Here’s one way to lock in your reputation as the gold standard…To ring in its 75th year in business, Rhodes built 75 of its MK8/75AE limited-edition electric pianos adorned with gold-plated controllers. The line marries the classic look of their signature pianos with a special dark matte finish, high-tech internal components, and the flashiest volume dial ever.
The instruments, which cost $13,000, sold out in 25 minutes, signaling the brand’s lasting legacy in music. For decades, the likes of Miles Davis, Paul McCartney and Ray Charles incorporated Rhodes’ signature look and sound into their recordings and performances, and now as the company looks ahead to its centennial, the keepers of the brand are plotting a roadmap to keep it on the cutting edge and at the same time authentic to its customers.
Entrepreneur spoke with Matt Pelling, CEO of Rhodes Music, about the creation of the limited-edition line and his vision for the company’s future. Here are the highlights of that conversation, which have been edited for length and clarity.
On the 75th Anniversary Edition selling out in minutes
“We believe this is the best electric piano ever made. And when we launched, we sold out all 75 instruments in 25 minutes, so that was really reaffirming. This is not a cheap instrument and so it was a testament to its quality and its regard in the music world.”
On the birth of Rhodes
“During WWII, Harold Rhodes was in the US Army Air Corps. He played piano and gave lessons to wounded servicemen as a form of therapy, and he had the idea to make a small portable piano that people could use in their hospital beds. So using scrap aluminum tubing from B-17 bombers, he created something called a ‘Xylette’ which was a 29-note xylophone-like instrument. It became known as the Army Air Corps Lap Piano and over 100,000 were made. It was the seed of the first electronic piano. Harold later hooked up with Leo Fender (who made Fender guitars) and that’s when Rhodes really took off in popular music. It was used in rock, pop, soul and jazz. Miles Davis would always insist on a Rhodes rather than a traditional piano as part of his progressive jazz fusion sound.”
On making Rhodes accessible to all musicians
“Musicians aren’t always the most well-endowed financially. So we’ve released a software version of the MK8, which is very detailed and a very accurate representation of the hardware. Albeit it’s not that beautiful piece of furniture and you haven’t got that tactile feel that you have with the real thing, but it’s been going down really well with music makers. There may have been some initial criticism about whether the Rhodes brand is synonymous with anything like digital software, but we really wanted to make the brand more accessible to a wider portfolio of people.”
On the balance of innovation and tradition
“We knew we had to prove ourselves as worthy guardians of the brand, so we knew we had to build the best Rhodes piano ever. That really took us three years, but that always had to be job number one. The digital software spinoff I just described is the first step for us to pivot into being able to connect with a new generation of music makers. Because if we only look to tick the box with those who are already familiar with Rhodes, the customer base will dry out pretty quickly. So we are moving slowly and carefully to diversify from the core — which currently is people who understand us as Rhodes keyboards — and expand. Our website is RhodesMusic.com for a reason. We want to move the goalpost wider and bring more accessible products to a wider audience.”