Drum machines with tubes: from Wurlitzer’s classic SideMan to a new prototype, drum machines can make tubes rock even harder.

What happens when adept sonic inventor Eric Barbour of Metasonix makes a drum machine out of clever circuits and vacuum tubes? Well, in the creator’s words:

“It makes noise … a lot of noise.”



Yes, while MPC and LinnDrum creator Roger Linn works out for himself just what people want from a “workstation” drum machine, Eric is whipping up prototypes that make a racket.

Donald Bell aka Chachi Jones captured the Man of Metasonix at a RobotSpeak demo over the weekend. Eric was there to show off commercially-available products with raunchy names, like the AssBlaster and Wretch Machine. But he also brought along this unique tube-based prototype, which clearly stole the show. See the full Flickr set for more:

Robotspeak Metasonix demo [Chachi Jones @ Flickr]

Here’s another video – that’s Eric’s voice explaining a bit of how this works, with a beautiful view of those tubes.

Now, before you get too excited about this, there’s no word on whether this prototype will ever see the light of day. So, please don’t flood Eric’s email with requests asking for the thing. I have a huge amount of respect for his talent as a designer and, um, with the rest of the bloggers have basically made the guy hate me because we make you want stuff he doesn’t necessarily want to make.

Hmmm… actually, if it means that we might get to buy this drum machine, maybe that’d be worth it. So, you know what? Go ahead. Bug him. I can take some hate. I can always order mine under a pseudonym.

Tubes through History

Vintage vacuum tube drum machine from Donald Bell on Vimeo.

Another interesting twist of Eric’s presentation was the discussion of vintage, tube-based drum machine, as in the Wurtlizer SideMan. This early product, likely the first commercially-available drum machine, was a monster rotary mechanical sequencer, driven by a belt motor, with tube ringing filters to generate the sounds. See the video above, also by Donald, for Eric’s explanation of why it’s best to leave this dinosaur to extinction.

Inside the first commercial drum machine, the Wurlitzer SideMan – which, ironically, weighed about as much as your sideman. Photo: guiltysin.

As impractical as these designs are as hardware, I think it’s actually easier to take them as inspiration for software – with no FCC to worry about, and something quite a lot more portable than a SideMan.

Other tube / mechanical drum machines to share, or historical notes on the SideMan? Share in comments…

  • Simon

    Wow I'm very excited about that drum machine. That Sideman reminds me of Raymond Scott's 'Circle Machine' which was also a mechanical sequencer that used light sensors to trigger sounds.

  • Damon

    Fun with a capital "F".

  • http://xsrecordsptnetlabel.blogspot.com/ tiago morgado

    undoubtely impressive

  • mecanikill?

    I will have one!