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Roland TR-909 (#2)

This is actually my 2nd TR-909
(at some point, erm, with a missing Tempo Knob)


The same 909, now back to normal Tempo knob !


Roland TR-909 and C Y
bulletMy 1st 909 was bought from a Mr. James Lui (yes, the James Lui from the head of Kowloon Bus Company), back in 1990.  What happened was, I went back to Hong Kong and started working part-time in a friend's studio, and James Lui was an old school-mate of this friend, and he was just coming back from Australia and believe it or not, he was also doing music and had some equipment to sell. I think he wanted to sell the 909 and buy a Roland R8M, and i bought it off him for HK$1000 (that's about £80) !! Was a real good bargain, since they were about £500+ at that time.
bulletBelieve it or not, people told me there were less than 5 TR-909's in Hong Kong. Only Alex Baboo (Alex Yang) and i actually are using the real 909.
bulletThis 2nd 909 came to me thru a sales guy from Tom Lee Music (music store in Hong Kong) in around 1995/1996. Apparently, some other known/named musician (can't remember who, might be Alan Tsui) wanted to sell off some old gears, which include a 808 and a 909. I bought both.
bulletThis 909 had a fault in the Low Tom, so it was sold to me for HK$1200 (again around £85)!!! Well, how could i have not picked it up when the price at the time was around £850 - £1000 (about current 2003 prices)!!
bulletThe fate of this 2nd 909 was quite weird. As I've got my 1st 909 at home in Hong Kong, this was supposed to be the one i take outside of my home (e.g. to studios). But soon after i got it, a musician friend (Pat Lui, Taichi Band/also chorus singer) asked if he could borrow it. He wasn't at a very good stage at the time as his ex-girlfriend was getting married... and he planned to go to Tokyo and make some chill-out stuff with a Japanese musician friend (Hideki).
bulletSo it was lent and taken to Tokyo for about 4 - 6 months in 1996. I did go to Tokyo that summer and i saw it in Hideki's house. (Yeah, right, i did say hello to my lil 909!)
bulletSoon after Pat returned it, the 909 was on the plane to London. A friend was coming back here and agreed to take it to a synth repair shop for me, to fix the Low Tom problem.
bulletIt took a while to fix, but also, my friend had broken up with her musician boyfriend at that time and apparently it was the other guy who took it in for repairs... so it was stuck there.....
bulletI can't remember the exact year, might be 1998, my friend finally returned to London and collected the 909 - but at the time she was friends with a band in London and they asked if they could borrow it, so i lent it to them.
bulletEver since that, my friend had left UK and went & work in Hong Kong and got married etc. When I returned to  London - i started thinking - hmmm i do have a 909 somewhere here....  Well, finally in 2003, my friend came back to London and found the whereabouts of the 909
bulletSo suddenly early December 2003, this 2nd 909 turned up!! It's like a long lost child, finally getting the reunion.
bulletWell, as you can see from the picture above, the TEMPO knob is missing - yes, they lost it. So i had to use another knob since there're no spares at Roland for a long long time.
UPDATE: Finally, August 2005 - Tom C (Analogue Solutions) has been selling spare 909 Knobs on eBay... and finally this 909 has a replacement Tempo knob!!
bulletThe batteries were nearly leaking - well, they were starting to mould - they're still the same batteries i put in back in 1996 (because they're Hong Kong made batteries!)
bulletSomehow there was a white sticker stuck on the Roland logo, saying midi channel 5.... also, the facial is getting a lil dirty / dusty... (Sorry James, I'm not saying you didn't take good care of it, well, your band mate didn't!!)
bulletTook me 1/2 an hour to clean it and try restore it to a better stage. Oxy-wipes are really good in cleaning this!
bulletTHE LOW TOM IS STILL NOT WORKING (!) - damn, dunno if it was that synth shop not fixed it or it had gone again. Well - now the LOW TOM would give a non-stop WHITE NOISE instead of the Low Tom. It can be stopped tho, by pressing the softer button trigger for the LT. 
bulletMost LEVEL Pots are getting scratchy/noisy....
bulletWell, as this is my 2nd 909, time for some quick mods..... (Poor sod, soon after finally returning to a good home, it has to undergo heavy surgery!)


C Y 's Mods on the Roland TR-909

I won't go into much details here, cos most the mods I've done so far are from Colin Fraser's page - it's very well documented and they work!!!!! The mods are:

BD Decay Extended
(Click to listen)

long boomy kick, kinda like doubled the original decay


BD Thump
(Click to listen)
adds a thump attack, slightly higher tuning on attack, Colin suggested 0.1uF capacitor, but i used a 0.22uF because the 0.1uF didn't affect it too much. Schematics: 909-BD-Mod2-Thump-Schemo
BD Pitch
(Click to listen)
adds CV tuning, so you can get the euro type high techie kicks Schematics:
BD Drive
(Click to listen)
makes kick sounds like euro tech kicks Schematics:
HH Tune
(Click to listen)
adds tuning to the hi-hats Schematics:
bulletIEC Mains Plug

The 909 has a 2 pin plug socket,  i just swapped that with a 3 pin one.

Also added a little Earth-Lift switch -

With the original 2-pin, the earth from the inside electronics is only connected to the casing, but not to the outside world.

With the IEC 3-pin socket, there cold now be outside world grounding - but there could be situations where this could cause ground-loop hums.

So i decided to add a switch acting as a ground-lift.

bulletConnectors on Mods

I actually removed the PCB to work on the mods, and as usual, i used connectors to plug them in instead of having wires soldered in - for the sake of easily removing the PCB if needed to in future.

TR-909 Mod Conectors1
Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge
bulletMod Switches
Instead of having the mods permanently affecting the 909, i put DPDT switches - so i can flick between Modded and Un-modded (Original) 909 sounds.

With all the switches off, it's an un-modded 909.

I find it more flexible working this way, rather than having it totally all changed.

bulletChanging Level Pots
(Late Dec 2003): Got myself a set of those "Exact Drop-in Replacement Pots" for all the Level Pots. The level pots on this 909 is slightly noisy/scratchy and will eventually need replacement soon, so i thought why not do it now....

2x 100kb Pots for BD and Rim, 8x 50kb for the rest, that's 10 of them to change....

3-pins and 2 support legs to de-solder, luckily it wasn't too difficult. These pots do come off quite easily. Took about just over an hour to replace these 10 pots....


These new pots are nearly 99% exact....

But they're brassy-gold instead of grey-ish silver....
Also, i think they're slightly looser than the original pots, after reassembling the cover and the knob caps, the original pots are tight but the new pots you can feel the actual pot stick wiggle slightly (not a lot tho).
But they're surely very clean and nice replacements :)

TO DO's (or maybe not do's)

1. Fix the Low Tom - or maybe turned it into a Noise sound that decays.
2. Maybe further mods on the Snare and I'd like to have a balance knob on the Handclap to balance between the clap and the reverb-ish decay.
3. Maybe CV in's for the BD, SN and HH tunings.


Roland TR-909 Soundz

I suppose everyone knows how a 909 sounds like. Even if you don't know, you must have heard it before. It has been used on numerous tracks in the past 10 years.
bullet 909 Test Loop with Tweaks
Here's the 909 playing some typical patterns, while tweaking some of the mods on the fly. It's not to demonstrate anything, just to give you an idea of how it sounds...



Other Links on the Roland TR-909...

bullet Colin Fraser's 909 mod page - detailed modding
bullet has info & details and schematics - very detailed on how each sound works
bullet 9090 - Trevor Page's page on a DIY 909 clone - i might eventually build one of these!
There used to be more.... but they have vanished thru the years as the 909 becoming so over-used ...



Now with proper Tempo Knob! (Since August 2005)



Home Synths

Roland TR-606 Roland TR-909 Boss DR-110 Tama TS-305 Drumfire DF-500 Cheetah MD16RP