IN THIS WEEK’S EPISODE OF ‘ONCE UPON A TINE’, WE LOOK AT THE FABLED RHODES MARK V.
In 1982, Rhodes found itself in a changing market as more keyboardists began to purchase the lighter, more versatile synthesisers that were becoming available at the time. To address this issue, Harold Rhodes and his team set out to develop the ultimate Rhodes piano. Engineers Mike Peterson and Steve Woodyard created two distinct models, known internally as the Mark IV and V.
The Mark IV was a conceptually more advanced piano with a radically changed plastic key shape and hammer action that allowed for increased dynamics and a lower profile. This would enable musicians to stack synthesisers on top of the piano, reducing the amount of hand motion required when changing keyboards. Despite showing great promise, the Mark IV was only a prototype because it never achieved the level of excellence needed for production and was shelved in favour of other projects.
On the other hand, the Mark V was a robust, production-ready design that would become the final, greatest Rhodes piano made during the company’s first era while Harold Rhodes was still at the helm.
THE ALLURE OF THE RHODES MARK V
The Rhodes Mark V Stage 73, with a plastic body and a wood and aluminium frame, was the lightest Rhodes piano before the arrival of the Rhodes MK8, weighing 100 lbs (or 45.4 kg). Mike Peterson modelled the optional leg stand after a cymbal stand. Its strength was based on riveted joints and triangulation, which could support 450 lbs (or 204.1 kg). Some parts, such as the stand and plastic case, were initially designed for the Mark IV but were later incorporated into the Mark V, albeit in a very different form.
The piano’s action was improved by raising the harp to increase the hammer throw and modifying the dampers to open up for harder strikes to reach maximum dynamics. Using high-speed photography, Rhodes engineers discovered that the original damper design caused an initial snap-back when the key was struck, lightly ‘kissing’ the tine and dampening the tone before coming to rest. The new dampers, inspired by Chuck Monte’s designs at Dyno-My-Piano, functioned properly when depressed, allowing the tines to ring more freely and with greater dynamics.
During this time, the Rhodes Mark V Stage 73 + MIDI was also prototyped, with Chick Corea, John Novello and Steve Woodyard being the original owners of the three pianos built. This was a Mark V Stage 73 that had been customised with MIDI output for controlling external synthesisers and a set of inputs and outputs for mixing an additional audio signal with the piano’s output. The front panel featured a 3-band EQ and controls for splitting and layering the keyboard’s MIDI zones. The Chick Corea Electrik Band’s self-titled debut album featured the Mark V Stage 73 + MIDI connected to a Yamaha TX816 rackmount synthesiser. However, the Mark V Stage 73 was the only new piano to enter production, with only 2,000 units produced before the company closed its doors, marking the end of the first era.
THE RHODES THAT NEVER WAS: RHODES MARK V STAGE 88
Between 1983 and 1984, Rhodes began building prototypes for the Mark V Stage 73 and Stage 88 until Mike Peterson, who designed and built the wooden moulds for plastic forming the lids, encountered a problem. The mould broke while removing the first Mark V Stage 88 lid. Rhodes decided not to invest more time and resources in developing a new mould, and the Mark V Stage 88 was consigned to the annals of history.
Only one Mark V Stage 88 was made with the single lid available. Even though no further production was planned, Rhodes included a photograph of the Mark V Stage 88 in their promotional materials.
THE RHODES MARK V LEGACY
The Mark V is considered one of the finest Rhodes pianos ever made. Regardless of one’s opinion, the mythology and rarity are enough to pique interest and leave a folkloric legacy. The Mark V had and still has a devoted following, including the late, great Chick Corea, who regarded it as the best Rhodes piano ever. Given his background and achievements, it is difficult to dismiss the validity of this notion. It is unfortunate that Rhodes never had the opportunity to introduce the MK8 to Chick Corea before his passing.
For an in-depth look into the Mark V, visit the Rhodes Super Site: