The Wurlitzer Electronic Piano is loved the world over for its vintage
sound. Songs like Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard
It Through the Grapevine,” and Beck’s “Where It’s At” are just three of
the countless Wurly classics.
My rig of choice these days is a Wurlitzer 200A with a MIDI controller
on top and my MacBook Pro on the side, loaded with Ableton
Live and other goodies. I feed my Wurly into the laptop through a MOTU
UltraLite interface for realtime processing, sampling, and looping.
Daniel Mintseris is known for his work with artists like Marianne
Cincotti, Martha Wainwright, and Teddy Thompson. He and cellist Dave
just released Convolutions for Cello, Piano, and Electronics,
album inspired by 20th-century classical music. Visit Daniel on MySpace.
The Wurlitzer’s sharp attack and full, barking low end are great for
rhythmic, percussive playing that borrows ideas from strummed acoustic
guitar, bass, and even drums. In Ex. 1, I put a spin on a classic funky
figure that recalls the Hohner Clavinet as well as slapped electric bass.
Notice the beefed-up bottom end and the auto-wah. Extreme articulation
really makes this figure work, so “spank” the accented beats and
barely touch the ghosted sixteenth-notes for that “muted string” effect. CLICK FOR AUDIO.
Ex. 2 is another rhythmic pattern, with “strummy” right-hand
octaves and crunchy left-hand power chords. I process the sound with
Albeton’s Saturator overdrive and highpass EQ, and use compression
to bring out the grit and crackle. Work on keeping your right hand
steady and relaxed here. CLICK FOR AUDIO.
In Ex. 3, I’m playing a gentle 6/8 pattern, atmospherically enhanced
by the Grain Delay effect in Live, bandpass EQ, and a touch of slow Leslie
speaker simulation courtesy of Native Instruments B4. Try it yourself
with different keys and chord progressions, keeping consistent octaves
and fifths in the right hand, and basic two-note voicings in the left. CLICK FOR AUDIO.
Ex. 4 turns up the groove with a steady eighth-note “hi-hat” and
“snare” in the right hand, and a syncopated bounce in the left. Remember
that the Wurly is all about articulation and feel. Keep the backbeat
strong, the upbeats laid back, and dig into the bass notes. CLICK FOR AUDIO.
The dreamy, percolating sound of Ex. 5 shimmers from timed
reverse and filter delays. Turn the tremolo up, roll the right-hand octaves
and fifths lightly for waves of texture, and use wide left-hand intervals
to create full, pulsating pads. The trick with a sound like this is to find
open voicings that carry over well into the next chord. CLICK FOR AUDIO.