Leeds-based Dan Goldman first fell in love with the Fender Rhodes sound when he was barely a teenager. Since then, he’s taken them apart, put them back together, toured the world as a professional Rhodes player, and helmed a successful Rhodes restoration and modification business. Now, he’s been tasked with building the Rhodes MK8: a dream come true for an ultimate fan.
For the last two years, Dan Goldman has been holed away in a factory in Leeds, figuring out the best, purest and most authentic way to rebuild an instrument that has entirely shaped the trajectory of his life – the Fender Rhodes piano.
There’s a long and storied lineage of Rhodes pianos to draw cues from, and Harold Rhodes’ original asymmetrical tuning fork design will remain intact, of course. The ultimate goal for Dan, and for Rhodes as it exists in 2021, is to rebuild the Rhodes while utilising the very best in modern parts and technology while remaining true to what made these instruments so unspeakably special in the first place.
And there are few people on the face of planet earth better qualified for the job than Dan Goldman.
Dan was born in Leeds, in the north of England. A working-class city with a rich musical heritage often overshadowed by the likes of Manchester and Liverpool, Dan’s mum sent him to piano lessons when he was just five years old. Mum quickly realised she had something of a virtuoso on her hands, thanks to five-year-old Dan being able to copy and play entire songs on the piano without much thought at all. He didn’t even enjoy the lessons. “I was begging her not to go,” he says. “But in hindsight, those lessons were the start of my obsession with the piano and keyboards.”
Dan knocked out classical grades 1-8 and got his first Yamaha keyboard. No sooner than the keyboard had been removed from its packaging did Dan begin taking out the screws, pulling it apart and “getting electrocuted.” And so the engineering muscle of our virtuoso’s young mind began to develop, and Dan started to get a taste for not just making music, but for really making music. “I always had an inquisitive mind,” says Dan. “I wanted to see what made instruments tick.”
Dan played in various bands all through school before eventually attending Leeds of College of music when he was 18. It was here where he first came across a Fender Rhodes piano, and the iconic Rhodes sound. Inspired by Herbie Hancock and Jamiroquai, Dan bought his first Rhodes in 1994, for “about 200 quid”. “I just wanted to know what made it work, what made it tick,” he remembers. “I kept messing around with it, trying to get a better sound. From day one, I had this real connection to the instrument, and this desire to improve the small deficiencies I could hear in the sound – even back then.”
For Dan, the Herbie Hancock Fender Rhodes sound – best exemplified on cuts like ‘Wiggle Waggle’ and ‘Butterfly’ – was the benchmark. And from that young age, all he wanted to do was recreate that sound for himself. “That’s what’s guided me through this entire journey,” he says. “Just striving for his sound – it’s punchy, dirty, and gritty – even beautifully serene at times. It was the ultimate Rhodes sound: soft and beautiful, but could get aggressive and gnarly at a moment’s notice.”
The more Dan played and experimented with Fender Rhodes, the more he realised how each one had its very own personality. One set of rules you applied to one, wouldn’t necessarily work for the next: this drew him in even deeper, and he spent days, weeks and months trying to shape “a unique voice” through his instrument. “The beautiful thing about the Rhodes is it can be shaped to your individual sound,” he says. “People used to laugh at me in college because I’d walk into the college bar with my Rhodes under my arm, I was so obsessed with it. They used to call me ‘Dan Dan the Rhodes Man’.”
After college, Dan played in a few funk and soul bands before one of his friends moved to London, and happened to move in with Ross Godfrey, guitarist of electronic group Morcheeba, who was looking for a keyboardist. Dan’s friend put his name forward, he auditioned, and he toured and recorded professionally with Morcheeba – playing the Rhodes almost exclusively – for the best part of the next decade. Among others, he played the Brixton Academy, Glastonbury, the Hollywood Bowl, Jay Leno and Jools Holland (twice) – all with the same Rhodes keyboard. “It travelled with me everywhere,” says Dan. It was getting gigged every single night, and still sounded better than any piano or keyboard I could’ve got from another company. People would always ask me, ‘How’d you get your Rhodes to sound like that?’ And it was just really organic. I loved my Rhodes session every night, it was an amazing time in my life.”
Over the years, Dan’s received countless requests from musicians to not just put a Rhodes sound on their tracks, but to put his Rhodes sound on their tracks. “Rhodes really became a part of my life,” he reflects. “It represented everything I wanted in an instrument, and I felt like I could truly express myself on it. I just felt a natural affinity with it – and it didn’t matter if it was my Rhodes, or a crap old one, I always felt that same connection.”
After the high life with Morcheeba reached its natural conclusion, Dan, now 43, found himself back in Leeds with a mortgage, a couple of kids, and some real-life responsibilities. And so he turned to his other, Fender Rhodes-related passion: setting up, restoring and fixing Rhodes pianos for other people under the banner of RhodesWorks. It began with friends and old colleagues at first, but he soon made a name for himself.
Dan dove deep into the literature, and wound up speaking with and learning from some of the original Fender Rhodes technicians and people that used to work in the factories –including Steve Woodyard, who used to set up Herbie Hancock’s Rhodes. “If Herbie requested a new Rhodes, Steve would set it up for him at the factory – pick one off the production line, set it up how Herbie wanted it, and ship it down there to California for him,” says Dan.”
After several successful years running RhodesWorks, and becoming something of an unofficial Rhodes MK7 technician in the UK (which is a story for another time), Dan received a phone call from Loopmasters’ Matt Pelling, who’d recently acquired the licensing rights to the Rhodes brand from Joseph Brandstetter, and was looking for someone to help him build a brand-new Rhodes piano out of a factory in Leeds: the MK8. “I feel like Matt was probably expecting me to tell him that this was a stupid idea, and to talk him out of it,” says Goldman. “But we sat on the phone for about three hours talking about it, getting excited about it, and by the end of the conversation I think he was like, ‘Fuck it, we really need to do this.’”
Dan remembers getting home that day and telling his wife, who had about as much trouble processing the phone call as he did. “I mean, he was saying to me that I could be involved in the future of Rhodes, in building a new version of an actual Rhodes,” says Dan, still in disbelief. “I’m so touched, I could talk about it forever…”
For Dan though, there’s work to do. With great opportunity comes great responsibility, and for a man whose life has literally been defined by the Fender Rhodes story and brand, making the transition from a diehard fan to a central character is no small thing. Still, he’s confident that the work he and the small Rhodes team have put in over the past couple of years is going to be pleasing to the Rhodes faithful, and to newcomers yet to discover this magnificent instrument. “The MK8 is really something,” he says. “Compared to the old pianos it’s got all the vibe and soul, but everything that was not precisely built has been precisely built and with massive detail, I think it’s the ultimate collision of the vintage world and the modern world. I think what we’ve achieved in the last two years is going to blow people’s minds.”