In the latest instalment of Hardware Focus, we take a look at a cult classic: the Roland SH-101.
When you think of classic Roland instruments, the TB-303 or the legendary Jupiter-8 might be the first that spring to mind. Or maybe the highly sought-after Jupiter polysynths of the early 80s? You might even think of drum machines, most notably the classic 808 and 909. Fewer people would mention the SH series, but of all the Roland synths, these are in many ways the most important. 1973’s SH-1000 was Roland’s first instrument, and the monophonic, analogue SH models represented Roland’s key synth offering for the first decade of the company’s existence.
The SH-101, released in 1982, was the last in the SH series. In fact, it was the last monosynth the company produced in the analogue era, with its production run continuing through to 1986 when it was phased out as part of Roland’s shift to digital hardware (the all-conquering D-50 was released the following year, which set the direction for the next couple of decades).
Michael Penman, lead engineer at Mind Flux Studios in London and proud owner of quite a few bits of Roland kit, explains what makes it so desirable: “These units are the sound of electronic music. Roland synths have a certain distinctive sound; a lush roundness that truly brings a huge amount of warmth and spirit to a track. The tones and harmonics just fit together and this gives your tracks room to breathe, which in turn gives you a bigger sound. The 101 is a marvellous synth for basslines – you get that instant bouncy feel that adds some real funk and groove to a track. You can try and emulate the sounds on a soft synth but you will miss the unique harmonics and soul of the machines.”
The artists who’ve praised the 101 on Attack over the years are too numerous to mention, but Exercise One perhaps put the appeal of the synth best: “The sound is still so unique and pleasing. It’s so easy and simple to use, and the bass is just sublime.”
According to Matador, “it’s quite a simple instrument, as far as synths go, but it packs one of the heaviest punches in the studio. The sub-oscillator is one of the fattest, purest tones available to man”, while Debukas describes it as a “mainstay of the studio”, featuring it prominently in his tribute to Juan Atkins:
Elias Landberg describes it as “one of the nicest synths for making basslines”, having used it for sub bass on most of his early releases as Skudge.