Roland in the 20th Century Thity Years of Innovations
By Paul Youngblood
April, 1972. In the United States, the price of a first-class postage stamp is 10 cents. The Dow Jones industrial average bottoms out at 750. Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” and The Eagles’ “One of these Nights” top the music charts. Hank Aaron blasts home run number 715, breaking Babe Ruth’s long-standing record. And across the Pacific, an energetic 42-year-old Japanese engineer named Ikutaro Kakehashi starts a new business venture. He calls this new company “Roland” and becomes its president.
Much has happened in the almost thirty years since Roland’s inception. As
I sit in the home of Mr. Kakehashi (or “Mr. K,” as he’s affectionately known
within the Roland family), the man who’s created thousands of instruments for
millions of musicians talks with me about Roland’s beginnings, his own passion
for musical instruments, music technology and where Roland is headed in the 21st
century. As we begin to chat, one thing becomes clear almost instantly; at 70
years old, Kakehashi is as energetic and passionate about music and musical
instruments as ever.
Outside, we take in the breathtaking mountains that border the city of Hamamatsu, Japan—Roland’s worldwide headquarters. Below is the Hosoe factory, Roland’s primary manufacturing facility, surrounded by rolling fields of green tea. Here music technology, ideas and near-constant innovation flow like the streams from the nearby mountains. As we talk, Kakehashi recalls marquee Roland products like the Jupiter 8, RE-201 Space Echo, VS-880 V-Studio, and V-drums. But it becomes clear that Kakehashi is as focused on the 21st century as he was on the last. “The future is still under construction,” he smiles.
The Early Years
When he started Roland, Ikutaro Kakehashi was certainly no stranger to the musical instrument business; in fact, he had been building musical instruments for years. Kakehashi’s very first product was a Hawaiian guitar amplifier built in 1959. According to Kakehashi, “Electric guitar had just started, and Hawaiian guitar was very popular in Japan. Many universities and high schools had Hawaiian guitar bands.” Even then, Kakehashi had a knack for understanding what musicians wanted, and he pursued it with vigor.
Shortly thereafter, Kakehashi founded Ace Electronics and started producing instruments under the Ace Tone brand. When asked about the size of the company, Kakehashi jokes, “The boss and the worker were the same person. It was very, very small.” The most successful product made by Ace Tone ended up being a rhythm machine known as the FR-1 Rhythm Ace (see RUG 17/3). Although primitive by today’s standards, with its 16 preset patterns and just eight instrument sounds, the Rhythm Ace exemplified Kakehashi’s creative vision and paved the way for future instruments. “Without the Rhythm Ace,” Kakehashi contends, “no other products [would have] existed.”
Ace Electronics operated successfully in Japan into the late 1960’s—so successfully, in fact, that the Hammond Organ Company eventually asked Kakehashi to head Hammond Japan in 1968. After accepting the offer, one of Kakehashi’s most notable contributions was the development of the Hammond Piper, which became one of the best-selling products in the history of the company worldwide.
In 1972, due to financial takeovers at Ace Electronics and new product directions at Hammond, Kakehashi decided to make a clean break and start a new company from scratch. In many ways, the drive and perseverance required to form this new company have been a hallmark of Roland ever since. With his great sense of humor and knack for creative analogies, Kakehashi explains how he looked at the situation. “For 13 years, I spent a lot of time just concentrating on music, but [then] I had to decide how to continue—to start again from zero. So like the sawtooth synthesizer wave, I simply decided to start again,” he jokes. “That was the beginning: April, 1972.”
Roland’s First Product: the TR-77
The first Roland “facility” wasn’t a factory or manufacturing plant as one might expect, but instead a house occupied daily by seven employees including Kakehashi. Here, Kakehashi and team produced Roland’s first product: the TR-77 Rhythm Composer. How this product came about is quite a story, as the TR-77 didn’t even exist when it was first being sold.
Ever the brave entrepreneur, Kakehashi explains, “In the beginning we had seven people, and everyone [had come] from Ace Electronics. We started in a small private house. After one week, I drew a design for a small rhythm machine—not [finished schematics], but just an idea based on the Rhythm Ace. Of course, I couldn’t copy the Rhythm Ace, so I added new features like a touch strip and variations which were unique. That week, I went on an international trip with the drawing, but no product, since I couldn’t yet produce one. Thankfully, I took orders for 200 units. So as soon as I came back to my hotel room that night, I made a call to Japan, saying, ‘Please look for a factory.’” A factory was found, and Roland’s first product, the TR-77, quickly set the stage for things to come.
The Next Step
Soon after the TR-77, Kakehashi set out to build another standout Roland product: an echo machine. “The first two years were very difficult,” he recalls. “Without something new, there was no reason to buy a Roland product. So we [needed to] develop something unique, and that’s why I started with rhythm and then echo machines.”
The RE-100 was a tape delay unit originally designed for the reliable playback of long announcements. Coincidentally, analog tape echoes were becoming quite popular with guitarists in the 1970’s. But the problem with these tape echo units was that the short tapes degenerated from constant use. Kakehashi quickly realized how his announcement machine which could play long recordings would be useful for musicians.
Although the RE-100 wasn’t as successful as competing products of the day, like the Echoplex™ and Binson’s Echorec, this unit paved the way for one of the most successful products in Roland history—the RE-201 Space Echo. Kakehashi explains, “First we developed the RE-100, but it wasn’t so successful. Then we improved it to [be] a free-running, single-loop system. We figured that if we provided 10-times longer tapes, then you’d have 10-times longer tape life, so the best way was [to use a] long tape… And the RE-201 ended up being the longest-running best-seller in [our] history: 16 years.” As a testament to its winning design, thousands of RE-201 Space Echoes are still in use today.
Japan’s First Synthesizer
In 1973 came the first synthesizer ever produced in Japan—the Roland SH-1000. Ironically, the intended use for this instrument was as an additional voice for an organist; the idea of a synthesizer as a stand-alone instrument hadn’t really caught on yet. But the SH-1000 helped change all that, thanks to its good sound quality, reliable operation, and amazingly low $800 list price (other synthesizers of the day typically cost $5,000 and up). The primary reason for this drastic price breakthrough was the SH-1000’s reliance upon far fewer electrical circuits, called “op amps.”
“That’s why we were able to reduce the price,” confirms Kakehashi. “If we built a Moog™-type or Arp™-type synthesizer with 30 or 40 op amps, it would be impossible to sell. So I tried to develop one which used only three or four op amps.” The SH-1000 did just that, setting the course for Roland’s long and successful synthesizer line which continues to this day, culminating in the new XV-Series and the pinnacle XV-5080 128-Voice Synthesizer/Sample Playback Module.
The Late 70’s: Roland Reinvents the Wheel
One of Roland and BOSS’ long-standing goals has been to create “firsts”—completely new instruments unlike anything that has come before them. While Roland has generally been quite successful in this regard, developing “firsts” is always a challenge, in that designers can only rely on knowledge gained from other products and on their own instincts.
In developing new instruments and getting feedback from musicians, Kakehashi explains the dilemma Roland was faced with at the time. “Without input from musicians, product development is impossible. But at the same time, when developing a totally new instrument, there is no way to ask [musicians] for their feedback. So I decided upon two different ways. Until a product’s debut, I would develop only with my knowledge. Of course, it’s important to understand the target musician, but [you cannot be overly] concerned. However, after development, I listen one-hundred percent to everyone—there is no room for ego in this. We must accept what musicians have to say.”
This dual approach to product development did nothing less than result in a long list of remarkable products for musicians of all types. Examples include the JC-120 Jazz Chorus, released in 1975, which offered a new type of clean sound that turned everyone’s head. Using dual discrete amplifiers with independent chorusing, this classic guitar amp is still in the Roland product line 25 years later. The first Cube amp came out in 1978, setting the standard for compact guitar amplifiers with its innovative design and look.
The late ‘70s also marked the introduction of the GR-500 Paraphonic (yes, that’s what we called it)—one of the first commercially available guitar synthesizers. Although this instrument was only marginally successful, it garnered incredible publicity both internationally and in Japan, where it was featured on NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation’s morning news program in May, 1977. Roland continued to produce guitar synths for many years, displaying almost limitless patience that was eventually rewarded in the development of powerful modern-day guitar synths like the new GR-33.
Percussionists also received much attention from Roland in the ‘70s. In fact, the now-classic CR-78 Rhythm Composer was the first musical instrument to use a microprocessor. Thanks to this distinction, it was also the first rhythm machine to have variable accent and measure-based pattern changes. (According to Kakehashi, “CR” stands for “Computer Controlled,” not “CompuRhythm” as many people think.)
With regard to keyboards, Roland’s EP-30 was the world’s first electronic piano featuring touch sensitivity, way back in 1974. And Roland’s VK-9 and VK-1 combo organs, released in 1977 and 1979, respectively, offered exactly what organ players wanted—good sound, reliable operation and familiar drawbar-based control without all the hassles of larger instruments.
Take Over the World
During the ‘70s, computers made the transition from taking up entire rooms to fitting on a single chip you could hold in the palm of your hand. This computer-on-a-chip, or microchip, began to make its mark in the late ‘70s with the development of personal computers such as the Apple® II™. The next logical step was for someone to use a microchip in a musical instrument. Enter the MC-8 MicroComposer: the first digital sequencer with a microchip.
Introduced in 1977, the MC-8 cost a whopping $8,000 in the US; only 200 units were sold worldwide. This was, however, a milestone for Roland. According to Kakehashi, “The MC-8 [was] the first music product with a microchip—a project started by engineer Ralph Dyke. We built this sequencer with IC’s (integrated circuits) from a modified calculator. It was polyphonic, but it didn’t have much memory. Still, it was a great application for a microchip. Without the MC-8, we wouldn’t have had many other important products to come.” Considering the crucial role that sequencing has played in so many Roland and BOSS products, the MC-8 was indeed a pioneering product.
Who’s the BOSS?
The story of Roland cannot be completely told without also looking back at the history of BOSS and its classic guitar pedals. BOSS officially started in 1976, but its roots go back much further. The concept of BOSS was to produce instruments and devices featuring Roland technology, but in more affordable packages. However, BOSS didn’t really start out as BOSS. In fact, you could very easily be stomping on “MEG” pedals right now—yes, MEG. The original name for BOSS, MEG stood for “Music Electronics Group,” and was organized largely as a reaction to personnel issues.
Kakehashi explains, “I started Roland and many people wanted to join. I told them, ‘We don’t have enough jobs. Please wait.’ But many said ‘Sorry, I’ve already resigned to join Roland.’ So I quickly had to design a new project, and I started MEG.” There’s no need to hunt for rare original MEG products, however, as they were never made. Because “MEG” was found to be a common English name, it was decided that a different brand name would be preferable. Thus, the name “BOSS” was borrowed from an acoustic guitar pickup/preamp designed in the United States by Roland: “B-100 - The BOSS.”
Kakehashi borrowed the BOSS name from Roland U.S., and began releasing a wide array of products under the BOSS brand. He explains, “The pickup was okay, but it was simple. With guitar pedals, I could use more technology. So that was the start of BOSS.” True to his aim, Kakehashi’s new BOSS brand soon gave guitarists the CE-1 Chorus Ensemble—the world’s first chorus.
In 1977, the first of a new generation of BOSS compact pedals appeared: the OD-1 Overdrive, SP-1 Spectrum and PH-1 Phaser. The innovative design of these units included silent FET switching, recessed knobs, removable battery compartments, non-slip rubber backing on the top and bottom and lightweight metal chassis. Twenty-three years later, these pedals are built exactly the same way—a incredible tribute to their masterful design.
But BOSS didn’t stop at guitar pedals. In 1979, it released the DR-55 Dr. Rhythm, the world’s first rhythm machine to feature step recording. This initial BOSS drum machine was a big success, and DR-Series quickly became the rhythm section of choice for hundreds of thousands of musicians with PortaStudios™ in the 1980’s. Thanks to the DR-Series’ compact design, convenient operation and great sounds, musicians could now easily lay down drums, record guitar and cut vocals at home on their 4-tracks—producing great-sounding demos on the tightest of budgets.
The Early ‘80s: the Dawn of the Electronic Era
The early ‘80s was an incredible time for electronic musicians. Programmable polyphonic synthesizers came of age. A new broadcast venture, MTV, was launched—and critics quickly claimed that it was the death of live music and records. (Where have we heard that before?) With American bands like Devo defining electronic pop music and the launch of the “techno” British music invasion, electronic musical instruments were all the rage. It was during this time that Roland truly came of age, helping to sculpt the music of an era through a series of genre-defining instruments.
Building on the previous success of the SH-1000, Roland’s first polyphonic synthesizer, the Jupiter-4 was designed as an adjunct to traditional organs. Unfortunately for Roland, the Jupiter-4 debuted at the same trade show that Sequential Circuits introduced their landmark Prophet 5 synth. Kakehashi recalls, “The problem with the Jupiter-4 was [that it was] still designed to be used with an organ. Sequential Circuits, on the other hand, [completely abandoned the organ concept] and concentrated on the synthesizer as its own instrument. The new control [offered] by the Z80 microprocessor [found in the Prophet 5] was appealing to many electronic musicians. My design was for ‘organ people,’ and that’s why the Prophet 5 was very successful but the Jupiter-4 was not.”
To their credit, Kakehashi and Roland quickly picked up on this new focus. “I changed my mind,” recalls Kakehashi. “We had to concentrate on musical instruments. So we developed the Jupiter-8 and it was a big success.” Such a big success, in fact, that the Jupiter-8 still reigns as one of the legendary synths of all time. If you’re thinking big, huge, and warm analog sounds, chances are, you’re thinking about a Jupiter-8.
After the Jupiter-8 and subsequent Jupiter-6, the legendary Juno Series arrived, ushering in the Digital Controlled Oscillator (DCO). In contrast to the Voltage Controlled Oscillators (VCO’s) used by the Jupiters, the Junos’ DCO’s ensured tuning stability. Interestingly, in the technological quest for rock-solid tuning, no one realized that the instability of earlier instruments was actually a critical aspect of their “fat” analog sound. This problem was particularly apparent on single-oscillator instruments like the Junos. Fortunately, the addition of Roland’s trademark chorus effect brought its own style of analog “warmth” to the Junos, and became an essential part of their sound.
Following the Juno-6 and -60 was the popular JX-3P. The reason for the “3P” moniker was simple; it was Polyphonic, Programmable and had Presets. As its name would imply, the JX-3P took the DCO-based synth to a new level by offering two DCO’s per Patch while introducing another new innovative feature: an onboard sequencer. Keyboard salespeople around the country began step-entering bass lines to songs like “Billie Jean” into the JX-3P, playing them back just to see their customers’ jaws hit the floor. With this incredible onboard sequencing capability, the 3P laid the groundwork for all future Roland keyboard products with sequencers, now called “workstations.”
Roland at the Forefront of the MIDI Revolution
In 1982, a group of synth manufacturers and engineers formed a committee to develop a standard which would allow electronic musical instruments to communicate. The result was the Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI, which was unveiled in 1983. This concept, however, was not new to Roland. In fact, the Jupiter-8 (1981), Juno-60 (1982) and JSQ-60 Digital Sequencer (1982) all featured a Roland-developed Digital Communication Bus (DCB) port for transferring information between Roland instruments. Roland’s DCB was evaluated along with other standards of the day as the MIDI Specification was designed, and many aspects of DCB were adopted into what is now known as MIDI.
Okay, it’s trivia time. What was the first Roland MIDI instrument? Well, truth be told, there were two: the aforementioned JX-3P and the JP-6. In fact, there’s an often-repeated story about the JP-6 being connected to a Sequential Circuits Prophet 600 in a corridor between the Roland and KORG™ booths at the 1983 NAMM Show. A small group of engineers from both Sequential Circuits and Roland were eager to test MIDI—and, hey, it actually worked! Roland followed up in 1984 with the MSQ-700: the world’s first dedicated MIDI sequencer. Of course, MIDI soon grew into a widely adopted specification, and continues to be used as the standard for communication between musical instruments and computers today.
All Hail the Kings of Groove!
The early ‘80s also witnessed some of the biggest “accidents” in musical instrument history, the first being the TR-808 Rhythm Composer. Created in 1980, the colorful TR-808 was a programmable drum machine that featured accents, individual volume controls for its instruments (including the “Snappy” control for the snare drum) and was distinguished as the world’s first drum machine with non-volatile memory (your patterns weren’t lost when you turned the machine off). However, the TR-808 employed analog oscillators for its sounds—giving them a distinct, synthetic tone—that were soon overshadowed by the Linn Drum™’s real drum samples. Because of this, the TR-808 had a relatively short production run and was soon discontinued—but that was by no means the end of the road for this colorful little box.
Around this same time period, rap, techno and house music pioneers were scouring pawn shops looking for inexpensive used gear. The TR-808 fit the bill, and these early architects of groove music used it extensively. Its characteristic bass drum, cutting analog hi-hat and snare in many ways defined the genre. Actually, the bass drum of an -808 is nothing more than a very low frequency sine wave, and because of this the -808 can take credit for more blown woofers than any instrument on the planet. Ironically, the one-time unpopular TR-808 eventually became the most recorded drum machine in history, elevating it to “legendary” status.
Another early ‘80s instrument designed for one purpose but used for another was Roland’s TB-303 Bassline. Introduced in 1981 along with the TR-606 Drumatix, this product was intended as one half of a bass synth/drum machine combination that sync’d using the Roland Sync 24 interface. The TB-303 was programmable and consisted of an integrated sequencer and bass synth. It also included one of the gnarliest filters ever heard and had Cutoff and Resonance knobs that would practically squeal. However, it wasn’t until much later that DJ’s and electronica musicians discovered and used these unique TB-303 features. Like the TR-808, the -303 could be picked up in the mid-‘80s for almost nothing in pawn shops or in the paper. Today, the TB-303 has become another legendary product which can fetch up to $2,000 for a unit in good working condition.
Also in this category is Roland’s TR-909—a hybrid instrument introduced as a follow-up to the TR-808. Although its drum sounds were analog, the cymbals were based on digital samples. The -909 had moderate success initially, but like its predecessor, became a sought-after instrument years after it was discontinued. In fact, the -909 sound can still be found on countless records to this day—especially in house and dance music tracks—along with healthy doses of Junos, Jupiters and SH-101’s.
The ‘80s Continue
In 1987, Roland again made its mark with the unveiling of the D-50 L/A Synthesizer. At the time, FM synthesis had been the rage, as it offered a new sound which differed greatly from analog synthesis. In fact, as far as electronic musicians were concerned, “new” was the only game in town; the concept of a “retro” synth was pretty much unheard of. As such, the market was ripe for an affordable digital synthesizer that charted new ground.
In April, 1987, the D-50 astounded the music world with its new sounds and capabilities. Combining digitally generated synth waves with the PCM (sampled) attack transients of acoustic instruments, the D-50 became a huge success. It also featured onboard digital reverb, delay and chorus—unheard of at the time. In fact, the D-50’s “Digital Native Dance” Patch (created by Eric Persing) arguably became one of the most recorded sounds in synthesizer history.
As a strong early supporter of MIDI, Roland was, of course, one of the first companies to come out with a wide range of MIDI gear. The MKB-1000 and MKB-300 were the first devices designed solely as MIDI controllers (i.e., keyboards designed to control other modules, but which don’t produce any sound by themselves). It seems silly now, but at the time this caused much confusion. Suddenly, musicians had to learn about bits and bytes, MIDI channels, controllers, program changes, and more. And remember, this was a time when it was pretty rare for a musician to own a computer. There’s an often-repeated story about a customer calling Roland’s Product Support department after trying out a huge MIDI system in a store. The customer had purchased an MKB-1000 controller but none of the sound modules which were connected to it in the store. After bringing the controller home and trying to get sound, he called in wanting to know where the audio outputs and headphone jack were. (“Uh, sir, let me see if can I explain this to you…”)
At this time, Roland also came out with the MKS-30 (a rack mounted JX-3P), MKS-10 Piano Module and MKS-80 Super Jupiter—a unit which is still regarded as an analog synth monster.
Another new technology, digital sampling, was also making its way into the mainstream, and Roland quickly responded with the S-50 and S-10 Digital Samplers. The S-50 was noteworthy in that it was one of the first software-upgradeable musical instruments. One software update gave the S-50 a pattern sequencer that breathed new life into the unit. Interestingly, this sequencing program came about by chance, as it was only written as a hobby project one weekend by a Roland engineer for his own personal use. A user saw it and remarked, “Hey, that’s a cool product.” Everyone agreed, and it soon made its way onto an update disk. And starting with the S-50, Roland’s S-Series grew into a potent line of professional samplers through the ‘90s.
The ‘90s and Beyond
If the ‘90s are known for anything, it will be for communication—the ability of any one person to access and share an incredible variety of information. The Internet now provides instant global communication and gives musicians the ability to distribute music to the world. Powerful computers with incredible speed and horsepower are increasingly affordable (and sometimes even “free”). Satellites, cell phones, digital TV, you name it… everything is cheaper, better and faster.
For musicians, one of the most important developments of the ‘90s was the compact and affordable recording studio, which became a reality with the VS-880 Digital Studio Workstation in 1996. Of course, the Alesis® ADAT™ broke the initial barrier with respect to digital recording, but with the VS-880, for the first time, musicians had everything they needed to make high-quality professional recordings in a single unit. (I can personally remember staring at a styrofoam mock-up of the VS-880, then called the VR-88, in 1994. At the time, Roland Corporation US Vice President Chris Bristol and I were absolutely floored…)
As a result of products like the VS-880, demos produced in the ‘90s were miles beyond those produced on the 4-track recorders of the ‘80s. In fact, there’s now a Grammy®-nominated album which was recorded and mixed entirely on VS-1680 workstations: Victor Wooten’s Yin-Yang. And now, V-Studio owners can even burn audio CD’s, load them into their computers, and upload them onto the Internet for worldwide distribution.
Roland’s persistence has been particularly apparent over the last decade with respect to electronic drums. During the ‘80s, electronic drums, with their Formica™ hexagonal pads and synthy sounds, were a fad. However, like all fads, this one soon faded. (Along with it went big hair, white noise snares and step-time bass lines.) While the ‘90s replaced glam metal and new wave with grunge and “alternative,” Roland stayed the course, introducing the first truly successful electronic drum kit, the TD-7K (now called the Stage set) in 1992. And the pinnacle of electronic percussion arrived in 1997 with the introduction of the V-drums. Using COSM technology and innovative mesh head “V-pads,” this system gave professional drummers—including JR Robinson, Omar Hakim and Ricky Lawson—the confidence to sit behind an electronic drum set and get the job done.
For Roland, the ‘90s also ushered in the era of expandability. In 1992, the JV-80 was introduced—a synthesizer which gave its users the ability to expand and customize their instrument’s sound set as desired. The concept was simple: Why buy an entirely new keyboard when you can get all the new sounds you want with a simple, inexpensive, user-installable expansion board? Roland has stayed true to this expansion concept and is now introducing the 18th board in the SR-JV80-Series, while simultaneously introducing its next generation of boards with the SRX-Series.
Other milestones of the ‘90s include the introduction of General MIDI (GM). Prior to General MIDI, synths had no standard sound sets, so a MIDI sequence playing on one synth could sound completely different on another. The idea behind a GM-compatible synthesizer was to have a standard sound map available so that a sequence would play back the right sounds. The first GM module was the Roland SC-55 Sound Canvas. Its companion was a nifty sequence player, complete with a remote control, called the SB-55 Sound Brush. The SC-55 was GM-compatible but also Roland GS capable, giving it an extension beyond General MIDI which had more sound variations and effects. (Editor’s Note: Rumor has it that GS stood for “General Standard.” This has never been confirmed, but it’s interesting that the formalized GM sound map used the SC-55 sounds as the model.)
The Technology Behind the Instruments
Of course, many of Roland’s most popular instruments have been based on breakthrough technologies. When asked which of these Roland technologies have been the most important, Kakehashi answers quickly, “SA [structured adaptive] Synthesis, COSM [Composite Object Sound Modeling] and RDAC [Roland Digital Audio Coding].” [Editor’s Note: It’s a good bet that Roland’s VariPhrase technology will also be added to the list before the decade is over—see page 22.]
SA Synthesis is the technology which appeared first in the
MKS-20 Piano Module, and then in the RD-1000 Stage Piano. By not relying on sampled sounds, the MKS-20 had a much greater dynamic response. Kakehashi elaborates, “The basics of today’s piano sounds are rooted in SA, Structured Adaptive Synthesis.” In fact, “Piano 3” on the MKS-20/RD-1000 was the standard “electric grand” sound of the time and is still used today.
COSM, on the other hand, was a Roland technology first introduced in 1995 in the VG-8 V-Guitar System. Physical modeling had been introduced years before, but COSM approached sound modeling differently. The VG-8 applied sound modeling to every major element of a guitar’s final sound—guitar body, pickup type, pickup placement, amp head, speaker cabinet, mic type, and mic placement on the cabinet. All of these components were taken into consideration and modeled in software.
Today, COSM has woven its way into V-Studio workstations in the form of modeled mic simulators, modeled guitar preamps and modeled speakers and studio monitors. The V-drums use COSM to model the many components of a drum kit. Many processor units (the BOSS VF-1 24-bit Multiple Effects Processor, for example) have distinct COSM effects built-in. And Roland’s flagship VK-7 and VK-77 Combo Organs use COSM to achieve their stunning rotary speaker sounds.
Speaking of the latest VK-Series organs, Kakehashi is also quite proud of Roland’s Virtual ToneWheel™ modeling technology, which is employed to simulate the imperfect oscillation of independent tone wheels in a classic organ. A life-long organ music fan, Kakehashi notes, “What we did in the beginning was to copy the Hammond® B-3™ completely. But later, our engineers figured out a way to control brightness waves and to mix them using drawbars. We added several new features and expanded the type of music making possible on these instruments.” Indeed, the VK-7’s incredible tone wheel modeling prompted Keyboard magazine to call it “the Ferrari” of combo organs.
This brings us to RDAC. This audio coding technology allows Roland recorders to efficiently and inexpensively record audio to a hard disk. Without RDAC technology, the milestone VS-880 Digital Studio Workstation would never have been possible. Its predecessor, the DM-80 Multi-Track Disk Recorder (1992), was actually Roland’s first hard disk recorder, and Kakehashi remembers it fondly, “Without the DM-80, the VS-880 would never have existed. The key technology here is RDAC. Without RDAC, we never would have produced the VS-880.” And over 150,000 V-Studio users are no doubt grateful…
Well, What’s Next?
In writing a Roland retrospective, it’s easy to overlook some favorites—the R-8, SDE-3000, GR-700, XP synths, W-30, MPU-401, GP-8, TR-707, Dimension D, MT-32, MC-303, VK-09, and SH-101, for example. That’s because Roland has made over 1,000 products in its short history, covering several product groups and tools for virtually every type of musician. The philosophy of creating multiple products for many musicians is simple. Kakehashi perhaps says it best: “[Standing on] one leg is very difficult. That’s why a camera needs a tripod. [Roland] needed more than three legs, but this was not so easy... So from the beginning I divided Roland into many product groups, and [formed] BOSS… I started with two, and then added Rodgers, Edirol, and even Atelier organs… I designed more companies than products.”
So after 30 years in existence, what is Roland? Well, first, it is a company that remembers what musicians really want—to make music and enjoy the experience of creating. As a testimony to this, almost all of the engineers at Roland and BOSS are musicians with a passion: the passion for making music. When developing an instrument, these engineers can barely contain their enthusiasm at hearing their creations do new things, or simply at brainstorming a new technology or feature.
As the Senior Product Manager for Roland U.S., I’m the same as these engineers and as my co-workers. We see ourselves as a company that’s not just creating products, but tools that people all over the world will use to express themselves. That feeling is never forgotten. We’re fanatical about it. It’s what keeps each one of us on what amounts to a “crusade” every day.
As I sit across from Kakehashi, I can sense his enthusiasm about the future. He observes, “With technology, there comes software, hardware and artware. Companies can make hardware and software, but without artware, there is no heart to the product or company.”
When asked about the future and what’s ahead, Kakehashi smiles and states, “We design the future, but the future is still under construction.” As to where Roland will go next, he concludes, “Well, the future is very busy…”
As Roland enters into the new millennium, we thank you for continuing to make music with Roland and BOSS gear. We look forward to “designing the future” of music and creating as many inspiring “future classics” as we possibly can.
Paul Youngblood is the Senior Product Manager for Roland Corporation U.S., directing marketing and product development for the Musical Instrument division. He still has the same passion for music-making and music gear today as he had 15 years ago when he started with Roland.