I first learned how to play guitar at like... age 8? 9? Young. I remember being very disappointed that my first guitar teacher could not teach me Guns'n'Roses. My second guitar teacher tried to teach me Joe Satriani, which was amazing because Joe Satriani is the bestest best guitarist of all time, but i was a lazy child who could not be assed to do scales so it was more of a listening experience than an inspiration.
Yeah, then i discovered techno. That genre of music where you do not need to become a virtuoso to write awesome tunes. Because techno is all about composition. Who cares if you can't play 64th notes? The computer can play 64th notes. Obviously, if you want to be a good techno musician, you still need to decide which 64 notes don't sound like shit.
Mike Cullen (a Brit who shares a name with my late godfather - no relation) is a great techno musician. He is a wizard of the 303. The 303 is a short name for the Roland TB-303 Bassline synthesizer that came out some time in the early 80s and utterly failed as a bass guitar synthesizer. Instead, a handful of hip-hop guys and a metric shit-ton of techno guys discovered it and created acid music and house music and a whole bunch of musics that i love.
PS i am drunk.
PPS it's not really a PS because i am still typing.
Anyway, the TB-303 is far and away the greatest synthesizer that was ever created. Whether by accident or deliberately, it has strange behaviors that for decades were very difficult to emulate.
For example, there is an "accent" feature that should just make a note louder. But it also adds a bit more punch to the note, not just volume-wise but brightness-wise. And that punch doesn't just happen once, it sort of slurs up and down in time with the music. So if you accent twice in a row then the punch gets higher each time, like a screaming child. And it doesn't sting like a jab, it lifts like an uppercut. Musically, that means you get a "wah" effect.
A second cool thing about the 303 is that it always slides to the next note in the same amount of time. So whether you are sliding from a C to a C# or from a C to a G or from a C to, like, 2 octaves up of a C, it will still take equally as long. This lets composers move from lazy-sounding grooves around the same octave to wacky lines that jump octaves in ways that no human ever could, or at least never so perfectly.
For decades people tried to replicate this sound, because the original run of TB-303s was in the few thousands and due to their desirability in the rave scene they became prohibitively expensive.
In the late 90s and early 2000s a lot of clones came out that were kinda sorta okay. Nowadays computers have advanced to the point that 303s can be emulated in software, no sweat, but back in the day being able to clone a 303 in a way that would fool the anoraks was a Big Fucking Deal.
Here is a great song that i am not even sure if it's a pure 303, but such is the mystery of the machine. It for sure has the 303 style sequencing. You can hear that the accents shoot higher when there are two in a row. The slides are without question 100% 303. But the basic sound feels not quite right. The 303 only had a sawtooth and square wave. This song is using the sawtooth, but it somehow feels thinner and more piercing than the average 303 song. It's probably just a low resonance setting plus EQ, but still...
Chimera - The Future Is Upon Us
Ladies and gents and neither folks, this stuff keeps me up at night.
This is why i feel like a guitar nerd.
And yet. I played guitar longer than any other instrument in my life, but i will never understand these people who say that one plank of wood with strings sounds different to another plank of wood with strings. Who cares? They are all going to go through a dozen effects pedals anyway. What a waste of money!
But the 303. The 303 is holy. For sure it can be emulated in software these days, but i will defend to my deathbed that this thing is unique (emulated or not). Every time i hear a song that has even a hint of 303 i will instantly melt. There is nothing that sounds quite like it. No musical instrument that will ever be so subtle, so expressive, so utterly perfect.
I ♥ 303.