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. Another notable effect unit used with the LM-1 the AMS RMX16 Reverb unit, particularly the "Non Lin 2" gated reverb used on the kick drum.
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. Prince first used the Linn LM-1 on the song "Private Joy" . 1999 was the first album where the Linn LM-1 was used extensively, 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, which was controlled by a 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 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.
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. When recording, Prince would usually patch a handclap to track one, kick drum to track two, snare to track three and a mix of other percussion on track four , processed through the pedals. Susan Rogers has listed the Boss HM-2, Boss DS-1, Boss BF-2, Boss CE-3/VB-2, Boss DD-3/DM-2 and Boss OC-2 as examples. 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
- Rebirth Of The Flesh: percussion through a Boss TW-1 T-Wah envelope filter
Prince would also run the Linn LM-1 through an AMS RMX16 Reverb. In particular, Prince would run the kick drum through the "Non Lin 2" reverb preset, which would expand the sound of the kick. This is most noticeable on "Kiss" where there is otherwise no bass part.
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.
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.
The Linn LM-1 was also used live by Prince, Bobby Z and Sheila E . The LM-1 was either pre-programmed or sounds were triggered using the Simmons SDS-V drum pads. It was also used for triggering other instruments, like the Moog Memorymoog.
Prince also rented the Linn LinnDrum or LM-2, the successor to the LM-1 when recording at Sunset Sound. It did not have as many tuning or routing options as the LM-1, but it appears on number of Prince songs recorded at Sunset Sound in the early to mid 1980s. It was later used on Batman and Graffiti Bridge. Prince also processed the LinnDrum in a similar manner to the LM-1. For example, The Future features a LinnDrum through a Boss TW-1 envelope filter and a DS-1 distortion.