Dyno-My-Piano: The Chuck Monte Story
Once upon a time, there was a guy named Chuck Monte who decided that electric pianos were cool, but they weren't really good enough for professional use. Under the name Dyno-My-Piano, Chuck took stock Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Hohner and Yamaha pianos and customized them extensively, giving them a better sound both in the studio and on stage. The "Dyno Rhodes" grew in popularity with recording artists in the 1970's, and by the 80's its punchy, bell-like sound had practically taken over the Top 40 and R&B airwaves. The list of Dyno clients was a long one that included Joe Zawinul, George Duke, Tom Coster (Santana), Rick James, Russell Ferrante (Yellowjackets) and Larry Dunn (Earth, Wind & Fire).
Dyno-My-Piano started in 1974, with Chuck being the sole proprietor. What began as a method of fine-tuning the piano's tone and action evolved into a much larger operation by the late 70's, involving custom electronics, new hardware and other performance-oriented improvements. Eventually Chuck could not do all the work himself (his clients numbered in the thousands), so he began training Dyno service technicians in seminars across the US. These seminars focused more on understanding the inner workings of the Rhodes than installing hardware: the first step toward producing the Dyno sound was to optimize the harp setup. This process involved moving the pickups as close to the tines as possible, along with adjusting the position of the tines to emphasize the overtones more than the fundamental.
Once these ideal settings were achieved, the Dyno EQ could do its job. The EQ was part of a custom preamp installed in the namerail of the Stage models, replacing the existing Volume and Bass Boost controls. The new preamp had two pairs of concentric knobs, one for Bass Boost and Overtone, the other for Volume and "Normal" (a post-EQ gain control?).
The harp adjustments and custom preamp alone were enough to give you the Dyno sound, but that was just the beginning. Another popular option was the Tri-Stereo Tremolo, an effects unit that was installed on the right-hand side of the namerail. The Tri-Stereo Tremolo was a 3-way panner (left-center-right) with several waveform options (square, sawtooth, sine), taking the Suitcase Vibrato concept to another level. A set of stereo outputs was provided on the front panel, as well as an effects loop (inserted before the tremolo).
And not to be confused with the onboard Tremolo option, the Tri-Stereo Chorus effect was available as an outboard unit, creating a Rhodes sound true to its name. The front panel controls, though, are a little mysterious: 3 knobs for Intensity (the Tri-Chorus?), an overall Rate control, and a pair of buttons with corresponding LED's for "LFO Mode". Perhaps there's an instruction manual out there that could explain it better....
Listen! Dyno Rhodes Mark I with Tri-Stereo Chorus
Setting 1 (MP3, 612K) -
Setting 2 (MP3, 568K) -
Setting 3 (MP3, 848K)
performed by Iver Olav Erstad
piano provided by Jon Furulund of Vintagebua
And then there was the Percussion Pedal, which wasn't really a "pedal" at all. This was a knee lever that was installed on the underside of the piano, allowing the performer to adjust the position of the harp assembly in real time(!). By shifting the harp slightly in relation to the pickups and hammers, a wide range of new tones became available. One Dyno ad from the time compared it to pitched percussion instruments like the kalimba and steel drums.
But one of the most important Dyno products was the Flat Top Conversion Kit, which most Mark I players desperately needed. The idea was fairly simple: take the lid of the Rhodes case and saw it in half. Part of the lid stays on when you setup the piano at the show, providing a flat and sturdy surface for your Clavinet, Minimoog, etc.
Your Rhodes needed that flat top if you had a Clav.
Of course, the problem that arose from placing a keyboard on top of the pickup rail was that the piano now amplified the noise from that keyboard's power supply. The Dyno Shielding Kit was an option that helped in dealing with 60-cycle hum and other sources of interference. By installing a metal shield on the underside of the harp cover or the Dyno flat top, noise that would normally be amplified by the harp was greatly reduced, if not eliminated completely.
In addition to these standard modifications, Chuck was responsible for customizing pianos to suit the needs of individual clients. This ad from 1981 gives you an idea of what was possible:
The Studio Model 4000 is a Rhodes piano that has been modified extensively by Dyno-My-Piano. It has been designed to eliminate the problems that may crop up in using the Rhodes piano in recording and performance situations. The piano includes an interface for connecting to a synthesizer, and onboard capability for running effects loops through the piano. Other features include a patented stereo equalizer, fine-tuned action and tone adjustments, inboard stereo chorus, inboard overdrive circuitry, stereo modulation and keyboard split, tone modulation circuitry which splits the EQ filters into two groups (panning between the two groups to give a wah-wah effect), a musical instrument input switcher that assigns the left and right location of inboard effects to interfaced keyboards, and an AC power distribution system module that remotes the power supply (it also supplies six extra outputs and will put out 110 volts, 240 volts, and 230 volts).
Other things you might have seen on a Rhodes that got the "Full Monte" included a clear plexiglass harp cover, redecorated case (with the tolex stripped off and the wood finished, or maybe a "flame job"), and upgraded speakers for the Suitcase amp. It seemed that there was nothing Chuck wouldn't do to make the piano look and sound better....
As the Rhodes reached the end of its life in the mid-1980's, so did Dyno-My-Piano. Although Tom Coster and others still perform with theirs, it's not worthwhile to try to buy a used Dyno Rhodes if what you're looking for is the Dyno sound. As former Dyno tech James Page explains: "...if you do find one of our pianos, chances are that by now everything is probably out of adjustment, and if it has an EQ, it's only going to be amplifying an out-of-adjustment harp. So it is unfair to judge that 'Dyno' sound by an instrument that probably hasn't been serviced by a Dyno tech in 20 years."