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Beat Box: inside Joe Mansfield's incredible drum machine collection

With nearly 150 drum machines in his collection, Joe Mansfield admits to being a bit of a fanatic.

His collection of beat boxes spans four decades and all levels of professionalism, from single octave toys designed as Bee Gees merchandise to pioneering ’80s machines like Roger Linn’s LM-1 and the Roland TR-808. Now the Boston-based hip-hop producer and music industry veteran has decided to offer a glimpse of his prized archive in a new book, Beat Box: A Drum Machine Obsession.

Focusing on 75 drum machines from his collection, all photographed by Boston’s Gary Land, the book includes detailed information about each machine, archival advertisements and interviews with master drum machine programmers and innovators like Davy DMX, Schoolly D, Marshall Jefferson and Roger Linn. The book also features a foreword by Dave Tompkins, the writer of the fascinating How To Wreck a Nice Beach, a history of the vocoder.

Over the next 13 pages you can see some of the highlights of Mansfield’s vast collection (including the first drum machine ever made), while he answered a few of our own questions below.


If you could pinpoint one moment in particular, when did your drum machine obsession start?

I remember in the early ‘80s wanting to figuring out what instruments were being used on the hip-hop songs I was hearing. For instance, what was being used by Afrika Bambaataa on ‘Planet Rock’? What did the Jonzun Crew use on ‘Pack Jam’? And, most importantly, what was being used to make Run-DMC’s ‘Sucker M.C.’s’? It was around that time I wanted to own my own drum machine.

I’m sure it’s like picking between children, but if you could only keep one of your drum machines, which would it be?

It would come down to my Oberheim DMX or the Roland TR-808. I guess the 808 would win out. This was the first machine I purchased. I picked it up back in 1985. Besides all the sentimental value, it is also a great machine.

What drum machine in your collection cost the most, and are there any particularly exciting stories about how you came across a specific machine?

The most valuable machine in my collection at this point is the Linn LM-1. Depending on its condition, these machines can run as high as $5,000.

How I came across the Wurlitzer Side Man is a pretty cool story. I was on a record digging trip in Detroit back in 1993, and on my way to the first record store, I passed by a thrift shop. In the back of the store mixed in with the old stereo equipment I found the Sideman. It only cost me about $25. The shipping charges back to Boston were probably three times that.

Are you still regularly buying them, and is it mostly online now?

I do still buy drum machines. I never pass up a machine for the right price. Most of the finds I come across these days are online. If anybody comes across an EKO ComputeRhythm, I would love to have it!


Beat Box: A Drum Machine Obsession
will be published by Get On Down on December 3. Turn the page to start browsing Mansfield’s collection.

Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 1/14)

BeatBoxSynsonicsDrums071113

Synsonics Drums

Barbie toymaker Mattel came up with this novelty drum machine in 1981, and Kraftwerk were said to be fans of its lo-fi sound. Try it out through Ableton here.

Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 2/14)

BeatBoxRolandTR808071113

Roland TR-808

One of the first programmable drum machines, the Roland TR-808 possesses the super-low frequency bass drum that’s powered hip-hop from the Beastie Boys to Miami bass and beyond.

Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 3/14)

BeatBoxLinnLM1DrumComputer071113a

Linn LM-1 Drum Computer

The first machine to use digital samples of analogue drums, the Linn LM-1 is the sound of ’80s pop, from Prince to Peter Gabriel – hear it on The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me’.

Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 4/14)

BeatBoxBeeGeesRhythmMachine071113

Bee Gees Rhythm Machine

Another Mattel toy, this time manufactured in 1978 to cash in on the disco craze spearheaded by Britain’s own Bee Gees. Kraftwerk used one in the song ‘Pocket Calculator’.

Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 5/14)

BeatBoxRolandTR707071113

Roland TR-707

As well as being a staple of ’80s house music, particularly acid house, you’ll hear this Roland machine in almost all Arabic electronic pop music.

Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 6/14)

drummachine--Beat Box ACE R1 Rhythm Ace

Ace R1 Rhythm Ace

The first of the Rhythm Ace drum machines developed by Ace Electronic Industries – or Ace Tone, an early incarnation of Roland – the R1 was released in 1964.

Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 7/14)

drummachine-Beat Box Maestro Rhythm N Sound for Guitar G2

Maestro Rhythm N Sound for Guitar

Before there was Rhythm & Sound there was Rhythm N Sound, a colourful effects unit from the 1960s that also features analog percussion sounds.

Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 8/14)

drummachine-Beat Box PAiA Drummer Boy

PAiA Drummer Boy

This analogue drum machine dating from the late ’60s came as a DIY kit to be pieced together by its owner.

Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 9/14)

drummachine-Beat Box Vox Percussion King

VOX Percussion King

Grandmaster Flash’s go to beat box, so they say.

Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 10/14)

drummachine-Beat Box Wurlitzer Electronic Swingin Rhythm

Wurlitzer Swingin Rhythm

An early drum machine from the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, an American giant better known for their stringed instruments than beat boxes.

Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 11/14)

drummachine-Beat Box Wurlitzer Side Man

Wurlitzer Side Man

Here it is – the first drum machine ever made, designed as an accessory to Wurlitzer’s organs, produced in the late 1950s.

Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 12/14)

drummachine-Beat Box Wurlitzer Side Man exposed

Wurlitzer Side Man (Exposed)

And here’s the Side Man with its own organs exposed.

Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 13/14)

drummaxchine-Beat Box Olson Rhythm Beat XX100

Olson XX-100 Rhythm Beat XX

Finally, a rare drum machine from the 1970s – only 5″ tall, and beautifully simple.

Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 14/14)

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