How Many Wurlitzers Should I Have?

This is a decent number of Wurlitzers.

This is a decent number of Wurlitzers.

This may sound crazy, but if you can’t decide which model of Wurlitzer is right for you, you may need two Wurlitzers. All Wurlitzer models have subtle differences between them, from the amp to the reeds to the feel of the keyboard. In some respects, these differences can make two Wurlitzers of different models sound like two totally different instruments. In order to achieve all of the tonal possibilities a Wurlitzer can offer, you may need two Wurlitzers.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Surprisingly often, we’ll hear a customer say to us, “Nobody needs two Wurlitzers! Right?” And, yes, nobody needs two Wurlitzers, in the sense that, no, Wurlitzers are not pictured on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and, sure, nobody ever died from having to use one Wurlitzer. But if you do a lot of recording, or if you have a studio space but also want to gig with a Wurlitzer, or if you write better when you can bounce from instrument to instrument, two Wurlitzers might be the right number for you.


Buying Two Wurlitzers FAQ

Q: It's pretty obvious why you're saying this. You're a Wurlitzer store! Of course you want people to buy as many Wurlitzers as possible.

A: Okay, sure. But we only sell Wurlitzers because we’re a little obsessed with them and we like having them around. If we had slightly different personalities, we’d continue to search them out, but instead of selling them we’d fix them up and then hoard them all in some weird little bunker. (Incidentally, our studio space has occasionally been described as a “weird little bunker,” so it’s not like we don’t have the resources to do this.) But there is a limit to how many Wurlitzers two people can make use of (not that we’ve ever encountered it), and anyway, we do like connecting musicians to their next amazing piece of vintage gear. So, we opened the store instead.

We currently have three Wurlitzers in our personal collection: a 200, a 200a, and a 700. (And we feel that leaves us some holes to fill, and actually we’re thinking about taking this 112 off the market too.) Trust us, we are 100% sincere in our belief that most musicians would benefit from two or more Wurlitzers.

wurlitzer-700-electronic-pianos.jpg

Q: Most guitarists have multiple guitars, and nobody thinks twice about that. Why is having two or more Wurlitzers so controversial?

A: Yes, exactly. Wow, that was a moment of clarity.

Q: If I were to buy two Wurlitzers, what are some great combinations?

A: Because all vintage instruments age differently, every Wurlitzer is different in subtle ways, even from another Wurlitzer of the same model. For that reason, we would argue that any combination of two Wurlitzers is a great combination. But if you wanted to maximize the differences between your two electronic pianos, here are some ideas:

  • One console and one portable model. Keep the console in your studio. Take the portable Wurlitzer to shows. Or, re-enact old Wurlitzer ads from the 1950s and take it to cocktail parties. Would this basically turn you into that-one-guy-who-always-shows-up-at-parties-with-an-acoustic-guitar? I don’t know: are you going to use it to play Wonderwall?

  • One tube and one solid state model. One model for tube warmth. One model for solid state precision.

  • One plastic-top model and one midcentury-mod model. Earlier Wurlitzers had true 1960s styling, with a bent plywood cabinet and Formica-like finishes. Later Wurlitzers have an iconic plastic top. Why choose between two forms of perfection?

  • One with old reeds and one with newer reeds. Reed style is an important factor in a Wurlitzer’s timbre, and it changed a few times over the years. Having one 112 or 120, as well as 140b or 200a, will give you two keyboards with two distinct voices.

  • One with vibrato and one without. All Wurlitzers have a natural shimmer, so although the earliest models don’t have vibrato, we hardly miss it. At the same time, we love vibrato, so it’s good to have a 140- or 200-series Wurlitzer around.

  • One with less speakers and one with more speakers. Models with four 8” speakers have more bass response and, since they fill the room better, provide a more piano-like playing experience. Smaller models with two 4x8” speakers or one 6x9” speakers are of course more portable.

  • One tuned in quarter tone, and one tuned conventionally. Believe it or not, we did encounter someone that tuned their Wurlitzer in quarter tone, so apparently this is also an option.


Examples of Wurlitzers that are great together

Wurlitzer 112 and Wurlitzer 200a. The Wurlitzer 112 is one of the oldest models. The action isn't as smooth as later Wurlitzers, but its tube amp and unique early reeds give it an one-of-a-kind voice. Because this tube amp is overbuilt compared to other Wurlitzer models, it can be modded for an aux out, onboard tremolo, or an fx loop.

On the other hand, the Wurlitzer 200a is the latest model. It's the most reliable, and has a robust aux out circuit that makes it easy to record with. The solid state amp and late reeds also give it a completely different character than the 112.

Having both Wurlitzers will give you one modern, relatively high-performance vintage keyboard, as well as one older instrument with more character, but that also requires a little more TLC.

Suggested variation: For a vintage Wurlitzer that is a little easier to service, but has less potential for amp mods, go with a 120 instead of the 112.

Wurlitzer 145 and Wurlitzer 200. The Wurlitzer 145 and the 200 have the same mechanical action, so they're pretty equivalent in terms of feel and playability. Their tone, however, is much different: the 145 has a warm, bell-like tube amp, while the more precise solid state amp of the 200 helps it achieve that characteristic bark. Earlier models of 145 have different reeds, so its tone is even further that of the 200. Or, choose a later 145a or 145b, which will have the same reeds. This is a convenience if one breaks, because 200-series reeds are more common than any other type.

Suggested variation: The 140/140a/140b is the solid state version of the 145-series. Their solid state amplifier sounds much different from the one in the 200, because they use germanium, not silicon, transistors. Germanium transistors do not work as precisely as their silicon equivalents, so 140 models have a tube-like timbre that sounds like nothing else.

Wurlitzer 120 and Wurlitzer 720. If you prefer your Wurlitzer in an interesting and rare vintage cabinet, a 120 and a 720 could be the perfect pair. The 120 is an early model with a somewhat finicky action but classic tube tone. (This is the model that Ray Charles recorded What’d I Say with.) It’s slightly narrower and lighter than the 112, but has a similar midcentury look.

On the other hand, the 720 is a later model in a large wooden cabinet that resembles a small spinet piano. Its unique solid state amp uses germanium transistors, giving it a warm, tube-like tone. It's also among the first Wurlitzers with on onboard vibrato. However, the 720’s mechanical action is the same as the 200’s, so its more touch-responsive than the 120 and easier to service.

Suggested variation: The 720a is the rare all-tube version of the 720. Many 720a models also have a 12” speaker, which offers more volume and more bass response.

Wurlitzer 206 and Wurlitzer 210. The Wurlitzer 206 is the student version of the 200. It's often available either mounted on a console, or converted to a portable model on legs. The lid is a distinctive beige color, and while it does have vibrato and an aux output, they must be enabled before use.

The 210 is the opposite: the deluxe, studio version of the 200a. It has four on-board speakers, which give it a fuller sound that surrounds the player: almost like playing an acoustic piano. It has all the features of a 200a, including the more robust aux output circuit.

Suggested variation: The 203 is the four-speaker version of the 200, while the 206a is the student version of the 200a. There's also the 214 (a console 200a which is sometimes available in avocado green) and the 207/207a (the teacher version, which has the same amp plus a lot of lights and switches), not to mention the classic portable 200 and 200a. Any combination of 200-series models is a great combination.

Wurlitzer 112 and Wurlitzer 140b. The 112 is the oldest Wurlitzer, and there are so many interesting and original things about it: the early reeds, the early overbuilt tube amp, the early action mechanical action with suede felts and miniature regulating screws.

But the 140b also has an interesting, early feature: its early solid state amplifier. This amp has a lot of rare vintage features: an ancient circuit board, optical vibrato housed in a tiny golden box, and an output transformer (most solid state circuits are output transformerless). Most importantly, it has germanium power transistors. All of these things contribute to the 140b’s unique sound.

Suggested variation: The 140 and 140a have an even earlier solid state amp, but it's harder to find one in good condition. Some early 140 models have even more unusual features, like an octal socket for a Leslie cabinet, or a primitive midi-like system under the keys.


Further Reading

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