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JPJ at his Fender Rhodes Suitcase

For many loud rock bands in the 1970s, using an acoustic piano was a difficult problem. It was heavy, had a tendency to go out of tune, and was difficult to amplify without feedback. Back then, the most reliable touring piano sound was obtained with a Fender Rhodes electric piano. While the Fender Rhodes sounded more like bells or a celeste than a stringed piano, it was easy to amplify, and easy to move. It also had weighted keys that respond similarly to a real piano, and it had a sustain pedal, which the Hohner Pianet did not. The Fender Rhodes became the classic live piano instrument for Led Zeppelin on the 1971 tour, and would remain in the backline until 1978. The sight of John Paul Jones behind his Rhodes became a very familiar sight to Led Zeppelin fans.

Different versions of the Rhodes piano were used on Zeppelin's tours. The Rhodes 73 Suitcase model has 73 keys and the "Suitcase" is the large box that sits below the keyboard. This box contains two amplifiers, and two pairs of speakers. Unfortunately, the built-in amplifier is not very loud, and the keyboards must be run to larger amplifiers. The Rhodes Suitcase was used on the early Led Zeppelin tours from 1971 to 1973, often with a covering showing Jones' famous rune/symbol over the speaker box. (See photo below)

In 1973, the "Suitcase" model was replaced by a Stage 73 model -- a similar piano, but with no speaker box. Instead, it had chrome legs to support it. It was fed to two 1960's Fender Dual Showman amplifiers so it could be as loud as the guitar amps. The Stage 73 is the Rhodes seen on the famous "No Quarter" portion of The Song Remains The Same film. The Rhodes Stage 73 model was used on the 1973 and 1975 tours. For the 1977 tour, a third Rhodes model was used -- the larger Stage 88. It too had chrome legs for a stand, but had a full-length keyboard with 88 notes (the same number of keys as a standard piano). Jones had the Rhodes pickup modified to make it less mellow and heavy. He preferred a sound that was sharper and "a bit harder." For this tour, the Rhodes (and other keyboards) were run to a small mixer made by the Mavis company of England. From there, they were fed to the house system and his personal monitors (Showco C4 cabinets).

The Maestro Phaser

The "No Quarter" effect secret: To create the swirling "underwater" sound of "No Quarter" in concert, JPJ fed the Rhodes through a Maestro phase shifter. This phaser, the PS-1A, was a simple, but large pedal effect. It was developed by Tom Oberheim of Oberheim Electronics, who later produced the famous Oberheim synthesizers. The three colorful switches turn the phaser on and off, as well as selecting one of three preset cycle speeds. During live concerts, Jones placed it on top of the keyboard, where it could be operated by hand. He preferred to play both keyboards and bass with no effects, but needed the Maestro to recreate the mysterious piano sound of the album. Jones reminisced, "[The Maestro was] gloriously simple to work, with just three positions. That's how I like it. Who wants to sit there programming something for half the night?"

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