Verifying a Wurly Piano is in fact Where It's At
December 22, 2009 12:58 AM   Subscribe

I might be able to purchase a Wurlitzer Electric Piano (looks like a 200A, but with a speaker cabinet supporting it) today for ~$450. This strikes me as a really great deal, and therefore just a bit suspicious. I'm obviously going to try every key (for both sound and feel) and make sure the tremolo knobs are working. What else should I look out for? Are there any potential defects which might not be obvious at first glance? What degree of disrepair should I be willing to accept at this price?

It seems like the biggest issue will be reeds, but based on a cursory googling they seem to be pretty easy to tune (I'm pretty handy with a soldering iron and file). Is this harder than it looks?

Bonus Question: Will I be able to remove the piano from the speaker cabinet, or were some of these made as one big inseparable console?
posted by elektrotechnicus to Technology (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would strongly recommend going to a more appropriate online community. That Wurli could be a beautiful thing…
posted by Magnakai at 2:50 AM on December 22, 2009

Response by poster: Magnakai: I've tried googling, but couldn't find any really. Those that do exist are associated with repair companies and seem to be pretty low traffic.
posted by elektrotechnicus at 2:51 AM on December 22, 2009

I reckon you might find someone to help you in the Sound On Sound forums, it's the sort of stuff they cover in the magazine all the time.
posted by iivix at 3:03 AM on December 22, 2009

I would suggest Gearslutz, the previously mentioned SoS forums (quite possibly your best bet), and the Harmony Central forums. I'm sure there are others too.

(apologies for no links, I'm on my iPhone.)
posted by Magnakai at 4:27 AM on December 22, 2009

posted by sully75 at 5:25 AM on December 22, 2009

As a general rule of thumb, any electronic instrument of that vintage that's never been restored is going to need Lots Of Work. But yeah, you're gonna want to find an expert on that specific model, because they all have their own caveats.
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:06 AM on December 22, 2009

Best answer: is a reasonable place to start.

The thing about Wurlys that gets borked is the reeds. Inside the piano there's all these little reeds, like metal tines, that when struck vibrate in an EM field sorta like a guitar string over a pickup.

The reeds take all the abuse both of the playing and of poor maintenance. If you pop off the top, you can visually inspect the reeds. If the reeds have all kinds of schlock in them and look really beat up, you might need to replace them even if the piano is playing in tune now, or close to it. The reeds are filed or have mass added to them to change the pitch, if this is done sloppily you can get a Wurly to a point where there's no room to tune it any more. Also, the reeds eventually get metal fatigue from all the hammering and fiddling during tuning and start breaking off, or bending in a such a way that they don't want to bend back right. There's a pretty big chance though that this is where the Wurly will become a money pit.

Other things you will notice on old Wurlis:
- A lot of them have electrical problems, like one of the outputs doesn't work or is noisy. This is no big deal, very easy to fix.
- Trem breaks a lot
- Stuck keys are common, as are 'uneven' keys, like a key that doesn't float all the way back up, or doesn't go down the same depth. Usually this is a pretty easy fix.

At this price, if the thing makes noise when you hit more or less every key, I'd buy it.
posted by jeb at 6:45 AM on December 22, 2009

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