On Modifying a Wurlitzer


Whenever you think about modifying a vintage electronic piano, you should think about two things. Is the mod reversible? And, if not, am I actually improving the keyboard?

A Wurlitzer electronic piano has been around for decades. Clearly, Wurlitzer did something right when they manufactured them, because even after all these years they are still desirable. It is important to avoid performing impulsive mods that will irreversibly change the keyboard. Think it through. Consider whether the mod enhances the function of the keyboard. Consider whether there is a less invasive way to reach the same goal.

We’re not purists. A Wurlitzer is a musical instrument, not a museum piece that should be looked at and never touched. If it requires modification to fulfill its function to the fullest, we completely approve. All we ask is that you measure before you drill new holes, prep your surface before you paint, and keep mint Wurlitzers in original condition.

Examples of Good Mods

  • Using an existing hole for another purpose, such as converting a headphone jack to a potentiometer

  • Discarding hazardous parts, such as anything extremely moldy or infested

  • Painting or refinishing a Wurlitzer that has an extensively damaged or deteriorated finish

  • Modifying an amplifier to reduce noise or add some desirable feature

  • Replacing an amplifier that isn’t working

Examples of Terrible Mods

  • Drilling new holes that are visibly off-center or out of alignment with existing holes

  • Sanding or otherwise modifying the reed bar

  • Painting without making the least attempt to do a good job whatsoever

  • Painting a Wurlitzer that is in mint condition, regardless of what model it is (don’t listen to forum posts from 2008! Wurlitzer electronic pianos in great condition are always valuable)

  • Painting a green 200-series Wurlitzer black

Wurlitzer Mods FAQ

Q: My Wurlitzer is on the terrible mods list! Why are you persecuting me?!

A: Mods are in the eye of the beholder. A terrible mod is terrible because it makes the Wurlitzer less functional/desirable and more likely to end up in a dump somewhere. If your Wurlitzer has a terrible mod and you actually like it and are putting the keyboard to use, then you can consider your mod officially Not Terrible.

Q: I painted my green 200 black and I did a great job. Nobody is ever going to put this thing in a dump!! Why is it on the list!!

A: Ok so that one is on the list because green Wurlitzers are rare and black ones are everywhere. By painting it, you just eliminated a rare and extremely desirable keyboard from the Wurlitzer pool and replaced it with a very, very common one. You could have sold your green Wurlitzer, bought a black one, and ended up with a net profit. But what’s done is done: you can’t un-paint a Wurlitzer. So, at the end of the day, if it makes you happy and helps the keyboard secure a spot in your lineup, it’s a good paint job.

But the next time you see a green Wurlitzer, for the love of God just leave it alone.

Q: Why are you always encouraging people to install replacement amps? Isn’t replacing an original amp a terrible mod?

A: A lot of people are obsessed with original amps. So are we, to an extent. However, an amplifier is only valuable because it is functional, and by “functional” we mean that it makes a musical noise that is capable of being recorded. Otherwise, it’s just some random piece of old electronics. If you disagree, we have a lot of phonograph players, transistor radios, and old TVs to sell you.

If a Wurlitzer’s amp is in terrible condition, it isn’t functional and therefore the keyboard is not valuable. Thankfully, there’s an easy fix that will put the keyboard back on its feet: replace the amp. If you’re used to vintage guitar amps, this may sound appalling. But a Wurlitzer isn’t analogous to a guitar amp, exactly. It’s more like a guitar amp, plus the matching guitar. If you had a nice vintage Strat and always played it with a 1968 Fender Bassman, and one day the Bassman just catastrophically died, what would you do? Would you say, “Well it’s been a good run but I guess that’s it for this Strat,” return the guitar back to its case and shove it in the back of a closet forever? No, you’d buy a new amp - maybe another Bassman, maybe something else - and you’d continue playing the Strat. By the same token, if your Wurlitzer amp is dead or dying, the right move is to replace it in order to keep the keyboard in excellent working condition.

The tone of a Wurlitzer does not lie solely in the amplifier. The reeds and the electrostatic pickup are responsible for a lot of its sound. And the amps, while solidly built, were designed to minimize costs and take up the least physical space possible. Furthermore, standards for an acceptable noise floor were not the same as they are today. Recording techniques were not particularly sensitive until the 1960s, and arguably the first Wurlitzer to really prioritize noise management was the Wurlitzer 200a. In good condition, earlier Wurlitzers can sound reasonably quiet, but most require modification to ensure that noise levels are as low as possible.

So, replacing the amp is a good way to ensure that a Wurlitzer works to the highest degree of reliability. For that reason, we consider it a good mod.

Further Reading

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