Gone, but not forgotten
My collection is pretty much limited to one room, and I feel like a hoarder if I store them away. They are made to be played. So, I’ve occasionally sold off instruments — especially when I’ve acquired a new one of the same “species” that I like better. Here are some of the ones that have gone out the door in my “clearance sales.”
Fender Rhodes 73 student piano: Found this one in 2005 on Craiglist for $200. It’s a KMC I, designed for classroom music lab use. (With a metronome, and connections so that a music teacher with a console could listen to any student playing individually.) Most Rhodes people associate student Rhodes pianos with the the “Jetsons” model, with its colorful plastic case and pedestal base. This one comes in a console-like case with real walnut trim. Not very portable, but looks cool.
Beneath the Mark I-style plastic harp cover, the mechanism is identical to a Stage Rhodes of that era. But it also has a 10-watt built-in amp that feeds a ten inch speaker, a headphone jack, the previously mentioned metronome, and a switch to signal the teacher. (“Ooh, ooh! Mrs. Jones! Mrs. Jones! I need to go to the lavatory!”) And like most Student Rhodes models, this one also came with the optional bubble gum stuck under the keyboard, as well as a few carved initials. It carries a property tag from a school district near Dayton, Ohio.
When I got it, it really played poorly. About a dozen keys didn’t work at all, other stuck. But it was complete under the hood.
So, I got to work. Disassembled and cleaned everything. replaced the tone bar grommets to give it great sustain. Replaced and lubed the pedestal felts. Re-set the escapement. Re-voiced it. Lubed the key pins and eased a few keys. Replaced all the hammer tips. Modified the strikeline. Replaced a bunch of missing bridle straps. Replaced the music stand (I used smoked glass, rather than the clear plastic it originally came with — just because I liked it better.) Replaced a bad pickup and a broken hammer. Bypassed the miserable built-in amp and speaker so the signal goes straight from the harp to an external amp. Installed a reproduction “Seventy Three” logo. Tuned it. Touched-up the cabinet.
I sold it in 2011, after I found my near-mint Stage Rhodes. The buyer couldn’t stop smiling when he heard how great it sounded. It was an outstanding piano.
Farfisa Combo Compact Deluxe. This was my first combo since the ’60s! Oh, it looks innocent enough. But I spent several months of total frustration trying to fix this cool piece. My memories of it were mostly of hearing my wife call down to me at night: “Alan, it’s 2:00 a.m. Don’t you think you should be coming to bed?” I finally sold it. The whole family actually celebrated the night it left the house! But that was some years ago, when I knew a lot less about electronics. Maybe, in a moment of weakness, I’ll buy another and see if I can do better.
Vox Jaguar. I found this in a music shop for $200 and couldn’t resist it. This is the same model I played back in the day. (Back then, I bought it because it looked so cool — and I couldn’t afford a Continental.) Actually, this one was a Heathkit built-in-yourself version (which means some 13-year-old kid did all the soldering after he bought it with his paper route money). A previous owner did a very skillful job of painting over the Heathkit logos, so it could pass for the factory-built model.
I took this one from unplayable condition to fully functional. (These are pretty simple instruments — a good first one to own if you’re thinking of restoring a combo organ.) It was fun to play, and very cool-looking (since it was designed to look like the popular, but expensive, Continental). The Jaguar, though, is a very poor substitute for a Continental. It’s buzzy-sounding. The keyboard is of poor quality. And since Vox saved money by designing this so the upper registers don’t play all the footages, right hand solos just get overwhelmed by the volume of the lower registers. But it’s still a classic, and fixing it gave me the confidence to later tackle my Continental projects.
Once I had my Connie fully functioning, this one was sold. (But I kept its near-perfect stand, volume pedal, wing nuts and leg case for the Connie.)
Lowrey T2 organ: Just before I found my Gibson organ, I bought this one, which makes most of the same sounds as the Gibson, at a fraction of the price. For $225 I got the two manual organ, the matching amp, the volume pedal, bass pedals and the matching bench that also stores the pedals.
I decided the Lowrey must be the “love child” of my Vox and my Hammond. The Lowrey inherited Momma Continental’s orange Tolex, some of her reverse-colored keys and her trim figure. And she inherited Papa Hammond’s pedal board, mahogany-look top and dual manuals. It really does look like a composite of the two.
This one needed some TLC: Cleaning throughout. Cleaning all the key, bass pedal and switch contacts fixed a lot of issues. Needed some key bushings replaced and some keystops aligned. The big problem, however, was that the none of the B keys worked, since the B tuning coil was bad. That’s the worst news you can get on these, since most every other part on the board is easy to locate and replace. But I don’t have access to equipment to re-wind a coil, and a replacement would be virtually impossible to find.
In rode the cavalry: Kirk, a member of the Yahoo Combo Organs group, offered to replace the oscillator section of the board with a modern integrated circuit, and said he could even mount the IC and some associated components on the bottom of the board so it would look original. I sent him the board, and he returned it working perfectly. This is a great way to replace bad coils on combo organs.
After owning it for a couple of years, however, it was clear that this organ was too similar to the Gibson to keep, given my limited space. So, I sold it to a young musician.
Wurlitzer 200A: Saw this one on eBay from a local seller in January 2010. Convinced him to end the auction early for what I considered to be a very good price. But as I was loading it in my car, he told me he had bought it a week earlier at an estate sale for $25! (Some people have all the luck!)
I disassembled the piano to clean it and lube every moving part. (Lubing all the action centers really helped improve the keyboard feel.) I eased some keys. Got rid of the oxidation on the legs. Got lucky and was able to fix the dead vibrato by simply reflowing the solder on a cap on the preamp board. Tuned it. Had a piano tuner regulate the keys. Added an original music stand. Replaced the oval power connector on the back, since the ground pin was broken. Found a tech willing to sell me some used Wurli key caps, and I ended up replacing about 20 of my key caps that were scratched or nicked. Invested a lot of time and effort in scrubbing the keys with 0000 steel wool, which took away all the yellow-ness and made the “new” keys the same color as the original ones. Then, I hand-polished the keys. And I replaced one of the speakers.
After all that restoration, it was a great example of a 200A. But after the Wurli 140B arrived in my life, I knew the 200A would never get much use. So, I sold it to a lucky young musician.
1981 Rhodes Suitcase: I never owned a Rhodes Suitcase before and was curious. This was for sale near me in late 2014, super-cheap, and in great condition. It was one of the last built with wooden keys, too. Brought it home, cleaned it. Tuned it. Voiced it. The amp worked intermittently. With some online help, I located two Molex connectors that needed to be hot glued to the amp circuit boards and re-soldered. And that was all it took for it to work perfectly.
So, for a couple of weeks, I enjoyed the stereo tremolo sound. (I can’t say how many time I slipped on headphones and played Stevie Wonder’s “Living’ for the City,” listening to the Rhodes tremolo bounce from ear-to-ear.) But then I finally realized that it made no sense for me to own two Rhodes pianos — and my lovely Stage wasn’t going anywhere. So, I stored it, and thought about selling it for a nice profit.
Ultimately, I decided to get some Good Keyboard Karma: I sold it to a friend in 2015 for my acquisition cost. With some new sustain grommets and some action lubing, this will be a lovely piano.
1966 U.S. Vox Continental: Now I certainly didn’t need two Vox Continentals, either. And I wasn’t parting with my UK model. (Below, that’s the UK model on the left and the US model on the right.)
I saw this one listed for a bargain price and bought it on the basis of a couple of bad photos and the seller’s description that it was untested. I figured I had lots of experience fixing my other Continental. So I drove a couple of hours to retrieve it. Cosmetically, it was a solid 8.5 out of 10. That’s fairly rare for a Continental, since they tended to be gigged hard. This was the U.S. model with wooden keys and the improved circuit board design, too. Had all its original parts, too. (Although no stand or pedal.)
But while most of the keys worked, many did not. It also had a bad habit that some notes wouldn’t play until the organ had a chance to warm up. Time to pull out the oscilloscope: I ended up replacing about 10 divider transistors on four different tone generator boards. Then another odd mystery to solve: All the Fs kept going out — but I could restore the sound by tugging on the wiring harness slightly. I figured it was a cold solder joint to one of the pins that connect to the F tone generator board. But eventually it turned out that two adjacent tone generator boards were so close to each other that the legs of components were touching each other and shorting out. I just loosened the screw holding the F board in place, and gently pushed it away from the E board, and replaced the screw. That did it! Now, it worked perfectly.
After a while, I listed it on Craigslist, because I wanted to sell it locally, and not get it destroyed in shipping. But in the end, a vintage keys enthusiast who lived about almost 600 miles away bought it and drove to pick it up. Great guy. We spent three hours talking about — and playing — vintage keys before he drove off. I felt good that I brought another Vox “back from the dead” — and that it went to a really good home.
1979 Rhodes Stage 73: A really nice Rhodes. But, once again, it got replaced by an instrument that I liked better. Found this on Craigslist in February 2011. Barely a scratch on the Tolex. No corrosion or rust inside. Came complete with everything except the warranty card: legs, braces, sustain pedal/rod, hard case, the bag for legs and a half dozen spare tines. Damper felts, key pedestal felts and hammer tips looked like new. Came with the factory-installed pedestal bumps, which made the action feel crisp and light. And the price was right.
After the near-total rebuild I had done on my ’73 Student Rhodes, this needed very little attention. With new grommets and a thorough cleaning and lubing, it looked great, sounded great and played very nicely. But this became expendable after I restored my ’74 Stage. I sold it locally on Craigslist.
1967 Italian Vox Continental: I just can’t resist adopting orphaned Vox organs. (I think it’s my duty. Really.) I bought this from a local guy who found it at a garage sale. It was dirty, missing pieces and was semi-functional. I’d never owned an Italian Continental before, so this was a new experience.
While it was in my possession, I cleaned it inside and out, replaced a half dozen broken key contacts (NOT a fun job), replaced missing and broken hardware (latches, drawbar pulls, screws and switches), replaced some divider transistors and caps, added one new bias pot, tuned it and re-soldered some broken wires. I sent one board to Dave Douse, a superb tech in NC, who replaced a trashed tuning coil with one from a Super Continental board. In the end, it looked good and worked perfectly. Once again, I had no need for two Continentals. So, I sold it to a young Canadian musician who played in a Doors tribute band, and who united it with a Rhodes Piano Bass and plans to mate it with a proper z-stand. It ought to sound great in his hands. I was quite proud of bringing this one back from its deathbed, and glad to have completed the Continental Trifecta: I’ve now restored a single manual Continental from all three countries of origin.
(Which did I like best? You might as well ask me which of my kids is my favorite. They’re all wonderful. And no matter what you’ve read online, they all sound the same. Really.)