Skip to main content

Linn LM-1

Electronic Percussion

The Linn LM-1 is a drum machine used by Prince throughout his career. Prince used the LM-1 so extensively, and used in such unique ways, that it could be considered one of Prince's signature instruments. Prince owned at least five LM-1s and had them modified in various ways. This included adding a toggle for cymbal sounds and trigger inputs and outputs. He also used his LM-1 in conjunction with his Boss pedalboard. Although these effects were designed for electric guitar, Prince got many of his signature drum sounds from combining his LM-1 with his Boss effects. For example, the "clap" sound heard on When Doves Cry is a LM-1 side stick combined with multiple delay and modulation effects.

Besides using the LM-1 for drum parts, he also used the LM-1 for bass parts. For example, Hot Thing and Forever in My Life feature an LM-1 tom sample tuned to a specific pitch and run through various effects.

Whilst Prince had used some electronic percussion on the For You album, he began using drum machines in earnest on the Controversy album. The first use of the Linn LM-1 is for the snare sound on the song "Private Joy", where Prince combined it with live drums. 1999 was the first album where the Linn LM-1 was used extensively. It appears on every song, and it continued to be the primary drum machine on Purple Rain and Around The World In A Day. Whilst the use of the LM-1 dipped on Parade in favour of live percussion, it appears again on Sign O The Times. For Lovesexy and Batman, Prince introduced the Dynacord ADD One drum module. This was controlled by a modified LM-1. Despite working with other drummers and using other sound modules, the LM-1 remained Prince's preferred drum machine. It appears on Newpower Soul, Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic, Musicology, MPLSound and 20Ten. A Linn LM-1 still sits in the control room at Paisley Park.

The Linn LM-1 was invented by Roger Linn and released in 1979. Only 525 were produced. Unlike other drum machines of the time that synthesized drum-like sounds, the LM-1 used real samples of a drummer. Prince was not the first artist to use the LM-1 but no other artist made the instrument so integral to their sound. Prince used the instrument in ways unintended by its inventor. For example, Prince played live parts using the pads on the front, overdubbing his own patterns over the programmed beats.

Prince also made full use of the individual outputs for each drum sound. The LM-1 could also tune each individual drum sample. Prince combined these two features with pedals from his Boss pedalboard to create unique drum sounds. (Susan Rogers mentions the Boss HM-2, Boss DS-1, Boss BF-2, Boss CE-3/VB-2, Boss DD-3/DM-2 and Boss OC-2). For example the famous "knocking" sound heard on many of this songs of this era (When Doves Cry, Paisley Park) involves detuning the sidestick and tambourine sounds and running it through flanging and delay effects. Other sounds include:

  • When Doves Cry: tom-toms through the Boss BF-2 flanger, kick drum through the Boss OC-2
  • 1999: drums through a Cry Baby wah and a Boss DM-2 delay
  • The Ballad of Dorothy Parker: drums through the Boss DS-1 distortion
  • If I Was Your Girlfriend: snare through the Boss BF-2 flanger
  • Hot Thing (bass line): tom through Boss OC-2 octave and Boss SD-1 overdrive
  • Forever In My Life (bass line): tom through Boss VB-2 vibrato, Boss OC-2 octave and Boss SD-1 overdrive

The LM-1 recently seen in the control room at Paisley Park is mounted with a small pedalboard, including a Boss PSM-5, OC-2, SD-1 and DD-3 (similar to Prince's Sign O The Times-era pedalboard).

Prince also liked the timing and feel of the machine. There may have been a scientific reason for this. The clock inside the LM-1 was based on a crystal that heated up as the unit ran, varying the tempo of the drum part. This may have given the machine "human feel" missing from other drum machines.

The Linn LinnDrum, the successor to the LM-1, did not have has many tuning or routing options and had a more stable internal clock. Prince received one of these machines but according to Susan Rogers, didn't like it and continued to use the older LM-1. One was rented for a one of session at Paisley Park when all the other LM-1s were on tour or out of order.

The only song that ever had any sequencing during the twelve years I performed with Prince was "I would Die For You." I used to lock the sequencer on my MemoryMoog synth to do the bass part with Bobby Z.'s Linn LM-1 Drum machine which had been modified to receive MIDI.
Nothing has the timing of that thing. It locks up differently than any other drum machine. And believe me, I’ve had every drum machine ever made. When I put my own internal rhythm on top of it, there’s nothing like it.
Prince used the Linn LM-1, not the Linn Drum, which was the better model that came out afterwards. [The LM-1] was crystal controlled—that’s what coordinated the beats and the timing of it, so it was heat sensitive, and you’d have to plug the thing in and have it warm up. You couldn’t let it get too hot or your step would start to drift. It was really old school, because it was expensive at the time. It was thousands of dollars to buy one. But Prince liked it because on the back of it there were individual outputs for every individual sound, and there was a tuning knob for each individual sound. You could individually tune every drum that you wanted. He liked to take a percussion mix that would come out of the output of those little faders and run it through his Roland and Boss effects pedals. So, let’s say for example, the hi-hat, cymbals, cabasa, and claps might all be running through a Boss pedal where we could add distortion. We had that heavy metal pedal, the brown one. He had the orange distortion pedal, and the delay, the blue one.
What we did is, the LM-1 was different from the LinnDrum, which is a better more improved model. The LM-1 had a crystal clock that wasn’t quite as accurate as the next one. So the timing of the LinnDrum, the old cheap LinnDrum that Prince used, the LM-1, it wasn’t as robotic, it wasn’t as rigid which made it slightly more human. When that thing would heat up, it would speed up a little bit, drift a little bit, so there was that. The other thing it had is that it had individual outputs for all of the sounds, kick, snare, hat, claps, clave, all the toms. There were individual outputs. In the later model, the LinnDrum, they only had individual outputs for some of them and then the rest had to be combined in this little mixer. Prince could take the LM-1 and he could take the claps and run it through the flanger. He always had his guitar pedal, his guitar pedals were the Roland BOSS pedals. We would take his BOSS pedal board from his guitar rig and just plug it into the output of the drum machine and we could send claps, or snare or toms usually, and hi-hat, whatever we liked through this mixture of the heavy metal pedal and the flanger and the chorus and the delay and the distortion. Dialing in on the pedal board, dialing in the sound for the percussion was one of the tricks that he invented and that others copied in his work.