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The Wurlitzer Electric Piano


Weapon of Choice: Wurlitzer

General description
The Wurlitzer piano is usually a 64-note instrument whose keyboard range is from A an octave above the lowest note of a standard 88-note piano to the C an octave below the top note of an 88-note piano. Tone production in all models comprises a single steel reed for each key, activated by a miniature version of a conventional grand piano action and forming part of an electrostatic pickup system using a DC voltage of 170v. A mechanical sustain pedal similar to that of a conventional piano is fitted.

Inventor Benjamin Miessner had designed an amplified conventional upright piano in the 1930s, and Wurlitzer used his electrostatic pickup design, but replaced the strings with struck steel reeds. The instrument entered production in 1955 as the EP-112 and continued to be produced in various forms until about 1982 when production of the EP-200A ceased.

Follow this link to see the mechanism in action: keyboardmuseum -- click the key with your mouse to hear

Most Wurlitzer electric pianos are portable models with removable legs and the sustain pedal attached via a Bowden cable; console, "grand" and "spinet" models were also produced with a permanently attached pedal.
Portable models
The earliest versions were the "100" series; these had a case made from painted fibreboard or wood and were fitted with a single loudspeaker mounted in the rear of the case. Apart from the very first models, the portable Wurlitzer pianos featured a tremolo effect with fixed rate but adjustable depth. Models produced until the early 1960s used valve circuitry; the 140B was the first solid-state model. The next model, the 145 was replaced in 1969 by the plastic-bodied 200, a much lighter instrument with two loudspeakers facing the player. This model was updated as the 200A a few years later and continued in production into the early 1980s. The 200 was available in black, dark "Forest Green", red or beige. The 200A was only available in black. The last version to be introduced was the 200B in 1978; this was visually identical to the 200A but was designed to be powered by a pair of medium-tension (85v) rechargeable batteries; it had no internal speakers.
Console models
One important role for the Wurlitzer piano was as a student instrument in school and college music labs, and non-portable console versions were made for this purpose. Those usually seen resemble a beige or light green Model 200 mounted on a matching pedestal containing a loudspeaker, headphone niche and sustain pedal. On these models there is no tremolo (although later models simply have the facility disabled). Some of these models were given the designation 206/206A. Many console models have recently been modified to 200/200A specification for use on stage. Rarer than the student models are the teacher consoles, featuring multiple monitor/mute switches and, in some cases the facility to add a large illuminated display panel operated via the keyboard.
Other models
Spinet versions
Since production began, small numbers of wood-cased spinet-style instruments were made for domestic use. These usually had an upright-piano style soft pedal (actually an electronic attenuator) as well as the sustain pedal. The mechanism of these pianos is identical to that of the contemporary portable version.
Butterfly Baby Grand
The 200 uniquely had a domestic sister model called the "Butterfly Baby Grand", a semicircular wooden-cased piano with twin quadrant-shaped lids angled above horizontally-mounted loudspeakers.
A rare version, and the only known model not to have 64 keys is the 106P, a 44-note classroom model with a plastic case, no controls, one loudspeaker and no sustain pedal. The 106P was available as a set of eight (model 106) on a folding frame, forming a portable keyboard lab. This model appears to date from the early 1970s and was available in orange or beige.

Compared with its erstwhile rival, the (Fender) Rhodes electric piano, the Wurlitzer has a brighter, more hollow sound. When played gently the sound can be quite sweet and vibraphone-like, becoming more aggressive with harder playing, producing a characteristic slightly overdriven tone usually described as a "bark". In a pop or rock band setting with guitar(s), bass and drums the Wurlitzer has a distinctive and clear sound where a Rhodes would tend to blend in. However it has also been used successfully in MOR ballads and even country music.
The Wurlitzer electric piano was one of a series of electromechanical stringless pianos manufactured and marketed by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, Corinth, Mississippi, USA. The Wurlitzer company actually called the instrument (inaccurately in retrospect) the "Electronic Piano", but musicians usually describe it correctly as an electric piano.

-- courtesy of wikipedia

The Wurlitzer in Action

Listen Further/Buy
Ray Charles "What'd I Say"
Beck "Where It's At"
Pink Floyd "Money"
Sheryl Crow "Maybe Angels"
Norah Jones "Thinking About You"
Wurlitzer Software Emulations

There are a ton of software emulations on the market now. This table contains a few of the most popular ones, and I have added comments about the ones I have played.
Software Name Manufacture Comments
EVP88 Logic Audio Wurlitzers have a very raw and almost dirty sound. The imperfections of Wurlitzers is what gives each of them a sound all its' own. All of these software emulations come close, but the imperfections seem to be missing. Give me the real thing.
EVP73 Logic Audio  
Elektrik Piano Native Instruments  
EP-3 Lounge Lizard  
Electro-Mechanical Reason Refill Propellerhead This refill is available for free from the Propellerhead web site for all registered users of Reason.

There is also a 'wurlitzer' patch in virtually every keyboard sold today, but my personal favorite is the "wurly tremolo" patch in the Yamaha S90 and Motif-8. ( The S90 is basically a Motif 8 without the sequencer ) This keyboard patch doesn't have all of the character of an actual Wurly, but it will get you through the gig.
Links to Wurlitzer Parts, Maintenance and more

Here are a few links to some great Wurlitzer Sites great source for wurlitzer repairs and parts. another great source for wurlitzer parts
wurlitzer archive wurlitzer archives: information and pictures

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