10 Oddball Vintage Drum Machines on Reverb Right Now

While drum machines—like the Roland TR-808, TR-909, and the LinnDrum—have become classic instruments that have helped launch genres and define eras of popular music, there exists a far broader history of drum machines that you can find just by perusing the pages of listings on Reverb.

Some of these rarer gems had brief moments of their own in the spotlight. You may recognize their sounds from Depeche Mode, Jean-Michel Jarre, and other tech-savvy musicians of the late 1970s and ‘80s. You may know some of these splatty snares from early ‘90s hip-hop. Or, you may recall a simple samba beat from your great-uncle’s Wurlitzer.

From the earliest preset organ accompaniments to non-808 sine-wave kicks, check out our favorite obscure drum machines below. Click on the images for the individual listings to get more info or to buy a piece of history.

Found on Reverb Explore Now

Chamberlin Rhythmate 25

The first sample-based drum machine, the Rhythmate was invented by Harry Chamberlin in 1949. Chamberlin recorded 16 acoustic drum patterns to individual 1-inch tape loops. The Rhythmate user can choose between the loops with a slider or can mix two adjacent loops together by placing the slider between them. Pair it with an organ, and you’re ready to soundtrack a boardwalk amusement park or a ‘60s Holiday Inn cocktail lounge.

If the Rhythmate’s tape-playback mechanism seems reminiscent of the Mellotron—the keyboard famously used by the Beatles, The Moody Blues, and countless others to play pre-recorded strings, flutes, and choral tones—that’s because Chamberlin was the inventor behind the Mellotron as well.

Chamberlin brand keyboards were a sensation at NAMM in 1956, but reached greater fame under the Mellotron name after a Chamberlin salesman stole the original patents and sold the idea as his own to a UK company. Chamberlin worked out a deal with the UK-based Mellotronics, enjoying payments from that firm as well as the growing popularity of his Chamberlin products.

Though he had made fewer than 10 Rhythmates originally, Chamberlin capitalized on his newfound success, tweaking the idea and manufacturing various versions of his drum machine during the '60s, though it is believed he never produced more than 100 total.

When faced with the new era of keyboards and rhythm boxes replacing real-life musicians, the American Federation of Musicians once said that a Chamberlin could only be played in a lounge if the player got paid the rate of three musicians. But while some feared for their livelihoods, others embraced (or at least faked an embrace of) the new technology.


Mattel Synsonics Drums

It could be said that the legendary jazz drummer Buddy Rich never met an endorsement deal he didn’t like, having advertised for Ludwig, Slingerland, Rogers, Trixon, and others throughout his industrious career. But perhaps the only drum machine he ever endorsed came courtesy of Barbie’s own toy company Mattel.

Jumping into the drum machine craze in 1981, Mattel released its Synsonics Drums, a four-pad, 18-button, all-analog drum machine/child’s plaything. Buddy Rich stars in an early advertisement in which the narrator says, “You don’t have to be a pro to play them,” and Buddy responds, “But I love to anyway.”

Widely panned as a toy at the time, some enthusiasts have since likened the analog white-noise hats, clicky snares, and pitch-shifted toms to those of an 808. Others have modded the limited instrument to be able to carry more sounds or packaged the original Synsonics tones in downloadable sample packs.


Yamaha RY30

Leaving the toy aisle behind, the Yamaha RY30 is an undeniably impressive drum machine.

MIDI-programmable, the RY30 comes equipped with 90 waveform acoustic drum and percussion sounds, as well as tweakable analog sine, triangle, and saw waves.

The synth sounds can create great sub bass and classic machine snare tones. The modulation wheel can select one, two, or both of the oscillators generating the analog tones, or can be made to shift the pitch, decay, pan, or low- and high-pass filter cutoffs.

By filtering the waveforms, it’s possible to craft strange, glassy pad sounds. Electronic pioneers Autechre used the RY30 to craft the entirety of their 1996 split single “We R Are Why/Are Y Are We?”

However, if stock ‘80s hits are more your thing, you’ll find them in abundance in the RY30.


MPC Electronics MPC-1 Music Percussion Computer

Bearing no relation to the Akai MPC line of drum machines, the MPC Electronics Music Percussion Computer was a short-lived, all-analog, semi-modular drum synth. Coming into a crowded market, alongside the Oberheim DBX, E-mu Drumulator, and LinnDrum, the MPC-1 tried to compete with these machines, which proved to be far more popular.

With eight pads, high-quality analog sounds, an onboard sequencer and plenty of storage memory, the MPC-1 was also designed to link with a computer and a TV. Used alongside the Timex-Sinclair 1000 series computer, you could program 25 bars of sequenced rhythms (as opposed to just two bars worth available on the MPC-1) and see your beats on a TV display.

Depeche Mode is known to have used the MPC-1, but unfortunately, not enough other musicians did. The company soon went out of business.


Univox SR-95

Korg’s Mini Pops was sold in various models and under various company names throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s. The Univox SR-95 is one example. Like others of its time, this early, preset-only drum machine was created to accompany organists and other solo performers. But experimenting musicians soon found that you could play multiple preset patterns at a time, resulting in unique rhythms of analog hits.

French composer Jean-Michel Jarre used the Mini Pops extensively on his Oxygene album, while Aphex Twin made an ode of sorts with his “minipops 67 [120.2].”


Rhythm Ace FR-2L

Before the wildly innovative Ikutaro Kakehashi founded Roland, he had already achieved some success in the drum machine world.

Working under the name Ace Electronics, Kakehashi developed a preset-based drum machine called the Rhythm Ace. It came with 16 preset patterns, including organ accompaniment mainstays like Bossa Nova and Samba. Like the Korg Mini Pops, multiple buttons can be pushed simultaneously.

A unique function to the Rhythm Ace is the ability to cut specific tones out of the patterns. By canceling the Cymbal, Claves, and Snare tones, you can hear isolated low-end hits, giving a sense of the classic sounds that would later culminate in Kakehashi’s invention of the 808.


Sound Master SD-3 Disco Beat

Trying to give a practice aide to guitarists and bass players, some manufacturers like Japan’s Sound Master began to make stompbox rhythm boxes. While other drum machines intended as composition or songwriting aides became instruments in their own right, posterity will likely not find new uses for the Disco Beats pedal. But it does create some quirky retro beats.


Dynacord Add Two

Dynacord is German manufacturer whose drum machines of the early- and mid-’80s are still widely loved by ardent fans. The Dynacord Add One was a programmable sample-based machine like the LinnDrum and the Oberheim DBX.

The Dynacord Add Two expanded on that design, including customizable analog synth generators and electronic drum pads, which a drummer could set up like a kit and play to trigger the programmed sounds. The unit can store up to 50 different drum sets, composed of eight sounds apiece.


Dynacord P20

Another from the much-loved Dynacord brand, the P20 is the successor to the earlier “Percuter” percussion computer module. Like the Percuter, the P20 accepts cartridges loaded with sampled drum sounds.

The machine could be played with front panel buttons or set up to be triggered by drum pads as well. Comes complete with plenty of new-wavey handclaps and toms.


RMIF Elsita

The Soviet-made Riga’s Music Instruments Factory (RMIF) Elsita is slept-on drum synth/module, capable of producing fat analog sub bass and glitchy hats similar to the much more beloved and expensive Rolands, with a character all its own.

As a fairly unpopular Russian machine, it’s difficult to find information about it, though various jams on YouTube show off its versatility when connected to drum triggers, MPCs, or other external sources.


comments powered by Disqus