By Maxwell Butler
We’ve completed an astonishingly beautiful, custom Wurlitzer 140B piano build here at our humble shop. It’s done in a black and zebra wood finish with brass hardware, and has been completely restored cosmetically, mechanically, and electronically. We’ve added our signature VariVibe for that achingly gorgeous vibrato with variable speed, something you never got on an original Wurlitzer. As Master Ken would put it, it’s off-the-charts-stupid good. See it here.
Ask most players what the classic Wurlitzer electric piano is, and the reply will usually be the 200A. This was the most popular model back when these instruments were in production, as they improved on noise floor issues that earlier models were susceptible to. But I liken the 200A to a Ford F150. Ubiquitous, reliable, a steadfast workhorse. Good, but not a truly special thing. For a really magical experience, you need to drive an XKE; you need to play a 140B.
You may not know its name, but you know its sound. Its greatest hit was Spooner Oldham’s serendipitous ostinato in Aretha Franklin’s 1967 “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Loved You).” Though noticeably, and perhaps iconically, out of tune on that cut, the unique vibe of the piano is immediately apparent. When you’re in front of one and playing it, it’s a whole new world. Where a 200A falls flat in the treble, a 140B sings out. Where a 200A has bark but little dimensionality, a 140B has so much depth you need 3D glasses. Where a 200A’s action feels good, a 140B’s feels delightful. It responds to and communicates with you like an old friend.
Of course, this is all dependent on the shape the instrument is in. Many of them have languished in basements and parlors for decades, untouched and unloved. The 140B also looks similar to other models that aren’t as worthy of consideration, like the 112 and 145. Avoid those unless constant tuning issues and unreliable electronics are your bailiwick and you’ve just got to have that thunky-clunky “What I’d Say” sound. The 140B was an alignment of the planets, lightning in a bottle. Also, for the initiated who may not dig the 140B’s hoary old cabinet design, the model 200, sans A, was most of the greatness of the 140B but in the familiar curved-top body style that we all know and love.
If you’ve never sampled this delicacy, and you’re in Southern California or want to make a hajj to the Holy Land, come by the shop and take a taste. Your whole perspective will change. You’ll never love a piano the way you love a ‘B.