Roland TR-606 Vintage Drum Machine

Roland TR-606
Roland TR-606

UNBELIEVABLE! Today I snagged a vintage Roland TR-606 from the local used music shop here in Nagano city, JAPAN for only one dollar (thats $1.00)! The unit was really dirty and there was a note that said it didn’t make any sound. I bought it anyway because I couldn’t take their word for it. I’ve bought things in the past from this same shop with notes that said “Not working” when it only was because they didn’t understand or know how to use the music device. I got home and found a working adapter. It turned on right away, but indeed it didn’t make any sound. The reason is that you must know how to operate the unit!

I looked up the manual online as I was guilty as well not understanding how to properly use or test the Roland TR-606. I found some instructions on how to access the patterns. To my amazement the TR-606 performed beautifully. In addition, I noticed on the back there were five custom outputs which meant there must have been some sort of custom MOD installed in the TR-606. I spent about an hour cleaning up the drum machine and it looked fairly nice after that. I still can’t believe I found this for only a buck!

I also noticed that when I went through some of the patterns that the previous owner had programmed in the TR-606, they were quite erratic. If I had to guess, the owner before me was either into speed metal or didn’t know what they were doing with respect to programming the TR-606. Perhaps that also might explain the type of person that would drop this off at a used music shop and allow it to be sold for one dollar. Obviously, the store owner didn’t pay more than a dollar so he must have gotten the TR-606 practically for free. The beauty of this used music shop I frequent is that the music gear must be working 100% so that they can provide their standard 3 month warranty policy. Otherwise it’s classified as junk and the price is set to simply get rid of it as fast as possible. This is why the store employees usually seem me in the shop 3-4 times a week. I’m pretty sure that Roland TR-606 would not be in the junk box for very much longer.

One of the main reasons I am really excited to find the Roland TR-606 is that it has an output trigger ability to send sync signals to my Roland Juno 6 and Juno 106 synthesizers. The Roland TR-606 is really small and by the looks of the controls is probably quite easy to program once I read the manual once or twice. It should work awesome along with the Juno 6 both as a drum machine and a trigger to start the arpeggiator on the Juno 6. Fantastic!

Here is a video that someone uploaded to Youtube with the Roland TR-606 Drum machine triggering and in sync with the Roland Juno 6. It’s not a great video but it gives you the idea of both working together.

Roland A-33 Midi Keyboard Controller

Roland A-33 Midi Keyboard Controller
Roland A-33 Midi Keyboard Controller

It’s been a while since I’ve found anything decent in the used music shop I frequent in Nagano city, Japan, but today I found nice little ( or big ) gem.

Just this morning they got a mint condition Roland A-33 Midi Keyboard Controller with midi cables, case, and adapter. They were selling it for $45, so I instantly jumped on it. The keys are slightly yellow and I’m not sure if that’s normal or not, but it didn’t really matter as it played beautifully. Like I mentioned above, the condition is absolutely flawless. The things I like about the Roland A-33 are as follows:

1. The professional weighted 76-note velocity-sensitive keyboard is outstanding. It really feels great to me.

2. The two selectable MIDI Outs, one MIDI In, one MIDI Thru are very much needed with all the hardware sound modules I have.
3. Having the two key zones, Split and Layer modes allows for quick modifications to the keyboard setup.

4. The 32 user patch locations; 32 presets for use with GM/GS sound modules should be useful for custom setups.
5. Dedicated buttons for Octave Up/Down keyboard transposition, +2 octaves is very accessible. Awesome!

6. The A-33 is battery powered, has a Bender/Modulation lever for added expression and a Start/Stop button for sequencer control.

7. There is a Roland A-33 software application to help visually program the keyboard which is nice.

I don’t need any computer connectivity as I don’t use one when performing and if I do use the computer I send the audio through a mixer. The newer USB Keyboard controllers are not necessary for me although I do have an Edirol controller should I need that.

I’m really excited about finding the Roland A-33. It really feels great and when connected to a couple of sound modules, it’s very flexible. It’s a really nice set of keys for just a controller.

Update: Here is a list of CONS in case anybody is interested in the negative aspects of the Roland A-33.

No Aftertouch
The pitch bender is not smooth
Only one data entry slider
Keys are not full size (length is shorter)
No progam up/down button
Velocity sensitivity is not full range of MIDI velocity

I pretty much bought this for the 76 keys and the two midi outs. I think for the price and condition, I really couldn’t go wrong with picking one up to try out.


Roland W-30 Music Workstation Found!

Roland W-30 Sampler Workstation
Roland W-30 Sampler Workstation

Yesterday I picked up a “mint” condition Roland W-30 Sampler Workstation from a used audio shop here in Nagano City, Japan. The W30 was in mint condition with all the manuals, system disks, and sounds disks. Not only that but the manuals and disks were practically not even used as they were in pristine condition…amazing! Also included was the KW30 SCSI kit manual and floppy disk. Inside the chip was indeed installed. A case was also included. The entire package I bought for $80 which I thought was a great deal considering the KW30 chip was installed with all accessories. The manuals were in Japanese of course, but I can read Japanese so no problem there.

At home I was able to scrounge up an old 4.36GB SCSI hard disk which I was able to connect and sure enough, the Roland W-30 was able to communicate with the HD. I then was able to format the HD which took about 30 minutes and it indeed formatted to max capacity of 80MB. I then tested saving and loading various sounds and everything worked very well. I also tested an IOMEGA 250MB Zip drive with a 100MB zip disk and the Roland W-30 would not communicate with it at all. Some have had success with the Iomega Zip 250 drive, but from my experience it doesn’t work. I saw a Fujitsu 100MB SCSI Zip drive at the same used audio store for $5 bucks so I’ll probably pick that up for testing. I’ve heard that SCSI 100MB Zip drives will work fine.

The Roland W-30 boots fine with the Floppy Drive, but since I had the Hard Disk working I thought I would try to boot from the HD. This did not work despite following all sorts of instructions and trying different methods. After research and testing, it appears I need to find a different HD that can boot the W-30. Although my HD works for saving and loading sounds, it does not work as a boot drive.

I also was successfully able to tape the left hole of High Density Floppy Disks and format them as DD disks without any problems using Windows 7 Professional. I used the Sdiskw software to then load and create sound images from sources on the internet. I was able to establish a very simple workflow to transfer soundsets found on the internet to the Roland W-30 using the Sdiskw software. The only issue however is that I have yet to find a way to load and transfer WAV files. Most likely though I will simply sample directly using the inputs of the Roland W-30. The computer drives me crazy with regards to music and so far the Roland W-30 has been very simple to work with on it’s own.

Why did I buy it? The price was a bargain for this popular 1989 Keyboard Workstation. The sound is really ( I mean really ) good with the right samples and their is some functionality you can’t get on some of the newer samplers to date. For my purposes, the Roland W-30 is a real gem. For example I found a great Hammond Sample today and it was a blast playing that on the Roland W-30. Yes, the memory is limited, but honestly if I want backtracks I just use my SP-606, Roland X Series, or Korg Triton to do that. I basically wanted a keyboard that I could sample sound bites and then have fun editing and playing them expressively on the keys. There is so much you can do with the keyboard, sequencer, and editing functions.

The Roland W-30 is such a joy to play. Everything on my W30 works flawlessly and the condition is mind boggling. Somebody must have just locked this up in their closet for the past 20 years. Japan is such a great place to find used vintage gear I must say.

As I discover new uses and techniques for the Roland W-30, I’ll be sure to post comments to follow-up this article. Right now I would like to find a Hard Disk to book the Roland W-30. I would also like to have a Zip drive that works as well. With that said though I do have an HD that is saving and loading sounds. Plus my Floppy drive works great with the possibility that I might pick up a backup drive from Route66. I also would like to find a work flow for loading my own wav files from the computer, but for now I’ll just record direct. That should suffice for now and it might even be the best and fastest way to do things.

Stay tuned for more updates and feel free to comment or email if you have any specific questions about the Roland W-30 Music Sampler Workstation. I am so glad I bought it!

Does the SD Card HxC Floppy Emulator work on the Roland S-330 and W-30 Samplers?

Roland S-330 – YES!
Roland W-30 – YES!

Check out Synth Japan forums for more discussions.