Roland SH-101 Synthesizer

Roland SH-101

In 1982, just as the synth market was moving towards ever greater polyphony and preset capability, Roland took a bit of a sideway step and produced a small 32 key, monophonic, single oscillator analog synthesizer and called it the Roland SH-101.

Compared to a lot of the notable monophonic synthesisers gracing many a keyboard wizards set up at the time, the SH-101 seemed incredibly sparse in the specification section, featuring just one oscillator with 3 simultaneous waveforms: sawtooth, square/pwm, an octave-divided square sub-oscillator, a single ADSR envelope generator which is shared with both the VCA and filter. Its low-pass filter/VCF capable of self-oscillation which can be used to create bass drum sounds. It has a physical 32 note keyboard and also features a 100 step sequencer and a simple arpeggiator.

Available in Grey, Red and Blue, one of things that made it fairly unique at the time it was introduced was, that in addition to being powered by an external AC adapter, it could also offers the option to run off batteries allowing it to be free of a mains cable. One of the big reasons behind this option is that Roland promoted the SH-101 as a performance synth. To achieve this Roland offered an optional MGS-1 grip which mounted on the side and plugged into the SH-101. The MGS-1 featured a pitch wheel, a modulation button and included strap buttons allowing a guitar strap to be attached. This meant that the keyboard player could strap on the SH-101 and merrily solo away at the front of the stage (guaranteed to cheese of the lead guitarist!). The theory was good but in use it’s not ideal especially as the large (and tall) master tune knob is very prone to being knocked.

Perhaps one of the biggest selling points when it was launched was the price - just £249 making it an ideal synth for people just starting out. The sequencer was among the SH-101's best featuring simple step-entry programming of notes from the keyboard and the ability to transpose the sequence via the octave buttons or the keyboard itself. Unfortunately, when played as a standalone, the sequencer and arpeggiator’s speed was determined by the LFO's rate slider but the inclusion of an “Ext. Clock In” socket allows for external syncing from a drum machine etc.. It doesn’t have any on-board MIDI, there are MIDI upgrades available and the SH-101’s on board CV/GATE inputs and outputs allow it to be controlled with a CV/MIDI converter.

Despite its original low pricing, the SH-101 simplicity of programming and distinctive bass sound have made it a very sought after piece of kit especially for techno, drum&bass and ACID! As a result it’s achieved a certain cult status and the second-hand price has sky-rocketed accordingly.

Notable users of the Roland SH-101 include Orbital, Future Sound of London, Überzone, The Prodigy, 808 State, The Grid, Cirrus, Eat Static, Jimmy Edgar, Apollo 440, Devo, Union Jack, Luke Vibert, Dirty Vegas, Josh Wink, the Crystal Method, Aphex Twin, Astral Projection, Les Rythmes Digitales, Sense Datum, Squarepusher, Sascha Konietzko of KMFDM/MDFMK, Freddy Fresh, Lab-4, Nitzer Ebb, the Chemical Brothers… and many more.

Roland SH-101 Specifications:

Synthesis type – Subtractive
Polyphony - Monophonic
Oscillators - 1 VCO (independent levels for saw, square/pulse/pwm and sub-oscillator)
LFO - triangle, square, random and noise waveforms
Filter - resonant, self-oscillating LPF, mod by EG, lfo and kybd tracking
VCA - ADSR, mod by EG or gate
Arpeg/Seq - Digital sequencer up to 100 steps record/playback; Arpeggiator patterns: up, down, up/down
Keyboard - 32 keys
Control - CV / Gate
Date Produced - 1982-1986

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​Roland SH-101 photograph by English Wikipedia user 909 bd [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Posted in 1980s Synths, Monophonic, Roland Synthesizers, Subtractive Synth, Synthesizers.