Roland Boutique TR-08 The Missing Manual – A User’s Guide to the TR-08 Rhythm Composer

PDF FORMAT – Version 0.01B Revised Feb 2021

I think it was 1992 when I was handed a milk crate with something broken inside of it. “What’s this?” I asked. The man in the bright red member’s only jacket with what we used to call a “phat” gold chain around his neck, and diamond encrusted Gucci sunglasses looked like he couldn’t decide if he was going to slug me in the face, or tell me what it was. I took a step back, and he said “808. Busted.” I grinned, and my benefactor grinned and I ran down the block to my apartment, down the hall to my bedroom and poured the contents of the blue Berkeley Farms milk crate out onto my bed. Indeed, wrapped in a square piece of denim was a bonafide Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer. Of course there were no buttons or knobs, no power cable, and someone had taken a wood burning iron and melted their social security number into the plastic side panels, but when I connected a cable and plugged it in it worked. It was Too Short’s broken 808 with his social security number melted into it, and it worked, and now it was mine.

I dug up the service manual, and called Roland Parts and ordered new side panels, new buttons, knobs, switches and most of the other things I needed. The fellow on the phone thought it was funny I wanted all these old parts, and kept talking about how great he thought the R8 was. I just agreed with him, and every time he found one of the parts I needed we cheered. We were on a land line, and he was walking around in a warehouse. It was another time.

Taking the 808 apart was like deconstructing the engine in my Dodge Van. It was a metal box inside of a metal box, with mystery screws, and the strangest connected components. The service manual didn’t really help with taking it apart, but I got it all open, and cleaned it, re wired the power, fixed the switchboard, and then put it all back together with the new side panels. It looked pretty good, and it sounded amazing.

I’ve always loved the sound of the TR-808. Yes I love Planet Rock, Cybotron, everything on Sleeping Bag Records, and Marvin Gaye is kind of the sound of my insides, but what I really love about the 808 is the end of the 80’s house music and techno made with it. Voodoo Ray, Bones Breaks, B-sides on NU Groove, and weirder… I tried to play live with it, but the kick was way too much for those crummy rock and roll based club systems from the late 80’s with no bass bins to speak of. I hadn’t put it into a compressor or a distortion pedal yet, so I imagined needed a 909 to thump the mids for a main room, but this TR-808 came with me to every single Come-Unity party and down in that chill out basement I explored, and experimented, and tried things at 90 bpm that wouldn’t have dared attempt in a club set. A baseline played with the kick drum, only a bongo and maracca pattern while I played the piano and whispered, just a big, long kick on the one, and the SH-101 did all the rest. It fired my imagination, and changed the world musically for me.

This is user’s guide number six – The User’s Guide to the Roland TR-08. I expect it will be the last of these.
This one here in front of me isn’t mine. I drew the line drawings about a year ago, and waited for mine to arrive. It never came. And as I would not release a manual without going through the features and confirming them, I just sort of sat on the drawings. After 8/08 day I admit I’ve been a little obsessed with them. They’re limited edition and I fear soon to be gone (and probably double in price,) but before I scored one, I asked a friend to let me spend the weekend with it. They agreed, and I have been at it for about 24 hours now. I couldn’t have it front of me without going over the manual and preparing it for release. So I’ve collected all of the information I can about the TR-08 Rhythm Composer and compiled it into a PDF document for you which is in the form, and in the spirit of the original TR-808 Rhythm Composer manual. All of this information is in the leaflet that comes with the drum machine, but this is formatted like a classic manual and for those of us who relate to that format better, here it is.

I started doing these because the first leaflet style manuals which arrived with my Roland Boutique synths were too small to read, and so abbreviated that I was left feeling a little underwhelmed. I wanted more. So I learned more, and tried a bunch of things and eventually took my notebooks and turned them into the missing manuals for these lovely little things.

I hope they open a world for you, and guide you through the features, and serves you as a reference guide for things you forget, or wonder about.

At the end there is a “pattern” memo” which is meant to allow us to transcribe the actual patterns we write. I hope these are useful to you, and make writing beats, and sharing ideas easier, and more fun.

PLAY LIVE! Join me.

Sunshine Jones
AUG 20 2018
San Francisco, California


  1. Uriel E:

    Thanx a lot for this

    saludos desde mexico

  2. John Topley:

    That’s a great story! Thanks so much for these missing manuals.

  3. thegrensta:

    Thank you so much, I look forward to learning from you!

  4. bbbatsworth:

    You’re the best.

  5. gatobus:

    Nice work! Thank you!

  6. Mr. Gomi:

    : )

  7. Mr. P:


  8. R W Lyons:


  9. Wishbone:

    Cool, so much better than a piece of crumpled paper.

  10. Marc Alamari:

    Thank you!

  11. Matty Morford:

    My friend Tyler and I were litterally talking about this 8 hours ago.

  12. Tyler Leamont:

    @Matty Morford – Wow

  13. Shawn Shirey:

    How are you liking it compared to the real deal?

  14. Sunshine:

    @Shawn Shirey

    Great question.

    Honestly, I think this thing is just wonderful. It’s a lot of fun.
    Small, portable, light.
    Handsome, authentic details.
    Listen to it in the little speaker and one thinks, meh… and feels kinda sad.
    Put it into proper monitors and it’s a whole new world.
    It really sounds great. And it’s really fun, like an 808 should be.

    It’s not an analog drum machine. Like the SH-01A the sound is much better than the previous Boutique synths, but like the SH-01A as good as it sounds, when you place it beside the original, there’s no contest. The original is far superior. That’s true.

    However, I play live all over the world with the SH-01A and the JU-06/JP-08/JX-03 and I love them. They sound fantastic in huge club systems, and always make it happen. I am delighted not to have to drag a collection of vintage synths around with me. They work, and sound great. Better than samples, strangely better than raw modern analog polysynths, and while not as lovely as the originals (SH-101, Juno 106, Jupiter-6/8, JX-3P) in any way, they do their job well, and always reach the crowd. I love them.

    But… and this is important… the TR-08 sounds fantastic in a sound system. It works beautifully. And it’s available for $349 (for now) and second hand for $249.
    That’s a great place to start for someone beginning their adventure, or not completely obsessed with analog sounds.
    I am 100% behind the idea of putting classic physical devices which sound good, and work well – like proper machines – into the hands of the people. I want more friends and family to join me and play live beside me. I’ve been doing this virtually alone since 1989 and I want you to play live with me. So I’m always going to be down with a good, hands on, device which is within reach of the people.

    The minuses are of course that the tone controls are largely sub menus. I don’t like that. I like a 1 knob per function device. But this format is so small, that there’s no way anyone would have been happy if Roland had tried to do this (even though I would have defended the little tiny knob approach all day long.) So it makes sense I guess. But I want physical, in the moment control over decay, tune, compression, etc. I really don’t like needing to reach for a menu.

    That said, that’s my only complaint. The box looks and feels superb, and sounds even better. The only way you could top this little monster, in my opinion, would be to buy the original ($4,700) or build your own from a Yocto Kit ($600 +), or the System 80 Eurorack module version ($?.)

    I know Behringer have announced their clone, but I don’t care what Behringer are doing. Also Paul at has announced his plans to proceed with the RE-808 and you KNOW I’m going to score one of those kits and build that for sure.

  15. Shawn Shirey:

    Thank you so much for the detailed review. I truly respect your seasoned opinion!

  16. Steve-O:

    Thank you so much. Kind thoughts to you. This truly helps a lot!

  17. ??????? ??????:

    Who doesn’t like a good manual?

  18. Simon James Dodson:


  19. cosinezero:

    Can’t thank you enough for these boutique manuals. Spectacular work.

  20. @SUNSHINE, to be able to reach the tone controls of the TR-08 fast, I bought an Arturia Beatstep that does the trick really well. I made a diagram of the CC-numbers of the missing tone controls in the layout of the Beatstep. This turned out to be a perfect complement.


    Warm greetings, Gerd from Rotterdam

  21. Sunshine:

    That’s a really fantastic solution.
    I’m already using the Korg NanoKNTRL 2 for accessing the inner pagination of the Octatrack in performances. Not a bad idea at all to add another little controller to access the tones of the TR-08!
    Where are all those Doepfer pocket dials no one wanted a few years ago? Those would be perfection!