Electric Piano Models Emulated by the EVP88

These sections provide some background information about the instruments emulated by the EVP88.


Wurlitzer Piano

Hohner Electra Piano


Harold Rhodes (born 1910) constructed what is arguably the most commonly known and widely used electric piano. Designed in 1946—as a piano surrogate for practice, education, and army entertainment—the Rhodes piano was successfully marketed by guitar manufacturer Fender from 1956. The Fender Rhodes has become one of the most popular musical instruments in jazz, especially electric jazz. After CBS took over production of the Rhodes in 1965, its popularity in pop and rock music grew. Despite further changes in ownership through the years, the instrument remains ingrained in the mind of the public as the “Fender Rhodes.” There are also a number of Rhodes synthesizers, which were developed by the now-defunct synthesizer manufacturer ARP. Japanese synthesizer and music technology manufacturer Roland owned the Rhodes name for a while and released several digital pianos under the Rhodes moniker. From 1997 until his death in December 2000, Harold Rhodes again owned the name.

The Rhodes piano bases its method of sound generation on metal reeds—which function much like a tuning fork. These reeds are hit through a hammer action that works in a similar fashion to that of a grand piano. The asymmetrical tuning fork consists of a thin tine and a massive tone bar, which are bolted together. Due to construction considerations, some of the tone bars are rotated by 90 degrees. The piano is kept in tune by the mass of a spring, which can be moved along the tine. The tine oscillates in front of an electric pickup, similar to that of an electric guitar. This oscillation functions along inductive principles, with permanent magnets placed around the tine that have a damping effect on its movement and thereby affect the sound.

The Rhodes output signal is—like an electric guitar—rather weak, and needs significant pre-amplification. The Rhodes sound is not harmonically rich. This is why so many performers used a treble boost or an overdrive effect when playing the Rhodes piano. As mentioned earlier, the Rhodes sounds best when played through tube amplifiers.

The Rhodes piano was also made available as a suitcase piano (with pre-amplifier and two-channel combo amplifier) and as a stage piano, without amplifier. Both of these 73-key “portable” versions have a vinyl-covered wooden frame and a plastic top. In 1973, an 88-key model was introduced. Smaller Celeste and bass versions were less popular. The MkII (in 1978) had a flat top instead of a rounded one. This allowed keyboardists to place extra keyboards on top of the Rhodes. The Mark V, introduced in 1984, even sported a MIDI output!

The mid-1980s saw a decrease in Rhodes production, as most keyboard players invested in the more flexible (and much lighter) digital synthesizers that became available around this time. These keyboards could easily emulate the sound of older pianos, like the Rhodes, and also offered a range of great new piano sounds.

The characteristic sound of each Rhodes piano depends more on the adjustment and maintenance of the individual instrument than on the model. Early models had hammers covered with felt, resulting in a smoother sound than the newer models, which had neoprene-covered hammers. The suitcase piano featured a pre-amplifier that could create a sound with a very dominant mid-range. Appropriate pre-amplification and equalization can, however, deliver an identical tone from almost any stage piano. The stage piano has no power cord-just like an electric guitar.

Because the MkII does not have the treble range resonance clamps of earlier models, it has less sustain in the treble range. The most significant sonic differences are dependent on the proximity of the tine to the pickup. When the tine is moved closer to the pickup, the bell characteristic becomes more prominent. In the 1980s, many Rhodes pianos were adjusted to have more “bell.”

Rhodes Models:

  • Suitcase MkI

  • Suitcase V2

  • Bright Suitcase

  • Stage Piano MkI

  • Stage Piano MkII

  • Bright Stage MkII

  • Hard Stage MkII

  • MarkIV

  • Metal Piano

  • Attack Piano

The Metal Piano and Attack Piano models feature “idealized” sound qualities that could only be aimed at with the original Rhodes instruments. Although these models may not sound realistic, they have at least partially achieved the ideals that the Rhodes technicians might have had in mind when preparing their keyboards.

Wurlitzer Piano

This well-known manufacturer of music boxes and organs also built electric pianos—which helped write pop and rock music history. The 200 series Wurlitzer pianos are smaller and lighter than the Rhodes pianos, with a keyboard range of 64 keys (A to C) and an integrated amplifier and speakers.

The Wurlitzer action resembles that of a conventional acoustic piano, and it is velocity sensitive, just like the Rhodes. Its sound generation system is based on spring steel reeds that can be tuned with a solder weight. The Wurlitzer has electrostatic pickups:  The reeds are supplied with a 0-volt current and move between the teeth of a comb, connected to a 150-volt current. The tone of the Wurlitzer, which was first manufactured in the early 1960s, features a number of odd harmonics.

The Wurlitzer is best known as the signature piano sound of the band Supertramp, as heard on their “Crime of the Century” album. You might also recognize the Wurlitzer sound when listening to Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon,” or “I Am the Walrus” by The Beatles.

Wurlitzer Models:

  • Wurlitzer 200 A

  • Wurlitzer 240 V

  • Soft Wurlitzer

  • Funk Piano

The EVP88 Funk Piano model offers a special synthetic piano engine sound, with an exaggerated bass. This is not based on any real-world Wurlitzer instruments, but it can be a very useful sound, nonetheless.

Hohner Electra Piano

Not to be confused with the all-electronic RMI Electrapiano, the extremely rare Hohner Electra Piano offers striking hammers like those of the Rhodes, but a stiffer keyboard action. It was designed to resemble the look of a conventional acoustic upright piano. Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones played it on “Stairway to Heaven,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” and “No Quarter.”

Hohner Electra Model:

  • Electra Piano