Zoë Blade's notebook

Roland TB-303

TB-303 tech specs

The TB-303 was a simple monophonic synthesiser with built-in digital step sequencer relased by Roland in 1982.

It only does one thing, namely playing acidlines with plenty of sliding and accents, and it does it extremely well. Its contorted screams form the basis of a whole genre of music, acid house, and often elevate more than a few others.

When taking centre stage, it works even better through a distortion or overdrive effect, such as a Boss ROD-10.

Quotes

I gave Pierre my TB-303 because I was just tired of using it, I didn't like it anymore. The big difference between me and Pierre was that he was a DJ and I wasn't. He made the mistake of telling all his DJ friends that it was a TB-303 on "Acid Tracks", so next thing I knew, within four months there were about sixty acid records out, and within five more months there were over a thousand — just in Chicago!

— Marshall Jefferson, 1989[1]

The people who made the Bassline must have been mental to make it do all that it can do. They can't have thought "That's too much, that doesn't sound like a bassline." They must have been into acid music already!

— Mark Bell, LFO, 1991[2]

Alexander Robotnik's "Les Problemes D'Amour", released in 1983, was a huge "progressive" hit in Chicago, selling around twelve thousand import copies. A few years later, house producers, already enamoured of Roland drum machines and synths, started messing around with the 303, discovering applications that the manufacturers had never imagined.

Simon Reynolds, Energy Flash, 1998[3]

I wanted to make something that sounded like things I'd hear in the Music Box, or I heard Farley play on the radio. But when we made "Acid Tracks", that was an accident. It was just ignorance, basically. Not knowing how to work the damn 303.

— DJ Pierre, circa 1999[4]

On most of the tunes, the 303 and the bassline were the only things that were actually played in a traditional way. The rest of it was gross manipulation of samples... It only had four knobs to twiddle. You could learn the permutations of what happened between the four of them. And the great fun was that you did it all live.

Fatboy Slim, 2017[5]

Notable users

Technical notes

The TB-303 uses a 4-bit NEC μPD650 microprocessor, and three NEC μPD444s for a combined 3072 nibbles of RAM.

In MC-8 and MC-4 terms, you can think of the TB-303's accent and slide as two MPX (Boolean) outputs. The timebase (clock resolution) is 48 (based on a 24 PPQN clock, but noting the downticks as well as the upticks). Each note, being a sixteenth note, lasts 7 ticks, with a 5 tick gap, unless it's sliding — then it lasts all 12 ticks.[25] Each rest lasts all 12 ticks. This makes for a very simplified MicroComposer, which allows you to enter notes through a more intuitive interface, at least by MC standards.

References

  1. "The Human Side Of House" Simon Trask, Phaze 1, May 1989
  2. "Deep Vibrations" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Aug 1991
  3. Energy Flash Simon Reynolds, 1998, ISBN 0-330-35056-0
  4. Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton, 2000, ISBN 0-7472-6230-6
  5. "Classic Tracks: Fatboy Slim 'Praise You'" Tom Doyle, Sound On Sound, Jan 2017
  6. Aphex Twin studio collage
  7. "Emotional Impact" Richard Buskin, Sound On Sound, Dec 2001
  8. "Past, Present and Future" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Aug 1992
  9. "A Guy Called Gerald" Vie Marshall, Micro Music, Oct 1989
  10. "Voodoo Chile" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Apr 1990
  11. Everyone Loves a 303, Exclusive Mix From the Legendary Hardfloor Ian French, Nov 2014
  12. "Kracked Plastik" Roger Brown, The Mix, Dec 1994
  13. Re: What instruments were used on Leftfield's Leftism? Entropy, Nov 2007
  14. "Machine Head" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Jul 1991
  15. Everything Is Wrong, Moby, 1995
  16. "Recording Moby's 'Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?'" Tom Flint, Sound On Sound, Feb 2000
  17. "Under New Orders" Phil Ward, Music Technology, Apr 1994
  18. "The Magic Circle" Phil Ward, Music Technology, Jun 1993
  19. "Music of Spheres" Nigel Humberstone, Sound On Sound, Apr 1994
  20. "Pet Sounds" Ian Masterson, Music Technology, Dec 1993
  21. "The Lone Raver" Tim Goodyer, Music Technology, May 1992
  22. "Liam Howlett: The Prodigy & Firestarter" Paul Nagle, Sound On Sound, Sep 1996
  23. "The Techno Wave" Simon Trask, Music Technology, Sep 1988
  24. "SNAP! to tomorrow" Roger Brown, The Mix, Nov 1994
  25. Investigating the Slide Function of the TB-303 Robin Whittle, Jun 2012

Reviews

Retrospectives

Downloads

Documentation

Digital step sequencers: Behringer RD-6 | Roland TB-303 | Roland TR-606 | Roland TR-808

Monophonic synthesisers: Roland TB-303