Vintage Vibe Electric Pianos

November 21, 2012
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By JON REGEN

Ultra-portable 44-key Vintage Vibe model.
The ultra-portable 44-key model. The Vintage Vibe piano also comes in 64 or 73 keys. Click here if you can't see the video below.
SINCE ITS RELEASE IN THE MID-1960s, THE RHODES ELECTRIC PIANO has graced nearly every conceivable style of music. From jazz icons like Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea to renegade rockers like the Doors and the Beatles, the sound has become a staple of our recorded psyche. These days, most keyboardists conjure up this electro-mechanical piano on their keyboard workstations or software instruments—and many such sounds are excellent. New Jersey’s Vintage Vibe, long known for their keyboard restoration business, thinks that there’s nothing like the real thing, and are building real tine EPs from the ground up. Available in 44-, 64-, and 73-key models with an active stereo option and a plethora of finishes, Vintage Vibe electric pianos combine classic tine tones with modern improvements in materials and manufacturing.

Design
The Vintage Vibe piano looks a lot like a Wurlitzer, with its Wurly-like shape, legs, and silver-toned edging. However, it uses American- made steel cylindrical tines to produce sound (unlike Wurlitzers which use fl at metal reeds), and employs hand-wound pickups and Peterson-style preamp electronics. But while these pianos have such elements in common with vintage Rhodes pianos, nearly every system has been redesigned to maximize playability and minimize weight.

The harps (the frames that hold the tone generating tines and pickups) have been downsized to reduce weight while adding adjustability for pickup placement. The action rails have been restyled by adding structural holes to increase support for the hammer and damper assemblies. Even the classic shaft-style sustain pedal has been redesigned out of glass fiber resin. These EPs don’t have the Rhodes-style locking cover, but Vintage Vibe is planning a line of cases and gig bags to accompany them. In any case, they’ve managed to pack classic EP goodness into a form factor that weighs “less than one pound per key” as founder Chris Carroll likes to put it. The base 44-, 64-, and 73-key pianos weigh in at 35, 53, and 60 pounds, respectively—even the largest model weighs less than some 88-key workstations and digital stage pianos.

Keyboard and Action
Anyone who’s lugged a vintage Rhodes knows how unpredictable an old action can be, so the $64 question here is, “How do these pianos feel?” In a word, great! The Vintage Vibe piano sports a specially designed, hand-built Linden wood keybed that oozes playability. These keyboards strike a perfect balance between dig and gig: You can lay into them with two-handed rock piano comping, but fl y across them for lighter runs as well. I was able to play all kinds of music with precision and ease. There’s just the right amount of bounce to make playing complex passages a joy— something you can’t always say about vintage EPs. Two thumbs up in the touch department.

Electronics
Passive Vintage Vibe models, like their vintage relatives, feature just tone and volume knobs, with the tone control being a simple bass frequency roll-off . The passive model has cutouts in the right place should you want to add active electronics later. Output on the passive model is a monaural 1/4" jack.

The active model adds $475, but I recommend it with flying colors. From the scintillating to the psychedelic, having stereo panning tremolo on- board is worth the price. Tone controls do triple duty for bass, treble, and half-time tremolo set- tings, and the tremolo features depth, speed, and on/off controls. The active model sports left and right 1/4" outs, a headphone jack, and an effects loop that lets you insert your favorite stompbox or signal processor into the EP’s signal chain upstream of the onboard preamp. An optical MIDI kit is also available.

In Use
I spent the better part of a decade gigging on (and dragging around) a Rhodes Mark I Stage model, to which I later added a “Suitcase” tremolo unit. How does the Vintage Vibe compare? Imagine the best Rhodes you ever played, but lighter, punchier, and more road-ready. This axe will meet all your tonal needs, from Steely Dan burners to Herbie Headhunters jams. Truth be told, playing on the Vintage Vibe was one of the most satisfying keyboard experiences I’ve had in years. It plays and breathes like an instrument, not a facsimile of one, because it is one.

Conclusions
As good as sampled and modeled emulations have gotten, is there really room for a new electro-mechanical piano? In this reviewer’s mind, yes. The Vintage Vibe EP is a sumptuously sonic experience—eminently inspiring and playable, and easy to transport to boot. If you own a vintage Rhodes, one session on the Vintage Vibe may have you listing your old axe on Craigslist. These are gorgeous, hand-built instruments that exude art and attitude. They may seem pricey (if what you really need is one keyboard to make many different kinds of sounds, buy a workstation) but for about the same cost as a meticulous vintage restoration, you’re getting a thoroughly redesigned, modern instrument built for the long haul. In my book, there’s no better tine piano in production today. Now, if I could only find my checkbook. . . .

Extras
Active stereo preamp/tremolo: $475.00
Sparkle-top: $100.00
Sustain pedal with rod: $105.00
Legs with base: $175.00
Optical MIDI: $1,495

 

 

Snap Judgment

PROS  Killer tine electric piano tone. Responsive hand-built keyboard. Choice of active or passive models. Available in many custom colors. Lighter than any new or vintage electromechanical piano. Artisanquality construction.

CONS  As with any real electro-mechanical piano, you’re paying for the build quality and moving parts of something that essentially does one sound.

Bottom Line
The best made tine electric piano on the market today. This is a player’s dream axe.

44 keys: $2,555.00 | 64 keys: $3,455.00 | 73 keys: $3,845.00 | all prices direct vintagevibepiano.com

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