ROLAND TB-303 BassLine

(review by Mikael Lundgren)

Unit Description

Programmable Bass machine.

Internal sound source:

1 Oscillator analog synth with primitive VCA. The VCF intensity can be varied by the EG, the Q can be set up to self-oscillation. Accent affects both sound and volume. The sound of this little beast has made a lasting impression of historical value on the music scene and has made it into a collector's item from a life in the junk-piles of music stores.


Sync, 9V DC, Mix (for external sound source)


CV (1V/oct), Trig, Head+Line.

Synchronization possibilities:

Din Sync.

Secondary data storage:


Memory size:

64 patterns. Each pattern can be max 16/16ths long. 7 tracks.

Physical size:

Small and compact. Identical in size to the TR-606 drum machine.

Data generation/modification/recording:

Pattern based sequencer which can drive an external synthesizer, but not get data from it. The data must be entered in step time (and in an obscure "Real-time mode" - read on) from the on-board "keyboard" facilitated by buttons arranged as a "keyboard". It's *tricky* to learn how to use it. First, you enter the notes it should play in sequence using the small 'keyboard' on top of it. Then, you enter 'TIME MODE' and start punching in the note values+rests for each note! The only available time step is a 1/16 note. So to enter a 1/8 middle C which should last for 1/4, here is the procedure:
a) Go PITCH MODE. Press middle C on keyboard.
b) Go TIME MODE. Press 1/16 ON, 1/16 ON, 1/16 OFF, 1/16 OFF !

"Real time mode? You bet...

Oh, and there is the 'Tap' mode as well; When in TIME MODE, by pressing some buttons, you can start the empty (?) pattern *after* programming all tone values first! A metronome sounds, and you can now determine the length+sustain of each programmed note by depressing the TAP button at appropriate times! (sigh)

Bugs & Features:

Will replace your immaculate newly created bass pattern with random data if you switch from PATTERN WRITE MODE to PATTERN PLAY MODE while running it....

If you don't enter enough timing info at all (or too much) random data is heard. This is even stated in the manual...

Accented notes will affect the sound color as well as volume. Each note transition can have a programmable "slide" (read: programmable portamento!) which has been used to death on many a track. The archaic but flexible pattern-based sequencer combined with these additions to a unique sound has surely made this the Stratocaster of the late 20'th century.

Tips & Tricks:

Remove back-up batteries. Wait an hour. Turn it on. Presto: 64 random bass patterns :)

On a more serious note: The popularity of this metallic gadget has given rise to a lot of modifications to the product by third-hand parties. The TB can be MIDIfied and it's sound engine can be tweaked in more or less usefule ways. Also a market has sprung up for synths dedicated to emulating the TB sound (!) However, they all seem to have missed out on the most important part of this machine - the quirky sequencer!

What TB stands for? Why, Transistor Bass of course!