Industry Profile: Roland (UK) Ltd
Roland products began their life in Japan in the early 70's and were first distributed in this country by Brodr Jorgensen over six years ago as part of a European network extending from Copenhagen.
The UK division was started by Brian Nunney working at home with a modest capital of £5,000. Then a small warehouse was acquired with a staff augmented by Fred Mead and Ken Stoddard to a grand total of three! From the outset, their policy was to process orders the same day and the enthusiasm and energy required to maintain this aim is still evident today, along with a bias towards minimum staff and maximum stock of instruments.
After two years of existence, the company made its next big step by moving into a warehouse complex at Brentford, Middlesex with the promise of long term growth ahead.
Then at the end of December, 1980, financial difficulties loomed for the retail side of Brodr Jorgensen in Denmark which prompted Brian Nunney to start negotiations for buying Brodr Jorgensen UK. The Roland corporation in Japan gave the necessary assurance for supporting the proposals with the result that the acquisition proceeded and a new company, Roland (UK) Ltd began as a joint venture with the Japanese manufacturers. So the management stayed the same, with Brian Nunney as Managing director, Fred Mead as Sales Director and Ken Stoddard as Financial Director now owning 50% of the company between them.
The warehouse contains offices and a large storage, packing despatch and receipt area in which an impressive air condition demonstration room has been built, as well as separate guitar and equipment workshops. Despatch to retail stores is made daily with delivery within 48 hours.
Roland's product range numbers over 250 items with one new line every month on average introduced. Brian Nunney declares, "Within our field we are the biggest in the country and our policy in terms of products is to keep a broad base - covering synthesisers, rhythm units, keyboards, amplification and effects". Brian believes their success stems from the innovations introduced in Roland musical products and their research and development team looking very early on at the digital technology available and the subsequent use of computer based designs. He comments, "we've barely scratched the surface!"
"Industry standards are becoming more important as musicians link instruments together and our 1 volt per octave is now the most used standard for voltage control. Similarly, guitar synthesis should focus on the 'electronic guitar' because guitarists in general have kept away from synthesis. In terms of rhythm machines, Roland now have a complete family of instruments from the Dr. Rhythm, the CR5000 (with presets and programmable functions), the CR8000 and at the top of the range, the TR-808 with full composing features. There's also likely to be another machine soon with the TR-808 facilities all in a complete package that's considerably cheaper."
Roland recognise the need for limited 'prestige' lines in order to give the company total professional credibility, such as the System 700 and the MC-8 MicroComposer. From the System 700, the System 100M was derived and from the MC-8 came the TR-808, MC-4 and even the Dr. Rhythm. Very often the same chips and circuit boards can be utilised in more than one product.
Moving on to other products, the Roland Rack has been very successful and comprises a range of specially designed 19" processing, effects and power amp units mounted in a solid flight case for use on stage as well as in transit. This allows the musician to carry the Rack with everything linked and preset for immediate use.
The 100M modular synthesiser is an ideal system for the serious electronic composer although it is also used by many groups and studios, including Landscape and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Developed from the large System 700, it offers comprehensive patch-chord interfacing.
Instruments like the Vocoder have introduced new sounds for musicians and will probably become a popular preset on new instruments in the coming years, in the same way that clap boxes are now becoming an integral part of drum machines.
With reasonable cost in mind, the SH series of synthesisers were introduced with a smaller number of keyboard octaves, yet still retaining in/out patch sockets for linking with other instruments.
Although Roland stopped making their portable organs over a year ago, due to economic reasons and the need to look in other directions, it is expected that pro, semi-pro and home organs will be introduced within two years.
Another useful Roland idea is the MS-100 speaker unit, designed for mic stand mounting as a 100W monitor which can be conveniently placed on both sides of the player.
One of the most popular effects boxes is the CE-1 Chorus Ensemble Stereo which is selling well after 4½ years. Roland also introduced FET switching to their effects and made the whole top half of the box as the switch. Digital delay effects pedals are in the pipe-line top.
The new state-of-the-art Jupiter-8 polyphonic synthesiser has the ability to layer user-programmed preset sounds in 8 note playing capability - with 16 oscillators (two on each note with de-tuning possible). It's a variable synthesiser in that you can set up 64 sounds from an 8-switch matrix selection using the digital display.
Following the success of the Cube high quality amplifiers, now extending up to 100W power, Roland have augmented these with the Bolt tube amps and Spirit guitar amplifiers.
The original MC-8 MicroComposer, although expensive, gave a new form of digital/analogue multi-tracking for synthesisers with data keyed in by numbers. The MC-4 has been brought out as a less expensive alternative and, linked with the TR-808, gives a complete harmonic/rhythm backing for compositions. The SQ-100 (and larger memory SQ-600) sequencers provide ideal melodic storage blocks that can synchronise with both the TR-808 and MC-4 to produce music in the style of Tangerine Dream and Logic System.
Another important direction for the company lies in the distribution of guitars and Roland now carry the Washburn range of fretted instruments which include guitars (both electric and acoustic), banjos and mandolins. The addition of this range of products has given the company vital experience over the last two years with fretted instruments alongside the Roland guitar synthesisers. The instruments were made in Japan for Washburn America and are an established and popular range for the professional player.
Roland have always emphasised the importance of training courses for shop sales staff and Alan Townsend regularly holds seminars in the UK. At first it was very hard to persuade retailers to learn about synthesisers - now there is a waiting list, simply because musicians purchasing instruments often knew more about them than the salesman! Jane Yapp, personal assistant to Brian Nunney, plays a large part in the organisation of these seminars as well as the many music exhibitions attended by Roland.
Brian Nunney sees many important areas for consideration in the future, such as tuning standards, interfacing, using electronic instruments for classical music, the continued acceptance of the 'distorted' valve amplifier, linking electro-music with audiovisual media (including the use of the TV screen for music notation). He stresses the importance of the specialist musician who paves the way for the future and often is the idol of the younger generation.
Brian comments, "The music business has limited parameters which so far have not been expanded. What we see in the future, and it's already happening in Japan and the West Coast of America, is the increased use of leisure time in a constructive and creative way, and E&MM is highlighting the direction of the expanding frontier for the music industry."
"You've got to be able to create - we've had a whole decade of being flooded with things that are non-creative but occupy time, e.g. television. People are beginning to want to do something useful with their spare time and electro-music and the silicon chip have made it all the more possible. Combine this music making with studio recording facilities which are much more accessible financially and more acceptable in the home, and you have a whole new extra parameter of music products as well as ways of playing music without being a genius!"
For the future, Roland have their development well planned and will surely continue to provide innovative designs for the amateur and professional musician.
On our Demo Cassette No. 4 Alan and Adrian play the Jupiter 8, Jay plays the GR-300 Guitar Synth and Ike plays the MC-4 with other keyboards.
Feature by Mike Beecher
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