In Memoriam: Roland Founder Ikutaro Kakehashi, 1930 – 2017

Mike Lawson • News • April 4, 2017

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Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi passed away on April 1, 2017 at the age of 87.


Born February 7, 1930 in Osaka, Japan, he founded the Kakehashi Radio electrical appliance store, where he also repaired electronic organs and experimented on prototypes for new models. A few years later, he turned his focus entirely to developing musical instruments and founded Ace Electronic Industries to create products under the Ace Tone brand. Ace also became the Japanese distributor of Hammond organs.

One of Ace’s first electronic music products was the R1 Rhythm Ace, a simple electronic drum that was shown at NAMM 1964, but never went into production. Far more successful was 1967’s FR-1 Rhythm Ace, which included preset rhythm patterns and multiple drum sounds. The FR-1 became an option in some Hammond organ models and a standalone version was sold in the U.S. by Multivox.

Kakehashi also expanded Ace Tone’s offerings into tape-based echo units. He founded Roland in 1972, and to no surprise, he launched a line of delay and echo products (starting with the simple RE-100 and RE-200 units) as among Roland’s first products. However, 1973’s RE-201 Space Echo was a major hit, with sophisticated controls — such as variable tape speeds, three-input mixer, 12 mode settings and a built-in spring reverb — that took it beyond the competition and became a mainstay of artists at the time — including Bob Marley, David Bowie and Pink Floyd — and remains a staple in live performance and recorded tracks today.

In 1981, Kakehashi worked with Sequential Circuits founder Dave Smith and synth pioneer Tom Oberheim on the design of a Universal Synthesizer Interface (USI), which proposed a common note-on/off communications protocol between electronic instruments from different manufacturers. In a rare example of insight and cooperation, competing companies began working together to refine USI into the more powerful MIDI standard. MIDI was first publicly demonstrated at Winter NAMM 1983, when Kakehashi and Smith presented a Sequential Prophet-600 connected to a Roland JP-6.

The driving force behind Roland Corporation for more than four decades, under Kakehashi’s leadership, the company introduced some of the most groundbreaking and iconic products in electronic music including the TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines, the Jupiter-8 synthesizer and the System 700 modular synthesizer among many others.

Kakehashi retired from Roland in 2013; that same year, he and Dave Smith were honored with a Technical Grammy award for contributing to the development of MIDI technology. Never one to slow down, he founded ATV Corporation in 2014, which created the aFrame electronic percussion instrument, among other achievements.

Over his stellar career, Ikutaro Kakehashi created a legacy in electronic music and pro audio products that will live on and continue to influence music for decades to come. He will not be forgotten. 



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