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 It was originally made to accompany a drum machine, the TR-606 specifically, and provide bass-line accompaniment to guitarists, keyboard players, etc.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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Are you looking to buy or sell a Roland TB-303 Bassline? Post an ad in Gear For Sale or a request in Gear Wanted. For spare parts and repair services check out Gear Services & Other Goods. Our forums also has a Buyer’s Guide section where you can ask for advice on buying synthesizers.

70 Visitor comments
Mezzo
April 14, 2010 @ 4:09 pm
Damn, I owned 3 of these toys in the 80’s. One was sold for $50 bucks, the others were given away (one actually might have ended up in the trash with battery leakage). If I only knew – I’d be halfway to a CS-80 with the sale of these. I won’t rant about how over rated these are. They did start a revolution. However, I will say without naming names that one particular “user” has a busted 303 lit up with blue leds visible in the rig but a hidden novation is really driving the bottom. Maybe the Emperor has no clothes.
adub303
April 10, 2010 @ 9:39 am
I have the TB-303 and an MC-09 and I have to say that the MC-09 does a pretty decent emulation and is even slightly easier to program (or I should say quicker). Gotta love the TB, though! Something about the feel of that old, travel-ready silver plastic that just can't be emulated ;)
ninja6485
April 6, 2010 @ 8:56 pm
it's true: i just got mine today and i immediately started hearing sounds that i have yet to hear from any of the software emulaters i've tried. especially with the resonance knob turned down. i hooked it up to my 707 and a bird from outside joined in! picked out the tune and everything. diddn't quite get the squelching tho...
Martin
February 14, 2010 @ 1:30 pm
I think Heaven 17 deserve a mention for their 1982 record -Let Me Go
Dylan Howe
January 1, 2010 @ 5:54 pm
Also used by Orange Juice in "Rip it Up"
 
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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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