad to share my experience. If you want to take this offline, you can reach me at alan.lenhoffAT GMAIL. One bit of unsolicited advice: Think carefully before replacing a lot of parts. Not only can you waste a lot of time and money replacing parts that are fine, in many cases the replacement parts are not identical to the originals, and can change the character of the instrument. Kits that include a wide variety of parts are often not a good idea.

  2. Sounds like a winner Alan , Jeff told me about you , so here we go .

    Nothing like a Fender Rhodes . I too just a few month ago found a 1972 Stage 73 .
    I replaced all grommets , they were worn out (most of them) . it actually sounded good as soon as plugged it in but was not consistent in tone . Further i replaced all Hammer tips and Damper felts . Did some voicing as i was going along and learning from videos . So i took it to Chicago Electric Piano Co. and they did a very good job in dialing in more on the voicing and they tuned it too . The action is too sluggish or too heavy i should say .
    if you have any suggestions i would love to talk to you .
    I’m here in Royal Oak .

    Sincerely

    Eric Wilhelm

  3. Hi Alan,

    I just purchased a September of 1974 Dender Rhodes that is in good shape but needs work. I wanted to reach out and see if you would be open to offering some advice as to How to approach it!

    Thank you in advance,
    Josh

    1. Hi Josh:

      It’s a great year for a Rhodes! I’d be glad to help, but I will be super-busy the next ten days. Contact me any time after March 1 and we can talk.

      Alan

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