From the Archives: Wurlitzer 203


The 203 is, objectively, one of the best models of Wurlitzer ever made. It has four speakers - 8” speakers!, but still, this is as close as Wurlitzer ever got to the classic 70s stack. When you play it at high volumes, it envelops you in sound like a really nice acoustic piano. The bass response is excellent. The two front speakers are pointed at you, for monitoring purposes. The two back speakers are pointed away, for filling the room. It’s just perfection.

I don’t care about four speakers I only record Wurlitzer direct anyway. We hear this relatively often (typically from people who have never actually played a 200-series console). This is like saying, oh, I don’t need to see a beautiful sunset in person, because I can google one anytime. It’s just the wrong attitude.

Everyone that plays a Wurlitzer 203 completely falls in love with it. It’s exactly like a 200, except to the highest extent. It fills the room. It has more depth of sound. Of course, the comparison is hardly fair. A 200 has tiny oval speakers, while a 203 (we’ve covered this, but it bears repeating) has four round 8” speakers.

The downside, of course, is that a Wurlitzer 203 is big, heavy, and loud. In New York, that’s understandably a dealbreaker for a lot of people. It’s not the kind of Wurlitzer that you can take to shows and carry up and down stairs. That’s not even because it’s particularly heavy. It’s 120 lbs: about the same as a stage Rhodes. The problem is that it doesn’t have any handholds. You can pick it up from the wooden base of the top, with your fingertips, or lift it from the bottom, which isn’t exactly convenient either.

(After a few years, the 203 was joined by the Wurlitzer 203w, a version of the 203 on casters. This certainly made it easier to move it from one part of a room to another, but you’ll still have the same problems if you need to pick it up and carry it anywhere.)

This particular 203 is a gorgeous example. It’s in near-perfect condition, with very few scratches or other cosmetic flaws. When we received it, the only problem was a small amount of fraying at the bottom of the speaker cloth. This is very common in 200-series consoles. When using the sustain pedal, it’s easy to kick the speaker cloth, and over time it starts to tear.

We didn’t want to replace the speaker cloth, because it’s a very unique type with a cozy, thick weave, and we couldn’t find any reproductions that matched. However, upon removing the baffle, we realized that it had a lot of slack. So, we unstapled the original speaker cloth and reapplied it two inches lower. That way, this Wurlitzer can keep its original speaker cloth for at least a little while longer. Or forever? It only depends on how violently its new owner uses sustain.

Here’s some other features of this Wurlitzer:

  • Lots of chrome detailing, including the music rack, legs, pedal, and speaker baffle accent.

  • “No user-serviceable parts inside” sticker - in matching metallic silver - to warn you that just because you can access the interior parts very easily doesn’t mean that you should

  • Mirror-finish faceplate & knobs without dots, indicating an early model

  • Completely equivalent to a portable 200, except with 4 speakers in the console base and none in the top

  • Volume & vibrato

Further Reading

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