The infamous TB-303 Bassline synth produces a distinct and infectious sound that can energise a dancefloor. We’ll go over some background, some free plugins and a loop pack so you can get the sound for yourself.
The first (?) acid house track.
First, a quick and plagiarised history of the 303 and Acid House
An entire internet has been written about this synth and the music movement it created, so for those unfamiliar with the either Acid House or the TB-303 let’s just save each other the time and paste their Wikipedia entries here:
The Roland TB-303 Bass Line is a bass synthesizer released by Roland Corporation in 1981. Designed to simulate bass guitars, it was a commercial failure and was discontinued in 1984. However, cheap second-hand units were adopted by electronic musicians, and its “squelching” or “chirping” sound became a foundation of electronic dance music genres such as house and techno. It has inspired numerous clones.
Acid house (also simply known as just “acid”) is a subgenre of house music developed around the mid-1980s by DJs from Chicago. The style was defined primarily by the “squelching” sounds and deep basslines of the Roland TB-303 electronic synthesizer-sequencer. Acid house spread to the United Kingdom and continental Europe, where it was played by DJs in the acid house and later rave scenes. By the late 1980s, acid house had (…) brought house music to a worldwide audience. The influence of acid house can be heard on later styles of dance music including trance, breakbeat hardcore, jungle, big beat, techno and trip hop.
Higher State of Consciousness hits insanely intense levels of acid chirp and squelch.
With that out of the way, here’s why you might want the 303 sound – and how to get it:
- The sound of a 303 (or any good clone of a 303) is to electronic music what the lead guitar is to rock. It lives for riffs, ostinatos and solos; it can be psychedelic and trance-inducing, but it loves to be overdriven and distorted to create a hair-bleaching frenetic sound like no other.
- TB-303’s are expensive. Face-meltingly so. No doubt more than one frenzied ebay purchaser has met with buyers-remorse the moment their featherweight prize arrived in the post, reminding them that yes they did just pay thousands for a plastic toy. Also, they are notoriously difficult to program – the riffs might glide effortlessly, but a lot of sweat goes into putting those notes into their steps.
That said, would it be amazing to have one? Yes, yes it would. Especially paired with a TR-606 Drumatix drum machine, and preferably mounted on a car dashboard while driving:
- On the more affordable front, there are good clones like the Cyclone and there are not-particularly-great clones like, surprisingly, Roland’s own AIRA TR-303, later redeemed by their notably better 303 “boutique”. Good hardware clones have as near-possible component architecture to the original. Another good sign of a great clone is any enhancements to make the sequencing more intuitive.
- On the software front there’s many to choose from, with the Muon Tal Bassline (free) and AudioRealism Bassline (paid) being the classics, plus Roland’s new “cloud” subscription version. Special mention goes to Ichiro Toda’s Synth 1 as a great free synth in general and does a solid 303 emulation.
- The pinnacle of 303 instruments is the Avalon Bassline by Abstrakt Instruments. That’s a statement bold enough to meltdown any fanboy forum, but there’s simply no other clone that is both an exact replica of the original 303’s internal workings and also brings so many great enhancements – from additional modulation, to an extra (sub) oscillator, to more sequencing capabilities. The swappable filter cards would likely be worth a mention but the one we bought never arrived and the makers don’t respond to support emails so, take your own chances on that. While this is probably the priciest 303 clone around, it’s much cheaper and so much more versatile than an original 303 – and it’s a solid metal unit, which is important at a school like ours.
Here’s a Liveschool student on our Avalon Bassline, eliciting a more-mellow-than-usual vibe, sequencing it from an Ableton Push 2:
- An important part of the 303 is it’s “note slide” function, a portamento glide between notes, and on the Avalon it’s achieved by overlapping notes. Ableton’s “Note Length” MIDI Effect Device is a quick and easy way to achieve this slide. Or on Push, the same thing with its step length. Ableton Push is a fantastic step-sequencer, and pretty much outdoes the onboard sequencing of any clones we’ve tried in terms of usability and immediacy.
Loop Pack Download
Here’s a demo of a loop pack we made using the Avalon Bassline, combined into a “gate remixing” Ableton Live template set, to make an immediately jammable kind of Acid Jam Box. Similar to a 303 it’s about activating steps and tweaking effects (in this case, both MIDI and Audio Effects):
This pack is available for free for a limited time – get it over here: