Mention the words “synth guitar” and the mind conjures up images of ‘80s techno bands and a George Jetson-inspired future that never quite arrived. But mention “synth bass,” and that’s another thing entirely. There is nothing second rate or cheesy about a solid, voltage-controlled oscillator-driven bass track. So why have bass players let keyboardists take the bottom end in so many top hits?


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In the early 1980s, after the success of the GR-300 guitar synthesizer, the Roland Corporation followed up with a lesser-known bass version, the GR-33B. The GR-33B addressed some of the shortcomings of the GR-300: it had an envelope generator with two presets, each with attack and decay controls. The filter on the GR-33B could be switched from the more dramatic –24 dB per octave sound associated with the Moog and Arp synths, to the softer –12 dB per octave sound of Oberheim synthesizers. The GR-33B envelopes could also be assigned to a voltage-controlled amplifier. And the GR-33B added something new to the LFO circuit: a nifty lag generator that could swell the vibrato in after a variable delay.

Like the GR-300, the GR-33B had excellent tracking, and the sawtooth waveform at the heart of its sound was satisfyingly aggressive. But the GR-33B never became the sound of “synth bass.” And the GR-33B only worked with two basses: the Roland G-33 and G-88. Both were reminiscent of a P-bass, and very similar to the Ibanez MC-800. This is not surprising, since all these basses were reportedly built in the popular Japanese Fuji Gen Gakki guitar factory.

Perhaps it was the limited bass selection, high cost, or the popularity of the ubiquitous Minimoog, but bass players continued to play second bass fiddle, as it were, to keyboard players, despite efforts by Roland, Peavey, Electro-Harmonix and others to update four string technology.

GR-33B Revived Via VB-99
Undaunted, Roland recently launched its latest bass synthesizer, the VB-99. Like the VG-99, the VB-99 is an updated version of an earlier system, in this case the Roland V-Bass. Modern Roland technology uses the GK-3B bass pickup, which easily fits to a variety of bass guitars, or third party piezo systems found in basses made by Brian Moore, Godin Guitars and others.

Hit page 2 for a comparison of the GR-33B and VB-99's GR-33B emulations with video...