Wurlitzer EP Reed compatibility history

REED Compatibility “STYLES”

As spelled out in “Note #17,” a circular put out by the Wurlitzer company on August 17 1964, and revised in 1971 (reproduced below), the tone-producing reeds found in Wurlitzer Electronic Pianos are not universally interchangeable between models. There were 4 basic “styles” of reeds; and even those reportedly changed a bit more, over the years and models. So the styles reflect “interchangeability” or compatibility, not sameness. In the worst cases, an incorrectly-employed reed won’t even fit in the reed bar’s pickup. In less severe cases, the hammer will hit the wrong spot in the reed due to differing strike lines, producing a dull thud instead of a ringing tone. Within a model, as well, the tongues of the reeds are different widths at certain key points, so (for example) a bass range A#-14 will not fit in the pickup of an F#-22 (in almost any model), even if shortened. And so on.

In the first three periods, the keyboards shipped with the lead tips of all the reeds facing down. (It’s common to see otherwise, however, as reeds were frequently flipped upside-down during later tuning.) Starting with the 140A series, the reeds above #20 (E3) were installed facing up. The bass reeds (#20 and below) always faced down. Most technicians report, though, that it is generally OK for the reeds to face differently from what was initially intended. It can change the pitch of a given note, especially in some early treble reeds with a rapid tapering of the thickness, but it does not usually seem to adversely affect the tonality of the reed. (If the reed is at all bent from use, flipping can make a positive or negative difference.)

It appears that the length of a given reed number/note is a constant throughout the entire run of Wurlitzers. There may be slight changes in the size or location of the reeds screw holes which would affect “length” clearance of pickups if attempting to use even a width-narrowed style 2 reed in a style 1 Wurlitzer.

CHART: The four main styles of Wurlitzer Electric Piano Reeds.
Please note that the widths are approximate, as there seemed to be a range of tolerances within 1/300 of an inch. Bass reeds can be .151", especially in the later 1950s. Midrange reeds can be .109" to .111". Treble reeds can be .096" to .099". Factors such as rust, dull dies, and my cheap micrometer might explain some of the deviations.

The measurements listed here are not the only factors in reed differences. The width-taper of the tongue can look very different from one style to the next in certain ranges (eventually I will include pictures for comparison). Hardness and springiness of steel seems to be the main difference between the bass ranges in styles 3 and 4. There are different specs to the grinds in different styles, and I do not have measurements or specs on those.
Reed numbersReed Style 1
(110-112A)
Reed Style 2
(120-700)
Reed Style 3
(140-145-720,
no "A" or "B")
Reed Style 4
(140A/B - 145A/B - 720A/B,
all 200 and 200A series)

GrindWidth in InchesGrindWidth in InchesGrindWidth in InchesGrindWidth in Inches
1-14no grind.135no grind.150no grind.150no grind.150
15-20no grind.135no grind.150no grind.125no grind.125
21-42sharp grind.110no grind.120no grind.120gradual grind.120
43-50sharp grind.110sharp grind.110sharp grind.110gradual grind.110
51-58sharp grind.097sharp grind.097sharp grind.097gradual grind.097
59-64sharp grind.097sharp grind.097sharp grind.097sharp grind.097

Reed Style 1: Used in the 110, 111, 112 and 112A models, (1954-circa 1957). (Perhaps in the extremely rare 100 prototype, too?). The “tongue” on these meets the square base with a very rapid taper outwards (in the width dimension), which may be these reeds have a reputation for frequent breakage.

Suppliers who believe it’s ever OK to use later vintage 120 reeds in these models are misguided….except for the topmost range of #51 to 64. The bass and mid range 120 (style 2) reeds will not fit in the pickups–they are too wide; and even if filed narrower, they will make a dead “thud” on the node of the reed, due to hammer strike-line incompatibility. While the notes in the 43-50 range of Style 2 (below) will clear pickups in the 110-112A models, they are still allegedly incompatible, perhaps due to taper, grind and steel used.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to know what you are getting when buying online in terms of NOS early reeds. Thankfully, as of 2017, Vintage Vibe is manufacturing and selling correct replacement reeds for these.

It is tragic and not uncommon to see pickups in reed bars in the early models that have been filed wide to accommodate later reeds. This ruins the reed bars, as they can no longer take the correct reeds, and the bad reeds won’t work correctly.

There seems to be some vagueness about the issue of “flatness” or taper of the thickness of these reeds. The bass reeds (#1-20) are always taperless/grindless/flat in the thickness dimension, and at least by mid-1956 the mid and upper reeds (#21 and above) are ground, so that there is a thickness-taper to them. (The square base is thicker than on the bass reeds).

But are the earliest ones (110, 111) of even thickness all the way up the scale (flat/unground)? Upper reeds do exist which have this unground/flat quality, but it is unclear whether any models other than the prototype 100 had them installed. According to Janice at Morelock’s, these experimental reeds “were razor sharp…they’d cut you!”

Reed style 1 uses three blanks: 1-20 (no grind), 21-50 (rapid grind to thin), 51-64 (rapid grind to thin).

Reed Style 2: Used in the 120 and 700 models of 1957 to circa 1961. As stated above, the tongues of these reeds are a little wider below reed #43, which is a problem if installing in the earlier models: They won’t clear the pickups. They also taper more gradually to the base (in the width/traceable dimension), especially visible in the bass register, which makes them stronger; but it means that the strike point is moved, and the hammers of the earlier models will tend to “thud” on the nodal points of reeds, making them sound dead if installed in the earlier models. (Especially bad around 21-26, F3-Bb3). The reeds are now unground (flat) going all the way up to reed #42 (unlike style 1, which has reeds 21-42 ground). The top notes, #51 to 64 are compatible with Style 1.

Again: The reeds of this era should be grindless –no thickness-to-thinness taper– on all notes below D#-43. It is extremely common to see Reed Style 4 reeds substituted in the #21 to #42 range, since they will clear the pickups and they were more available from suppliers. If there is any thickness taper, I contend that they are the “wrong” reeds, though perhaps fixes were made to mitigate their less-than-perfect specs (unknown). Sometimes this will matter; sometimes, if the hammer is set right, one can get away with it. (This situation applies to Reed Style 3 situations, too, as they are similar/identical to Style 2 from #21 up.)

Reed style 2 uses four blanks: 1-20 (no grind), 21-42 (no grind), 43-50 (rapid grind to thin), 51-64 (rapid grind to thin).

These reeds originally had no “chamfer,” or corner notch, in the back of the reed. It is not uncommon to find notched reeds in a style-2-or-3 Wurlitzer. Morelock’s claims these are later, correct reeds that were simply manufactured at a different reed factory. That is a legitimate possibility. But again, if you find a chamfered reed in the 21-42 range with a change in thickness, or simply one that thuds, it is likely to be an incompatible, Style 4 reed.

Reed Style 3: Used only on the 140, 145 and 720 models of 1962-early 1963. (not to be confused with the later “A” and “B” models associated with these numbers). It appears that the only change (or incompatibility) from Style 2 is in the bass range, notes #1 (A1) through 20 (E3): They have a visibly more gradual width taper/trace. The (upper) bass reeds actually look very similar to the Style 4 bass reeds, so their difference is unclear: It could be in the flexibility of the metal. If there is any manufacturing change above #20, the middle and high reeds are at least compatible with Style 2 (notes 21-50, F3-A#5). As in Style 2, the top range of notes 51-64 (B5 to C7) are compatible with Style 1. One of our major contemporary repair shops conflated Style 2 and Style 3 until 2015, which may mean that the bass range differences are not very significant; though Wurlitzer implied that they were important enough, in their “Note #17” memos of 1964 and 1971. In all likelihood, the tips of these reeds pointed down over the entire range, as in the earlier models.

Reed style 3 uses five blanks: 1-14 (no grind), 15-20 (no grind, different shape taper), 21-42 (no grind), 43-50 (rapid grind to thin), 51-64 (rapid grind to thin).

Certain vendors seems to sell Reed style 3 bass reeds for use in 120 electric pianos. It may be that at some point Wurlitzer did, too. This is incorrect, and these reeds will play wrong.

Reed Style 4: Used for 140A&B/145A&B/720A&B series, 146(B)/726(B) classroom series, 200 series and 200A series (including 106P, 200B and 300). As this includes all models from mid-1963 through 1983, these are both the most frequently-needed and the easiest to replace, as a market has sustained their re-manufacture. While the reeds reportedly did change over this long era, perhaps even every couple of years, the Wurlitzer company did not consider the changes significant enough to discourage substitutions. Nonetheless, when possible or convenient, it’s probably best to use replacement reeds that correspond to your particular model.

Specifically, Vintage Vibe and others report that the reeds from 1975 on, starting with the 200A series, were different: significantly thicker, producing a mellower sound. I have to admit that I have not really noticed this to be the case, but I rarely get the opportunity to play two different period Wurlitzers side by side. I find plenty of deviation between any two instruments from any one era; and at this point, many Wurli’s have had enough reeds replaced that it is hard to know if I am listening to an electric piano playing at its original specs. But one could argue that there is a Reed Style 5 for the post-1975 Wurlitzers.

Reed style 4 uses five blanks, with the top blank ground two different ways (totaling 6 distinct reed shapes): 1-14 (no grind), 15-20 (no grind, different shape taper), 21-42 (gradual grind), 43-50 (gradual grind), 51-58 (gradual grind), 59-64 (rapid grind to thin).

Reed style 4 usually have a “chamfer” corner notch in reeds from 21 up–this reflects manufacture at a different factory. In the earliest 140 “A” series, all the reeds, then eventually only the top 6 reeds, look superficially different (no chamfer notch), but are the same specs as the later reeds. I am not entirely sure what makes the top 6 reeds incompatible with prior models, as the specs seem superficially similar. It would be interesting to test them.

Reed length: The shapes, widths, thicknesses, grinds, and steel formulas used shifted over time, but one thing remained standard: Reed length. Reed #1 is always 2 and 19/20 of an inch long. The length of the reeds decrease linearly, each 1/20 of an inch shorter, until reed #20, which is two inches long. At this point, the scaling of the length changes. Starting with # 21, which is 1 43/44 inch, each reed is 1/44 inch shorter until the highest and shortest, which is 1 inch long. A consistently linear decrease.

Important: Although this memo implies that reed #52 signals the change point upwards for interchangeability in Styles 1 to 3, the tongue width actually narrows at reed #51 instead, starting in Style 1 and seemingly retained going forward (even in Style 4). I am convinced that this was a 1964 printing error that was replicated in 1971.

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List 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Steve Espinola. Please do not republish or repost this list in this form without attribution. Much of its contents are derivative (and attributed to their sources by links), and obviously I make no claims to such contents. It took me many full days of work, over years, to research, edit and organize all this information into this page. It involved hundreds of creative and editorial choices. I’m very happy to share; just do me the courtesy of being in touch and crediting my research and organizational efforts, much as I have credited others in my links.