Roland TB-303 Bassline

Roland TB-303 Image

The TB-303 is THE sound of acid and techno house music! It's a monophonic analog bass synthesizer married to a pattern-based step sequencer released in 1982. It features a single analog oscillator with two waveforms (ramp or square) and has a simple but excellent VCF (filter) with resonance, cut-off, and envelope controls. There are also knobs to adjust tuning, envelope decay, tempo and accent amount.

How does it work? Well, it's not a performance synthesizer because you have to program a pattern of notes and timing info into it (sort of like a drum machine). Patterns can then be linked into songs. It was originally made to accompany a drum machine, the TR-606 specifically, and provide bass-line accompaniment to guitarists, keyboard players, etc. It was not a successful product in its time. As a result, creative DJs and aspiring electronic musicians found them for next to no money and began using them for techno and acid music. Usually a single pattern is continuously played while the performer tweaks the knobs creating an exciting and expressive musical event.

The TB-303 has become one of the most sought after vintage synths ever! It has helped develop and stylize many forms of electronic music including House, Acid, Trance and Ambient. If ever there was a need for a repetitive bassline/groove or an extremely resonant and bubbly sound, the 303 is KING. Truly a unique machine with a very identifiable sound! It has spun off several imitators as well: Novation Bass Station, ReBirth, Doepfer MS-404, MAM MB-33, Syntecno TeeBee, and more (see Related & Alternative Gear sidebar).

Ironically, these days it's become trendy to dislike the 303 again, now because of over-use. But I don't and you shouldn't either because it is one-of-a-kind and it's just got that sound that everyone loves! Fatboy Slim says it best in his song "Everybody Needs A 303!"

Another TB303 picture

Getting creative with the 303 always leads to great sounds! Add a guitar distortion pedal for instant hard-core acid and techno. Use the CV and Gate outputs to control other old synthesizers and get that elastic 303 groove workin' your other synths (especially cool with a polyphonic synth). It is used by: Aphex Twin, 808 State, Future Sound of London, Massive Attack, Orbital, Eat Static, Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim), Air, Astral Projection, Josh Wink, Plastikman, Überzone, Moby, Hardfloor, Ultramarine, Underworld, BT, The Prodigy, Jimmy Edgar, Union Jack, Front Line Assembly, Pet Shop Boys, Freddy Fresh, Luke Vibert, and the Chemical Brothers.

There are some custom modifications for the TB-303 which are definitely worth mentioning here:

TB-303 Devil Fish Image
TB-303 Devil Fish Image

TB-303 Devil Fish Mod

Get all the acid you can squeeze out of your TB-303 with the Devil Fish modification, designed to enhance and extend the range of the 303's filters and sound. Drastic, subtle and flexible modifications retain the mild-mannered TB-303 sound capabilities, and create a completely new instrument. The Devil Fish modification was created and is available from Robin Whittle in Australia. More information is available at the TB-303 Devil Fish web site. See the YouTube links for a video demonstration.

TB-303 Borg Image

TB-303 Borg Mod

The Borg TB-303 upgrade / modification - similar in many ways to the Devil Fish but with advantages. This is a major upgrade available for the TB-303 from Analogue Solutions. This upgrade adds features that allow greater creativity and flexibility in creating new sounds and live performance. See the YouTube links for a video demonstration.

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71 Visitor comments
March 11, 2009 @ 6:33 am
Ok modifications. I've been using a TB for 3 years and feel the need for creating new sounds with it. I heard a lot about the Devilfish which seems to be a great choice but some people told me that you loose the original TB 303 rich sound and it changes into an hysterical chimpanzee ( not a bad thing for "some" acid hardcore tweaking ) .
The other one I saw here is the Borg TB 303 (from Analogue Solutions UK) which seems to lack some of the Accent and Decay great features that the Devilfish has but after listening the sound samples in the website it seems that this modification offers a nicer sound (harmonically wise speaking)
February 11, 2009 @ 3:05 pm
Software is beginning to get close sonically, but nothing beats the inspiration you can get from standing in front of a real TB 303, turning the ENV MOD knob up slowly, feeling the swells grow more forceful...tweaking the CUTOFF and RESONANCE in live performance cannot be matched by is sublime and once you spend a little time getting to know your 303 you begin to understand what the fuss has been about for the last 20+ years. Long rule the original BASSLINE!
February 6, 2009 @ 12:38 am
i always wanted one of these. now i have a macbook with audiorealism bassline audio unit software. my good buddy has a real 303 and i can barely tell the difference betwixt the 2. but really, if u dont like 303s, go listen to new age music or smooth jazz.
January 20, 2009 @ 4:16 pm
not much going on with this machine in the synth power department. which is why they have to mod the 303 just to make it do any thing different at all. it is a cheap synth with a lame simple sequencer. people like the acid sound since it is easy as hell to make and does not require the producer to bother with actually designing new sounds. also due to the fact that the tb303 makes it impossible to do so with such limited control. go to youtube and see all the awesome 303 masters cranking out crap acid sequences on generic beats courtesy of the tr-xox .
Rob Parker
January 14, 2009 @ 6:17 pm
I dont see a reason to dislike their sound...I wouldnt say overuse is an excuse either. Their sound is so original, its generic. A good alternative is a Roland SH-101, I have one and I can get alot of TB-303/Juno-ish sounds from it. :)
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Rated 4.27 (907 Votes)

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  • The link above will take you to an eBay search for this synth to see active listings. If you don't find it there, try looking in our forum marketplace or post a wanted classified.
  • Specifications
  • Polyphony - Monophonic
  • Oscillators - 1 VCO : Sawtooth or Square waveforms. Tuning control pot.
  • Filter - 18dB/oct lowpass resonant filter with controls for cutoff, resonance, and envelope amount
  • VCA - Control pots for Decay time and Accent intensity
  • Sequencer - Patterns: 64; Songs: 7
  • Effects - None
  • Keyboard - none
  • Control - CV / GATE / DIN Sync
  • Date Produced - 1982 - 84

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