Today is a big day within the electronic music scene, it’s the celebratory day for the beloved Roland 303 synthesizer! This famous synth has made its way into so many great tracks since its birth in 1981 that it’s almost impossible to say you have not heard some variation of the 303’s unique sound. Whether you are into electro acid breaks, acid house or hard acid style techno we invite you to join us as we dive into the nuts and bolts of the renowned 303 as it continues to bless our ears.
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The Roland TB-303 Bassline Synthesizer was the result of Roland engineer Tadao Kikumoto. The 303 is a monosynth, meaning it only makes one sound at a time, compared to a poly synth which could make several sounds simultaneously. When it was first released in 1981, it was largely written off as a failure due to its difficult-to-use sequencer, tacky synthetic sound, and low price. It was one of the first programmable monophonic analog synthesizers and was designed to emulate the sound of an electric bass guitar, however its rise to fame did not come from its intended use.
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After the initial release in 1981 the 303 was reborn once Chicago DJs Pierre and Spanky and got their hands on the machine in a second hand shop. What came next would send the world into an acid frenzy. This new sound and style would change the way the world looked at electronic dance music. Blending house and techno with the TB-303’s squelchy-ness creating a new sound that took the world by storm.
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The rise of acid made its way over seas to Europe where the sound really took off around the late 80s and made its way into the blazing warehouse party scene. This is where the acid sound grew enormous levels. People were flocking to get a chance to party all night to the new sound that left party goers in an elevated trance like state, causing them to move there bodys’ in ways never seen before. Mix this sound with the rise of club drugs such as LSD and ecstasy you have a recipe for an all night affair that permeated the brain to the core.
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The 303 was extremely influential in the development of electronic dance music, and it was the key ingredient in the creation of classic acid house and techno tracks. It also served as an inspiration for the modern day synthesizer, inspiring manufacturers to build devices that could achieve a variety of timbres. Featuring only one oscillator and a single resonant filter the 303 doesn’t need much more to stand out. It also has a feature called accent, which could be used to add emphasis to certain notes and help the bass line stand out and create that signature sound associated with the acid movement.
Along with accent the unit has a tie feature which causes the notes to blend together in a unique way similar sounding to raising the portamento on other synths. The 303 uses a unique 16 step sequencer and a 24 dB low pass filter. It also has an Analog Digital Conversion (ADC) circuit which allowed for a wide range of timbres.
With only a sawtooth wave and a square wave other synths can have a similar feel and sound however there is something very special and noticeable once you have put the the time in to listening to an original.
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Over the years many companies have emulated the 303. Such companies as Cyclone, Behringer, Erica Synths, and Din-Sync to name a few have either created their own version of the famous bassline synth or cloned the original and put different guts in it. Now while the average listener may not be able to tell the difference some can and believe that some machines sound more true to the original than others.
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Hearkening back to the genesis of electronic music, the Behringer TD-3 analog synthesizer and sequencer produces the throbbing rhythms and greasy bass sounds that have defined electro-funk, acid, techno, and house for the last 30 plus years. The TD-3 is an authentic interpretation of its iconic predecessor, with an all-analog signal path, a 16-step sequencer, transistor wave-shaping circuitry, a built-in arpeggiator, and a four-pole resonant lowpass filter that oozes with character. When the techno and house producers got their hands on the TD-3, there was no stopping the funk! Grimy, squelching, and unapologetic, the TD-3 is a retro-style groove machine reincarnated for contemporary producers and sound designers that you’re sure to love.
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Don’t let the name fool you the Erica Synths Bassline DB-01 desktop bassline synthesizer offers much more than fat bass sounds. Use its bucket-brigade-delay-based detune to create massive drone sounds. Or sample it to create your own analog drum kit in your DAW — between its noise source, and separate envelopes for amplitude, filter cutoff, and pitch, you have everything you need to create kicks, snares, hi-hats, and more exotic percussion sounds. Complete with an arpeggiator and 64-step sequencer, there’s a ton of creative potential in the Erica Synths Bassline DB-01.
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The Din Sync RE- 303 is the cream of the crop when its comes to remakes. Lets start off by saying this is not a clone but a replica. Using the same cpu as the original 303 this magnificent synth gives you all the exact features only with an upgraded metal case instead of a plastic one. With a few color options for the case, your choice of LED colors and the option to swap out the potentiometers with colored ones you can create a flavorful version of the OG that has the same exact analog sound.
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The Roland Boutique TB-03 gives you the sound and control set of the company’s iconic TB-303 Bass Line synth in a petite battery-powered unit that fits in the palm of your hand. Powered by Roland’s cutting-edge Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) technology, the TB-03 serves up the flowing, spellbinding grooves of the infamous silver box, and takes things further with enhancements not found on the original. A 4-digit LED display lets you program and tweak more accurately than ever, while overdrive and delay effects let you deploy savage walls of sound that will drive your club audiences wild. In the studio, connect with external gear and your computer via the TB-03’s MIDI I/O and USB port, which functions as a 24-bit/96kHz audio interface.
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The TB-303 has been used by some of the most influential electronic music pioneers such as Derrick May, Juan Atkins, and Aphex Twin. It was popularized by the Acid House, Techno, and Acid Jazz scenes, and was used on seminal tracks such as Phuture’s ‘Acid Tracks’, A Guy Called Gerald’s ‘Voodoo Ray’, and The Prodigy’s ‘Charly’. It is still being used by producers, DJs, and musicians today and is popular in a wide range of musical styles, from house and techno to hip hop, jungle, and dub.
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The famous Italian techno duo 999999999s have also made a career out of their hard pounding acid techno that completely ignites the dance-floors and invigorates the crowd. They are absolutely not to be missed if you get an opportunity to experience the live action that these guys throw down.
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Josh Wink is another artist who has created some epic tracks using the 303. Going back to the start Wink has stated that upon purchasing his first 303 for only $70 he realized the strength of this machine giving him endless hours of satisfaction. Wink used the 303 to produce one of his most famous tracks ” Higher State of Consciousness” in 1995.
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We cannot forget electronic music pioneer, Richie Hawtin, who got his start with his Plastikman moniker. Creating some of the most memorable and catchy acid tunes that have stood the test of time and propelled him at the start of his career. Richie still tours today and has racked up decades of success as a trailblazer in the scene who always continues to bring a fresh, exciting set to your local club or warehouse.
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UK DJ Stu Allan must also be mentioned as a leading force within the rave and acid house scenes in Europe. Having since passed away in 2022, many remember Stu for making his bones in the mid 80s on London’s Picadilly Radio playing soul, hip-hop, and US house imports. Allan brought that acid sound to UK years before the the scene took exposing many to their initial taste of the acid sound.
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The TB-303 has become an iconic piece of music technology, and its influence on the development of electronic music can still be heard today. Its unique sound and versatility continues to make it an essential part of any electronic music producer’s setup. So if you see an opportunity to get your hands on one whether and original or newly made one do not hesitate to pull the trigger. And be sure to stay tuned with 6AM for all things music, industry, and pro audio!