Roland TB-303

Roland TB-303


image_caption = TB-303 Front Panel
synthesis_type = Analog Subtractive
synth_name = Roland TB-303 Bass Line
polyphony = monophonic
timbrality = none
oscillator = Sawtooth and Square Wave
filter = 18db low pass resonant filter, non self oscillating.
attenuator =
lfo = none
ext control = CV/GATE Out
memory = 64 Patterns, ? Songs, 7 Tracks
fx = No Internal Effects.
dates = 1982-1984
price = $395
keys = 16 Pattern Keys
velocity = No
aftertouch = No
split = No
Power = Batteries (6 C sized Batteries), AC Adapter
synth_manufacturer = Roland

The Roland TB-303 Bass Line is a synthesizer with built-in sequencer manufactured by the Roland corporation from 1982 to 1984 that had a defining role in the development of contemporary electronic music.

The TB-303 (named for "Transistor Bass") was originally marketed to guitarists for bass accompaniment while practicing alone. Production lasted approximately 18 months, resulting in only 10,000 units. It was not until the mid- to late-1980s that DJs and electronic musicians in Chicago found a use for the machine in the context of the newly developing house music genre.

Phuture's "Acid Tracks" is widely acknowledged to have been the first Acid House recording to incorporate prototypical TB-303 sounds. Earlier recordings featuring the TB-303 can be traced back as far as the early Electro scene, including artists such as Ice T, Newcleus, and Mantronix, as well as pop musicians such as Heaven 17 and Section 25.

In the early 90's, as new Acid styles emerged, the TB-303 was often overdriven, producing a harsher sound. Examples of this technique include Hardfloor's 1992 EP "Acperience", and Interlect 3000's 1993 EP "Volcano".

The well-known "acid" sound is typically produced by playing a repeating note pattern on the TB-303, while altering the filter's cutoff frequency, resonance, and envelope modulation. The TB-303's accent control modifies a note's volume, filter resonance, and envelope modulation, allowing further variations in timbre. A distortion effect, either by using a guitar effects pedal or overdriving the input of an audio mixer, is commonly used to give the TB-303 a denser, noisier timbre--as the resulting sound is much richer in harmonics.

The head designer of the TB-303, Tadao Kikumoto, was also responsible for leading design of the TR-909 drum machine.


The TB-303 has a single audio oscillator, which may be configured to produce either a sawtooth wave or a square wave. The square wave is in fact created by flipping every other cycle of the sawtooth wave upside down, giving it a specific, more hollow, sound a bit different from regular square waves Fact|date=December 2007. It also includes a simple envelope generator, with a decay control only. A lowpass filter is also included, with -18 dB per octave attenuation, and controls for cutoff frequency, resonance, and envelope modulation parameters. Whilst not unique, the choice of a 3 pole design for the filter is somewhat uncommon, the standard configuration in analog synthesizers is almost always a 2 or 4 pole design. This, coupled with the way the filter modulations are bipolar, make the 303 sound difficult to exactly clone on hardware not specifically designed for that purpose.

The TB-303 sequencer has some unique features that contribute to its characteristic sound. During the programming of a sequence, the user can determine whether a note should be accented, and whether it should employ portamento, a smooth transition to the following note. The portamento circuitry employs a fixed slide time, meaning that whatever the interval between notes, the time taken to reach the correct pitch is always the same. The accent circuitry, as well as increasing the amplitude of a note, also emphasizes the filter's cutoff and resonance, resulting in a distinctive, hollow "wow" sound at higher resonance settings. Roland referred to this as "gimmick" circuitry.

The instrument also features a 'simple' step-time method for entering note data into the 16-step programmable sequencer. This was notoriously difficult to use, and would often result in entering a different sequence than the one that had been intended. Some users also take advantage of a low voltage failure mode, wherein patterns that are programmed in memory get completely scrambled if the batteries are removed for a time.

There have been many modifications designed for the TB-303 such as the "Devilfish", "Acidlab" and "Borg" modifications. These generally provide additional parameters to the player, or offer alterations to the overall timbre.


Around the middle of the 1990s, demand for the TB-303 surged within the electronic dance music scene. As there were never many TB-303s to begin with, many small synthesizer companies cropped up and started to develop their own TB-303 hardware clones. This new wave of TB-303 clones began with a company called Novation Electronic Music Systems, who released their portable Bass Station keyboard in 1994. Many other TB-303 "clones" followed, including Future Retro's 777, Syntecno's TeeBee, Doepfer's MS-404, and MAM's Freebass FB-383. As the popularity of these new TB-303 clones grew, Roland, the original TB-303 manufacturer, finally took notice and released their own TB-303 "clone" in 1996, the MC-303 Groovebox. Despite Roland's efforts, their new "303 clone" was an entirely new product that had almost nothing to do with the original TB-303, with the exception of a few bass samples and the familiar interface design. The most obvious difference was the inclusion of an inexpensive digital synthesizer, rather than the analog circuitry of the TB-303.

By 1997, software synthesizers were beginning to take hold among electronic musicians. One notable package was made by Propellerhead Software's emulator package entitled ReBirth. The software became very popular, providing a cheap and easy way for musicians to reproduce the classic TB-303, 808, and later 909 sounds, without the need for any synthesis hardware. Roland contacted Propellerhead to give the company an unofficial "thumbs up" which Propellerhead considered as the Roland "Seal of Approval" [cite web|title="The Debut"|publisher=The Rebirth Museum|author=Propellerheads|date=2005|accessdate=2007-04-15|url=] . As of September 2005, support for ReBirth has been discontinued by Propellerhead software, and the software is now available online as a free download.

The Roland MC-202 MicroComposer is a monophonic analog synthesizer/sequencer released by Roland in 1983. It is perhaps the clone that most resembles the sound of the Roland TB-303. It is also similar to the SH-101 synthesizer, featuring one voltage-controlled oscillator with simultaneous saw and square/pulse-width waveforms and a resonant -24db filter.

Another notable clone is the "Bass Line" plugin from AudioRealism. It supports both the VST and AU standards.

The most recent clone is an open source do-it-yourself hardware solution called the x0xb0x, using most of the original components in the synthesizer section for a very authentic sound. The sequencer section differs from the original TB-303, adding support for MIDI and USB interfaces as well as an alternate event entry interface.

Native Instrument's flagship softsynth Massive also contains a filter modelled after that of the TB-303, allowing users to create their own realistic-sounding acid patches.



External links

* [ TB-303 synced to TR-606 Video] 303 in action
* [ TB 303 Resource Index] -
* [ Devilfish Modification] - Robin Whittle's aftermarket modification for TB-303
* [ Nate Harrison's TB-303 Documentary] - A free downladable video documentary about the TB-303 created by Nate Harrison.
* [ Piano Sonata No. 16] by Mozart - 303 version by Chris Moss Acid
* [ Prelude in C Major] by Bach - 303 version by Ceephax Acid Crew
* [ Acidlab 303 mod demo] - An MP3 demo of an Acidlab modded TB-303 with TR-606
* [ x0xb0x Video]
* [ TB-303+TR909=BLISS] Banging ACID
* [ Acid History] A short multimedia history of the early years of acid house
* [] Retrofit MIDI Interface for Roland TB-303

Emulations in Software

* [ Rebirth] - The Original 2 303s/808/909. Now discontinued and free to download.
* [ AudioRealism Bassline] - A TB-303 VST Plug-In complete with sequencer and 303-like sound.
* [ TB-303 Pattern Library] - A Free Pattern Library for Roland TB-303 Bass Synthesizer
* [ nekobee] - A TB-303 DSSI plugin for Linux (GPL licence)
* [ Muon Tau Bassline] - Another well received plug-in emulator minus the built-in sequencer.
* [ D16 Phoscyon] - VSTi plugin for Windows and Mac with built in sequencer and Devil Fish like filters.
* [ Hobnox Audiotool] - Flash music applet featuring simulations of the TR-808, TR-909, MC-303, and various stomp effects

Hardware synthesizers inspired by the TB-303

* [ Acidlab] - Makers of the Bassline, similar in look & sound to a tb 303.
* [ Future Retro] - The Revolution synthesizer, a popular acid synth
* [ Roland MC-09] - Rolands MC-09 has a 303 emulation mode with 1 to 1 parameter correspondence. Select bass then hold shift & pad 16 to turn vintage mode on.
* [ x0xb0x] - An open source DIY project
* [ TB-303 Clones Contest] - Audio comparison test between Future Retro Revolution, 777, Syntecno TeeBee MK III, Acidlab Bassline, Acidcode ML303, MAM MB33II, x0xb0x, Oakley TM3030 and Analogue Solution TB-X TB 303 Bassline Project.

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