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Microphone Month 5

Wurlitzer Electric Piano

While the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company of Corinth, Mississippi, and North Tonawanda, New York, built all manner of electric and electronic products, including the Wurlitzer jukebox (a ’60s staple) and any number of home organ models. The company’s history also includes band or fairground organs and over 2,200 installations of “The Mighty Wurlitzer” Theatre Organ, which was built from 1914 until about 1940. But in terms of rock and other modern music genres, it is the 64-note Wurlitzer Electric Piano that most players are familiar with. Its sound has been heard on countless recordings, and is personified by “The Logical Song” and “Dreamer” by Supertramp and “What’d I Say” by Ray Charles, to name just a few.

Interestingly, Wurlitzer never called this instrument an electric piano, but used the term “Electronic Piano” instead, though the term could not be more misleading. Wurlitzer first introduced an amplified upright piano in the 1930s, using Benjamin Miessner’s electrostatic pickup design. The design was modified in the early 1950s, with the strings being replaced by a single steel reed for each key. These would be struck by a miniature version of a conventional grand piano action, with the resulting sound being amplified through the use of the same electrostatic pickup system with a DC voltage of 170 volts. The first Wurlitzer electric piano was introduced in the ’50s as the Model EP-110 and continued to be produced in various forms until 1982, when production ceased. The earliest versions had a case made from painted fibreboard or wood and were fitted with an amplifier> and single loudspeaker mounted in the rear of the case. Compared to a Rhodes electric piano, the Wurlitzer is slightly less refined, though it could be played lightly to produce a sweet, chime-like sound, becoming more aggressive with harder playing, which resulted in a slightly overdriven tone often referred to as “bark.”

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