Roland TB-303

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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.
Input/output
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" or "chirping" sound became a foundation of electronic dance music such as acid house, Chicago house and techno.

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] The user programs 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]

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]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hsieh, Christine. "Electronic Musician: Tadao Kikumoto". Retrieved 2010-10-02. 
  2. ^ a b "The History Of Roland: Part 2". www.soundonsound.com. Retrieved 2018-03-26. 
  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 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". beat portal. 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. 

Further reading[edit]