Techniques for Recording a Wurlitzer Electronic Keyboard

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The Wurlitzer electronic keyboard was first commercially released by Wurlitzer in 1955 as a convenient (and potentially silent) tool to practice and study piano.  But, almost immediately after its release, the instrument was discovered by professional musical talent such as Ray Charles and found its way to stages and recording studios. Because of the instrument’s unmistakably unique and warm tone and numerous practical advantages, it was a solid choice for recording artists from the very beginning. 

Over the Wurlitzer electronic piano’s three decades of production, audio amplification technology went through some major changes. These changes can be clearly traced in the Wurlitzer amps.  However, when it comes to utilizing the varying technologies deployed in these amps for recording purposes, it is good to know what you are working with. 

MICING THE SPEAKER

As a rule, micing the speakers of a Wurlitzer is always a great way to go.  Most models up until the mid-1970s featured a robust alnico speaker which, if still in serviceable condition, reproduces rich sound.  Even the ceramic speakers used in the mid 70s, such as those found on the 200a, are mic-able. Because the 200a speakers are mounted directly on the plastic lid, they have a unique, quirky timbre all of their own.  When mic-ing a Wurlitzer speaker, use the same close area dynamic mic approach that you would with a guitar amp.  An inch away, off-center and at a slight angle will do nicely. Reposition the mic until you find the sweet spot.  If you prefer a wider tonal spectrum, select a small or large diaphragm condenser mic.  We have even had success using a ribbon mic which gave an expected softer and darker tonal quality.  

It should be noted that all Wurlitzers are equipped with an electrostatic pickup, which functions very similarly to a condenser microphone.  The tonal range it can capture is impressive and wide-spanning.  Couple that with a quality amplifier and a speaker that typically measures 6” or more and you have a wide palette of frequencies that you can and will pick up with a microphone. This leaves a lot of tone options when selecting a mic.  

Recording With a Direct Output

Another completely acceptable way to record from any amplified signal is to utilize a direct output.  Whether you can or cannot do this with your Wurlitzer will come down to it’s model and circuit design.  To help clarify this we have a chart below showing which models have what type of output.  

Firstly, only the 200 series Wurlitzers are equipped with a usable 1/4” auxiliary output jack.  (The 112 has an output marked ‘Auxilary’ but it is an obsolete jack size smaller than 1/4”.  If an actual 1/4” jack were wired into that spot the circuitry would function as a usable aux output.[1]  However, it is worth noting that a 60 year old amp should be inspected and serviced before plugging it into any valuable modern equipment.)   If you plan to use your 1/4” auxiliary outputs from your 200 series Wurlitzer, you are good to go.  The 200A has a trim pot on the bottom near the Aux jack that will control the volume.  We have had great results going directly into our console and using some plugins to do some shaping.  

For all of the Wurlitzer models that do not have an Aux output, all is not lost for recording directly.   Any speaker output jack can be turned into a direct out signal using a product called a load box. A load box accepts a 1/4” cable from your amps speaker output jack and actively splits the signal to a direct line level output.  A load box is able to use a speaker output because it safely replicates the speaker load the amplifier needs in order to safely run. 

We have had great success using the Mesa Cab Clone ($299) to transparently capture the signal source’s natural tone.  There are many other similar load boxes available including the Mini RockRec by Rivera ($399) and even the Universal Audio Ox Box ($1299), which offers a few more tone shaping features.  To be clear, you cannot directly connect a Wurlitzer’s speaker output to any line level input, so for cases where you much prefer - or need - a direct connection for signal routing, a load box is your solution. 

Here is a chart of the most common Wurlitzer models and their available audio sources.

 
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[1] A Wurlitzer 112/112A actually has quite a robust tube amplifier featuring a control panel (located on the left side of the instrument) with several obsolete inputs and output ripe for modifying. One of favorite mods is to install an effects loop on a 112, rewiring the ‘Aux Output’ as a ‘Send’, the ‘Record Input’ as a ‘Return’, and the ‘Record Volume’ pot as a ‘Send Level’.   This gives you a usable Aux out and an effects loop without having to drill a single hole. 


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