The legendary Roland Music Corporation celebrates 40 years of changing the musical landscape
Roland has changed the musical world in ways that few other brands, particularly in the field of music technology, can compare to. The brand has revolutionised the musical world in many regards, and many of its past creations are held to be classic equipment. Yesterday, on the 18th of April, Roland celebrated its 40th birthday.
The Roland brand was established by Ikutaro Kakehashi. Born in Osaka in 1930, both of his parents died of TB when he was just a child, and he spent much of his youth studying mechanical engineering. This led to a job as a watch repairer, and subsequently, a watch repair company of his own. Kakehashi had a love of music, however, which led him expanding his business to radio repair.
It was not until 1955 that he began to become involved in the development of musical instruments, however. Having moved back to Osaka from Kyushu, and survived Tuberculosis, Kakehashi opened a new electrical shop, and began his first musical experiments. Initially aspiring to produce a Theremin, the first true instrument he created was an organ, known simply as Prototype No. 1.
The organ didn’t make it into production, but Kakehashi had his breakthrough in 1960, with the creation of the SX601 organ, which was manufactured by Technics, under the monicker of ‘Ace Electronics’. Several groundbreaking products followed, including the FR1 Rhythm machine, a product that would be incorporated into many Hammond Organs, a company that would financially back, and work with Ace Electronics for some time. Eventually, as the company expanded and other investors became involved, Kakehashi became jaded with Ace Electronics, no longer feeling that the investors understood the industry, and so in 1972, he walked away.
Roland is born…
The 18th of April of that year, taking his decades of experience, and ambition continue working in musical electronics, Kakehashi founded a new company: the Roland Corporation. The name was simply derived from two soft sounding constanents. Avoiding competing directly with the huge, established, Japanese instruments and equipment brands, he set out to establish the brand elsewhere in the World. The first product was the Roland TR77 drum machine, which was an unprecedented success. Exploiting his contacts at Hammond, the unit was rebadged and sold as the Hammond Rhythm unit.
The range of equipment that followed this momentous first product is staggering, in terms of sheer amount, and the mind-blowing innovation and quality. There are too many products to be discussed here (40 years worth!). As an anniversary tribute, however, here are a few highlights. Happy Birthday Roland! #For he’s a jolly good fell-ow, for he’s a jolly good fell-ow…#
The Roland TR77 Rhythm Machine
The first product to bear the Roland name, the drum machine was designed to be used on an organ top, and provides the now familiar latin-style rhythm sounds often associated with organs.
Roland Jupiter 8
There are innumerable classic Roland Synths (Juno 106, SH-101, JP8000, D-50, V-Synth- it goes on and on…), but if you had to pick the one that inspires adulation like no other, it would have to be the Roland Jupiter 8. Produced between 1980 and 1984, it was Roland’s first professional synthesiser. A dual oscillator design, its thick strings and pads have featured on classic tracks by everyone from Vangelis, to Orbital, via Depeche Mode and Stevie Wonder. Remarkably, only 2000 were ever made.
Roland TB-303 Bass Synth
Again, an army of classic synths compete for this spot, but for sheer impact on the musical world, the Roland TB-303 has to be mentioned. Original conceived as a accompaniment device for guitarists, it stayed in production for just 18 months, with 10,000 units built. A single oscillator synth, with filter and simple editing controls, its marriage to a unique sounding 16-step sequencer led to its widespread use in the acid-house scene of the mid to late eighties. The 303 is often held to encapsulate the ‘acid sound’.
This could easily be the TR-909, but arguably, the Roland TR-808 created the sound that most associate with a vintage drum machine. Kick drums shake the room, whilst snares are crisp and snappy. All of this is packaged with a step sequencer that is ludicrously easy to use. An iconic piece of kit, the 808 was widely used in Hip-Hop, Electro, New Romantic Pop and far more besides.
The Boss Compact
It’s easy to forget Roland ’s guitar focused sister company, Boss, in this list, but the noble Boss Compact deserves a mention. Having graced the pedal boards of just about any guitarist worth their salt, the Boss Compact effects pedal has been a bomb-proof staple for guitarists since 1977. The range now encompasses scores of different models
Electronic drums were once derided by ‘real’ drummers, but that all changed thanks to the development of Roland V-Drums. First appearing in 1997, with the launch of the Roland TD-10, V-Drums employed pads with mesh heads that felt like real drum heads, and combined them with a module loaded with over 600 editable drum sounds derived from their own COSM modelling technology. Immediately, it made all other electronic kits seem like antiques. V-Drums lead the digital drum market to this day.
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