Roland TR808

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Roland TR-808

Introduced in late 1980, the Roland TR-808 was one of the first programmable drum machines. ("TR" stands for "Transistor Rhythm"). Roland originally intended the TR-808 as a tool for studio musicians to create demos. Like earlier Roland drum machines, it does not sound very much like a real drum kit. Indeed, since the TR-808 came out a few months after the Linn LM-1 (the first drum machine to use digital samples), people gererally considered its sound inferior to sampling drum machines; a 1982 Keyboard magazine review of the Linn Drum indirectly referred to the TR-808 as sounding like "marching anteaters".

One of the earliest uses of the TR-808 for a live performance was by YMO (or Yellow Magic Orchestra) in December 1980, in the song "1000 Knives", composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto in 1978. The outstanding "Hand Clap" sound was later publicized by YMO's innovative album BGM released in March 1981 in Japan, used on "1000 Knives" as well as in another of Sakamoto's songs, "Music Plans".

The TR-808 was an important step forward from Roland's previous CR-78 drum machine. Its sounds were much more punchy and powerful. It featured better controls to allow the user to control the sounds in real time: volume knobs for the level of each sound, and tone-shaping controls for the more important sounds. The memory capacity for storing patterns was increased substantially: 32 pattern locations were available, and furthermore, these could be "chained" together to produce "songs", 12 of which could also be stored in memory. The memory was non-volatile (maintained by three AA-size batteries!). The programming interface was hugely improved: a row of 16 buttons allowed to user to employ a very intuitive "step programming" method—the pattern is divided up into 16 steps, and, and the buttons and LEDs indicate whether a drum sound plays on each step. The unit also feature Roland's new "DIN-Sync" clock interface for synchronization with other equipment, plus various analogue clock-outputs for slaving other devices. The TR-808 predated the invention of the MIDI interface, however such is the TR-808's enduring popularity that several third-party manufacturers provided MIDI-retrofit kits for it over the years.

It was only in the mid-to-late 1980s, years after the TR-808 was discontinued, that its sound became popular. One factor leading to its popularity was its kick drum sound, which could produce a very deep sub-bass. By the end of the 1980s, the TR-808 was very popular within electronic music and Hip-Hop generes.

The TR-808 also was the inspiration for the name of the British electronic outfit 808 State. The sounds of the TR-808 were and still are very often used in Hip-Hop, R&B, House, Electro and many forms of electronic dance music.


  • Number of memory locations for user-programmable rhythm patterns:
    • two banks of 12 (or these can be combined to give 1 bank of 12 double length patterns)
    • plus: an additional two banks of 4 for use as "Intro / Fill-in" (again, these can be combined to give 1 bank of 4 double length patterns)
  • Number of song memory locations (ie lists patterns chained together)
    • 12 'tracks' each storing a list of up to 64 patterns (tracks themselves can also be chained together)
    • song and pattern memories maintained by three 1.5 volt AA batteries (dry cell) Roland Manuals (T)
  • Divisions per pattern:
    • maximum of 32 steps per pattern
  • Sound Sources:
    • Bass drum
    • Snare drum
    • Low Tom or Low Conga (selectable)
    • Mid Tom or Mid Conga (selectable)
    • Hi Tom or Hi Conga (selectable)
    • Rimshot or Claves (selectable)
    • Handclap or Maracas (selectable)
    • Cow bell
    • Cymbal
    • Open hi-hat or Closed hi-hat (selectable)
    • Accent (NOTE: Accent isn't a sound. Instead it lets you place 'accents'—i.e. increase the loudness—on certain beats in the bar. All sounds playing on these beats are accented.)

Artists Who used the TR-808

External links

The TR-808 at

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