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The History of Roland Digital Pianos

Bartolomeo Cristofori, a master builder who was employed by the Medici Family, is generally credited with inventing the piano. Roughly 300 years later, Roland was founded in Osaka, Japan in 1972. In 1973, Roland released Japan’s first electronic pianos, the analog EP-10 and EP-20. In 1974, Roland released the EP-30, which was the first velocity-sensitive electronic piano in the world. It came with four preset sounds (two pianos and two harpsichords) as well as a separate bass sound and was particularly useful for gigging rock musicians. In the early 1980s, Roland released one of the first lightweight electric pianos, the EP-11 Piano Plus 11; it featured a built-in speaker and an analog drum machine. Roland then developed MIDI in partnership with Sequential Circuits and unveiled it in 1983. MIDI, or Musical Instrument Digital Interface, allowed electronic instruments from different manufacturers to communicate with one another; the game-changing protocol is still in use today. That same year, Roland also released the HP-300 and HP-400, the first two home pianos with MIDI. They featured a two-piece design (main body and stand) that set the industry standard. In 1986, Roland unveiled the RD-1000 Stage Piano. Up until that point, all electronic pianos used analog sound synthesis. The RD-1000 Stage Piano was the first digital piano. It used Structured Adaptive Synthesis to capture nuance on digital samples; the project was captained by lead engineer (and later CEO of Roland) Jun-ichi Miki. The RD-1000 quickly became a hit when Elton John took it on tour. After the success of the RD-1000 Stage Piano, Roland opened a dedicated factory in Hamamatsu, Japan, but the company didn’t stop there. By the mid-1980s, digital synthesis was well-established for electronic instruments like pianos as well as synthesizers and drum machines. But Roland wanted to prove the viability of the digital piano as an instrument in its own right, so the company sponsored a performance at the Tokyo Suntory Hall with a full acoustic orchestra in 1991 but in place of a traditional acoustic piano, Roland provided the HP-7700, a digital grand piano. The concert was a massive success and digital pianos were truly accepted as instruments in and of themselves. Since then, Roland has continued to unveil new digital pianos every few years. In fact, the company is known for continuing to innovate with ambitious projects such as 2009’s V-Piano, for which Roland engineers digitally modeled all aspects of the instrument. The company has also experimented with design and has even won awards for a variety of unique reinterpretations of the classic piano silhouette. Today, Roland digital pianos are very well regarded and are played by musicians all over the world.

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