Learn Electronics from the World’s Oldest Drum Machine

Craft & Design Education Music Technology
Darsha plays the Side Man 5000

Darsha plays the Side Man 5000

Not everyone is immediately attracted to the idea of learning electronics. For most of us, it takes a hook an idea, subject, or project that pulls you in and makes learning exciting and practical. For artist Darsha Hewitt, host of a new 9-part online video series called A Side Man 5000 Adventure, it was an old, obsolete drum machine that opened her eyes to the world of electronics.

In the video series, Hewitt uses the inner workings of the 1959 Wurlitzer Side Man 5000 to illustrate and illuminate a range of concepts, including physics, mechanical design, and electronics. The first few episodes serve as an introduction to the machine, its intended functions, and its inner layout. As each weekly episode rolls out, Hewitt will peel back another layer of understanding the quirky, 84-pound machine.

Why an Old Drum Machine?

Beyond its catchy name and its ability to synthesize retro ballroom beats, the Side Man 5000 makes for a surprisingly ideal subject for introducing basic concepts in electronics. Because the electronic innards of the Side Man predate the widespread use of transistors and integrated circuits, it’s easy to see the fundamental components of the machine that would otherwise be invisible in any modern device.

And while finding electronics of this era isn’t terribly hard, there’s something particularly relatable and intriguing about it being a drum machine. It does something fun that we’re all curious to understand better.

Side Man 5000
Vacuum tubes lay at the heart of the Side Man 5000’s tone generators, responsible for the synthetic clicks and clacks of its pre-digital sound.
Tempo Wheel
The tempo and sequence of the Side Man 500 is driven by an electromechanical arm that sweeps over a plate of metal contacts.

So, if you or someone you know is looking for a way to get a hook into the basic concepts of electronics, give A Side Man 5000 Adventure a try. Hewitt’s energy and beginner-friendly attitude keeps things light, and the ancient ballroom beats of the drum machine add an infectious sonic layer to the show.

1 thought on “Learn Electronics from the World’s Oldest Drum Machine

  1. Anonymous says:

    “learn electronics” Rule One: Don’t make newbs think that sticking a metal pointer into active HV systems is a reasonable activity.

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I make stuff, play music, and sometimes make stuff that plays music. Fan of donuts, Arduino, BEAM robotics, skateboarding, Buckminster Fuller, and blinking lights.

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