Interestingly, the Rhodes first came about as a cost-efficient attempt by the US company Fender to manufacture pianos for teaching music to soldiers recovering during World War II. It wasn’t until the 1970s, after the instrument had been sold to CBS, that it gained mass popularity. And but for a brief lull during the mid-80s (and the advent of digital synthesizers), the Rhodes has remained a cornerstone of music production ever since.
Its users and fans are legion: from Chick Corea to Stevie Wonder to Vince Guaraldi (from the Peanuts and Charlie Brown series), and was seemingly destined to remain forever relevant. A central instrument in jazz and soul music production — as well as the samples that became the building blocks of hip hop — Air, J Dilla, and Portishead are just a few of the artists whose sound became inextricably wound up in the Rhodes. Most recently, Nils Frahm has used an older Fender Rhodes heavily in his studio recordings and live shows.
We’ve compiled some of the finest Rhodes samples we could find on Sounds.com, designed to bring human energy and warmth to your productions. Below, you’ll find some words from their creators.
The Mello Keys Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 collections, as well as the Golden Keys Loop Edition, all go a long way in demonstrating MVP Loops’ chops when it comes to working with the instrument. “We wanted a new retro sound,” says MVP Loops of their popular pack, MVP Loops: Roots Rhode Loops. “It was important to us that the progressions were melodically-driven, and had the ability to become the foundation of a musical production.”
For MVP Loops, the appeal of the Rhodes is its unmistakable sound which, in their words, “automatically draws the attention of the listener” of a given track. “Playing a Rhodes with the right feel and phrasing — and alternating between how hard you play the exact same phrase — gives you a ton of different variations that can really can bring a song to life,” they tell us. “It’s like the tonal quality of a Rhodes is constantly in flux, depending on who’s playing it.” The Roots, Jill Scott, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, and Issac Hayes were all inspirations for the pack.
Mark de Clive Lowe, also known as Mashibeats, has found enduring love for the Rhodes, and uses it frequently. “There’s a certain feeling of warmth, lushness, and classic 70s soul that I get when I hear the Rhodes,” de Clive Lowe says. “Growing up playing acoustic piano, the first time I heard it — and even more so, the first time I played one — opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me. It has such a fluid texture that brings an organic feeling to whatever it’s doing.”
Mashibeats’ Rhodes Chop Vol. 1 is a great demonstration of this sensibility, and speaks to de Clive Lowe’s ability to write music for different applications. “When I made these chops, those thoughts are all in my subconscious; at the same time, I was imagining what I would love to hear on a record that would make me double-take and want to sample it — like, ‘If only I had the multi-tracks to that Roy Ayers record, or that Bob James joint!’”
He notes that the Rhodes has been a staple sample sound source for hip hop for decades, from its near omnipresence in the 90s, and “further cemented in our ears through artists like Erykah Badu and D’Angelo.” He points out that Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s ‘What’s Next on the Menu?’ is a “textbook classic Rhodes flip,” and that Dilla work on the entire Slum Village Fantastic Vol.1, 2 and 3 remains an enduring inspiration.
“The Rhodes creates a textural environment that always seems to sit in the mix really well, and is sympathetic to other instruments and sounds — whether they’re softer and more subtle and harder and brittle, everything seems to just work really well with it,” he says. He bought his first Rhodes around 1994 in New Zealand (a Stage 73 Mark II model), which he says remains his my favorite Rhodes. “I shipped it to London when I moved there, and used it on hundreds of records,” he says. “When I relocated to LA, I sold it to a young kid who I’m sure has gotten plenty of mileage out of it, and got myself a 73 Mark I in LA. I’ve been lucky to play a whole range of different Rhodes on tour — I love how each one has its own personality and subtle nuances.”