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Gearhead: Roland Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary

Learn how the company is commemorating its golden year

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Roland System-700 synth - Roland 50th Anniversary - JazzTimes
A highlight of the anniversary website’s timeline: the System-700 synth of 1976

On April 18, 1972, the Roland Corporation was founded in Osaka, Japan. Its mission: to produce electronic instruments and accessories for musicians. Two years later, it launched its first truly iconic product, the RE-201 Space Echo effects unit. A year after that, it debuted the JC-120 Jazz Chorus guitar amplifier. Another two years on, there emerged the MC-8 MicroComposer, a tiny but powerful sequencing device that was revolutionary at the time. Then, at the dawn of the 1980s, came the king of them all: the epochal TR-808 Rhythm Composer drum machine (see our March 2021 Gearhead column for more on that). 

In less than a decade, with these and many other clever inventions, the designers and engineers at Roland had changed the way music of all genres sounded. And they were just getting started. Today, with products like their Aerophone digital wind instruments and WAZA-Air headphone amps, they continue to set the pace for innovation in music gear.

Not surprisingly, considering all of the above, Roland has big plans for its 50th birthday this year. First out of the gate is a new “Roland at 50” website, which can be found here. The core of the site is a timeline that stretches through five decades, showcasing more than 180 products in roughly chronological order. This serves as a springboard to explore the rest of the site, which includes feature articles (“A History of Roland Samplers” and “Drumatix: The Perpetual Appeal of the TR-606” are just two examples), videos (like a tour of the private Roland Museum in Hamamatsu), audio playlists of songs that demonstrate specific Roland models in action, and so on.

If you have even a cursory interest in music technology, you will be enchanted by this website, and you may find that time passes rapidly while you’re on it. The timeline is clearly and beautifully designed, and I was especially charmed by all its little era-appropriate stylistic details: The backdrop for the 1970s header resembles the light cast by a lava lamp, while the test pattern-ish header for the ’80s looks like it’s playing on a fuzzy VHS tape, complete with sporadic image glitches.

According to Roland, the “Roland at 50” website is just the beginning. Commemorative products are scheduled for release throughout 2022, with one model (at press time, its identity remains a mystery) slated for debut on April 18, the company’s official golden-anniversary date. You can learn more—and gain access to extra special features—if you go to the site and sign up as a Roland 50 VIP. Sounds like fun. 

Continue scrolling to learn about more instruments and equipment.

Originally Published
Mac Randall

Mac Randall

Mac Randall has been the editor of JazzTimes since May 2018. Prior to that, he wrote regularly for the magazine. He has written about numerous genres of music for a wide variety of publications over the past 30 years, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, Mojo, and Guitar Aficionado, and he has worked on the editorial staffs of Musician, LAUNCH (now Yahoo! Music), Guitar One, Teaching Music, Music Alive!, and In Tune Monthly. He is the author of two books, Exit Music: The Radiohead Story and 101 Great Playlists. He lives in New York City.