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The Roland TB-303 – Legend of Acid Techno

Taking its snappy moniker from an abbreviation of “transistor bass,” the Roland TB-303 has become known for the integral role it played in the development of the acid techno and acid house genres. Roland’s monophonic, single oscillator bass synthesizer includes a built-in sequencer originally starting out as a tool for bass guitarists seeking to add a bassline to a song or chord progression.

Indeed, the 303 (created by Tadao Kikumoto) was originally made to be a companion device to the TR-606 drum computer, part of the company’s suite of tools tailored to the virtual composing process. Released in 1981, the TB-303 Bassline has a storage memory capable of holding seven songs, one track, and sixty-four patterns, which are directly programmed as a series of notes and timing information and then linked into songs.

Common sequences usually incorporate a single, continuously playing pattern that can be tweaked and varied by the user’s manipulation of the TB-303’s knobs and rectangular, silver buttons. During the programming process, the sequence can be adjusted to customize specifications with the accent and portamento settings.

These two features are often considered to be characteristic of the “Silver Box”, with the portamento circuit’s fixed slide time effect ensuring a consistent transition time from pitch to pitch and the accent capabilities producing a buoyant “wow” sound. The TB-303’s single analog oscillator offers users the choice between two waveforms, square wave and sawtooth, while additional knobs allow loads to tweaking possibilities via the low pass filter cut-off, volume, tuning, resonance, envelope decay, and tempo.

Where Can I Buy A Roland TB-303?

Battery powered and designed to connect to an amplifier, the TB-303 was and is notoriously difficult to program and includes an interesting step sequencer…! Its lack of initial success on the mainstream pop music and dance music scenes and subsequent discontinuation in 1984 resulted in a proliferation of affordably priced units in the latter part of the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

Soon, the TB-303 had earned a new place of prominence in the developing genre of acid house and more specifically electronic music; an experimental effort spearheaded by aspiring DJs, electronic musicians, and record producers. The addition of effects units, including external modifiers such as a guitar distortion pedal (to overdrive and ‘grit’ up the audio signal) or CV/Gate outputs for other synthesizers, adapted the TB-303 to fit the new styles of acid, trance, ambient, and Chicago house.

In the case of the TB-303, imitation could be considered the sincerest form of flattery. Its “squelchy” bass line sounds, immediately identifiable in dance tracks, has placed the TB-303 in high demand. Capitalizing on the original’s popularity, a variety of similar products have gained notoriety, including the Novation Bass Station, ReBirth, Doepfer MS-404, MAM MB-33, and the Syntecno TeeBee, as well as some software and open source emulations such as Rubberduck by d-lusion and Freebirthon.

How Much Does A Roland TB-303 Cost?

If you’re lucky enough to find a Roland TB-303 for sale they’ll normally* range anywhere between £1,800 and £2,500

*prices generally seen on auction sites. If you see them cheaper, you may be on to a bargain. After all everybody needs a 303! 🙂

Who Uses Or Used The Roland TB-303?

Famous and not so famous electronic musicians who love the sound of acid are: Aphex Twin/Universal Indicator, Plastikman, Luke Vibert, Squarepusher, Ceephax Acid Crew, DMX Krew, Phuture, Armando, DJ Pierre, Josh Wink, Fatboy Slim, Charanjit Singh, Rolando Simmons, EOD, Kettel, Global Goon, Kosmik Kommando, D’Arcangelo, Mandroid, Beathaven.

Alternatives To The Roland TB-303?

There are many different alternatives to the 303 whether as hardware, software, analog or digital. These are as follows: Roland Boutique TB-03, Roland Aira TB-3, Roland Cloud, TT303 (replica), x0xb0x, Novation Bass Station II, VCF 303, MB 33 Retro, TB303 emulators and VSTs.

However, when we compare it to the real thing it’s noticeable that the imitators don’t quite stack up. The analog circuitry used in the original 303 is truly one of a kind! The options above however still sound great if you’re a musician with a lower budget.

Classic Roland TB-303 Videos, Tutorials & Demos

A playlist of videos showing you how to program a TB-303 both in track & song mode and how to copy and paste patterns on the 303. Some great tips in here so be sure to check them out!

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

Classic Roland TB-303 Tracks

Some classic acid tracks from the last 20 years including Whooshki by Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher), Untitled by Squarepusher and Aphex Twin, Plastikman – Gak, Plastikman – Sheet One, Universal Indicator – Innovation In The Dynamics of Acid, EOD – Questionmark ??, Universal Indicator – Thoughts Of You, Caustic Window – Humanoid Must Not Escape, Ceephax Acid Krew – Vulcan Venture, Global Goon – Goonixa, Plastikman – Plasticine, Chaos A.D. – Mind War Electro, Global Goon – Craehrzhd and Universal Indicatior – Green.

Imagine going to raves during the second summer of love and listening to tunes like this?! Bliss!

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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