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An electric piano is a
musical instrument A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make Music, musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a musical instrument—it is through purpose that the object becomes a musical instrument. A person w ...
which produces sounds when a performer presses the keys of a
piano The piano is an acoustic Acoustic may refer to: Music Albums * Acoustic (Bayside EP), ''Acoustic'' (Bayside EP) * Acoustic (Britt Nicole EP), ''Acoustic'' (Britt Nicole EP) * Acoustic (Joey Cape and Tony Sly album), ''Acoustic'' (Joey Cape a ...

piano
-style
musical keyboard A musical keyboard is the set of adjacent depressible levers or keys on a musical instrument. Keyboards typically contain keys for playing the twelve notes of the Western musical scale, with a combination of larger, longer keys and smaller, shor ...

musical keyboard
. Pressing keys causes mechanical hammers to strike metal strings, metal reeds or wire tines, leading to vibrations which are converted into electrical signals by magnetic pickups, which are then connected to an
instrument amplifier An instrument amplifier is an electronic device Electronics comprises the physics, engineering, technology and applications that deal with the emission, flow and control of electrons in vacuum and matter. It uses active devices to control elec ...
and
loudspeaker A loudspeaker (or ''speaker driver'', or most frequently just ''speaker'') is an electroacoustic transducer, that is, a device that converts an electrical audio signal into a corresponding sound. A ''speaker system'', also often simply referre ...

loudspeaker
to make a sound loud enough for the performer and audience to hear. Unlike a
synthesizer A synthesizer (also spelled synthesiser) is an electronic musical instrument An electronic musical instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound using electronics, electronic circuitry. Such an instrument sounds by outputting an el ...

synthesizer
, the electric piano is not an
electronic instrument An electronic musical instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound using electronics, electronic circuitry. Such an instrument sounds by outputting an electrical, electronic or digital audio signal that ultimately is plugged into a power ...
. Instead, it is an electro-mechanical instrument. Some early electric pianos used lengths of wire to produce the tone, like a traditional piano. Smaller electric pianos used short slivers of steel to produce the tone (a
lamellophoneImage:TrebleKalimba.jpg, A Hugh Tracey treble kalimba. A lamellophone (also lamellaphone or linguaphone) is a member of the family of musical instruments makes its sound by a thin vibrating plate called a lamella or tongue, which is fixed at one en ...
with a keyboard & pickups). The earliest electric pianos were invented in the late 1920s; the 1929 ''Neo- Bechstein''
electric grand piano The electric grand piano is a stringed musical instrument played using a musical keyboard, keyboard, in which the vibration of strings struck by hammers is converted by pickup (music technology), pickups into electrical signals, analogous to the el ...
was among the first. Probably the earliest stringless model was
Lloyd Loar Lloyd Allayre Loar (1886–1943) was an American musician, instrument designer and sound engineer. He is best known for his design work with the Gibson Guitar Corporation, Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co. Ltd. in the early 20th century, including th ...
's
Vivi-ToneVivi-Tone was a musical instrument company formed in partnership by former instrument designer for Gibson Guitar Corporation Gibson Brands, Inc. (formerly Gibson Guitar Corporation) is an American manufacturer of guitars, other musical instrumen ...
Clavier. A few other noteworthy producers of electric pianos include Baldwin Piano and Organ Company and the Wurlitzer Company. Early electric piano recordings include
Duke Ellington Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was an American composer, pianist, and leader of a jazz orchestra, which he led from 1923 until his death over a career spanning more than six decades. Born in Washington, D.C., ...
's in 1955 and
Sun Ra Le Sony'r Ra (born Herman Poole Blount, May 22, 1914 – May 30, 1993), better known as Sun Ra, was an American jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, and poet known for his experimental music, "cosmic" philosophy, prolific out ...

Sun Ra
's ''India'' as well as other tracks from the 1956 sessions included on his second album ''Super Sonic Jazz'' (a.k.a. ''Super Sonic Sounds''). The popularity of the electric piano began to grow in the late 1950s after
Ray Charles Ray Charles Robinson (September 23, 1930 – June 10, 2004) was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, and composer. Among friends and fellow musicians he preferred being called "Brother Ray." He was often referred to as "The Genius." Charles w ...

Ray Charles
's 1959 hit record "
What'd I Say "What'd I Say" (or "What I Say") is an American rhythm and blues Rhythm and blues, often abbreviated as R&B, is a genre of popular music that originated in African-American communities in the 1940s. The term was originally used by record co ...
", reaching its height during the 1970s, after which they were progressively displaced by more lightweight
electronic piano 300px, The keys of an electronic piano An electronic piano is a keyboard instrument designed to simulate the timbre of a piano (and sometimes a harpsichord or an Organ (music), organ) using analog circuitry. "Electronic Piano" was also the trade ...
s capable of piano-like sounds without the disadvantages of electric pianos' heavy weight and moving mechanical parts. Another factor driving their development and acceptance was the progressive electrification of popular music and the need for a portable keyboard instrument capable of high-volume amplification. Musicians adopted a number of types of domestic electric pianos for rock and pop use. This encouraged their manufacturers to modify them for stage use and then develop models primarily intended for stage use.
Digital piano A digital piano is a type of electronic keyboard instrument A keyboard instrument is a musical instrument played using a musical keyboard, keyboard, a row of levers which are pressed by the fingers. The most common of these are the piano, org ...
s that provide an emulated electric piano sound have largely supplanted the actual electro-mechanical instruments in the 2010s, due to the small size, low weight and versatility of digital instruments, which can produce a huge range of tones besides piano tones (e.g., emulations of
Hammond organ The Hammond organ is an electric organ invented by Laurens Hammond and John M. Hanert and first manufactured in 1935. Multiple models have been produced, most of which use sliding drawbars to vary sounds. Until 1975, Hammond organs generated ...
sounds,
synthesizer A synthesizer (also spelled synthesiser) is an electronic musical instrument An electronic musical instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound using electronics, electronic circuitry. Such an instrument sounds by outputting an el ...

synthesizer
sounds, etc.). However, some performers still perform and record with vintage electric pianos. In 2009,
Rhodes Rhodes (; el, Ρόδος, translit=Ródos ) is the largest of the Dodecanese islands of Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10 ...
produced a new line of electro-mechanical pianos, known as the Rhodes Mark 7, followed by an offering from Vintage Vibe.


History

The Neo-Bechstein electric piano was built in 1929. The Vierlang-Forster electric piano was introduced in 1937. The RCA Storytone electric piano was built in 1939 in a joint venture between Story & Clark and RCA. The case was designed by
John Vassos John Vassos (October 23, 1898 – December 6, 1985, born John Plato Vassacopoulos) whose career as an American industrial designer and artist helped define the shape of radio, television, broadcasting equipment, and computers for the RCA, Radio C ...
, the American industrial designer. It debuted at the 1939 World's Fair. The piano has normal strings and hammer action but no soundboard. The sound is amplified through electromagnetic pickups, circuitry and a speaker system, making it the world's first commercially available electric piano. Many types were initially designed as a less-expensive alternative to an acoustic piano for home or school use. Some electric pianos were designed with multiple keyboards that could be connected for use in school or college piano labs, so that teachers could simultaneously instruct a group of students using headphones.


Types

"Electric piano" is a heterogeneous category encompassing several different instruments which vary in their sound-producing mechanisms and consequent timbral characters.


Struck strings

Yamaha is a Japanese multinational corporation A multinational company (MNC) is a corporate organization that owns or controls the production of goods or services in at least one country other than its home country. Black's Law Dictionary suggests ...

Yamaha
,
Baldwin Baldwin is a Germanic name, composed of the elements ''bald'' "bold" and ''win'' "friend". People * Baldwin (name) Places Canada * Baldwin, York Regional Municipality, Ontario * Baldwin, Ontario, in Sudbury District United States * Bal ...
, Helpinstill and
Kawai is a musical instrument A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make Music, musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a musical instrument—it is through purpose that the object becomes a m ...

Kawai
's electric pianos are actual grand or upright pianos with strings and hammers. The Helpinstill models have a traditional soundboard; the others have none, and are more akin to a solid-body
electric guitar An electric guitar is a guitar The guitar is a fret (in the background, coloured white) and first four frets A fret is a space between two fretbars on the neck (music), neck of a stringed instrument. Frets usually extend across the ful ...
. On Yamaha, Baldwin and Kawai's pianos, the vibration of the strings is converted to an
electrical signal In signal processing, a signal is a function that conveys information about a phenomenon. In electronics and telecommunications, it refers to any time varying voltage, electric current, current or electromagnetic wave that carries information. ...
by
piezoelectric Piezoelectricity (, ) is the electric charge that accumulates in certain solid materials—such as crystals, certain ceramics, and biological matter such as bone, DNA, and various proteins—in response to applied Stress (mechanics), mechanical st ...
pickups under the bridge. Helpinstill's instruments use a set of
electromagnetic Electromagnetism is a branch of physics involving the study of the electromagnetic force, a type of physical interaction that occurs between electric charge, electrically charged particles. The electromagnetic force is carried by electromagneti ...

electromagnetic
pickups attached to the instrument's frame. All these instruments have a tonal character similar to that of an acoustic piano.


Struck reeds

Wurlitzer electronic piano The Wurlitzer electronic piano is an electric piano manufactured and marketed by Wurlitzer from the mid-1950s to the early 1980s. The sound is generated by striking a metal reed with a hammer, which induces an electric current in a pickup; altho ...
s (sometimes called "Wurli" as a nickname) use flat steel reeds struck by felt hammers. The reeds fit within a comb-like metal plate, and the reeds and plate together form an electrostatic or capacitive pickup system, using a DC voltage of 170v. This system produces a very distinctive tone – sweet and
vibraphone The vibraphone is a musical instrument in the struck idiophone subfamily of the percussion instrument, percussion family. It consists of tuned metal bars and is usually played by holding two or four soft Percussion mallet, mallets and striking the ...

vibraphone
-like when played gently, and developing a hollow resonance as the keys are played harder. The reeds are tuned by adding or removing mass from a lump of solder at the free end of the reed. Replacement reeds are furnished with a slight excess of solder, and thus tuned "flat"; the user is required – by repeated trial and error – to gradually file off the excess solder until the correct tuning is achieved. The Columbia Elepian (also branded as Maestro), the Brazilian-made Suette, and the
Hohner Hohner Musikinstrumente GmbH & Co. KG is a German manufacturer of musical instrument A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make Music, musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a musical i ...
Electra-Piano use a reed system similar to the Wurlitzer but with electromagnetic pickups similar to the
Rhodes piano The Rhodes piano (also known as the Fender Rhodes piano or simply Fender Rhodes or Rhodes) is an electric piano invented by Harold Rhodes, which became popular in the 1970s. Like a conventional piano The piano is an acoustic, stringed mus ...
.


Struck tuning-forks

The
tuning fork A tuning fork is an acoustic resonator A resonator is a device or system that exhibits resonance or resonant behavior. That is, it naturally oscillates with greater amplitude The amplitude of a Periodic function, periodic Variable (mathemat ...

tuning fork
here refers to the struck element having two vibrating parts – physically it bears little resemblance to a traditional type. In
Fender Rhodes The Rhodes piano (also known as the Fender Rhodes piano) is an electric piano An electric piano is a musical instrument A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make Music, musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces ...
instruments, the struck portion of the "fork" is a
tine Tine may refer to: *Tine (structural), a 'prong' on a fork or similar implement, or any similar structure *Tine (company), the biggest dairy producer in Norway *Tine (film), ''Tine'' (film), a 1964 Danish film *Tine, Iran, a village in Mazandaran Pr ...
of stiff steel wire. The other part of the fork, parallel and adjacent to the tine, is the tonebar, a sturdy steel bar which acts as a resonator and adds sustain to the sound. The tine is fitted with a spring which can be moved along its length to allow the pitch to be varied for
fine-tuning In theoretical physics, fine-tuning is the process in which parameters of a model must be adjusted very precisely in order to fit with certain observations. This had led to the discovery that the fundamental constants and quantities fall into suc ...
. The tine is struck by the small
neoprene Image:Diving suit neoprene.jpg, 250px, A neck seal, wrist seal, manual vent, inflator, zip and fabric of a neoprene dry suit. The soft seal material at the neck and wrists is made from single backed closed-cell foam neoprene for elasticity. The slic ...
(originally felt) tip of a hammer activated by a greatly simplified piano action (each key has only three
moving parts Machines include both fixed and moving parts. The moving parts have controlled and constrained motions. Moving parts are machine components excluding any moving fluids, such as fuel, coolant or hydraulic fluid. Moving parts also do not include an ...
including the damper). Each tine has an electromagnetic pickup placed just beyond its tip (see also
tonewheel A tonewheel or tone wheel is a simple electromechanical apparatus for generating electric musical note In music, a note is a symbol denoting a musical sound. In English usage a note is also the sound itself. Notes can represent the Pitch (music ...
). The Rhodes piano has a distinctive bell-like tone, fuller than the Wurlitzer, with longer sustain and with a "growl" when played hard.


Plucked reeds

The
Hohner Pianet The Hohner Pianet is a type of electric piano, electro-mechanical piano built by the Hohner company of Trossingen, West Germany and designed by Ernst Zacharias. The Pianet was a variant of his earlier reed-based Hohner electric piano, the Cembalet ...

Hohner Pianet
uses adhesive pads made from an undressed leather surface cushioned by a
foam rubber Foam rubber (also known as cellular, sponge, or expanded rubber) refers to rubber that has been manufactured with a foaming agent to create an air-filled matrix structure. Commercial foam rubbers are generally made of synthetic rubber, natural late ...

foam rubber
backing. The leather is saturated with a viscous silicone oil to adhere to and pluck metal reeds. When the key is released, the pad acts as a damper. An electrostatic pickup system similar to Wurlitzer's is used. The tone produced resembles that of the Wurlitzer but brighter and with less sustain, largely owing to the design having no sustain pedal mechanism. The same firm's "
Cembalet The Cembalet is a type of electro-mechanical piano built by the Hohner company of Trossingen, West Germany from the late-1950s to the late 1960s. The designer of the Cembalet was Ernst Zacharias. The Cembalet was a reed-based electric piano inte ...
" uses rubber plectra and separate urethane foam dampers but is otherwise almost identical. Hohner's later "Pianet T" uses
silicone rubberSilicone rubber is an elastomer (rubber-like material) composed of silicone A silicone or polysiloxane is a polymer made up of siloxane (−R2Si−O−SiR2−, where R = organic group). They are typically colorless, oils or elastomer, rubber- ...
suction pads rather than adhesive pads and replaces the electrostatic system with passive electromagnetic pickups similar to those of the Rhodes, the reeds themselves however being magnetized. The Pianet T has a far mellower sound not unlike that of the Rhodes instruments. None of the above instruments have the facility for a
sustain pedal , sostenuto pedal and sustain pedal A sustain pedal or sustaining pedal (also called damper pedal, loud pedal, or open pedal) is the most commonly used piano pedals, pedal in a modern piano The piano is an acoustic, stringed musical inst ...
. A close copy of the Cembalet is the "Weltmeister Claviset," also marketed as the " Selmer Pianotron." This has electromagnetic pickups with a battery-powered preamplifier, and later models have multiple tone filters and a sustain pedal.


Other electric keyboard instruments

Although not technically pianos, the following are electric harpsichords and clavichords. Baldwin's "Solid-Body Electric Harpsichord" or "Combo Harpsichord" is an aluminum-framed instrument of fairly traditional form, with no soundboard and with two sets of electromagnetic pickups, one near the plectra and the other at the strings' midpoint. The instrument's sound has something of the character of an electric guitar, and has occasionally been used to stand in for one in modern
chamber music Chamber music is a form of classical music that is composed for a small group of instruments—traditionally a group that could fit in a palace chamber or a large room. Most broadly, it includes any art music Art music (alternatively calle ...
. Roger Penney of Bermuda Triangle Band worked on the design and development of the original instrument for the Cannon Guild Company, a premier
harpsichord A harpsichord ( it, clavicembalo, french: clavecin, german: Cembalo, es, clavecín, pt, cravo, nl, klavecimbel) is a musical instrument played by means of a musical keyboard, keyboard. This activates a row of levers that turn a trigger mechanism ...
maker located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This instrument had an aluminium bar frame, a spruce wood soundboard, bar magnetic pickups, and a
Plexiglas Poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA), also known as acrylic, acrylic glass, or plexiglass, as well as by the trade names Crylux, Plexiglas, Acrylite, Astariglas, Lucite, Perclax, and Perspex, among several others (#Names, see below), is a transpare ...
(clear plastic) openable lid. The prototypes and design were sold to Baldwin who made some modifications, and then manufactured the instrument under their own name. Hohner's "
Clavinet The Clavinet is an electrically amplified clavichord invented by Ernst Zacharias and manufactured by the Hohner company of Trossingen, West Germany, from 1964 to 1982. The instrument produces sounds by a rubber pad striking a point on a tensioned ...
" is essentially an electric
clavichord The clavichord is a Western European stringed rectangular keyboard instrument that was used largely in the Late Middle Ages, through the Renaissance music, Renaissance, Baroque music, Baroque and Classical period (music), Classical eras. Historic ...
. A rubber pad under each key presses the string onto a metal anvil, causing the "fretted" portion of the string to vibrate. When the key is released, the whole string is theoretically free to vibrate but is immediately damped by yarn woven across the tuning machine-head end. Two electromagnetic single-coil pickups, one under and one over the strings, detect the vibrations which are then pre-amplified and filtered in preparation for amplification by a guitar amp.


See also

*
Celesta The celesta or celeste , also called a bell-piano, is a struck idiophone operated by a keyboard instrument, keyboard. It looks similar to an upright piano (four- or five-octave), albeit with smaller keys and a much smaller cabinet, or a la ...
* DX7 Rhodes * Rocksichord


References


External links


Simons Hall of Electric Pianos
{{DEFAULTSORT:Electric Piano