The Roland TB-303 Bass Line is a 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" or "chirping" sound became a foundation of electronic dance music genres such as house and techno. It has inspired numerous clones.
|Roland TB-303 Bass Line|
TB-303 front panel
|Price||£238 UK, $395 US|
|Oscillator||Sawtooth and square wave|
|Synthesis type||Analog Subtractive|
|Filter||24dB low pass resonant filter, non self oscillating|
|Storage memory||64 patterns, 7 songs, 1 track|
|Effects||No internal effects.|
The TB-303 was designed by Tadao Kikumoto, who also designed the Roland TR-909 drum machine. It was marketed as a "computerised bass machine" to replace the bass guitar. However, according to Forbes, it instead produces a "squelchy tone more reminiscent of a psychedelic mouth harp than a stringed instrument".
The TB-303 has a single oscillator, which produces either a "buzzy" sawtooth wave or a "hollow-sounding" square wave. This is fed into a 24dB low-pass filter, which is manipulated by an envelope generator. Users program notes and slides using a built-in sequencer.
Impact and legacyEdit
The Chicago group Phuture bought a cheap 303 and began experimenting. By manipulating the synthesizer as it played, they created a unique "squelching, resonant and liquid sound". This became the foundation of "Acid Tracks", which was released in 1987 and created the acid genre. 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.
"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. 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.
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". In other instances the TB-303 was distorted and processed, such as on Josh Wink's 1995 hit "Higher State of Consciousness".
As only 10,000 303 units were manufactured, the popularity of acid caused a dramatic increase in the price of used units. According to the Guardian, as of 2014, units sold for over £1,000. In 2011, the Guardian listed the release of the TB-303 as one of the 50 key events in the history of dance music. It has inspired numerous clones. In 2014, Roland released the TB-3, a synthesizer emulating TB-303 circuitry.
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