Let me start this blog post by saying I'm extremely biased. How biased? I'm gonna lay it out on the table - I like my Roland JD-800 more than my Juno-106. I find it more fun to play. More fun to program. There. I said it.
Everything you read about this synthesizer is true. It's big. It's heavy. It's gorgeous. And it sounds absolutely fabulous. When you sit down in front of the JD-800, you are drawn to those sliders and you can't help but start to experiment with it's sound. I liked mine so much that I spent a good part of the next two or three years searching high and low for the JD-990. And when I finally found one used in my local music store, I was lucky enough to have found one with the vintage expansion, FTW!
This was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, JD-800 brochure. It was actually more of a sell sheet, put out at the end of 1990 to announce the beast. The actual brochure would be printed later in 1991 (next post!). It actually contains a fair bit of info. Definitely worth the read.
The best thing about the JD-800, and this sell sheet in particular, is how Roland was selling knobs and sliders again. "A radical departure from conventional digital synths". It's fun to see Roland, one of the major companies responsible for the removal of all those knobs and sliders from the front panels of synths in the first place, was now pooping all over those synths. Including their own JX, Alpha and D series synths. But, Roland does deserve some credit, because even during those awful years of trying to program a Alpha Juno 2 or JX8P through a small LCD and a few buttons, at least Roland usually built a programmer module to go along with most of their hard-to-program synths. So, they didn't so much get rid of the sliders, more that they just put the sliders and knobs in a separate box and make you pay extra for the privaledge. A great marketing strategy for sure.
But launching a synthesizer with all those sliders and knobs added back into it was an even better marketing strategy. And helped keep Roland front of mind during a period in synthesizer history that had also recently seen the launch of competitors products such as Korg's innovative Wavestation, Waldorf's angry-sounding analog Microwave, and Yamaha's kick-ass sample+FM synthesis SY-77 monster.
I'll take a look through old Keyboard mags to see if this thing showed up at NAMM before being released, but as far as I can remember, this thing came out of nowhere, ready to satisfy all of those frustrated Roland synthesizer programmers that had been sulking ever since the company dropped their last easily programmable synth from their roster back in the mid-80s - the Jupiter-6 I think?!?!. So, when the JD-800 showed up in magazine ads and in music stores, everyone looked at it in awe and shock. We all drooled over the thing.
I was jealous as heck when a friend picked up one of the few that ever made it into my city.
But I was all smiles when he finally sold it to me more than 15 years later. Have had it ever since. :)