Sales: ¥61.19 billion (US$850.0 million)
Stock Exchanges: Tokyo Osaka
Ticker Symbol: 7944
NAIC: 339992 Musical Instrument Manufacturing
Roland Corporation is one of the world’s leading designers and manufacturers of electric musical instruments, focused on keyboards and synthesizers, sound modules, effects processors, electronic drums, recording equipment, and amplifiers. Through its Edirol subsidiary, Roland also produces and markets equipment for desktop music applications. The company’s BOSS subsidiary produces guitar effects and rhythm machines, while its Rodgers subsidiary produces organs for the home and professional market. The company operates factories in Hosoe, Takaoka, Isaji, Miyakoda, and Matsumoto in Japan. Worldwide, Roland operates a network of joint-venture and subsidiary sales offices, including subsidiaries in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France, and Canada. The company also operates a small number of Roland Music Schools in Japan. Led by founder and Chairman Ikutara Kakehashi, and by President and COO Katsuyoshi Dan, Roland Corporation is home to one of the world’s best-known music brands. International sales accounted for more than 70 percent of the company’s sales, which topped ¥61.19 billion (US$850 million) in the year 2000.
Creating 20th-century Music History
Roland Corporation was founded by Ikutara Kakehashi in Osaka, Japan, in 1972, with just ¥33 million in capital. Yet Roland’s greatest capital was to prove Kakehashi himself. Kakehashi’s involvement in the music industry had begun in the 1950s, when he began building guitar amplifiers. Kakehashi finished his first amplifier in 1959, designed for the Hawaiian guitar sound popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Japan.
Kakehashi formed his first company soon after, incorporated as Ace Electronics. This company—which, at its beginning, consisted solely of Kakehashi himself—produced a variety of musical instruments, including organs, under the Ace Tone brand name. Yet Kakehashi’s first successful product turned out to be a rhythm machine, introduced in 1964. Dubbed the FR-1 Rhythm Ace, this rhythm machine was one of the first to feature preset rhythms programmed to provide musicians with the popular beats of the day. The Rhythm Ace was not only successful in Japan, but also saw a degree of international success as the decade progressed.
Ace Tone continued to improve on the Rhythm Ace design, while introducing other new products, such as organs incorporating the company’s rhythm machine technology. In the late 1960s, famed organ maker Hammond approached Kakehashi with an offer to merge the two companies and place Kakehashi at the head of a new Hammond Japan unit. Kakehashi agreed, and led the development of the Hammond Piper, one of that brand’s most successful organ designs.
In the early 1970s, disagreements between Kakehashi and Hammond, and the financial takeover of Ace Tone, led Kakehashi, then 42 years old, to leave Hammond and set up his own company. Because Ace Tone had been hampered internationally by pronunciation problems (including its confusion with the compound acetone), Kakehashi determined to find a name that would be pronounced the same everywhere in the world. He settled on Roland—despite the fact that the name was less easily pronounced in Japanese. Roland Corporation was officially incorporated on April 18, 1972.
Pronunciation problems or no, Kakehashi’s new company was to create one of the world’s most important musical instruments brands. Working out of a house in Osaka, Japan, Kakehashi was joined by six former Ace Electronics employees. Kakehashi set about designing the company’s first product, which was to be a drum machine based on the Rhythm Ace design. With no resources to begin production, Kakehashi took his design—a simple drawing—on the road. By the end of the trip, Kakehashi had lined up orders for some 200 rhythm machines, dubbed the TR-77. Kakehashi called in to tell his employees to find a factory and start production.
The company opened its own factory the following year, in Hamamatsu, which was later to become Roland’s worldwide headquarters. The company also opened two sales offices, in Tokyo and Osaka. Its product list was also beginning to grow. While the company later established itself as a top keyboard maker, it initially decided to avoid head-to-head competition in the overcrowded market for electric keyboards, still largely dominated by organ designs at the time. Instead, Kakehashi sought more unique products, and began producing an effects unit, the RE-100 tape delay. Featuring a longer tape than competitors, the RE-100 was notable primarily for inspiring its successor, the RE-201 Space Echo, which became one of the seminal guitar effects of the 1970s and became one of the company’s best-selling products, remaining in production for more than 16 years.
While the Space Echo was inspiring musicians, Roland itself was inspired by the new musical currents of the 1970s. The use of synthesizers in popular music had begun to take off in the early part of the decade, and Kakehashi quickly sought to add the Roland name to the ranks of the world’s synthesizer makers. Rather than build the huge expensive modular synthesizers favored by such names as Moog, Arp, and EML, Roland began designing its own synthesizer, but on a smaller scale. In 1973, the company debuted its SH-1000, the first synthesizer produced in Japan. Where a Moog synthesizer cost as much as $5,000 or more, the SH-1000 cost less than $1,000.
The SH series inspired a long string of successes in the 1970s, culminating in the highly popular SH-101, which sold more than 50,000 units after its launch in 1981. The company also continued to improve its rhythm machine designs, producing the first programmable rhythm machines, including the CR-78, the first musical instrument to include a microprocessor in its design. Other successes for the company included its EP-30 electric piano, the first to provide a touch-sensitive keyboard, and the company’s JC series of guitar amplifiers, which debuted in 1975. At that time, the company, which had already established joint-venture subsidiaries in the United States and Australia, launched a new brand, called BOSS, for its growing range of guitar effects designs. Supporting the company’s growth was the opening of a new factory in Takaoka, Hamamatsu, in 1977.
Adding the Techno Beat in the 1980s
The rise of Disco and New Wave in the late 1970s and late 1980s, respectively, brought a steadily increasing demand for synthesizers, rhythm machines and effects, and helped propel Roland to the leading ranks of musical instruments manufacturers. The start of the 1980s saw the release of a new series of Roland products which were to prove pivotal to the creation of a new form of popular music in that decade. The release of the TR-808 drum machine in 1980 went largely unnoticed at the time. With its analog oscillators, the TR-808 seemed quickly out of date as a new generation of drum machine, using samples of real drums, began to take over the market. The TR-808 remained in production for just a few months. The following year, it was followed by another device, the TB-303 Bassline, a bass synthesizer with built-in sequencer designed to operate in tandem with the TR-606 Drumatix. Yet these devices failed to spark popular imagination as well.
The company saw greater success with its synthesizers, which included 1978’s introduction of the Jupiter series, providing some of the earliest of the polyphonic synthesizers. The Jupiter series gave Roland a new hit in 1981, when it launched the Jupiter-8. The Jupiters were quickly joined by the Juno series, the first Roland units to feature DCOs (digital controlled oscillators), replacing the VCOs (velocity controlled oscillators) that had been the industry standard. The DCO provided tighter tuning control than the analog oscillators.
The success of the Jupiters, Junos, and other instruments enabled Roland to expand in the early 1980s. The company moved into new international markets, through a series of joint venture companies set up in the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and Denmark in 1981. Roland continued to pursue its expansion through joint ventures in the mid-1980s, moving into New Zealand, Italy, and Taiwan.
In the 1980s, Roland was one of the leading forces in the creation and adoption of the MIDI standard, which enabled musical instruments to communicate with each other. The company’s first MIDI-based instruments were released in 1982, and by the mid-1980s all of the company’s products were capable of sending and receiving MIDI data.
Ever since 1972 when the company was founded, Roland’s mission has been to create sounds that people would like to hear. During those early days, we determined that the silicon chip would be the key element in developing new musical instruments producing superb sounds and conveying every nuance of the player’s musical expression. Our prominent market position today owes much to the extensive use of leading-edge technologies over the years. Because our range of innovative products have always been quick to incorporate the most sophisticated computer and semiconductor technologies, Roland has been able to make a real difference by bringing people and music closer.
Pushing forward with our business to mark our 30th anniversary, we are now expanding our original mission by going into multimedia, adding another dimension to our founding brief of “Creating music that touches hearts.” The possibilities of electronic musical instruments are limitless as we continue to discover new technological breakthroughs and introduce exceptional products. This is how we, with the cooperation of the Roland worldwide family, can best spread the joy of musical creation in the world and achieve corporate excellence.
By then, new musical currents were beginning to appear in the United States and the United Kingdom. The creation of these new forms of music—called rap, hip hop, and, later, techno—was made possible in large part by such units as the TR-808 and TB-303, which at the time could be bought for next to nothing. Roland itself had meanwhile moved entirely into the digital era, adding such innovations as its RD-1000 digital piano, in 1986, and the D-50 digital synthesizer in 1987.
In 1987, Roland expanded again. In that year, the company bought up S.I.E.L. S.p.A, based in Italy, which had been producing synthesizers and organs. The company took over S.I.E.L.’s operations, renamed the company as Roland Europe S.p.A. in 1988, and released a new series of products for the European market, including the E-10 and E-20 Intelligent Synthesizers. Roland Europe went public on the Milan stock exchange in 1996. On the Japanese market, the company introduced the Musi-kun Desktop music systems, one of the earliest computer-based music production systems. Also in 1988, Roland set up a new subsidiary operation for production of organs, largely for the home market. The Rodgers Instrument Corporation, established in the United States, began supplying organs to the Japanese market in 1989 as well.
Roland went public in 1989, listing on the Osaka stock exchange’s second section. The following year the company’s line of HP digital pianos debuted, boosting the company to the top ranks of the home digital piano market; meanwhile Roland saw continued success of its D series of digital synthesizers, which topped the 300,000-unit mark in 1990. At that time, the company created a new U.S. subsidiary, Roland Audio Development Corp., which then turned its attention to designing and manufacturing amplifier systems.
Music Brand Leader in the list 21st Century
The growing use of computers and computer production for music production and music making took Roland into new directions as well. In 1994, the company set up a new subsidiary, Edirol, in order to develop products for the computer music market, including sound cards and modules, MIDI interfaces, and software. Two years later, Roland debuted its VS-880 Digital Studio Workstation, which provided a professional-quality hard-disk recording and production system. The VS series was a great success for the company, selling more than 150,000 units by the end of the decade. The company, which had largely shifted rhythm machine development to its BOSS subsidiary, instead began to perfect a new generation of digital drums, starting in 1992 and culminating in the launch of the V-drums, one of the first to become acceptable for use by professional drummers.
Throughout the 1990s, Roland had also produced a highly successful range of MIDI-based sound modules, which provided highquality instrument sounds, beginning with the launch of the SC-55 Sound Canvas in 1992. Meanwhile, Roland continued to develop its own technologies for the creation and reproduction of sound, including Structured Adaptive Synthesis (SA) and Composite Object Sound Modeling (COSM), which enabled Roland’s instruments to achieve truer approximations of real instrument sounds, while also opening up new perspectives for the creation of new sounds.
As the 1990s concluded, Roland found itself gaining ever-increasing fame—not just from its new instruments and products, but from its early products as well—as new generations of music makers adopted and adapted the company’s now legendary analog synthesizers and rhythm machines. Entering the 21st century, Roland and Chairman Ikutara Kakehashi remained committed to the company’s heritage of developing musical instruments to shape the music of the future. Helping to ensure the company’s growth was a conversion of its stock listing to the Tokyo and Osaka stock exchanges’ first sections in 1999. In 2000, Ikutara Kakehashi’s contribution to the music industry was recognized when he was added to the Hollywood Rock Walk’s Hall of Fame.
Roland Corporation U.S. (U.S.A.); Edirol Corporation North America (U.S.A.); Roland Canada Music Ltd.; Roland Brasil Ltda. (Brazil); Roland Corporation Australia Pty. Ltd.; Roland Corporation (NZ) Ltd. (New Zealand); Roland (U.K.) Ltd.; Edirol Europe Ltd. (U.K.); Roland Elektronische Musikinstrumente GmbH (Germany); Roland France SA; Roland Scandinavia as (Denmark); Roland Benelux N.V. (Belgium); Intermusica Ltd. (Hungary); Roland (Switzerland) AG; Musitronic AG (Switzerland); Roland Austria GmbH; Roland Italy S.p.A.; Roland Electronics de España, S.A. (Spain); Roland Portugal S.A.; Roland Taiwan Enterprise Co., Ltd.; Rodgers Instruments LLC (U.S.A.); Roland Audio Development Corp. (U.S.A); Roland Europe S.p.A. (Italy); Roland Taiwan Electronic Music Corp.
Baldwin Piano & Organ Company; Casio Computer Co., Ltd.; Fender Musical Instruments Corporation; Gibson Musical Instruments; Harman International Industries, Incorporated; Korg, Inc.; Sony Corporation; Yamaha Corporation.
- Company is founded in Osaka, Japan; production of TR-77 begins.
- SH-1000 is launched; Hamamatsu factory opens.
- BOSS brand is introduced.
- Company creates U.S. joint venture subsidiary.
- Joint venture subsidiaries in the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, and Germany are formed.
- Roland acquires S.I.E.L. in Italy, which is renamed Roland Europe.
- Company launches Rodgers Instrument Corporation.
- Company goes public on Osaka exchange.
- Roland Audio Development Corp. (USA) and Edirol Corporation North America are created.
- Roland Europe is listed on Milan stock exchange.
- Roland Corporation receives listings on the first sections of the Tokyo and Osaka stock exchanges.
“Roland Chairman Inducted into Hollywood Hall of Fame,” Kyodo World News Service, February 7, 2000.
“Roland Europe to Launch Flotation,” Financial Times; May 31,1996.
Youngblood, Paul, “Roland in the 20th Century: 30 Years of Innovation,” Roland Users Group, Winter 2000.