Small Invention Hall of Fame: Technics 1200 Direct Drive Turntable


Continuing our look at the inventions that have irrevocably changed human culture, yet are cast in the shadow of more lauded inventions. I bring you, the Technics SL-1200 direct drive turntable.

This little beauty is arguably one of, if not the most, influential tools in the urban music culture, and beyond.

Spinning Back In Time

In the 1970s a record turntable achieved it's spin by driving a belt with a motor, and then attaching that belt to a spinning plate which then turned a record. Indeed any music system you were likely to buy in the 1980s would have a belt driven turntable.

However in 1972 Shuiti Obata, an engineer at the company that would later become to be known as Panasonic, decided to forgo the belt, and attach the motor directly to the plate of the record player, and thus the SL-1200 was born.

Influence of Scratch

The reason the direct drive turntable is so important, is because without it, scratch djs wouldn't have existed. Meaning the whole genres of hip hop, rap, R&B would not be as they are today, or perhaps, not even exist at all.

It all started with Grand Wizard Theodore, the inventor of scratching. The technique of pulling a record back and forth in order to create a rhythmic sound, quite separate from the original tune.

Once the dj dropped his scratch technique at a party, the sound hit the streets, and it hit it hard. People went crazy for the new sound, new artists sprung up using the scratch as their muse.

Flash was the man that spoke with his hands, and from his group Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, to Erik B. and Rakim, scratching inspired and entertained a generation.

Beyond A Genre

The influence that hip hop had over subsequent genres such as R&B was rooted in the sound of the scratch dj, in much the same way hip hop was influenced by the funk movement of the 1970s.

James Brown beats were the favourite tool of the scratch dj. Brown was loved for his hard funk beats and impeccable timing. Now the beats took on a whole new meaning as talented djs cut and chopped the beats. Often they would have the same tune on two turntables, intertwining the beat within itself, creating a new sound.

That sound went on to influence not just R&B, but music as divergent as drum and base, and techno. The spirit of the scratch dj lived on well beyond the boundaries of hip hop.

A Deck Reborn

Technics SL turntables were loved for their simplicity and their robustness (I have a DJ friend with a 30 year old pair, which have been serviced once). However in 2010, with a continued decline in vinyl record sales, combined with a rise in DJ software apps like Serrato. Panasonic decided to discontinue its SL range.

This sent waves of distress throughout a community of DJs and music lovers alike, all whom had come to see the Technics SL-1200 and 1210s as synonymous symbols of DJing itself.

A subsequent Facebook group was started, and after more than five years of tireless campaigning, Panasonic finally agreed to bring back their iconic SL-1200 range. Unfortunately though, the price had increased from a few hundred dollars each, to a few thousand.

In some ways it is a shame, however in others it is nice to see that even though the manufacture and sale of record players is almost certainly unprofitable, a huge corporation like Panasonic, is still happy to pay l'homage to such an unsung hero as the Technics SL-1200.

I look forward to another forty six years of Technics 12s rocking the party out!

Image: Pixabay Creative Commons

Technics SL-1200 - Wiki

Grand Wizzard Theodore - Wiki

Direct Drive Turntable - Wiki



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