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Re-Tolexing Your Rhodes

If you're like most of us, your Rhodes was pretty beaten and road-worn when you bought it. A major symptom of this condition is that the tolex (i.e. black covering) is peeling off of the piano. Some people choose to remove the tolex and sand the wood, giving it a "natural" look, while others prefer a more flamboyant covering (such as "muppet fur"). But if you want to restore the original black beauty of your Fender Rhodes, it's easy to do. John Della Vecchia explains how to replace the tolex yourself:

Removing the tolex is not that difficult at all...just pull it off. But try not to rip the tolex: get it off in one piece so you have a "pattern" to work from when measuring to cut the new tolex. Purchase enough tolex so you have a few inches of play on all sides, to compensate for mistakes. There will be a lot of residue left behind (including glue), so sanding might be necessary. Be sure to tack off any wood particles after sanding, so the glue and tolex have a nice clean surface to bond with. I use Elmer's Neoprene-based Contact Cement, an even layer on both the wood and tolex. Smooth out as many of the air bubbles as you can while the cement is still wet. You will find that the tolex shrinks to form over a period of a few days.

The job is actually not that difficult. I have done 3 or 4 re-tolex jobs and they never take me more than 3-4 hours. I figured my road-worn Clav would be a similarly easy job, but I was way off. I went through 3 yards of tolex before I got it right...all the corners were hell.

Steve Woodyard comments on Harold Rhodes and his opinions on tolex:

Harold always felt the piano needed improving, and that his final goals for its sound and feel were never reached. As a piano teacher and a designer, he was always pleasantly amazed at how people loved the sound of the Rhodes, despite the need for improvement. He was the consummate inventor. If Harold were still with us, he would enjoy all the emails over whether or not to tear the covering off or leave it on. As a tried-and-true cost-effective material, tolex has long proved itself. Fender had mountains of it, so it was used. Harold did like the concept of a walnut cabinet, and therefore home models were made. But they were costly and did not sell well.

There was a well-known jazz player who Harold visited one time. Harold sat down and played this gentleman's Rhodes and was startled by how clanky it sounded. He was about to re-adjust it when the player, in total fear of the loss of his desired sound, stopped Harold. He explained to Harold that although the piano sounded harsh through the Rhodes amp, after the sound was processed through the control boards during recording, it sounded wonderful. At that point, Harold decided that if you are happy with your instrument regardless of how it looks or sounds, he would be happy. The moral of the story: original is better from a collector's point of view, but for just a player, whatever works is OK.