The Roland TB-303 Bass Line is a synthesizer with built-in sequencer manufactured by the Roland corporation from 1982 to 1984 that had a defining role in the development of contemporary electronic music.
The TB-303 (short for "Transistorized Bass") was originally marketed to guitarists for bass accompaniment while practising alone. Production lasted approximately 18 months, resulting in only 10,000 units. It was not until the mid- to late-1980s that DJs and electronic musicians in Chicago found a use for the machine in the context of the newly developing house music genre.
In the early 90's, as new Acid styles emerged, the TB-303 was often overdriven, producing a harsher sound. Examples of this technique include Hardfloor's 1992 EP "Acperience", and Interlect 3000's 1993 EP "Volcano".
The well-known "acid" sound is typically produced by playing a repeating note pattern on the TB-303, while altering the filter's cutoff frequency, resonance, and envelope modulation. The TB-303's accent control modifies a note's volume, filter resonance, and envelope modulation, allowing further variations in timbre. A distortion effect, either by using a guitar effects pedal or overdriving the input of an audio mixer, is commonly used to give the TB-303 a denser, noisier timbre—as the resulting sound is much richer in harmonics.
The head designer of the TB-303, Tadao Kikumoto, was also responsible for leading design of the TR-909 drum machine.
The TB-303 has a single audio oscillator, which may be configured to produce either a sawtooth wave or a square wave. The square wave is derived from the sawtooth waveform using a simple, single-transistor waveshaping circuit. This produces a sound that is subtly different from the square waveform created by the dedicated hardware found in most analog synthesizers. It also includes a simple envelope generator, with a decay control only. A lowpass filter is also included, with -24dB per octave attenuation, and controls for cutoff frequency, resonance, and envelope modulation parameters. It is a common misconception that the filter is a 3 pole 18dB per octave design when in fact it is a 4-pole 24dB per octave.
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