ROLAND TB-303 BASS LINE
If squelchy, acidic lines are what you’re after, look no further
Use in music
The 303’s throaty squelch can be heard on tracks ranging from Orange Juice’s 1983 topten hit Rip It Up through Phuture’s late 80s Acid Tracks to Hardfloor’s Acperience in 1992. This de facto acid house sound has since become instantly recognisable.
How it works
The Minimoog’s position as the reigning king of bass was once seen as unassailable. How surprising it must have been, then, that it was kicked from its perch by an inexpensive lump of silver plastic with a limited sonic palette. And yet, Roland’s diminutive TB-303 has done exactly that, begetting entire genres of music and becoming the standard for generations of producers in the process.
A commercial failure at the time of its release in 1981, the TB-303 was blown out on the cheap when it was discontinued. It would be secondhand users that propelled the 303 into legendary status.
A joyously simple instrument, the 303’s lone oscillator could produce either a square or sawtooth wave (but not both at once) to be spat through a wildly squelchy 24dB lowpass filter (not a three-pole, 18dB job as so often claimed). Control over the single envelope generator was limited to Decay time and filter mod amount. An Accent parameter was also provided.
Simple, to-the-point, and nearly impossible to screw up, the sound of the TB-303 ranges from smooth and rounded to raw and gritty. Equally simple, the unit’s sequencer – if not exactly intuitive – was at least an interesting source of random patterns, its key feature being a characteristic portamento (or ‘slide’).
Get the sound
The simplicity of the TB-303 made it an obvious target for software developers, and its most famous emulation was Propellerhead’s seminal ReBirth, released in 1998. A killer clone of the 303 and the equally-revered TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines, it proved once and for all that entire tunes could be made in a computer.
ReBirth has been discontinued, but modern users can buy AudioRealism’s BassLine 3, D16 Group’s Phoscyon, Audio Blast’s Acid Box; or, if you’re short on cash, grab the free and open-source Freebirth.