Remembering the E-mu Drumulator
By James Grahame
The E-mu Drumulator was the first taste of sampled percussion for many electronic musicians in the early 1980s.
It followed hot on the heels of the company's groundbreaking Emulator sampling keyboard. It was also my first drum machine, although mine was a road-worn unit picked up at a music store clearance sale in the late 1980s. Sadly, I sold it while trying to scrape together the money to buy an E-mu sampler during my "imitate Depeche Mode's live setup" phase.
The Drumulator was introduced in 1983 for $995 -- an absolute bargain at the time. Twelve gritty 8-bit samples lived within its gigantic enclosure. To keep costs down, there was only a single slider for data entry, and only four samples could be mapped to the trigger buttons at a time.
There were no helpful alphanumeric displays and only the barest minimum of controls. Everything had to be programmed using a pair of cryptic two digit LED displays. There was no MIDI interface, either. The machine had to be synchronized to tape (or other devices) using a prehistoric click pulse system. Nevertheless, the Drumulator was extremely successful and sold over 10,000 units during its two year lifespan. The Drumulator was followed by the SP-12 and SP-1200 sampling drum machines, which became an iconic part of early hip-hop.
I'd love to get my hands on an old Drumulator for nostalgia's sake, but there aren't even any lingering around on eBay these days. Ahh, well. It's probably one of those pieces of gear that sounds better in my memory than it does in reality.