Rhodes Chroma/Expander

The Rhodes Chroma is a very special synthesizer, and the flagship of our studio.  Read this article - The Synth That Survived ARP's Fall which documents the history of the instrument's development, in an interview with then-VP of Engineering, Phil Dodds.

With our particular Chroma, this piece has its own history.  

It arrived non-functional in a foam-lined road case which disintegrated onto the instrument.  It needed a power supply to even get going.  Fortunately there is a huge community of Chroma owners at the Rhodes Chroma website, along with technical reference materials and upgrade/replacement parts built and sold by dedicated Rhodes Chroma junkies.  We replaced the power supply with a brand new one, and installed the CC+ upgrade, which in short is a processor upgrade with support for 4 user banks of sounds and native MIDI support.  Once all this was installed, we were able to see what kind of shape the Chroma was really in.  Unfortunately, only 2 of the voice cards were working, and lucky if we were able to get a third going.  After a lot of diagnosing and trial and error, we determined that the actual voice cards were bad, and that it wasn't something else on the board causing the problem.  (There was a problem on the board with one of the channels, which we hired a local tech to come in and fix a blown IC)Around the same time, Tom was looking for a Chroma Expander, which is basically another Chroma that interfaces with the main unit and "expands" the capability of it by increasing the number of voices, patches, etc.  But the bottom line is, they're extremely rare.  Fortunately he was able to scrounge up a non-working unit that was believed to be just a power supply problem.  

So with the Expander now in the studio, we decided to test out its voice cards in the Chroma.  Low and behold, they all worked.  With the Chroma now playable we decided to get the cosmetics worked out.  Tom has always been a fan of exotic woods, and being that the wood panels on the Chroma had been pretty much destroyed, it was ready for a complete overhaul.  We contacted Wes Taggart at Analogics, whom I've had personally repair my Oberheim OB-8 a few years back.  He specializes in woodwork; notably replacement endbells and new enclosures for vintage synthesizers.  He was offering a wood kit for the Chroma in cherry.  Tom wanted something a bit more exotic, so he asked if it were possible to find figured bubinga, which apparently it was.  Wes went ahead and constructed a complete new kit for both the Chroma and Expander, and sent it back to us for installation.

The new wood kit made a huge difference in the appearance of the instrument.  It was like night and day.  With the instrument playable and fully-functional now, it was getting better and better.  

The Chroma is a players keyboard.  It's a bit cumbersome to program, but not impossible by any means.  We're still learning the instrument every time we fire it up.  There are so many things you can do and we haven't even scratched the surface yet.  We recently did another upgrade, with the addition of a pressure sensor bar which allows aftertouch.  It was originally offered when the Chroma was first released but not many people had it factory installed.  Chris Borman developed his Pressure Sensor Kit and offered it on the Rhodes Chroma website. 

















Basically, what happens is the key weights will hit the bar when the key is depressed, and if properly programmed in the synthesizer, it will activate a programmable aftertouch depending on how hard you push the key.  It's a very useful feature, and it does take some time to get used to, but once adjusted correctly (and believe me there was a lot of adjusting) I found it to be essential in getting that little vibrato on the end of the note....


These following demos mark the very first YouTube Rhodes Chroma demos.  Sound quality is perfect with no effects added.  As you can see in the videos, these were shot before the wood kit was installed.  The clips cycle between Tom and I at different stages.  (Hint: white and gray shirt is me, sweatshirt is Tom)