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How best to record suitcase

Started by Kinglouis, October 03, 2020, 09:45:06 AM

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I was lucky enough to buy a '79 88 key stereo suitcase rhodes last month with a Wurlitzer 200 thrown in too, for a very reasonable price. I am still waking in the middle of the night pinching myself.

I am a composer for tv and have always been a believer in trying to record real instruments wherever possible as I think it inspires better writing and a more dynamic performance. Having both the Rhodes and Wurly is such a bonus. They could both use a bit of tlc but they are in great condition cosmetically and seem to have been fairly well looked after. I have just read the Rhodes buying guide on this site (so, so helpful) and I can confirm that both keyboards are definitely in need of the full works.

However in the short term, other than a scratchy volume pot and the vibrato not working, I have 140lb's worth of love and soul ready to be played. My question is how best to record them? Can I get a DI out of the Rhodes? I tried the Accessory jack, that worked well but the volume on the keyboard was disabled. I also took a line from the Preamp output on the (Janus?) amp but it didn't disable the amp. Is there a way to get a di out of the keyboard? Or a way to plug it into a different amp? I will obviously try putting some mics in front of the amp - I haven't taken the grill off so will have to test out where the cones are and find some sweet spots.

Any advice on how to record either the Rhodes or Wurly much appreciated.

With many thanks,


The Real MC

The Accessory jacks on the piano are intended for effects loop.   The top one (effects send) is 'normalled' to the bottom one (effects return).  If you only use the top jack then it will interrupt the signal flow to the preamp.

If your DI has a thru jack you can connect this to the bottom accessory jack.

However the accessory jack is wired directly to the pickups and they are extremely sensitive to input impedance on outboard devices like a DI box.  Meaning the tone can change drastically.  If the impedance is too low - such as a passive DI box - your tone will be muddy with high end and it can be noisy.  I had read of the impedance problem and they recommend no less than 1Mohm.  I tried the DI boxes in my collection and the best one was CountryMan Type 10 which has a 10Mohm input impedance.  There was zero noise and the tone was excellent.  Not even my active Radial DI could perform that well.

Keep in mind that pickup design of Rhodes pianos have changed over the years.  Some eras (IE 1976) have pickups which won't have ANY high end.

I never owned a stock Suitcase piano so I have no experience micing it.  But one way to improve the sound is to change to different speakers.  The stock speakers are real dogs, changing to better ones goes a long way to achieving that "sweet spot" than micing techniques.  I also play guitar and found that good guitar speakers can really improve the sound of the Rhodes.  I like the Celestion 75w speakers (stay away from Celestion 70w speakers they don't sound good with ANYTHING).


Hey, congrats on the new keys!! That must be so satisfying, especially being able to switch back and forth between a Rhodes and a Wurly!

I compose for corporate branding and ads and such, and also just record my own Rhodes-related sundry compositions for myself once in a while. I've recorded my Suitcase a few different from the output on the name rail, direct from the amp output jacks on the power amp, from the headphone jack, and miked. They're all totally different. I feel like they have different applications, even.

Direct out of the top Accessory jack on the name rail is the way to get a true DI...either that or be a fanatical purist and run an RCA-to-1/4" cable direct from the harp output inside the piano. This option sounds kinda muddy and dull on mine, being that it's an apparently-problematic 1976 model with, apparently, muddy pickups. So for me, that one's not optimal. But nice if I want it to sound like a dry-as-hell Stage for re-amping.

Direct out of the two jacks on the amp into a board/interface is maybe the best get that nice Suitcase preamp EQ curve, potentially the "vibrato" also (if you get it working!) in glorious hard-panned stereo, and no infernal mechanical noise. But it's a bit...claustrophobic and weirdly detailed. If you give it some space with reverb (maybe even an amp cabinet sim) and EQ to taste, this can be the best way to record. Really flexible, and sounds wonderful...that Suitcase thickness is all there. That's usually how I do mine. And yes, going direct from the amp does not disable the speakers! That's so you can mic the cab and go direct simultaneously. So doing it this way can be loud. I usually have my volume up quite a bit to drive up the signal-to-noise on the DI signal.

Coming out of the headphone jack on the side of the amp actually does cut the speakers...and I have found this a decent way to record. Somehow. I'm not sure why this is a good idea. Or if it is. But it's a quieter alternative to the above.

Miking the Suitcase cabinet, in a good room, sounds awesome and huge. It's one of my favorite ways to just get that Herbie sound instantly or whatever (which is also possible direct out of the power amp!). Just thicc and fat and chirpy. You can use a flashlight through the grill cloth to find the cones...I like to be on-axis. BUT: compared to DI, it's a pain. The best tones seem to be when it's loud, which necessitates a decent-sounding room or an actual studio, and a loud amp helps drown out the mechanical noise, AND it's just not a good idea to mic it from the player side, so you need a not-tiny room so as not to have the mic (and speakers) right up against a wall. So home-recording it this way isn't the best, in my experience. Also mic choice seems very important...a LDC I think is too airy, and a 57 sounds honky. An ElectroVoice RE-20 is my absolute Suitcase mic. That mic makes my Rhodes sound exactly like I think it should sound, and no other mic I've tried has done that...including a tube LDC, a Fat Head ribbon, a kick drum mic, 57s and prolly something else I'm forgetting. Worth getting an RE-20 or similar dynamic, I'd say, if you're going to mic the cabinet as your primary way. I'd prefer just taking it direct from the preamp over miking it! Less fussy and such. But the amp sounds absolutely great.

Re: Wurly: when I had a 200A it was always just direct! That's by far my favorite Wurly sound. So warm.

Lol, incidentally I'm a huge believer in fake instruments, for the flexibility of changing a MIDI part at a moment's notice. I used to be like you and I always tracked real Rhodes (and drums, ugh) when I could. But doing quick-turnaround revisions sucks when you have to set up everything to track again for, like, one new chord or note or a new drum section. Although I do agree that real instruments make for more compelling music sometimes...I've just learned to be extremely meticulous with MIDI and use only the most realistic/playable libraries I can justify buying. Which I never can. But I buy them anyway.
1976 Mk I Suitcase 73
Clavinet II (traded a Wurly for it)
ARP Odyssey Mk I
That's about all you'd ever need.