My father and my Roland S-50 sampler.

Roland S50 - original advertisement

My father bought me my first keyboard, a Roland S-50 sampler. I remember he took me to Sam Ash in Teaneck, New Jersey. He worked nearby as a College Professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University. It was 1986 and I was lost in Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration album. I was 16 years old. Today, my father is now the president at FDU and that Sam Ash store is long gone.

The Roland S-50 was a futuristic looking black metal monolith with a fluorescent screen. It felt long and had 61 keys. Compare that with the measly cheap feeling two octave Oxygen 8 I use now! You could hook it up to an external monitor. I had mine hooked up to a 13″ green CRT poised on a three tier Ultimate Keyboard Rack. It also came with a digitizing tablet and pen similar to a Wacom tablet. This allowed you to draw waveforms but it was more gimmick than useful.

It was 4 part multitimbral and 16 voice polyphonic. It had a 3.5″ disc drive and 750k internal memory. You could sample at 12-bit at 15-30kHz. I remember actually using the different variable rates to save memory. You could even get some weird cool effects by sampling at the lower rate. Looking back I realize the discs of sounds that came with it were very good. Mostly they were rip off’s of Fairlight sounds. You had choirs, big 80’s drum kits and awesome nature sounds. I used to sit for hours playing with the rain and thunder sounds.

I would sequence it using an Atari 520ST and Cubase. All the multitimbral parts, voices and sample memory were always used. Back then we all dreamed of a day when we would have unlimited sample time (yay today!). However, using a machine to it’s fullest capacity for several years has a certain gratification to it.

The S-50 together with an extern CRT-screen and digitizer tablet – besides from looking real awesome – allowed a lot of cool things to be achieved. The S-50 is a breeze to use, and the sampling quality is nice and free from distortion, even if the bandwidth is somewhat crippled (due to the 30KHz sampling frequency). –

Next time your staring at your 24″ Cinema Display, pirated copies of Kontakt or Halion and 30GB of sounds think of my father on a teacher’s salary spending over $2500 to give his son 28 seconds of sampling time. Now tell me you can’t make music with the technology you have. I dare you.


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Oliver Chesler

"Hello my name is Oliver and I'm going to tell you a story." I have been recording music since 1989 under the name The Horrorist. I have released over 60 singles and 4 full length albums. To hear my music please go to:

12 thoughts on “My father and my Roland S-50 sampler.”

  1. agreed… my grandparents took their savings for me (which was suppose to buy a cheap car) and bought me a roland d5 and a mc500 sequencer that was rescued from a studio fire – the sequencer was he browned and had melted keys :) that was the first mischief night i never went out and from that day on – i was hooked :)

  2. Nice post. My first synth was the Oberheim Matrix-6, in 1986, and from my father as well. :) I still have it. It’s where my alias and the name of my site came from.

  3. AHHH..the memories!!! I had the same system…1040ST…..

    also..remember the ‘telephone song’ demo song? A pal of mine, Amin Bhatia (The Interstellar Suite and others) did all the demos and such for that unit :)

  4. My first sampler was a roland s-330.
    It sits on top of my second sampler an akai s900 and in between is my
    yamaha tx16w. combined they were about 300 bucks.
    they are glorious boxes!

  5. My first keyboard was a Casio MT something, it has a midi port, that was back in 1986 I think. I had an Atari 512 ST and the software was… I do not remember but the second one was master tracks! then I got a Yamaha keyboard, then a Kawai K1. My father was a fireman but as well he pleased me with everything. I loved the Kawai because it has a joystick. Then my first sampler was an Ensoniq ASR-10. A music teacher had the Roland S50 and it came with some depeche mode sounds!!! I wanted to buy an Emax 2 sampler but some one bought it first and I got the Ensoniq that ended up being so much beter. I am about to buy all those keyboards again. It was so painfull for my father to buy them, I have no clue how he did now that I am 33, and I never ended up being a musician, I am editing video. God bless him.

  6. Hi Reinaldo. I’m always amazed what my own parents were doing at my current age. Life in general was very different just one or two generations ago… although somethings stay the same.

  7. Oh you guys! The Roland S50! Without doubt the sexiest sampling keyboard ever built! I first saw one of these when I was 13 (I’m 35 now) and I have wanted one ever since. They are as rare as dragon teeth to get hold of now, probably because they have a totally awesome sound. It doesn’t matter how old or outdated the technology, some things are just built to be amazing.

    My first keyboard was a Yamaha PSS460 and it had a digital synth on it. Well, that was it! I ended up with a huge rack of minikey synths including the legendary SK1, which I still have, albeit massively circuit-bent. My first proper synth was the Korg Wavestation, which looks remarkably similar! Again a great synth.

    The first proper sampler I got my mitts on was the Akai S900 and I have it still today because it has the simplest and quickest user interface imaginable. It coexists nicely alongside my Emulator2+ and a whole lot of other gear of all ages. I still want an S50 though, for the way it looks, sounds, feels… and just for the sheer buzz of standing in front of such an iconic and awe inspiring beast. Oh yes indeedy!

  8. Back in 1985 my parents helped me to buy a brand new Yamaha DX-7 that cost between 1500 and 2000. Now long gone, I found another DX-7 for $25 bucks in 2011. It’s amazing how the price has changed and technology. Nice article.

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