Roland TB-303

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Roland TB-303 Bass Line
Roland TB-303 Panel.jpg
TB-303 front panel
Manufacturer Roland
PriceUK £238 (£970 in 2021), US $395 ($1177 in 2021)
Technical specifications
Polyphony monophonic
Timbrality monotimbral
Oscillator Sawtooth and square wave
LFO none
Synthesis type Analog Subtractive
Filter 24dB/oct low pass resonant filter, non self oscillating
Aftertouch expression No
Velocity expressionNo
Storage memory64 patterns, 7 songs, 1 track
Effects No internal effects.
Keyboard No

The Roland TB-303 Bass Line (also known as the 303) is a bass synthesizer released by Roland Corporation in 1981. Designed to simulate bass guitars, it was a commercial failure and was discontinued in 1984. However, cheap second-hand units were adopted by electronic musicians, and its "squelching" or "chirping" sound became a foundation of electronic dance music genres such as acid house, Chicago house and techno. It has inspired numerous clones.


Design and features

The TB-303 was manufactured by the Japanese company Roland. It was designed by Tadao Kikumoto, who also designed the Roland TR-909 drum machine. [1] It was marketed as a "computerised bass machine" to replace the bass guitar. [2] However, according to Forbes, it instead produces a "squelchy tone more reminiscent of a psychedelic mouth harp than a stringed instrument". [3]

The TB-303 has a single oscillator, which produces either a "buzzy" sawtooth wave or a "hollow-sounding" square wave. [3] This is fed into a 24dB/octave [4] low-pass filter, which is manipulated by an envelope generator. [2] Users program notes and slides using a basic sequencer. [3]


The TB-303's unrealistic sound made it unpopular with its target audience, those who wanted to replace bass guitars. It was discontinued in 1984, [5] and Roland sold off remaining units cheaply. 10,000 units were manufactured. [3]

The first track to use the TB-303 and enter the top ten of the UK Singles Chart was "Rip It Up" (1983), by the Scottish band Orange Juice. [6] Charanjit Singh's 1982 album Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat was another early use of a TB-303, alongside another Roland device, the TR-808 drum machine. The album remained obscure until the early 21st century, and is now recognized as a precursor to acid house. [7]

The Chicago group Phuture bought a cheap TB-303 and began experimenting. By manipulating the synthesizer as it played, they created a unique "squelching, resonant and liquid sound". This became the foundation of the single "Acid Tracks", which was released in 1987 and created the acid genre. Acid, with the TB-303 as a staple sound, became popular worldwide, particularly as part of the UK's emerging rave culture known as the second summer of love. [3]

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, as new acid styles emerged, the TB-303 was often overdriven, producing a harsher sound, such as on Hardfloor's 1992 EP "Acperience" and Interlect 3000's 1993 EP "Volcano". [8] In 1995, the TB-303 was distorted and processed on Josh Wink hit "Higher State of Consciousness" [4] [9] and on Daft Punk's "Da Funk". [10]

In 2011, the Guardian named the release of the TB-303 one of the 50 key events in the history of dance music. [5] The popularity of acid caused a dramatic increase in the price of used 303 units. [3] As of 2014, units sold for over £1,000. [11]


The TB-303 has inspired numerous software emulations and clones, [12] such as the TD-3 by Behringer, released in 2019. [13] In 2014, Roland released the TB-3 Touch Bassline, with a touchpad interface and MIDI and USB connections. [14] In 2017, Roland released the TB-03, a miniaturized model featuring an LED display and delay and overdrive effects. [15]

Related Research Articles

House is a music genre characterized by a repetitive four-on-the-floor beat and a typical tempo of 120 beats per minute. It was created by DJs and music producers from Chicago's underground club culture in the early/mid 1980s, as DJs began altering disco songs to give them a more mechanical beat.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roland Corporation</span> Japanese audiovisual equipment company

Roland Corporation is a Japanese manufacturer of electronic musical instruments, electronic equipment, and software. It was founded by Ikutaro Kakehashi in Osaka on 18 April 1972. In 2005, its headquarters relocated to Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture. It has factories in Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan, and the United States. As of 31 March 2010, it employed 2,699 people. In 2014, it was subject to a management buyout by its CEO, Junichi Miki, supported by Taiyo Pacific Partners.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roland TR-808</span> Drum machine

The Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer, commonly known as the 808, is a drum machine manufactured by Roland Corporation between 1980 and 1983. It was one of the first drum machines to allow users to program rhythms instead of using preset patterns. Unlike its nearest competitor at the time, the more expensive Linn LM-1, the 808 generates sounds using analog synthesis rather than by playing samples.

Chicago house refers to house music produced during the mid to late 1980s within Chicago. The term is generally used to refer to the original house music DJs and producers from the area, such as Ron Hardy and Phuture.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roland TR-909</span> Drum machine

The Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer is a drum machine introduced by Roland Corporation in 1983, succeeding the TR-808. It was the first Roland drum machine to use samples for some sounds, and the first with MIDI functionality, allowing it to synchronize with other devices. Though it was a commercial failure, the 909 became influential in the development of electronic dance music genres such as techno, house and acid.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roland SH-101</span> Synthesizer

The Roland SH-101 is an analog synthesizer manufactured by the Roland Corporation between 1982 and 1986. Though it was something of a commercial failure during the time of its manufacture, it later became a staple of electronic music in the 1990s, particularly house music.

An acid house party was a type of illegal party typically staged in abandoned warehouses between 1987 and 1989. Parties played acid house and acid techno music, electronic music genres with a distinct sound from the use of the Roland TB-303 synthesizer. The origin of the term acid house party is disputed coming either from the 1987 song "Acid Trax" by Phuture, or the consumption of MDMA and LSD that were common at the parties.

Acid techno, sometimes known generally as "acid", is a genre of techno that was derived from acid house and developed in Europe in the late 1980s to early 1990s. It saw younger artists apply the "squelching" synthesizer sound of Chicago acid house to harder-edged techno material.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Behringer</span> Audio equipment manufacturer

Behringer is an audio equipment company founded by the Swiss engineer Uli Behringer on 25 January 1989, in Willich, Germany. Behringer is known for producing a wide variety of synthesizers, mixers, audio interfaces, and amplifiers, along with various recording and performance accessories.

Tadao Kikumoto is Roland's senior managing director and head of its R&D center. He designed the TB-303 bass synthesizer and the TR-909 drum machine. He was also the chief engineer of the Roland TR-808 drum machine.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roland MC-202</span>

The Roland MC-202 (MicroComposer) is a monophonic analog synthesizer and music sequencer released by Roland in 1983. It was the first groovebox. Its synth is similar to the TB-303 bass synth and the SH-101 synthesizer, featuring one voltage-controlled oscillator with simultaneous saw and square/pulse-width waveforms. It is a successor to the Microcomposer family of sequencers, including the MC-8 and MC-4. The unit is portable and can be operated from batteries or an external power supply.

Phuture is an American house music group from Chicago, founded in 1985 by Earl "Spanky" Smith Jr., Nathaniel Pierre Jones aka DJ Pierre, and Herbert "Herb J" Jackson. The group is famous for inventing and defining the sound of acid house, a subgenre of house music, with their 1987 release "Acid Tracks".

The Roland Juno-106 is a synthesizer released by Roland Corporation in February 1984.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Acid Tracks</span> 1987 single by Phuture

"Acid Tracks" is a 1987 acid house song by Phuture produced by Marshall Jefferson and released by Trax Records. Phuture consisted of Nathan Pierre Jones, better known as DJ Pierre, Earl Smith Jr, and Herbert Jackson. Jones had been interested in developing dance music and became superficially interested in house music after Spanky had taken him to see DJ Ron Hardy perform in Chicago. The trio began developing tracks without finding anything that they felt was satisfying; Jones had heard a track made on the unpopular Roland TB-303 bass machine, which led the group to purchase one.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">DJ Pierre</span> American DJ and performer of house music

Nathaniel Pierre Jones, better known by his stage name DJ Pierre, is an American DJ and performer of house music based in Chicago. He helped to develop the house music subgenre of acid house, as member of Phuture, whose 1987 EP Acid Tracks, is considered the first acid-house recording. calls Jones a crucial DJ and the production wizard partly responsible for the development of Chicago acid-house. Jones' first single, "Generate Power", became standard fare for scores of producers during the next few years. Philippe Renaud, a journalist for La Presse in Montreal, states that the term acid house was coined in Chicago in 1987 to describe the sound of the Roland 303 bass machine, which made its first significant recording appearance on Phuture's Acid Trax in that year.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Synthesizer</span> Electronic musical instrument

A synthesizer is an electronic musical instrument that generates audio signals. Synthesizers typically create sounds by generating waveforms through methods including subtractive synthesis, additive synthesis and frequency modulation synthesis. These sounds may be altered by components such as filters, which cut or boost frequencies; envelopes, which control articulation, or how notes begin and end; and low-frequency oscillators, which modulate parameters such as pitch, volume, or filter characteristics affecting timbre. Synthesizers are typically played with keyboards or controlled by sequencers, software or other instruments, and may be synchronized to other equipment via MIDI.

Acid house is a subgenre of house music developed around the mid-1980s by DJs from Chicago. The style is defined primarily by the squelching sounds and basslines of the Roland TB-303 electronic bass synthesizer-sequencer, an innovation attributed to Chicago producers DJ Pierre of Phuture and Sleezy D.

Charanjit Singh was an Indian musician from Mumbai, who performed as a session musician, often as a guitarist or synthesizer player, in numerous Bollywood soundtrack orchestras from the 1960s to 1980s, working with filmi composers such as Shankar-Jaikishan, R.D. Burman, S.D. Burman, and Laxmikant–Pyarelal.

Earl Smith Jr., known as DJ Spank Spank or Spanky, was an American musician credited with inspiring the acid house music genre. He founded the group Phuture.


  1. Hsieh, Christine. "Electronic Musician: Tadao Kikumoto". Retrieved 2 October 2010.
  2. 1 2 "The History Of Roland: Part 2 |". Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Hamill, Jasper. "The world's most famous electronic instrument is back. Will anyone buy the reissued TB-303?". Forbes. Archived from the original on 29 March 2014. Retrieved 26 March 2018.[ better source needed ]
  4. 1 2 "The Fall and Rise of the TB-303". Roland US.
  5. 1 2 Vine, Richard (14 June 2011). "Tadao Kikumoto invents the Roland TB-303". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  6. "Buzzcocks: Boredom / Orange Juice: Rip It Up - Seconds". Stylus Magazine . 10 June 2015. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  7. Stuart Aitken (10 May 2011). "Charanjit Singh on how he invented acid house ... by mistake". The Guardian .
  8. Church, Terry (9 February 2010). "Black History Month: Jesse Saunders and house music". Archived from the original on 12 February 2010. Retrieved 16 October 2011.
  9. "30 Years of Acid". Attack Magazine.
  10. "The 13 most iconic TB-303 basslines of all time". Mixdown Magazine. 3 March 2021. Retrieved 25 September 2021.
  11. Reidy, Tess (15 February 2014). "Retro electronics still popular – but why not just use modern software?". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  12. Warwick, Oli (8 April 2017). "Attack of the clones: Is Behringer's Minimoog a synth replica too far?". Fact . Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  13. "Behringer unveils a Roland TB-303 clone". Engadget. 8 November 2019. Retrieved 3 January 2022.
  14. "Roland TB3 Touch Bassline". Retrieved 3 January 2022.
  15. Bruce Aisher (14 March 2017). "Roland TB-03 Bass Line review". MusicRadar. Retrieved 3 January 2022.

Further reading