1972, Italian company EKO releases the worlds first programmable drum machine and these units are museum pieces nowadays, demanding thousands If you can find one for sale. The Computerhythm was designed at EKO by Aldo Paci who did the electronics & Guiseppe Censori who designed the cabinet & it used Transistor-Transistor Logic (TTL) to create sequences which triggered the sounds.
The analog sounds (two per programming channel) are: Rollingdrum + Cymbal 1, Cymbal 2 + Snare, Timbal 2 + Charleston, Triangle + Clave, Block 2 + Timbal 1, Block 1 + Bassdrum.
Each of the six instrument slots (A-F) has its own dedicated 1/4" output on the front right horizontal panel below the card reader section, while round at the back there is the main L & R 1/4" outputs which carry the balance of all drums as set by their volume faders on the front.
Each of the six instrument channels can play a single drum sound or both drums sounds on its channel, with the volume control adjusting the level for both. To the right are the On/Off buttons for each channel, which act to mute and/or solo sounds.
The Computerhythm was the first music machine of any type to feature (up to) 16 step sequencing using button rows which became the standard thereafter (best known in Roland's TR style row sequencers), with the orange buttons being the six rows of 16 steps; one row for each instrument channel. Further buttons on the front allow the user to select pattern step length, with the choices being 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15 or the default 16 steps.
Plastic covered cardboard punch cards allowed the user to easily create their own loadable 'programmed' rhythms by using a pencil tip to punch holes in the cards to create the pattern for each of the six drum rows, and these cards are then inserted into the card slot on the top of right panel where they pass through & are read by an optical photo-electric cell reader which then sets the pattern switches per drum instrument row.
The Computerhythm was vastly expensive when in production, with only around 50 - 60 of these machines ever being made across its three revisions: the MK1, MK2 & final MKIII, with only an estimated 15 or so units left in existence world wide. As used by Jean Michel Jarre on tracks like Oxygene and Equinoxe, Tangerine Dream and others.
Roland CR-78 CompuRhythm
1978, Roland releases the world the first microprocessor based programmable drum machine, augmenting the 34 presets rhythms with 4 user RAM memory slots you could write your own patterns to, and these patterns were saved in memory on power-down via a battery backup. 100% analog & could be used with the optional and very rare WS-1 programming box. The CR-78 drum sounds are: bass drum, snare drum, rim-shot, hi-hat, cymbal, maracas, claves, cowbell, high bongo, low bongo, low conga, tambourine, guiro, and "metallic beat" which is an accent that can be overlaid on the hi-hat sound. The CR-78 also has an accent control that increases the loudness of desired steps in a pattern.
The seventeen CR-78 built in patterns are titled: Rock, two Disco patterns, Waltz, Shuffle, Slow Rock, Swing, Foxtrot, Tango, Boogie, Enka, Bossa Nova, Samba, Mambo, Chacha, Beguine & Rhumba, with each pattern being available in two variations via the A / B switch, yielding the machine's total of 34 patterns. It is possible to select more than one rhythm at a time, and also mute drum sounds from a pattern using the balance knob and the four dedicated Cancel buttons, one each of which is available for: Cymbal/Hi-Hat, Bass Drum, Snare Drum & Cowbell/Claves. Patterns can be adjusted for Tempo using the front panel Tempo control and additionally can be controlled via an external V-trig clock, allowing a control voltage to run the CR-78 tempo. The CR-78 also features two switches to perform automatic Fade In & Fade Out with a choice of Fast or Slow for either.
Many famous artists have used this drum box in tracks, including Gary Numan, Peter Gabriel and more. The CR-78 famously does the analog drum intro to 'In the air tonight' by Phil Collins.
The TR-808 'Rhythm Composer' was Roland's next drum machine after the CR-78. Released in 1980 the TR-808 is entirely analog with no samples used for cymbals. What can you say about this drum box that hasn't been said already? It's basically a legendary unit. Hear it in action in a more naked form on tracks like Loc'in On The Shaw by Tone-Loc. Very expensive to buy secondhand with only 12,000 ever being made but widely available for DAW use from a variety of software houses. If you really must have the classic TR-808 in hardware form but cant afford a rare original, then of course you can now get the Behringer RD-8 which is as near as dammit a full-on real analog clone of the TR-808 for a staggeringly low price of around £369 GBP. There's also the Roland official reissue, the diminutive TR-08, but while it has the sound modelled extremely accurately it's not real analog and doesn't have separate outputs, but it is a space saver in the studio being so small.
Boss DR-55 Dr. Rhythm
Released in 1981 this was the first of the Boss Doctor Rhythm drum machines and runs entirely from battery with no mains power. It was basically sold as a drum box to play along with for guitarists & the like, almost like a pedal. Very basic with only 4 sounds: kick, snare, hats & a rimshot which sounds more like a click, the DR-55 can be step programmed by selecting one of the 3 drum sounds (kick, snare or rimshot) & then using the PLAY/STOP buttons to add in steps & rests across any of the six 16-step pattern slots or the two 12 step slots. Hi-hats can then be added from a preset pattern selector playing either 8ths or 16ths or 12ths if the DR is set in one of it's two available 12 step pattern slots.
Boss DR110 Dr. Rhythm
Released in 1983 as the follow up to the DR-55, the DR110 Doctor Rhythm Graphic was an analog pocket sized drum box running off 9v battery or BOSS DC pedal power supply and featuring six drum sounds: Kick, Snare, Open & Closed Hi-Hat, Clap & Cymbal. The Dr-110 was quite advanced for the time, having an LCD display with a step sequencer grid. The DR-110 featured 16 preset patterns, a further 16 user writable patterns & 2 Song slots, each of which can hold up to 128 patterns. Mono output only on this unit via a 1/4" socket, with an additional 3.5mm headphone socket.
MPC Electronics The Kit
1982 saw British company MPC Electronics release The Kit analog drum machine & it sold like hot cakes shifting 10,000 units in its first year alone, while winning the NAMM 'Product Of The Show' award when it was previewed for pre-orders before release, with MXR taking up distribution rights State-side. The Kit was at the time of release unique in that you could now bash out drum patterns manually which was a first, and the analog drum sounds themselves were quite decent for the day.
Most older musicians have bashed out beats on The Kit, & if you walked into any musician's squat back in the day you'd usually see one of these, more often than not being fed into a guitar combo to provide blasting raw finger-played beats to accompany ganja-fuelled jam sessions, or even to record a drum track onto any of the new 4-track porta-studios which had started to appear, or onto some old stereo reel to reel. It's a lot of fun playing one of these!
The Kit is played with fingers while having a switchable hi-hat which can play preset patterns to jam along with via the Hi-Hat section Start/Stop switch. The hi-hat pattern choices can be 4:4 or 3:4 time signature combined with either 8 beat, 4 beat or 'disco' patterns. These choices are then further augmented with the 6-position rotary switch giving a total of 36 high-hat patterns.
Once the selected hi-hat pattern choice is made, you can further adjust the Tempo of the pattern as well as Volume level. The manual hi-hat pad can also be triggered while pre-set hi-hat patterns play.
The Kit has four main drum pads for kick, snare & two toms, plus smaller metal pads for crash/ride cymbal & open/closed hats. In addition to the main Mix output, each drum sound has its own individual 1/4" output with accompanying volume control. The cymbal also has a Tone control.
The Kit also has two trigger outs which take their voltage signal from the Toms, as well as a foot-switch input allowing the user to start/stop the hi-hat pattern player hands-free.
The Kit works off either 9v PP3 battery or an optional 9v power supply.
Underneath the unit there are 11 recessed resistor screws to tweak the sounds with a supplied small adjuster tool, allowing the user to vary pad sensitivity & drum ring/decay for the Kick, Toms and Snare as well as Snare noise & Cymbal pitch and decay to vary the cymbals between either a ride or a more crash type sound.
MPC Electronics took their name from their main product the Music Percussion Computer, and The Kit was the centre-piece of the MPC range which included The Tymp, delivering Timpani sounds, The Synkit which did Syndrum and other electronic drum sounds, The Bass Drum, & most famous of all The Clap which soon found favour with producers & was heard on a string of hit records of the time.
The Kit retailed at around £149.00 GBP on release.
MPC Electronics The Clap
1982 saw British company MPC Electronics release The Kit analog drum machine with additional units being added soon after to compliment the main drum machine unit. The most famous of these add-on units was The Clap unit, dedicated to making clap sounds only & it was streets ahead of other choices at the time, soon finding it's way onto many top 20 records of the day.
Like it's bigger sibling The Kit, The Clap also works off either 9v PP3 battery or an optional 9v power supply & can either be triggered from it's front-panel pad or via the trigger input.
The Clap sound itself is constructed from two different layers comprising the body 'Clap' sound & the noise sound, and the relative trigger timing of both can be adjusted against each other with the Spread control making the two sounds trigger further and further apart to simulate slightly 'out of sync' real hand clapping, adding width to the overall sound. Additionally the Clap body & noise layer have a Mix control allowing the user to balance them to taste, while the noise layer also has a Decay control to adjust how long the noise lasts relative to the clap body sound. Finally there is an overall Volume control to adjust final output level via the rear 1/4" jack.
MPC Electronics took their name from their main product the Music Percussion Computer, and The Kit was the centre-piece of the MPC range which included The Tymp which did Timpani sounds, The Synkit which did Syndrum and other electronic drum sounds, The Bass Drum, & most famous of all The Clap which soon found favour with producers & was heard on a string of hit records of the time.
The Clap retailed for an R.R.P of £69.95 GBP on release.
MPC Electronics M.P.C
The M.P.C or Music Percussion Computer was first shown at the Frankfurt music show in February 1983. MPC Electronics had previously wowed the 1982 NAMM show with their The Kit portable drum machine, but this was the company's big flagship product & it's a very unusual and interesting bit of kit in that it was designed to interface with the Sinclair ZX81 personal computer.
The M.P.C was actually sold complete with flight-case, special rubber tipped drum-sticks to cut down on pad noise, and a special 25-pin D-plug & ribbon cable to connect it to the optional ZX81 computer. All connectors are situated on the vertical sides of the unit, and when the flight-case top is removed these connectors sit just above the case bottom tray edge, being easily accessible without the unit having to be physically removed from the case bottom tray.
On the right vertical side of the unit, accompanying the front-panel drum channel Labels, you'll find the 9 physical outputs, one for each drum; as well as stereo Mix & headphone outputs, all on 1/4" jacks. On the top vertical side of the unit you'll find the multi-pin computer connector, Din Sync In/Out, Tape sync In/Out, a 'Run' foot-switch socket as well as a male D-plug multi-pin Stage-Pads socket (which was for planned additional drum pads to be added), as well as sockets for Pad-Select via a foot-switch & adding a Bass-drum pedal trigger unit.
Internal processing is done by a Zilog Z80 microprocessor, as used in the early E-mu Emulator samplers, the Prophet 5 and the Sega Master System & Game Gear consoles. The front panel keyboard is used to program the unit.
The 8 pads are divided into two rows, with the lower row dedicated to Snare, Kick, Closed & Open hi-hats, while the top row defaults to Toms 1-4, but can be switched to access a second bank of Toms 3 & 4 plus Cymbal & Claps. This makes sense because Toms 1 & 2 cannot be sequenced to patterns, but can be played live over the top of recorded sequences playing back; so essentially Bank-2 with Cymbal & Clap is more for recording patterns, while Bank-1 with all 4 toms can be thought of as for live performance.
On the right side of the front panel is the mixer section, with the 4 tom channels each having controls for 'Bend', Tone/Noise Mix, Pitch, Decay & Level. Additionally the 4 Toms share a master control section labelled 'All Tom Toms Skin Resonance', which adds two further shared controls to adjust the Pitch and Decay characteristics of the skin resonance effect helping add realism to the analogue drum sounds.
The Cymbal, Kick, & Snare channel each have Pitch, Decay & Level with the Snare having an additional 'Noise' amount control. Finally the Hi-Hats channel has controls for Tone, Tighten & Level, while the Clap has a simple Level control only.
None of the drums have a Pan control. Drums appear at preset pan positions on the stereo mix output in keeping with a traditional kit layout, but you can of course use separate outs and mix on a console adding effects, Eq etc.
Internal sequencing allows the user to create patterns which can be assembled into a single 'Song' playback sequence with usual features for things like tempo, pattern length etc, plus other features like adding accents to beats etc, but for full power you would add the Sinclair ZX81 which allowed for on-screen display working, more patterns and more songs.
The M.P.C retailed for an R.R.P of £875.00 GBP on release.
Released in 1983, the TR-909 was mostly analog but added in sampled cymbals. It was also Roland's first drum machine with MIDI. The TR-909 arrived just when sampled drum machines like the Linn Drum started to appear & thus it was actually a commercial failure, with it's synthesised drums sounding 'fake' by comparison.
Due to this the TR-909 was only in production for a year & hence it's rarity today. Despite all that, with it's big thumping kick drum the TR-909 became THE drum machine sound of house & other related dance music genres for several decades & to a certain extent still to this day. Like the TR-808 they are quite rare with only 10,000 ever being made and they command big money on eBay etc.
If you really must have the classic TR-909 in hardware form but cant afford a rare original, then of course you can now get the Behringer RD-9 which is as near as dammit a full-on real analog clone of the TR-909 for a staggeringly low price of around £269 GBP.
There's also the Roland official reissue, the diminutive TR-09 which you could pickup s/h in the free ads because for some bizarre reason Roland discontinued it, but while it has the sound modelled extremely accurately it's not real analog and doesn't have separate outputs, but it is a space saver in the studio being so small.