A Brief History of Drum Machines

20 Nov 2014

The first drum machine appeared in the early 1930s but these purely mechanical devices were very difficult to use.  

The breakthrough came in 1959 with the Wurlitzer Sideman which utilized tape loops of pre-recorded rhythms.  Following the introduction of a variety of electro-mechanical drum machines through the 1960s, fully electronic units began to appear.



The ComputeRhythm (1972) was programmed using punch cards.   Others came with rhythms and sounds stored in tiny memories.  Machines using digitally sampled sounds (like the Linn LM-1) were popular in the early 80s but very expensive and restricted to high-end studios.

Cheaper units like Roland’s TR-808 (1980) and its successors became wildly popular, especially in dance music.  Their unique percussion sounds (including a very low bass drum and a tinny handclap sound) saw them featured on untold thousands of pop and rock recordings.  A Roland drum machine can be heard on Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.”

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