Mark V Rhodes
The Rhodes electric piano is an unquestionable legend among keyboards, used by countless bands and on hundreds of albums since the 1960s, in nearly every genre imaginable. The 73-Key Rhodes was born out of the CBS-Fender purchase, with the original self-amplified Suitcase version coming out in ‘65, and the Stage model being introduced for ‘70. Through most of the Mk. I and Mk. II’s lifetime, they remained mechanically unchanged, until 1980 with an ill-fated change to plastic keys and the introduction of the equally poor Mk. III, which tried to emulate a synthesizer by affecting the sound from the piano’s pickups. With the Yamaha DX7 looming over the horizon, a 120+ pound hybrid piano like the Mk. III wouldn’t live long.
Rhodes was sold from CBS to new CEO Bill Shultz in 1983, who had enough faith in the now 18-year-old instrument to oversee one last version of the Rhodes, and under his management the Rhodes company designed the prototype Mk. IV. At this point, CBS penny-pinching had made Rhodes quality wildly variable, and combining that with the leaps and bounds digital synthesizers were making in the early ‘80s, it was clear to the Rhodes team that it was Do or Die. The Mk. IV was a beautiful and innovative keyboard, dramatically lighter than the previous versions, with a more responsive action and clearer tone, as well as a new stand and hydraulic sustain pedal.
While the Mk. IV ended up having some insurmountable design problems, Its improved action made its way into Rhodes’ very last original keyboard, the Mk. V. It was only made for one year before the factory was shuttered, the company’s fate sealed before it even went into production.