The Epic Rhodes Piano Restoration Project

Part I – Background and First Impressions

In the fall of 2010, when my family and I were visiting family for Thanksgiving, I was asked by a family member if I would take care of a 1977 Rhodes electric piano.

The Rhodes piano is an electro-mechanical piano, invented by Harold Rhodes[1] during the fifties and later manufactured in a number of models, first in collaboration with Fender and after 1965 by CBS.

- Wikipedia entry

It still had its original owner, but has been kept in a storage building for the past decade. So, with the help of our cousin, we lugged the 88-key behemoth into the car (thank goodness for 60/40 fold-down seats!!). My wife informs me that I drove home the following day, preening, with a stupid grin and a glow of triumph.

Part II – Cleaning inside and out

Just about all of the information I needed to disassemble, clean, and repair the Rhodes was found on The Rhodes Supersite. They have scans of original manuals, diagrams, and a slew of links and active forums. I first did a good cleaning of the outside of the piano given the length of time it was in storage. Luckily the tolex outer covering is in pretty good condition so no major repairs need to be done on the exterior.

Opening the piano, I found the keys in great condition, only missing a black key-cap. Some of the damper felts were a bit compressed and out of alignment; both were easy fixes. Many of the hammers could stand to be replaced, but I will tackle that at a later date.

Part III -Damper Adjustment and Bridal Strap Replacements

One of the first things I noticed about the playability of the piano were some keys that did not sound, and one or two that were sticking. After some research and poking around, I found out that the keys that did not sound had broken or worn bridle straps.

Rhodes piano frayed bridle strap Close up of the condition of a number of the bridle straps

Removing the old straps using a fresh utility blade

All of the worn and broken straps…egh

Prepping to install a new strap

First batch of shiny new bridle straps installed and drying

Part IV – Tuning

Here, I loaded up a virtual reference instrument on the computer and tuned each tine by ear. Most were very close, but some were terribly out of tune, mostly in the lower and upper registers.

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