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Roland TB-303 Bass Line
Roland TB-303 Panel.jpg
TB-303 front panel
Manufacturer Roland
Dates 1981-1984
Price £238 UK, $395 US
Technical specifications
Polyphony monophonic
Timbrality monotimbral
Oscillator Sawtooth and square wave
LFO none
Synthesis type Analog Subtractive
Filter 24dB low pass resonant filter, non self oscillating
Aftertouch expression No
Velocity expression No
Storage memory 64 patterns, 7 songs, 1 track
Effects No internal effects.
Keyboard No

The Roland TB-303 Bass Line is a bass synthesizer released by the Roland Corporation in 1981. Designed to simulate bass guitars, it was a commercial failure and was discontinued in 1984. However, cheap second-hand units were adopted by electronic musicians, and its "squelching" sound became a foundation of electronic dance music such as acid house, Chicago house and techno.

Design and features

The TB-303 was designed by Tadao Kikumoto, who also designed the Roland TR-909 drum machine.[1] It was marketed as a "computerised bass machine" to replace the bass guitar;[2] however, according to Forbes, it instead produces a "squelchy tone more reminiscent of a psychedelic mouth harp than a stringed instrument".[3]

The TB-303 has a single oscillator, which produces either a "buzzy" sawtooth wave or a "hollow-sounding" square wave.[3] This is fed into a 24dB[4]low-pass filter, which is manipulated by an envelope generator.[2] The user programs notes and slides using a basic sequencer.[3]

Impact and legacy

The 303's unrealistic sound made it unpopular with its target audience, those who wanted to replace bass guitars. It was discontinued in 1984,[5] and Roland sold off remaining units cheaply.[3]

Chicago group Phuture bought a cheap 303 and began experimenting.[3][4] By manipulating the synthesizer as it played, they created a unique "squelching, resonant and liquid sound".[3] This became the foundation of "Acid Tracks", which was released in 1987 and created the acid genre.[3] Acid, with the 303 as a staple sound, became popular worldwide, particularly as part of the UK's emerging rave culture known as the second summer of love.[3][4] "Rip It Up", by the Scottish post-punk band Orange Juice, which reached #8 in the UK singles chart in February 1983, was the first UK top 10 hit to feature the 303.[6]

Another early use of a TB-303 (in conjunction with a TR-808 drum machine) is Indian musician Charanjit Singh's 1982 album Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat. It remained obscure until the early 21st century, and is now recognized as a precursor to acid.[7]

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, as new acid styles emerged, the TB-303 was often overdriven, producing a harsher sound, such as on Hardfloor's 1992 EP "Acperience" and Interlect 3000's 1993 EP "Volcano".[8] In other instances the TB-303 was distorted and processed, such as on Josh Wink's 1995 hit "Higher State of Consciousness".[4][9]

As only 10,000 units were manufactured, the popularity of acid dramatically rose the price of used 303 units.[3] According to the Guardian, as of 2014, units sold for over £1,000.[10]

In 2011, The Guardian listed the release of the TB-303 as one of the 50 key events in the history of dance music.[5]

Clones and emulations

In 1998, Propellerhead Software's ReBirth software synthesizer emulated the TB-303, 808, and later 909 sounds. Roland contacted Propellerhead to give the company an unofficial "thumbs up" which Propellerhead considered the Roland "Seal of Approval".[11] As of September 2005, support for ReBirth has been discontinued by Propellerhead software, and the software was available online[12] as a free download until 2016.[13] In April 2010, a new paid version of ReBirth was re-released[14][15] as a paid app[16] for the iPhone[17] and iPod Touch. In November 2010 a visually revamped and modernized version was made available on the iPad.[18][19] Propellerhead disabled ReBirth For iOS On June 1, 2013.[20][21][22][23]

Other notable softsynth versions include the TS-404 synthesizer found bundled in certain versions of FL Studio, however it was removed in 2015 with the release of FL Studio 12.[24] and The "Bass Line" plugin from AudioRealism. It supports both the VST and AU standards. Native Instrument's flagship softsynth Massive, as well as many other softsynths, contain filters modelled after that of the TB-303, allowing users to create their own realistic-sounding acid patches. On 19 October 2016, Image Line released a new software emulation of the TB-303, named Transistor Bass.[25] This release was accompanied with a controversial video of the original TB-303 being destroyed with a circular saw, however this turned out to be a hoax, with the TB-303 actually turning out to be a Cyclone Analogical TT-303 BassBot, a commercial hardware clone of the original.[26]

By the middle of the 1990s, demand for the TB-303 surged within the electronic dance music scene. As there were never many TB-303s to begin with, many small synthesizer companies cropped up and started to develop their own TB-303 hardware clones. Many were rack designs, aimed at studios, not travelling DJs. This new wave of TB-303 clones began with a company called Novation Electronic Music Systems, who released their portable Bass Station keyboard in 1994.[27][28] Many other TB-303 "clones" followed, including Future Retro's 777, Syntecno's TeeBee,[29]Doepfer's MS-404, MAM MB33, Freebass FB-383,[30] Future Retro's Revolution, Acidlab Bassline, Acidcode ML-303, Oakley TM3030, Analogue Solutions Trans-Bass-Xpress and Will Systems MAB-303. Meanwhile, the Doepfer A-103 Eurorack module is a reproduction of the TB-303's distinctive transistor ladder filter, only.[31]

In 2003 even Roland themselves released a clone, as a software synth running in their Roland VariOS sound production unit using MIDI and a software control panel.

In 2013, Korg released the Volca Bass, which takes some style cues from the 303 but does not copy the original's form factor or sound generation circuitry.[32]


  1. ^ Hsieh, Christine. "Electronic Musician: Tadao Kikumoto". Retrieved . 
  2. ^ a b "The History Of Roland: Part 2". www.soundonsound.com. Retrieved . 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hamill, Jasper. "The world's most famous electronic instrument is back. Will anyone buy the reissued TB-303?". Forbes. Retrieved . 
  4. ^ a b c d "The Fall and Rise of the TB-303". Roland US. 
  5. ^ a b Vine, Richard (2011-06-14). "Tadao Kikumoto invents the Roland TB-303". the Guardian. Retrieved . 
  6. ^ "Buzzcocks: Boredom / Orange Juice: Rip It Up - Seconds - Stylus Magazine". 2015-06-10. Archived from the original on 2011-08-05. Retrieved . 
  7. ^ Stuart Aitken (10 May 2011). "Charanjit Singh on how he invented acid house ... by mistake". The Guardian. 
  8. ^ Church, Terry (Feb 9, 2010). "Black History Month: Jesse Saunders and house music". beat portal. Retrieved 2011. 
  9. ^ "30 Years of Acid". Attack Magazine. 
  10. ^ Reidy, Tess (2014-02-15). "Retro electronics still popular - but why not just use modern software?". the Guardian. Retrieved . 
  11. ^ Propellerheads (2005). "The Debut". The Rebirth Museum. Archived from the original on 2007-04-22. Retrieved . 
  12. ^ http://www.vintagesynth.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=30987
  13. ^ https://www.reddit.com/r/reasoners/comments/3ik423/rebirth_gone/
  14. ^ https://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=846551
  15. ^ http://cdm.link/2010/10/how-to-install-rebirth-in-linux-get-a-free-rack-of-beat-machines/
  16. ^ Propellerheads Software (2010). "Rebirth for iPad and iPhone". Propellerheads Software. Retrieved . 
  17. ^ https://www.engadget.com/2010/05/31/propellerheads-rebirth-for-iphone-1-1-review/
  18. ^ http://magazine.dv247.com/2011/09/02/propellerhead-rebirth-for-ipad-review/
  19. ^ Propellerhead Software (31 October 2010). "ReBirth for iPad". ReBirthApp.com. Propellerhead Software. Archived from the original on 23 July 2011. Retrieved 2011. 
  20. ^ http://www.synthtopia.com/content/2013/05/22/propellerhead-retiring-rebirth-for-iphone/
  21. ^ http://www.musictech.net/2013/05/propellerheads-rebirth-for-iphone-to-be-pulled/
  22. ^ https://forum.reasontalk.com/viewtopic.php?t=7497885
  23. ^ http://www.matrixsynth.com/2013/05/rebirth-for-iphone-going-away-on-june.html
  24. ^ "TS404 Instrument Channel". Image-Line. Archived from the original on 2012-09-16. Retrieved . 
  25. ^ Image-Line (2016-10-19), FL Studio Guru | Transistor Bass (Getting Started), retrieved  
  26. ^ Image-Line (2016-10-19), TB-303 SAWED | What's inside a $2500 Classic Synth?, retrieved  
  27. ^ "Novation BassStation". soundonsound.com. 
  28. ^ "Ten Of The Best: Analogue Mono Synths". Attack Magazine. 
  29. ^ "Syntecno TeeBee Mark II". Sound On Sound. October 1997. Archived from the original on 7 June 2015. 
  30. ^ "Freeform Analogue Technologies Freebass FB383". Sound On Sound. March 1997. Archived from the original on 8 June 2015. 
  31. ^ "A-103 18dB Low Pass 1 (VCF6)". Doepfer. Retrieved 2018. 
  32. ^ "The KORG volca bass is Not a TB-303 Replacement - Great Video Compares, Adds Tips". Create Digital Music. 2013-10-14. Retrieved . 

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