Tips to Greatly Improve Your Roland´s TR-909 Performance

Some say it’s a relic, others call it a quiet current synthesizer. What everybody agrees upon is that it’s without a doubt one of the best Roland creations. Since many people consider “collection items” to be “collection items”, there are quite a lot of them still on the market at a relatively reasonable price, since some people don’t want to let them go, no matter the price.

But some experts say that it’s outdated and quite rugged for today’s sound quality since the Roland TR-909 was a product that hit the markets in 1989. As old as it might be, it’s one of those jewels most sound creators want to have in their inventory, since it’s not only a classic, but it can still put out some excellent music, or at least help create some of the most unique and complex drum sounds anyone could hear.

But of course, as the years pass, some new technologies start to show that it might now be a little obsolete, at least in its pure form. That’s why some grinding of its creation might help a lot to polish the sound of a Roland TR-909 into something much more interesting. Whether one is trying to create a soundscape or just keep a beat in a unique song, this rhythm composer has all a musician could ask for, and much more.

Knowing the machine in depth

Born as the creation of the genius Tadao Kikumoto, who is now Roland’s senior managing director and head of its research and design center, the TR-909 brought with it a great revolution to the dance floors, since the TR-909 is considered one of the “classic” rhythm composers a DJ or creator can get. One of the main characteristics that separated it from its predecessor, the TR-808, was that instead of a relatively “boomy” bass, the 909 has a more aggressive and piercing sound.

Aside from that, it was also the first Roland drum machine to include samples, meaning that one could reproduce a pre-recorded sound (crash, ride, and hi-hat only) by just pushing one button. The rest of the sounds are part of an analog synthesis, meaning the user will listen to a sound created by an analog circuit and signals.

This gives it a somehow “crude” or “boomy” quality, as some describe the sound coming out of this composer, but for some, it’s also the main quality that makes it a relic. In some cases, when the machine has been updated, the users tend to modify the software to go back to the original synthesis since it gives them the nostalgia of listening to the same sound as in some old songs. Maybe also to use them as some sound effects in a new movie, trying to bring that sense of the 80’s to it with some drums over a chase scene.

Even when some state that this composer was a failure in sales, at almost 1.000 pounds back in 1983, the fact that even today many people are looking for them, or even reselling them online, is a big testament to its impressive sense of nostalgia. Maybe it’s because it was also the first of Roland’s products to include MIDI, allowing it to synchronize with other instruments or devices.

Reshaping the original sounds

Many musicians around the world consider that even with the updates that Roland has created over the years to “patch” this model, it’s not nearly enough to compensate for its sometimes trashy or even tough kicks. They used modern technology to create more pleasant and even adjusted sounds that resemble a drum set, and even have a better chance to compose a modern song, or be a part of a collective of instruments in, say, a relatively low-density concert.

The fact is that nostalgia can’t beat the fact that, considering modern standards, this machine lacks a lot in terms of reproducing an actual drum sound. It might have been the best that 1983 had to offer, but in modern days, with even novices used to hearing the best reproduction of a sound that could ever be recorded, it might be quite difficult to convince them that the 909 has something to offer.

That’s why we’ve created a compilation of the best ways to improve these pre recorded sounds and really make your 909 shine:

A slightly driven 909 kick: the piercing kick in the 909 is a result of the analog drive. Using a Mackie like the CR series model 1604 can help a lot in creating a more “convincing” sound, in particular if one wants to keep that 90’s feeling to it. There’s a chance that distortion could increase low mid mud, so frequencies should be in the range of 100 to 250 Hz, or 4 to 500 Hz.

Overdriven 909 kick A: the original has a lot of distortion, which can be removed easily by boosting the kick’s fundamentals, turning it into a low-weight, clearer sound that really resembles drums.

Syncopated claps with rimshot: a very elegant solution to this distorted kick is to change the original pattern to that in the TR-8 series, making it thicker by jamming a syncopated version of it. This should be done before layering the kit’s rimshot.

Riverbed cymbals: ride notes or maybe a short cymbal can really help in this case, in particular to back up the offbeat hi-hat. If one wants to add more dimension to it, the stereo fields should be moved to the right as far as comfort allows.