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Roland has manufactured numerous instruments that have had lasting impacts on popular music, such as the Juno-106 synthesizer,TB-303 bass synthesizer, and TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines. In 2016, Fact wrote that Roland "arguably did more to shape electronic music than any other [company] in history".
Roland was founded in 1972 by Ikutaro Kakehashi in Osaka on April 18, 1972. Kakehashi had previously founded Ace Electronic Industries Inc in 1960. While rival companies Moog and ARP targeted professional musicians and academics, Kakehashi, who had no musical training, wanted to appeal to amateurs and hobbyists, and focused on miniaturization, affordability, and simplicity.
As with many Japanese start-ups of the period, the name Roland was selected for export purposes as Kakehashi was interested in a name that was easy to pronounce for his worldwide target markets. Rumour has long circulated that he named his company after the French epic poem La Chanson de Roland. In reality, the name Roland was found in a telephone directory. Kakehashi opted for it as he was satisfied with the simple two-syllable word and its soft consonants. The letter "R" was chosen because it was not used by many other music equipment companies, and would, therefore, stand out in trade show directories and industry listings. Kakehashi did not learn of "The Song Of Roland" until later.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Roland released several instruments that have had a lasting influence on popular music. After Kakehashi realized microprocessors could be used to program drum machines, Roland launched the TR-808 drum machine, its first programmable drum machine, in 1980. Kakehashi deliberately purchased faulty transistors that created the machine's distinctive "sizzling" sound. Although it was not an immediate commercial success, the 808 was eventually used on more hit records than any other drum machine and became a cornerstone of the emerging electronic and hip hop genres. It has been described as hip hop's equivalent to the Fender Stratocaster guitar, which dramatically influenced the development of rock music. The 808 was followed in 1983 by the TR-909, which, alongside the TB-303 synthesizer, influenced the development of dance music such as techno, house and acid.
In 1994, Kakehashi founded the Roland Foundation and became Chairman. In 1995 he was appointed the chairman of Roland Corporation. In 2001 he resigned from the position and was appointed as Special Executive Adviser of Roland Corporation. In 2002, Kakehashi published an autobiography, I Believe in Music. His second book, An Age Without Samples: Originality and Creativity in the Digital World, was published in 2017.
Roland markets products under a number of brand names, each of which are used on products geared toward a different niche.
The Roland brand is used on a wide range of products including synthesizers, digital pianos, electronic drum systems, dance/DJ gear, guitar synthesizers, amplifiers, and recording products.
Boss is a brand used for products geared toward guitar players and is used for guitar pedals, effects units, rhythm and accompaniment machines, guitar amplifiers, and portable recording equipment.
Edirol was a line of professional video-editing and video-presentation systems, as well as portable digital audio recorders. Edirol also had Desktop Media (DTM) products, more production-oriented, and included computer audio interfaces, mixers, and speakers. Following Roland's purchase of a controlling interest in Cakewalk Software, most of the division's products were rebranded as Cakewalk products or blended with the professional audio/RSS products to form Roland Systems Group.
Roland Systems Group is a line of professional commercial audio and video products.
Rodgers was founded in 1958 as an organ company and survives today as a subsidiary of Roland, still manufacturing high-quality electric, electronic, and pipe organs.
Cakewalk music software company was a long-term partner of Roland's. In January 2008, Roland announced the purchase of controlling interest in the company. In 2013, ownership of Cakewalk passed from Roland to Gibson Brands.
Amdek was incorporated in 1981 "as a manufacturer of computerized music peripherals and as a distributor of assembled electronic music instrument parts." The Amdek brand is best remembered for a series of user-assembled effects pedals and accessories, marketed until 1983; at least 16 kits are known to have existed. Amdek's primary focus was on the potential uses of personal computers to assist musicians, and in 1982 they introduced the DXY-100, the company's first pen plotter, with the intent of allowing users to print out their own sheet music. Soon realizing the printer had a much larger market potential, in 1983 Amdek became the Roland DG Corporation.
Roland DG produces computerized vinyl cutters, thermal transfer printer/cutters, wide-format inkjet printers and printer/cutters, 3D scanners and milling devices, and engravers.
At one point, Roland acquired the then-defunct Rhodes name, and released a number of digital keyboards bearing the Rhodes brand. Harold Rhodes had regained the right to the name in 2000 prior to his death that same year. Rhodes was dissatisfied with Roland's treatment of the marque, and had plans to re-introduce his iconic electric piano, but died before he was able to bring it to market.