Wurlitzer pianos are steeped in a rich history that intertwines with the fabric of American music culture.
Established in 1853 by Franz Rudolph Wurlitzer, the company initially burgeoned in Cincinnati, Ohio, where it captured the hearts of musicians with its finely crafted pianos. Over the years, Wurlitzer expanded its reach and became synonymous with quality musical instruments, not just pianos but organs, jukeboxes, and more. It solidified its reputation as a reliable and sought-after brand among professional musicians and household enthusiasts.
I’ve recorded some of the most inspiring and unique piano tones at studios that had Wurlitzer pianos! It gets me excited every time when a music production or film score project comes along that could use some Wurlitzer magic.
The evolution of Wurlitzer pianos mirrors the music industry’s transformation, with the company adapting to changing tastes and technologies. From grand pianos that graced concert halls to the spinets and consoles that found their place in family living rooms, Wurlitzer has offered a range of instruments to suit every need and skill level. Its venture into electric pianos further showcases Wurlitzer’s commitment to innovation, providing artists with new textures of sound to explore and integrate into their performances.
The History of the Wurlitzer Piano Company
Wurlitzer’s story is a journey of innovation, expansion, and music that has left an indelible mark on the American soundscape. Your appreciation for this historic brand will grow as you learn about its origins, growth into an empire, and evolution through the 20th century.
Franz Rudolph Wurlitzer and Origins
In 1856, Franz Rudolph Wurlitzer started a business in Cincinnati, Ohio, that would become one of the oldest names in the American music industry. Initially, Wurlitzer imported musical instruments from his homeland, Germany, to sell in the United States. However, his vision expanded, and the Wurlitzer name soon became synonymous with high-quality instruments.
Expansion and Empire
The turn of the century marked a significant expansion for Wurlitzer. Under the direction of Franz Rudolph Wurlitzer‘s son, Frank Rudolph Wurlitzer, the company began manufacturing pianos. They saw the need for louder instruments to match the booming entertainment venues of the late 19th and early 20th century. This innovation positioned them to supply instruments during the Spanish-American War. After acquiring the Melville Clark line of pianos, Wurlitzer continued to diversify their offerings, including the creation of the original jukebox, which would become an iconic fixture in American culture.
Wurlitzer in the 20th Century
The 20th-century story of Wurlitzer is one of adapting to changing times. The company thrived by inventing new products like the jukebox and electric pianos, catering to the evolving musical tastes throughout the decades. Wurlitzer pianos were not just instruments but also design pieces that reflected the styles from the turn of the century to the modern aesthetics of cities like New York and De Kalb, where their influence was especially felt. The Wurlitzer legacy carried on, making music more accessible and enjoyable for all.
Wurlitzer Piano Models
Wurlitzer pianos come in a variety of models to fit different musical needs and spaces. Whether you seek the imposing grandeur of a concert grand or the compact charm of an upright or spinet, you’ll find a Wurlitzer model that resonates with your space and musical preference.
Notable Grand Pianos
With their expansive soundboards and longer strings, Wurlitzer Grand Pianos offer a full-bodied and resonant tone. While various models have been crafted, the Wurlitzer Baby Grand is popular for its balance of size and musical quality, fitting gracefully into smaller spaces while delivering robust sound.
Upright Pianos and Spinet Series
Your choices for upright models are diverse. The Wurlitzer Upright Piano stands out for its durability and quality sound in a more vertical, space-saving design. For those with more limited space, Wurlitzer’s Spinet Series pianos, which are smaller in height, still provide a wonderfully rich tone.
Electric and Electronic Models
For a modern twist on piano manufacturing, Wurlitzer’s Electric Pianos are a historic favorite. Known for their unique, bell-like tones and portability, models like the iconic Wurlitzer 200 series were a staple in many 1960s and 70s hits. These instruments often sport a compact design and are beloved for studio and stage use.
Player Pianos and Band Organs
If you’re captivated by the charm of self-playing instruments, Wurlitzer’s Player Pianos might capture your heart with their automated melodies. Similarly, the Band Organs, once the centerpiece of fairgrounds and carousels, represent Wurlitzer’s commitment to entertainment through mechanical musical marvels.
The Mighty Wurlitzers
Reserved for the largest and most complex organs, the Mighty Wurlitzers were a paramount achievement of the Wurlitzer catalog. Not confined to private use, these organs, packed with an orchestra’s worth of pipes and percussion instruments, were often installed in theatres and public spaces, filling them with majestic sound.
The Wurlitzer Baby Grand
Compact yet powerful, the Wurlitzer Baby Grand is the epitome of the brand’s craftsmanship. This particular model provides the elegance of a grand piano in a much more suitable size for smaller venues or living rooms without compromising on the authentic, resonant tone Wurlitzer is known for.
Manufacturing and Quality
In your exploration of Wurlitzer pianos, you’ll discover a blend of traditional craftsmanship and innovative design. This section delves into the intricacies of their manufacturing processes, the innovation behind their piano designs, and the significance of model and serial numbers in identifying instruments.
Piano Manufacturing Processes
Wurlitzer has a storied place in the piano manufacturing industry, with a reputation for quality that aligns it with top-tier brands. The manufacturing of Wurlitzer pianos involves meticulous processes to ensure musical excellence. Traditionally, high-quality materials have been selected for components such as soundboards, keys, and strings, all assembled by skilled craftsmen.
Innovation in Piano Design
Wurlitzer is known for incorporating unique features into its piano designs. For instance, some models include a pentagonal soundboard, a notable innovation to enhance sound quality. Additionally, the use of tone-crafted hammers contributed to the rich tonal character of their pianos. This ingenuity in design has made Wurlitzer pianos aesthetically distinctive and musically esteemed.
Model and Serial Numbers
Understanding Wurlitzer’s model and serial numbers is key to identifying the piano that’s right for you. Each piano has its own model number—such as the 100 series (110, 111, 112, 112A, and 120) and the 140 series—which often indicates the type of technology used, such as vacuum tube circuitry or solid-state components. The serial number, a unique identifier found on each Wurlitzer piano, allows you to trace its manufacturing history and authenticity.
|110, 111, …
|Vacuum tube circuitry, tremolo
|140, 145, …
|First solid-state variations
The Wurlitzer Legacy
The Wurlitzer legacy reveals a history deeply interwoven with music and culture, showcasing a brand that has become synonymous with quality sound and an enduring presence in the industry.
Impact on Music and Culture
The Wurlitzer Company began as a significant force in piano manufacturing, earning a reputation as an empire in the realm of music. These instruments quickly became an important piece of the fabric of the music industry, especially with professional musicians who appreciated the natural piano tone Wurlitzer offered. With innovations like theater organs, the company played a crucial role during the silent film era, offering evocative soundtracks that brought films to life before the advent of synchronized sound.
Even today, the name Wurlitzer resonates as one of the most well-known names in music. This bestows upon it the title of one of the best names in the industry. Their pianos and keyboards carry a legacy of quality, which generations of musicians and music enthusiasts have recognized and cherished. Wurlitzer’s commitment to quality and its unique contributions to music, from the grand sounds of their theater organs to the iconic jukeboxes that shaped an era, have ensured its popularity and relevance remain strong.
Through these contributions, Wurlitzer hasn’t just created instruments; it has crafted an enduring legacy that continues to tune the heartstrings of musical history.
Artists and Performances
Famous Wurlitzer Performers
- Ray Charles: A pioneer in soul music, Ray Charles brought the Wurlitzer to the forefront of many of his arrangements, giving soul music a new and unique sound.
- Joni Mitchell: Joni Mitchell’s inventive songwriting and performance styles were complemented by the expressive quality of the Wurlitzer piano on some of her famous tracks.
- Elton John: With his flamboyant performances, Elton John often included the Wurlitzer in his ensemble, adding a layer of distinctive timbre to his hit songs.
- Norah Jones: The smooth and enticing sounds of Norah Jones’ music have often been enhanced by the warm tones of the Wurlitzer, contributing to her soothing style.
- Pink Floyd: Known for their conceptual and sonic experimentation, Pink Floyd utilized the Wurlitzer to add a distinctive color to their soundscape.
Iconic Records and Concerts
- Elton John’s “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”: This song features the Wurlitzer’s signature sound that complements Elton’s vocals and melodies.
- Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”: The album makes use of the Wurlitzer, notably on the track “Money,” adding a unique character to the band’s progressive rock flair.
- Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why”: The Grammy Award-winning song is graced by gentle Wurlitzer accents that pair beautifully with Jones’ voice.
- Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me”: This track from her critically acclaimed album “Court and Spark” includes the melodic use of the Wurlitzer, showcasing its versatility.
When you own a Wurlitzer piano, you’re not just getting a musical instrument but investing in a slice of history known for its quality and sound. Here’s what you need to know about maintaining your Wurlitzer and what kinds of warranties and guarantees you might expect.
Maintenance and Service
Whether in good condition or excellent condition, your Wurlitzer piano will require regular maintenance to ensure it remains in optimal playing condition. Service fees can vary, but consider enlisting a certified piano technician familiar with Wurlitzer pianos. You might encounter the following:
- Tuning: Regular tuning is essential, typically twice a year.
- Cleaning: Inside and out to prevent dust accumulation.
- Repairs: Address any mechanical issues promptly to avoid further damage.
If your piano requires more than basic care, you may benefit from additional service plans that offer peace of mind and can cover unexpected repairs.
Warranties and Guarantees
Purchasing a Wurlitzer often comes with a limited warranty, such as a 90-day full-service warranty, assuring you that the piano will perform as expected, free from defects. For added protection, consider:
- Extended Warranty Plans: These provide longer-term coverage.
- Complete Package: When buying your piano, check if it includes a piano bench, and inquire about any service department benefits if purchased from an industry leader.
- Transferable Warranties: These can be beneficial if you sell your Wurlitzer.
In short, your Wurlitzer piano can be the piano of your dreams with the right care and coverage.
Purchasing and Resale
Buying a New or Used Wurlitzer
When you’re in the market for a Wurlitzer, you have the choice between new and vintage models. New Wurlitzer pianos are known for their reliability and the latest manufacturing standards, potentially including service promotions at the time of purchase. On the other hand, used Wurlitzer pianos can offer a more economical choice with a range of prices depending on their condition and age. It’s good to remember that Wurlitzer, a commonly heard name in the piano market, was part of the Baldwin Piano Company until production ended.
- Where to buy:
- Authorized piano retailers or music stores
- Online marketplaces like eBay or PianoMart
- Local classified ads or estate sales
Assessing Value and Quality
The piano’s condition is your primary concern when assessing a Wurlitzer’s value and quality. Factors such as the piano’s age, wear, and whether it has been maintained or restored play significant roles in determining its worth. For vintage models that can be a century old, like those contemporaries of Julius Bauer or Mason & Hamlin, the value often hinges on the quality of components and craftsmanship. To ensure you’re making a sound investment:
- Examine the piano’s exterior and interior for signs of damage or excessive wear.
- Test all keys and pedals for proper function and listen for consistent sound quality.
- Consider having a professional technician inspect the piano before purchase.
By taking the time to thoroughly evaluate a Wurlitzer piano, whether it’s a new purchase or a vintage find reminiscent of a Vintage Vibe Piano, you can’t go wrong!
Wurlitzer pianos stand as a testament to the excellence of their pianos, blending traditional craftsmanship with innovative designs.
Each model showcases the brand’s commitment to musical innovation, from acoustic pianos that graced concert halls to electric pianos like the iconic Wurlitzer 200 series.
Wurlitzer’s empire of piano manufacturing expanded beyond pianos to include iconic creations like the original jukebox, leaving an indelible mark on American music culture.
Today, Wurlitzer pianos, including the renowned Wurlitzer Baby Grand, continue to captivate with their rich history and enduring legacy.
I definitely recommend you explore the Wurlitzer story—a journey through small towns, practice rooms, and the evolution of mechanical instruments.
Frequently Asked Questions
What factors affect the value of a Wurlitzer piano?
The value of a Wurlitzer piano is influenced by its condition, age, model, and market demand. Restored pianos may hold more value, and rarity can also increase a Wurlitzer’s worth.
How does an electric Wurlitzer piano differ from an acoustic one?
An electric Wurlitzer piano, often referred to as a Wurlitzer electric piano, generates sound electronically, typically using reeds and pickups, while an acoustic Wurlitzer produces sound through hammers striking strings.
What should I look for when buying a used Wurlitzer piano?
Check for the overall condition, including the sound quality and the action’s mechanics. Consider whether any repairs or tuning are needed, as these can affect the total cost.
Can you identify different Wurlitzer piano models?
Different models include uprights, baby grands, and spinets. Identifying features can be found on the nameplate, such as the model number and serial number unique to each piano.
What’s the typical weight range for Wurlitzer pianos?
The weight can vary significantly, from around 300 pounds for spinet pianos to 800 pounds or more for larger baby grand models.
How can you determine the manufacture date of a Wurlitzer piano?
The manufacture date can often be determined by locating the serial number, typically found inside the piano on the harp or near the tuning pins, and comparing it to serial number age charts available online or from piano technicians.