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I have got a Valente reed piano!!!

Started by butterfingersbeck, December 16, 2023, 11:34:11 AM

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butterfingersbeck

Hi! Greetings from the UK.

Some of you might know me - I am the creator of the woefully out-of-date www.hallofelectricpianos.co.uk and a life-long electric piano enthusiast.

Anyway, in March of this year (2023), I ordered a brand-new Valente reed piano, and it arrived a week later.

I will post more, including video and audio, but I thought you might be interested.
"Communication is everything"

butterfingersbeck

#1
Here is a video that I made the day that I received my Valente:

I am playing through a Fender Blues Junior III borrowed from my elder son. The first piece is Joe Zawinul's classic "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy", and the second is just a boogie-woogie improvisation.
"Communication is everything"

butterfingersbeck

Here is a review that I wrote shortly after getting my Valente. I initially wrote it for submission to a music technology magazine, but due to changing circumstances regarding distribution and availability of the instrument, it was out of date before it could be submitted. I am in contact with Tiago Valente, and he has read and approved this review.

Valente Electric Piano - review

1988 was the year that I lost my electric piano. The Hohner Pianet T that I had owned since I was 18 was stolen from my home, never to be seen again.
As a life-long electric piano enthusiast, I recently decided, at the ripe old age of 61 to right this wrong. For the first time in four decades, no fewer than three companies are once again making electromechanical pianos, and I wanted one before it was too late.

Three contenders
The three manufacturers are Vintage Vibe, based in New Jersey, the newly relaunched Rhodes company in Leeds, England, and Valente, a small operation in Brazil.

Vintage Vibe, founded by Chris Carroll, has been selling spare parts and restoring vintage keyboards for decades, and now makes a range of Rhodes-style "Tine Pianos", available with optional brightly coloured fibreglass tops and Wurlitzer-style chrome legs. Their instruments start at about £5000 for a 64-key Classic with a black ABS top.

Rhodes Music Group was founded by veteran keyboardist Dan Goldman to perpetuate the legacy of inventor and music educator Harold Rhodes. Their Rhodes Mk 8 is a 21st-century extrapolation of the 1970s Fender Rhodes Mk 1 Stage Piano, featuring an advanced preamp and optional effects. Prices start at £7795, with a lead time of 10 months.

Valente is a small company headed by piano-luthier Tiago Valente. He was intrigued by a series of home-grown Brazilian electric pianos made during the 1980s by Clomildo Suette. Studying the Wurlitzer-like Suette piano and talking to its inventor led Valente to develop his own improved design. The Valente electric piano has 61 keys (lacking the three lowest notes, A, B flat and B found on a Wurlitzer) and costs £3000 plus shipping and tax, from its US-based worldwide distributor, Key Magic Inc.

[Note - Key Magic Inc no longer distributes Valente pianos. I was very fortunate to get mine while they were still available from them. If you are interested in ordering a Valente piano, contact Tiago Valente directly - he is a member of this forum.]

Reasons to choose
I chose the Valente piano for a number of reasons. Apart from being the least expensive option by a considerable amount, it was available to ship immediately, and above all, it was reed- rather than tine-based – I have always favoured the Wurlitzer/Pianet sound over that of the Rhodes. I had discussed the merits of the instruments on line with the creators of all three. I am pleased to report that there isn't an inkling of animosity between them!

Buying the piano
I ordered my Valente on line, taking advantage of a $300 discount voucher which I had claimed earlier – this cancelled out the worldwide shipping charge, though I would still be liable for import duty and my country's value-added tax.

And within 5 days it arrived, via UPS, very professionally packaged in a double-layer cardboard box with a few custom polystyrene mouldings to hold it in place. Compared with an electronic keyboard of similar proportions, it's no lightweight, but at 18 kg (40 pounds) it is the same weight as my old Pianet T, and lighter than the 88-key Studiologic MIDI controller that I owned in the late 1990s.

On opening the outer box, I was confronted with a QR code directing me to an unpacking video, presented by Mr Valente himself. Tiago demonstrates how to remove the piano from its packaging, attach (and detach) the sustain pedal, connect it to an amplifier, and operate the two simple controls.

No stand is provided, or indeed available from the distributor, though provision is made to specifically accommodate Korg's SV-series stands if desired. I bought a Stagg table stand, half the price of the Korg, but of course not designed to be attached to the piano. It works just fine and is very stable and secure.

So here it is, sitting on its stand. The sustain pedal is attached by an adjustable rod via a keyhole-shaped slot on top of the pedal housing and another under the rear of the piano, offset somewhat towards the treble end. A sliding sleeve and an adjustment screw with a lever attached lets you set the length of the rod. With the stand set low enough for the piano to be played while seated on a standard dining chair, I found that the screw was very near the pedal. I informed Tiago, who will be sending me a specially shortened sleeve.

First impressions
The Valente's physical design is simple, retro and minimalist. It doesn't directly refer visually to either of its iconic predecessors, the Fender Rhodes and the Wurlitzer, yet it is unmistakably an electric piano rather than a synth, organ or electronic keyboard.

Sandwiched between two sculptured end-panels made from satin-finished reddish-brown Andiroba wood (a non-endangered local hardwood) each bearing an engraved Valente logo, the body of the piano has a curved top sloping gently up at the rear before bending sharply down towards the keys. The top is covered in textured black Tolex, and bears a pair of white Valente logos front and rear, 3d-printed from plastic. The logo has a 1950s look to it; the type of geometrical script often associated with classic sports cars, which Tiago has acknowledged as an influence on the piano's design.

A plain matt-black end-block is placed at either end of the 61-note, C-to-C keyboard. The bass-end block bears a 6.35mm (¼") mono output jack and two plastic knobs, mounted on an oddly Art-Deco-esque chrome plate with white graphics. The upper knob, with white ticks surrounding it, is the Brilliance control, while the lower one, with a white ramp curving round it, is Volume, intriguingly also handling Bass. Below the keys, the Tolex continues, disappearing in a curve under the front of the piano.

Pedal point
The sustain pedal is loosely modelled on Wurlitzer's – it has a long metal footplate topped with strips of rubber. The pedal housing is a black Tolex-covered fibreglass shell, with a streamlined form that resembles the profile of the piano itself.

Projecting from the front of the housing is the pedal itself, surprisingly made not from shiny metal, but from the same satin-finished Andiroba wood as the piano's side panels. Time will tell how robust and hard-wearing this component will prove to be.

What's inside?
The Valente piano is completely passive, like a vintage Rhodes Stage Piano or my old Pianet T. Internally, it has 61 tuned high-carbon steel reeds, each with its own neodymium magnetic pickup. The pickups are apparently humbucking; whether this is per pickup or the whole configuration is not clear, but no noise or hum is present.

The controls, as mentioned before, comprise a Brilliance knob (simple treble-cut) and a volume/bass knob, which is a logarithmic pot with a "treble-bleed" capacitor so that reducing the volume doesn't result in a decrease in high end.

Like a guitar, you need to experiment with both the instrument and amp controls to get a wider range of tones and responses – full volume and tone is only one possible setting, and if you find the sound a bit muddy for example, you can turn down the piano and turn up the amp.

Plug and play
I borrowed a small Fender valve guitar amp from my guitarist elder son, and plugged in.

The Valente's action is a bit odd. It's adapted from a hammer-action digital piano keybed made by FATAR, so it feels superficially like an acoustic piano, but the dummy hammers in this case activate levers leading to downward-acting micro-hammers that actually hit the reeds.

I was told by various sources (including Tiago himself)  that the action was "stiff". I wouldn't use that description – it isn't heavy, sluggish or sticky. It requires a firm and positive touch to get a note to sound, but above that minimum level it has a good dynamic range, from smooth and vibes-like to a nice Wurly-style bark. At very high velocities, the notes "choke" like on a Rhodes, but unlike a Rhodes or a Wurly, the hammer excursion is short, so there is little chance of damaging the reeds.

My verdict is that it takes a bit of getting used to, but is very playable and actually helps encourage a more disciplined touch.

It's all about the sound
My initial impression of the unprocessed sound was that it was very similar to, but not entirely like a Wurlitzer. Shorter sustain than a Rhodes, though the upper two octaves have quite a bell-like tone, reminiscent of a pre-1970s silver-top. The lower octaves when played medium-hard have the hollow honk of a Wurly, along with a touch of a Pianet N's snarl – this piano is not for those who tend towards the smooth tones of a Dyno Rhodes, never mind a DX-7!

My son helpfully lent me his collection of stompboxes, and together we tried the Valente through each of them. Obviously the TC Electronic tremolo pushed the sound even further into Wurly territory, but an EHX wah pedal summoned up classic funk and psychedelic tones, while even an overdrive pedal gave musically useable results. At one point, Key Magic had an offer which included a free Tech 21 Fly Rig multi-effect unit, and it's not surprising – this piano was made to be put through guitar effects.

The biggest surprise was putting the Valente through a chorus pedal. Common wisdom is that a Wurly with chorus equals Supertramp. Well, the Valente isn't a Wurly anyway, but the result in this case is a big, warm Rhodes-like sound, great for '70s-style ballads such as "Still Crazy". I dare say you could also turn the chorus depth down and do a convincing "Logical Song" though.

So, while you probably won't hear this piano being used to play smooth jazz, it has a tone that could fit in with genres from country to funk, and from hard-bop to Trip-Hop.

Feel the noise
Even unplugged, the Valente piano makes a considerable amount of acoustic sound when played – you can hear the actual pitch of the reeds from low-mid upwards, the clunks and clanks of the action parts as you press the keys, and the sound of the sustain pedal mechanism.

Some of this noise gets through to the pickups. It can be minimised by turning down the Brilliance control, but for anyone who has played a real Wurly, Rhodes or Pianet, there is a nostalgic thrill from the physical vibrations that you feel through the keys.

Hold down the sustain pedal and the instrument almost quivers under your fingers. You don't get that sensation with digital keyboards unless they have built-in speakers and dedicated noise samples.

Summary:
If you definitely want a real, brand-new electromechanical piano, this is the most affordable current option by a considerable amount. If only a vintage Wurlitzer will do, a fully restored 200 or 200A will probably set you back at least the same amount, and while you might find an unrestored example for considerably less, it is likely to be a costly project to make it mechanically and electrically reliable.

Pros:
·        Least expensive new electromechanical piano on the market
·        Lighter and more portable than any of its rivals
·        Action designed to minimise risk of reed breakage
·        Sound is close to that of a vintage Wurlitzer
·        Passive circuitry is practically noise-free
·        Looks retro without being gimmicky

Cons:
·        Import duty and tax (VAT) increases the basic cost by £600+
·        Keyboard action takes a bit of getting used to
·        Legs or stand not included
·        No demo units outside the USA
·        Controls are quite subtle
·        Limited range – 61 notes C-C
·        Top is curved – not suitable for stacking.

Alternatives:
I have already mentioned both of the other products in this very specialised category; the Vintage Vibe Tine Piano and the Rhodes Mk 8.
If you want something that not only sounds like a vintage electric piano but also feels and looks the part, there are a few more affordable (and arguably more versatile) digital options.
Korg's SV series were among the first vintage-style (rather than "slab"-design) digital stage pianos, and the SV2 73 (£1642) adds speakers to the retro design and acclaimed sampled sounds. Stand not included.
Crumar's Seven and Seventeen are digital stage pianos styled like a vintage Rhodes and (more vaguely) a Wurlitzer respectively. complete with Tolex cases. They retail at £1699 (Seven, including legs) and £1155 (Seventeen, legs extra).
Viscount's Legend '70s series starts at £1649 for the 73-note Compact model. Styled after the Rhodes Stage piano, it features actual modules that can be added, such as a Clavinet panel with all the controls of a real D6. The stand is not included.
Apparently discontinued, but in the same category is Waldorf's Zarenbourg, a physical-modelled stage piano with built-in speakers and a vintage-influenced design.
"Communication is everything"

Alan Lenhoff

Simon:

I enjoyed your very thorough review, and I loved the sound of the piano. Thanks for sharing this!

Alan
Co-author, "Classic Keys: Keyboard Sounds That Launched Rock Music"

Learn about the book: http://www.classickeysbook.com/
Find it on Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1574417762/

1965 UK Vox Continental;1967 Gibson G101 organ; 1954 Hammond B2; Leslie 21H; Leslie 31H; 1974 Rhodes Mark I Stage 73; 1972 Rhodes Sparkletop Piano Bass; 1978 Hohner Clavinet D6; 1968 Hohner Pianet N II; 1966 Wurlitzer 140B; 1980 Moog Minimoog Model D; 1983 Roland JX-3P; 1977 Fender Twin Reverb; 1983 Roland JX-3P synth; Vox AC30CC2X amp.
(See the collection: https://vintagerockkeyboards.com/ )

icelander

#4
Thanks so much for this excellent and informative review! It really sounds fantastic in your demo video. The Valente seems to be the only currently made mechanical electric piano that actually sounds close to a Wurlitzer in the lower register ("hollow honk" is a good descriptor).

So it appears any tuning adjustments would be similar to a Wurlie, adding/removing from a solder blob on the ends of the reeds?

Great write-up and congrats on your Valente. This thing has me doing some serious consideration.

Jenzz

Rhodes tech in Germany
www.tasteundtechnik.de
www.spontaneousstorytelling.net

VintageVibe 64 ACL + DOD FX25B, Tone City Sweet Cream, EHX SmallStone, Mooer e-Lady

Adams Solist 3.1 Vibraphone

In the Past:
Stage 73 Mk1 (1977)
Stage 88 Mk1 (1975)
Stage 73 Mk2 (1980)
Stage 73 Mk2 (1981 - plastic)
Suitcase 73 Mk1 (1973)
Suitcase 73 Mk1 (1978)