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The Roland SH-101 – IDM Legend!

Manufactured by Roland from 1982 to 1986, the SH-101 is still revered today for its iconically ‘80s sound and simple yet versatile features. As the numeral in its name suggests, the SH-101 offered a crash course into the world of synthesizers, and early marketing efforts attempted to appeal to a broad audience ranging from curious beginners to seasoned performers seeking to champion the “keytar” trend.

A 32-key monophonic bass synthesizer, the SH-101’s compact appearance boiled down the complicated elements of its predecessors into an easy-to-hold design that could played like a guitar when outfitted with a shoulder strap and detachable hand grip. With a sound that falls between the TB-303 and Roland’s Juno-106, the SH-101 is commended for its bass capabilities and classic sound effects indicative of an earlier era in Roland’s history. 

The SH-101’s LFO offers the user a choice of random, sine, square, or noise waveforms, while its portamento settings provide further command over the synthesizer’s signature glide. A pitch bender tucked away in the bottom left corner controls VCF, pitch, LFO, and triggers modulation effects when gently pushed up with a fingertip.

Other features include a white noise generator; VCO range dial; arpeggiator with up, down, and up/down patterns; a source mixer with a sub-oscillator octave selector; and a real-time sequencer. The SH-101’s low-pass filter/VCF enables self-oscillation, and one can emulate bass drum sounds when using the the self-oscillation filter. Novel distortion-like effects can be achieved by selecting noise as a modulation source for both the pitch and the filter. 

Where Can I Buy A Roland SH-101?


On the top right of the SH-101 lie external clock inputs for the sequencer and arpeggiator, CV/GATE inputs and outputs, a headphone jack, and a CV hold pedal. Although this model offers neither patch memory storage nor MIDI control, it is possible to achieve MIDI implementation through the use of a CV/MIDI converter.

Several analog service companies also have upgrades available so that the SH-101 can be incorporated into a MIDI studio environment.

Hoping to establish the SH-101 as the must-have item for any new wave synth-pop group, Roland offered the synthesizer in three eye-popping color choices: light gray, electric blue, and cherry red. However, the SH-101 failed to garner the mass-market appeal the company had hoped for before its discontinuation in the late ‘80s.

It would take the emergence of the techno and house genres a decade later for the SH-101 to finally get the respect its creators so desperately craved. With its variety of settings, fast sequencing, and quirky vintage appeal, the SH-101 continues to give a classic sound to the styles of IDM, techno, drum and bass, and acid house.

How Much Does A Roland SH-101 Cost?

If you’re lucky enough to find a Roland SH-101 for sale they’ll normally* range anywhere between £900 and £2,000 (depending on whether it’s been upgraded or well looked after).

*SH-101 prices generally seen on auction sites. If you see them cheaper, you may be on to a bargain.

Who Uses Or Used The Roland SH-101?

Famous and not so famous users of the SH-101 are: Altern 8, Orbital, the Future Sound of London, The Knife, MSTRKRFT, the Prodigy, 808 State, Luke Vibert, Josh Wink, the Crystal Method, Aphex Twin, Chris Moss Acid, Squarepusher, the Chemical Brothers, Boards of Canada, Ceephax Acid Krew, Beathaven and many more!

Alternatives To The Roland SH-101?

There are many different alternatives to the 101 whether as hardware, software, analog or digital. These are as follows: The odd brother Roland MC-202, Roland Boutique SH-01A, Roland SH09, Roland SH01 Gaia, Intellijel Atlantis, Behringer MS-101, TAL-BassLine-101 and other SH101 emulators and VSTs.

However, when we compare it to the real thing it’s noticeable that the alternatives don’t quite stack up. They are a great option though for people with a lower budget.

Classic Roland SH-101 Videos, Tutorials & Demos

This playlist of videos shows pretty much all you need to know about playing a SH-101. The 1st video is particularly good, showing a run through of how the SH-101 synth sounds and how to manipulate it’s sound capabilities. There is also a short video with Squarepusher, showing his studio and how he likes to work (including a pretty bust up 101…)

Mathew Jonson also runs us through his SH-101 which sounds particularly lush if we do say so ourselves. There are also a couple of decent tutorials from Marc Doty and Electronic Beats, a short video on how to sequence the synth and some Roland sh-101 famous songs and tracks.

All in all, loads to watch, listen and learn before getting your own!

Classic Roland SH-101 Tracks

Some classic SH-101 bass tracks are featured in the playlist above including: Squarepusher – Theme From Ernest Borgnine, Aphex Twin – Polynomial C, Boards of Canada – Roygbiv and Olsen, Autechre – Nine, Mu-Ziq – Hasty Boom Alert, Dopplereffekt – Voice Activated, Mathew Jonson – Decompression and Christ – Pylonesque.

Other Roland Products?

The famous Roland synths, drum machines and effects include: SH 101, MC 202, TB 303, TR 606, TR 707, TR 808, TR 909, Juno 60RE-201 Space Echo.

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