Yamaha RY-20 Drum Machine 90’s Vibe

Yamaha RY-20 Drum Machine
Yamaha RY-20 Drum Machine

Today I was going through some used music gear at a nearby second hand shop in downtown Nagano-city, Japan. On a shelf I discovered three Yamaha RY-20 drum machines. One was for $150 and the other two were $10 each and labeled as broken. I took the two that were broken and tested them at the shop and sure enough they operated just fine with one exception. When you pressed play on either one, the patterns would not play. I scratched my head a bit and was wondering why both machines had the same problem….strange! I figured I would gamble a bit and decided to buy both Yamaha RY-20 drum machines mainly because they sounded AWESOME!! I mean, the RY-20 is loud and many of the patterns swing really nice, ala New Jack Swing! I couldn’t stop playing with the drum pads which really felt great and the sensitivity was just excellent. If they indeed were broken I could at least use them for sound modules.

So, I bought both drum machines and they even came with the adapters. When I got home I decided the first thing to try was a “factory reset”. I looked for a PDF manual online and found the reset procedure. You have to press both the -1 and +1 keys at the same time while powering on the unit. Unbelievable! Both Yamaha RY-20 Drum Machines kicked into high gear and started to work beautifully. I later found out that both machines were in MIDI sync mode and wouldn’t play because they were expecting an external midi command. The guy who sold them to the used music store probably left them in MIDI Sync mode. The sales clerk thought they were broken and dropped the price to $10 each. Amazing!!

This evening I spent an hour playing the Korg Poly-61 along with one of the Yamaha RY-20 drum machines and it was a lot of fun. The drum sounds are really nice and you definitely can get that 80’s or 90’s vibe with it. I believe the Yamaha RY-20 was released in 1994 which was a year after I originally moved to Japan. It was quite extraordinary to find the RY-20 drum machines. I can’t believe how great they sound and if I new they were this fun to work with I likely would have bought one earlier. The Yamaha RY-20 drum machines sound much different than the Rolands. I like how loud the RY-20 is and for Synthpop or that New Jack Swing sound it’s just fantastic. There is a special sensitivity or live feel to the drums that sounds much different than most other digital drum machines I’ve heard. I may be stretching it a bit, but sometimes I actually feel like the drums are alive. I’ll have to read more about it, but the Yamaha RY-20 really has a wonderful sound. Stay tuned for future updates as I dive into the machine more.

2 thoughts on “Yamaha RY-20 Drum Machine 90’s Vibe

  1. microbug

    Although this is an old post: I now got hold on one myself after not knowing about the existance of this machine. You’re absoultely right: it sounds awesome, not only the sounds itself but the preset patterns.
    Having owned nearly all drum boxes Yamaha ever has made this is an interesting machine, since it is nothing like the other ones, neither in sound nor in handling or feature terms. Looking at the box, handling it and listening to the preset patterns the whole machine is much closer to the Alesis SR-16 than to its older relatives like RY8 or RY30. Check the facts:
    – custom LC DIsplay. No Yamaha drumbox had this before
    – menu structure, especially with the page buttons, this is nearly identical to the SR-16
    – drum samples: compare these to the SR-16 and wonder why they sound so similar
    – knob layout: unlike every other Yamaha, but much like the SR-16
    – “intelligent” Fill function: Depending on the time you press one of the fill buttons, either the complete fill is played or only a part of it. There is only one other machine with exact the same feature: The SR-16 (they lost this feature on the SR-18)

    Inside, the PCB and chips are all Yamaha, but I am pretty sure this machine was not developed by Yamaha but by Marcus Ryle (Oberheim, Alesis and now Line6), the guy who did the SR-16 (or at least he was involved).

    The first Yamaha drummie, the RX11, sounded more like the LinnDrum, but since the RX5, the Yamaha boxes had their own sound, but not so the RY20. Just compare it to the SR-16 and prepare to be surprised 🙂

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