Roland TB-303

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Roland TB-303 Bass Line
Roland TB-303 Panel.jpg
TB-303 front panel
Price£238 UK, $395 US
Technical specifications
OscillatorSawtooth and square wave
Synthesis typeAnalog Subtractive
Filter24dB low pass resonant filter, non self oscillating
Aftertouch expressionNo
Velocity expressionNo
Storage memory64 patterns, 7 songs, 1 track
EffectsNo internal effects.

The Roland TB-303 Bass Line is a bass synthesizer released by Roland Corporation in 1981. It was originally designed to be used with the Roland TR-606 Drumatix, a programmable analog synthesis drum machine. 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 acid house, Chicago house and techno. It has inspired numerous clones.

Design and features[edit]

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] Users program notes and slides using a basic sequencer.[3]

Impact and legacy[edit]

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] 10,000 units were manufactured.[3]

"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]

The 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]

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]

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] The popularity of acid caused a dramatic increase in the price of used 303 units.[3] According to the Guardian, as of 2014, units sold for over £1,000.[10] It has inspired numerous clones.[11]


  1. ^ Hsieh, Christine. "Electronic Musician: Tadao Kikumoto". Retrieved 2010-10-02.
  2. ^ a b "The History Of Roland: Part 2 |". Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hamill, Jasper. "The world's most famous electronic instrument is back. Will anyone buy the reissued TB-303?". Forbes. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  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 2018-03-26.
  6. ^ "Buzzcocks: Boredom / Orange Juice: Rip It Up - Seconds - Stylus Magazine". 2015-06-10. Archived from the original on 2011-06-04. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  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". Retrieved 16 October 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 2018-03-26.
  11. ^ Warwick, Oli (8 April 2017). "Attack of the clones: Is Behringer's Minimoog a synth replica too far?". Fact. Retrieved 30 November 2018.

Further reading[edit]