We're celebrating 303 day by offering up a bit of history behind the TB-303 and showing you how to get that sound today with the TB-03
Sunday 3rd March is nearly upon us, which is the 3rd day of the 3rd month, or as Roland like to call it: 303 day. So, on #303day Roland like to celebrate the legacy of one of their most famous products; the TB-303 Computer Controlled Bass Line.
What is the TB-303?
The TB-303 (TB standing for Transistorised Bass) was launched in 1981 along with the TR-606 drum machine, and the two machines were designed to be a computerised replacement for a rhythm section, so that a musician could jam at home; the TB-303 would replace a bass guitar and the TR-606 would replace the drum kit.
Really?! That sounds hard to believe!
Really. Check out this famous promotional poster featuring famous piano player Oscar Peterson!
Does it sound like a bass guitar then?
Hmmm no not really! The TB-303 was an analog circuit mono-synth, which featured one oscillator that could be set to either a saw or square wave going through a 24dB analog low-pass filter. When you set the filter so that the sound wasn’t so bright you could get a decent bassy sound, but it didn’t really sound like a bass guitar. Not only that but the TB-303 was also very difficult to program, and as such it wasn’t too popular at the time and didn’t sell very well. In 1984, the last TB-303’s left the production line and the product was discontinued.
Why all the fuss then?!
Like other famous Roland machines from the early 80’s (the TR-808 and TR-909), the TB-303 made its way into the bargain bins of music shops and second hand stores where it was bought by a new generation of musicians who started using it in ways that it was never intended, creating new genres of dance music around its sound.
Chicago group Phuture picked up one in the mid 80’s and discovered that programming patterns with accents and slides, then tweaking the cutoff, resonance and envelope modulation controls in real time while a sequence was playing would result in a squelchy sound unlike anything that had been heard before in music at the time. This sound was down to very unique way the TB-303 filter sounded.
Phuture released the 12-minute song ‘Acid Tracks’ in 1987 which featured heavy use of the TB-303 being tweaked in real time to showcase this iconic squelchy sound. This new style became known as Acid House and the TB-303 was essential to its creation.
Throughout the late 80’s and 90’s the TB-303 gained popularity as groups like Hardfloor started running it through distortion pedals to create a harder sound.
While the TB-303 was difficult to programme, musicians often just programmed patterns randomly, and with the right combination of slides and accents quite often the patterns still turned out great!
The TB-303 Legacy
As only 10,000 units were originally made, the TB-303 like so many classic bits of gear has become so sought after and rare that original units can command ridiculous prices on the second hand market. But don’t fear, you don’t have to mortgage your house so get a piece of the Acid sound!
Those of you after that classic look and sound can pick up the Roland TB-03 which is part of their boutique product range. The Roland TB-03 uses a technology called Analog Circuit Behaviour to faithfully recreate the TB-303 sound in the digital era by modelling all the individual components that made up that original circuit in incredible detail. The TB-03 also brings the TB-303 up to modern requirements; with midi in/out and USB audio connections to seamlessly connect with your other equipment, built in distortion and delay effects, and it even comes in a rugged metal case (the original TB-303 was made out of plastic).
They’ve made it easier to programme too with a helpful step mode, or purists can still enter their patterns in the original way. Watch our quick start video to help you begin entering in your own patterns!
The Roland TB-3
For those of you after the style of a TB-303 but with a bit more flexibility, Roland also offer the TB-3; part of their AIRA range. The Roland TB-3 offers fantastic TB-303 style sounds complete with effects, but also expands the sound palate to offer banks of great bass, lead and sound effect tones, allowing you to take the acid house approach to making music with more modern sounds.