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The Roland TR-808 – The King of Electro!

When it was released in 1980, the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer had musicians and audiences alike clamoring for more cowbell. Featuring percussive sounds produced through analog synthesis, the TR-808 was one of the earliest drum machines with programming capabilities.

This new technology allowed musicians to produce their own rhythms, which provided a much more interesting experience than simply selecting a backing beat from a menu of already-created patterns. 

Short for “Transistor Rhythm,” the TR-808 holds up to 32 patterns and can chain up to 768 measures. This expanded programming ability is helpful in producing demos of entire percussion tracks, including even breaks and rolls. From the punchily labeled dials lining the drum machine’s front panel, users have their choice of 16 acoustic percussion sounds including accent; claves; hand clap; snare; low/mid/high toms; rimshot; maracas; low/mid/high congas; cymbal; open hi-hat; closed hi-hat; and, of course, cowbell.

Each sound is equipped with independent volume controls and individual outputs, many of which can be edited to user specifications. For example, the bass drum and cymbal can be customized for tone and decay, the toms and congas can be tuned, the open hat has a decay feature, and the snare has one dial for the tone and a second to make each hit snappier.

Where Can I Buy A Roland TR-808?

An eye-catching machine, the TR-808 proudly displays a row of colorful keys labeled by step and basic rhythm number, their colors visually reminiscent of a Scoville heat scale. Other prominent features include master controls for volume and tempo; A/B variation switches; and a square, yellow tap button in the lower right-hand corner.

Although not equipped with MIDI synchronization, the TR-808 has the technology that preceded it – Roland’s DIN sync that connected other devices through its Digital Control Businterface. Three trigger outputs are also included to synchronize the 808’s beats with external equipment.

Despite a production run cut short due to lackluster sales and the inability to restock essential parts, the TR-808’s legacy has stood the test of time. Before becoming the drum machine used on more hit records than any other electronic rhythm composer, it suffered three years on the market playing second fiddle to Linn Electronics’ Linn LM-1 Drum Computer, which used sampled sounds.

From 1980 through 1983, fewer than 12,000 TR-808s were sold. Although initially criticized for its inability to mimic a real drum, the TR-808 struck a chord with digital music producers, garnering a cult following among those enamored of its futuristic sound, powerful bass tonality, and adaptability to service multiple genres.

In addition to its adoption by the dance and techno music community, it has become the digital heartbeat of R&B and hip-hop, the backbone of shimmery ‘80s pop tracks, and a poetic reference in modern chart-topping hits. With each reincarnation and every pasing musical generation, the TR-808 has finally and firmly entrenched itself in music production history. 

How Much Does A Roland TR-808 Cost?

If you’re lucky enough to find a Roland TR-808 for sale they’ll normally* range anywhere between £3,500 and £5,000

*prices generally seen on auction sites. If you see them cheaper, you may be on to a bargain.

Who Uses Or Used The Roland TR-808?

Famous and not so famous users of the SH-101 are: Aphex Twin, Richie Hawtin, Orbital, Squarepusher, Ceephax Acid Crew, DMX Krew, Rolando Simmons, EOD, Beathaven, Daft Punk, Mathew Jonson, Venetian Snares, DJ Muggs, Kanye West, Jamie XX, Dr Dre, Legowelt, A Guy Called Gerald, RZA, EL-P, Egyptian Lover, Jeff Mills and many, many more!

Alternatives To The Roland TR-808?

There are many different alternatives to the 808 whether as hardware, software, analog or digital. These are as follows: Roland Boutique TR-08, Roland Aira TR-8s, Behringer RD-808, 8raw8, Yocto Analog Drum Machine, emulators, samples and VST’s.

However, when we compare it to the real thing it’s noticeable that the alternatives don’t quite stack up. They are a great option though for people with a lower budget.

Classic Roland TR-808 Videos, Tutorials & Demos

A playlist of videos showing you how to program a the TR-808, some famous 808 patterns and general ‘808 in action’ based videos. Some great tips in here so be sure to check them out!

All in all, loads to watch, listen and learn before getting your own!

Classic Roland TR-808 Tracks

Some classic 808 tracks from the last 20 years or so featuring: Drexciya – Andreaen Sand Dunes, Charanjit Singh – Raga Bhairav, der Zyklus – Elektronisches Zeitechno, The Other Peoples Place – Lifestyles of The Laptop Cafe, Mantronix – Needle To The Groove, Hashim – Al Naafiysh, Cybotron – Clear, The Other People Place – Sorrow & A Cup of Joe and A Guy Called Gerald – Voodoo Ray.

Other Roland Products?

The famous Roland synths, drum machines and effects include: SH 101, MC 202, TB 303, TR 606, TR 707, TR 808, TR 909, Juno 60RE-201 Space Echo.

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