End of The Rhodes
The Fender Rhodes piano must be right up there as one of the most emulated instruments in the history of electronic music. The smooth, harmonious tone set the mood for a whole generation of 70’s jazz, soul, and pop rock music, and except for a brief lapse in the 80’s, it has been the go-to electric piano sound for almost half a century.
There are obvious disadvantages to owning a Rhodes; first, the weight and size. Secondarily, the Rhodes was a workhorse instrument, so it’s original owner more than likely slammed it into the back of a station wagon before dragging it up the steps of the stage at a small club, where it was subject to spillage from various liquids, before being dragged out again, week after week, until it’s owner
developed a slipped disc or a hernia and discarded it in disgust. In other words, even with the hundreds of thousands of Rhodes that were manufactured in the day, it’s tough to find one that doesn’t need some serious TLC. Also, the Rhodes is an electromechanical instrument, which means even a well maintained or restored one needs to be tuned. It’s tines break or go out of alignment, it develops squeaks and hums, and recording it requires some know how and ingenuity. All these reasons add up to it being a perfect candidate to be modelled by software, and modelled it has been. There are no less than 30 Rhodes emulations on the market.
Enter Thomas Skarbye of Scarbee Instruments, perhaps best known for his guitar, bass, and vintage keys Kontakt instruments, shipping inside of NI’s Komplete series. In fact, Scarbee’s NI Rhodes is probably the industry standard virtual Rhodes, so why the need to do it again? It’s clear from the explanation on his website that Mr Skarbye is something of an obsessive fanatic. While this may not be good news for his domestic partner, it is in fact great for computer musicians. This new Rhodes weighs in at a hefty 13.6 GB, more than 6 times the size of the original, and it features 30 (that’s right, 30) velocity samples.
Which Rhodes to Take?
Over it’s production run, there were different models of Rhodes (Mark I, Mark II, Mark V, Suitcase, Stage etc) and even within certain models, there were variations depending on the year of production. When coupled with effects generally used on Rhodes (Chorus, flanger, phase shifter, wah wah, etc), and the wide variety of musical styles in which it was used, it’s clear there is no ONE Rhodes sound. However, if there is a “Golden Era” Rhodes tone and instrument, for many purists it would be the early 70’s sound of the Mark I Suitcase as exemplified in Herbie Hancock’s “Headhunters” (1973) and “Thrust” (1974).
“Here, the Rhodes is a perfect combination of warm, almost ‘wooly’ sound coupled with a ‘bark’ when the upper notes are hit hard in octave passages. It is to this version of the Rhodes that Scarbee has turned their attention.”
I had to part with my beloved Mark I as I moved across the country, but the Rhodes sound has always been central to my music. I replaced the Rhodes, out of convenience, with a very expensive keyboard which shall remain nameless (but it’s red). So, when Scarbee announced this new Rhodes, a part of me hated to see a product like this, because I just knew from the demos I’d heard it would put the Rhodes samples I’ve been dealing with to shame. I wanted to NOT like it, even though I knew, deep down, that my keyboard didn’t really sound like a Rhodes. So, when I first instantiated the EP88, Scarbee’s newest and most painstakingly rendered Rhodes, I breathed a sigh of relief. Sure enough, if you just play a note here or there, ALL good Rhodes samples capture the basic tone of the instrument.
But, a Rhodes is way more than the basic tone. It’s the myriad gradations you can get from it. You don’t play a Rhodes the way you play classical piano, with an attempt to get all the notes to be very even or finely graded. Rhodes is all about honking it, ghost noting it, and everything in between, and that’s what’s missing in all the Rhodes emulations I’ve played to this point, and why I was looking for yet another Suitcase, problematic as they are. As much as I’ve practiced on my expensive and very well made keyboard since owning it, after putting the Classic EP-88s through it’s paces (and it really is addictive)I woke up with sore arms, forearms and fingers. Why would that be, I asked myself, when I’m playing the same keyboard as I’ve been playing for the last three years? The answer lies in the expressiveness of the 30 velocity layers. You have such a wide range of colors that can be produced from this instrument, that it encourages playing it very hard and very soft. Dare I say it? It plays like a “real” instrument.
Somehow, this VSTi is able to capture the real Rhodes feel. The sound is there… it stays with me even after I’m done playing. Visceral, exciting and three dimensional. It reminds me of my Mark I – not a cheap polaroid version of it, but a genuine doppleganger with all the richness. But even more, the feel is there, you can do so much with a little run on a Rhodes that you can’t do on a sample set with 3 to 6 velocities, but with this instrument you really can.
So, now, when it comes to Rhodes, I’ve got a $3500 red MIDI controller. BUT that’s not a bad thing, because it has an amazing keybed, and when coupled with the EP88, it’s like a super-Rhodes that never goes out of tune, has a very even, and a huge pallet of fx to work with.
“The sound is there… it stays with me even after I’m done playing. Visceral, exciting and three dimensional. It reminds me of my Mark I – not a cheap polaroid version of it, but a genuine doppleganger with all the richness.”
Compatible on Mac:
Mac: OS X 10.9 or higher, Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM
Compatible on Windows:
Windows 7 or higher (latest Service Pack, 32/64 Bit), Intel Core Duo or AMD AthlonTM 64 X2, 4 GB RAM (6 GB RAM recommended)
Requires KONTAKT 5.5.2 or KONTAKT 5 PLAYER version 5.5.2 or later
This is a Kontakt Player instrument.
Which means that you do not need to own the full version of NI Kontakt to use it.
It will run as a plug-in instrument in any VST/AU/RTAS/AAX/WASAPI, compatible host program or DAW
eg: Cubase, Logic, Ableton Live, DP, Reaper, Pro-Tools. No extra purchase necessary.
Size on Disk
- Incredible Rhodes Sound and Feel. Very responsive.
- Much easier to record than a real Rhodes.
- No maintenance, no tuning, lots of very good effects and useful snapshots to work from.
- Narrowly focused on ONE Rhodes (Mark I Suitcase).
- High level of latency on older CPU's
- It used to almost impossible, to get that “perfect” Herbie Hancock Rhodes sound, but now everyone can.