Roland TB-303

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Roland TB-303 Bass Line
TB-303 front panel
PriceUK £238 (£970 in 2021), US $395 ($1324 in 2023)
Technical specifications
OscillatorSawtooth and square wave
Synthesis typeAnalog subtractive
Filter24 dB/oct low-pass resonant filter, non-self-oscillating
Aftertouch expressionNo
Velocity expressionNo
Storage memory64 patterns, 7 songs, 1 track
EffectsNo internal effects.
Keyboard16 pattern keys

The Roland TB-303 Bass Line (also known as the 303) is a bass synthesizer released by 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 acid house, Chicago house and techno. It has inspired numerous clones.

Design and features[edit]

The TB-303 was manufactured by the Japanese company Roland. It 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 24 dB/octave[4] low-pass filter, which is manipulated by an envelope generator.[2] Users program notes and slides using the internal sequencer.[3]


The TB-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. 10,000 units were manufactured.[3]

The first track to use the TB-303 and enter the top ten of the UK Singles Chart was "Rip It Up" (1983), by the Scottish band Orange Juice.[6] Charanjit Singh's 1982 album Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat was another early use of a TB-303, alongside another Roland device, the TR-808 drum machine. The album remained obscure until the early 21st century, when it was reissued and recognized as a precursor to acid house.[7]

The Chicago group Phuture bought a cheap TB-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 the single "Acid Tracks", which was released in 1987 and created the acid genre. Acid, with the TB-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]

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 1995, the TB-303 was distorted and processed on Josh Wink hit "Higher State of Consciousness"[4][9] and on Daft Punk's "Da Funk".[10]

In 2011, the Guardian named the release of the TB-303 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] As of 2014, units sold for over £1,000.[11]


The TB-303 has inspired numerous software emulations and clones,[12] such as the TD-3 by Behringer, released in 2019.[13] In 2014, Roland released the TB-3 Touch Bassline, with a touchpad interface and MIDI and USB connections.[14] In 2017, Roland released the TB-03, a miniaturized model featuring an LED display and delay and overdrive effects.[15]


  1. ^ Hsieh, Christine. "Electronic Musician: Tadao Kikumoto". Retrieved 2 October 2010.
  2. ^ a b Reid, Gordon (December 2004). "The History Of Roland: Part 2". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Hamill, Jasper. "The world's most famous electronic instrument is back. Will anyone buy the reissued TB-303?". Forbes. Archived from the original on 29 March 2014. Retrieved 26 March 2018.[better source needed]
  4. ^ a b "The Fall and Rise of the TB-303". Roland US. 28 March 2013.
  5. ^ a b Vine, Richard (14 June 2011). "Tadao Kikumoto invents the Roland TB-303". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  6. ^ "Buzzcocks: Boredom / Orange Juice: Rip It Up – Seconds". Stylus Magazine. 10 June 2015. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  7. ^ Stuart Aitken (10 May 2011). "Charanjit Singh on how he invented acid house ... by mistake". The Guardian.
  8. ^ Church, Terry (9 February 2010). "Black History Month: Jesse Saunders and house music". Archived from the original on 12 February 2010. Retrieved 16 October 2011.
  9. ^ "30 Years of Acid". Attack Magazine. Archived from the original on 17 October 2015. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  10. ^ Brewster, Will (3 March 2021). "The 13 most iconic TB-303 basslines of all time". Mixdown. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  11. ^ Reidy, Tess (15 February 2014). "Retro electronics still popular – but why not just use modern software?". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  12. ^ Warwick, Oli (8 April 2017). "Attack of the clones: Is Behringer's Minimoog a synth replica too far?". Fact. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  13. ^ "Behringer unveils a Roland TB-303 clone". Engadget. 8 November 2019. Retrieved 3 January 2022.
  14. ^ Nagle, Paul (April 2014). "Roland TB3 Touch Bassline". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 3 January 2022.
  15. ^ Bruce Aisher (14 March 2017). "Roland TB-03 Bass Line review". MusicRadar. Retrieved 3 January 2022.

Further reading[edit]