Iím just curious, are you buying vintage keyboards for a ìmuseumî or are you actually using them in your studio? It seems like a lot of work to get these older keyboards into working condition, and then once you do, how do you actually interface them with your MIDI stuff? Do you just play the parts on each keyboard, or can you recommend a good MIDI to CV converter? I bought a Fender Rhodes and am having a really hard time finding someone that will work on them where I live. Any suggestions?



Hi Paul,

No, Iím not building a museum, although it does look that way at times around here. As Iíve said before eBay is great, but sometimes I do buy stuff that seemed like a good idea at the time, then I get the gear and wonder what I was thinking, and how Iím going to incorporate it into my studio. I have sold off a few of my vintage keys that I wasnít using, and donated a few of them to charity. Donating to a non-profit organization or school that can give you a donation letter with their tax ID on it for the IRS is a great tax deduction, and it just feels good to do it. I gave a Hammond A100 organ and Leslie to a local church, and a Korg Trinity to a correctional facility in Florida and I know theyíre really using these keyboards for something good, not just reselling it or sticking it in a corner.

A few months ago I recommended some synthesizer service places in and around LA, but youíre right once you get your synths up and running, then what? I recently bought an Encore Expressionist ( 8-channel MIDI to CV converter. In its most basic application you can have 8 CV synths connected and assigned to their own MIDI channel. Among the advantages to using the Expressionist are that one of the biggest issues with playing an older synth is the keyboards are typically out of adjustment making the synth really hard to play and keep in tune so using a MIDI keyboard will give you an immediate improvement there. Itís beyond the scope of this column to get into everything the Expressionist can do, but some of the cool features include being able to scale the pitch of your vintage synth across the range of the keyboard which comes in handy if your synth goes sharp or flat the higher up the keyboard you play. In the past, youíd have to either open up the synth or use a screwdriver to adjust the tuning, and sometimes even that wouldnít work. You can also set up splits for example using one synth for a bass part, and another for a solo sound.

Some other cool applications, you can take your 8 CV synths and group them into a polyphonic synthesizer setup with intelligent voice allocation (imagine an 8 voice synth using your fat vintage stuff!), the Expressionist also has 4 assignable LFOís, built in portamento, and 100 setups in memory. The built in LFOís enable you to use all three oscillators of your Mini Moog for audio for example, (in the past oscillator 3 wouldíve been dedicated as an LFO), and the LFOís will restart based on MIDI clock if you so desire. Plus, the most obvious advantage to using MIDI is that you can manipulate your performance fixing any timing issues. The unit will convert CV and generate gate or S-trigger as well. In my opinion this is by far the best MIDI to CV converter out there, especially if you have more than one CV synth. Letís face it, the difference between being successful in this business and not is having a different sound from everybody else. This will definitely get you started in the right direction.

Fender Rhodes technicians are really hard to find, especially if youíre not in a town like LA. A few really good sites about repairing and finding parts for the Rhodes are and My favorite though by far is Vintage Vibe. They have a lot of original parts, but also manufacture their own replacement parts usually improving on the original. They are a small company, but have great customer service. Anytime Iíve called them with an issue or question theyíve been really helpful. Vintage Vibe has a lot of videos on You Tube demonstrating how to tune, regulate, and do many repairs to Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzerís and Clavinets here:

all for free! You gottaí check their videos out! Thanks Vintage Vibe for this wonderful service!

If youíre in the LA area and donít want to deal with fixing your own Rhodes check these guys out:

They repair, restore and upgrade the Rhodes piano with custom modifications. While they donít do house calls, if you can part with your Rhodes for 7 to 10 days they will have it fixed up like new, or upgraded to even better than new. One really cool thing about these guys is theyíll take pictures of the work on your Rhodes and post it online for you to see their progress. That is very cool! They also can replace the tolex that invariably gets dinged up over the years, and can even do a ìsparkle topî in gold or silver to your existing Rhodes top.

Another Rhodes technician worth mentioning is David Ell, who is referred to as The Rhodes Man, . He is providing repair, restoration and custom Fender Rhodes electric pianos for sale from his workshop in Kennewick, Washington.

Itís also fun to do a search on You Tube for Rhodes and check out some of the classic performances using a Rhodes. The VIís come close, but nothing sounds or feels like a properly set up Fender Rhodes. Sometimes to take your sound to the ìfutureî it really helps to understand the past, but itís still about making music, so donít get too hung up on all the technology and forget what youíre doing this for.


Mike McKnight Sounds Inc.

34145 Pacific Coast Hwy, Suite #302
Dana Point, CA 92629