The Fender Rhodes and the Wurlitzer electric pianos are two of the most popular keyboards used in today’s music. However, if you’ve ever tried carrying a Fender Rhodes Suitcase 88 electric piano, you probably needed a visit to the osteopath afterwards. Even the smaller Wurlitzer 200A electric piano is awkward to lug around.
The idea of being able to carry these instruments around inside a laptop to use at gigs would mean no more sprained vertebrae – and to be able to use them on my desktop system would provide all the benefits of MIDI control and ease of recording to hard disk.
Several presets are provided, including Suitcase Mk I, several Stage Pianos, a Wurlitzer 200A, a Hohner ElectraPiano, and some variations.
There is an incredible range of control over the sounds. You can set the volume of the ‘bell’ part of the note and how much ‘damper’ noise you can hear; and set a decay time for the notes and a release time for the damper. You can also apply varying amounts of ‘stretch’ tuning at the high and low ends of the keyboard, and random tuning variations for added realism.
You can also apply effects including Chorus, Tremolo and Phaser; Bass and Treble EQ, and use the Drive and Tone controls to emulate the sound of a valve amplifier. You can also set the number of voices (that is, the polyphony) up to a maximum of 88 notes, and you can tune the ‘instrument’ by + or - 50 cents. In short, it’s the kind of controls to die for with a real Rhodes or Wurlitzer.
Of course, what we all want to know is whether to throw away the hardware versions. The first thing I did was to run back and forth from my Rhodes Suitcase 73 and Wurlitzer 200A pianos to the EVP88. I was initially impressed with the EVP88 Rhodes sounds, which definitely sounded good, but felt rather disappointed with the Wurlitzer. Then I tried the real Wurlitzer, and found out why. The richness of the sound of the real instrument is way, way better than the EVP88 ‘Wurly’. Similarly, there is a much ‘bigger’, more interesting sound from the real Suitcase 73.
If you don’t own the real instruments, then the EVP88 at least gets you into the right ballpark. If you’re not too concerned about absolute realism, you’ll find the Rhodes sounds very useful – and the controls and effects provide plenty of variation.