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Roland SH3A Synthesiser


TEST ON: Roland SH-3A Synthesiser
DATE November 1975
PRICE £400.15 Ex VAT

If you are prepared to spend time and effort learning to use the SH-3A, this versatile and very flexible instrument will do your slightest bidding. Every control on it gives an extremely wide area of adjustment and even a small movement on any control, assuming it's in circuit at the time, will cause a clearly discernible change in the Roland's sound or behaviour.

Like all good synthesizers, this one has the three basic essentials. A Voltage Controlled Oscillator. (V.C.O. for short), a Voltage Controlled Filter. (V.C.F. for short), and a Voltage Controlled Amplifier. (V.C.A. for short). It also has three very low frequency oscillators used to generate the vibrato, tremelo, growl and other effects and one of them is used to drive the "Random" and "Semi-random" pitch selection unit (Sampler).

In addition, a noise generator giving "white" or "pink " noise is included in the instrument.


1) One 44 note (3½ octave) keyboard.

2) V.C.O. The signal source is a voltage controlled "Function Generator" which creates three different waveshapes, each being rich in harmonics. The signal is passed through a series of "Divide by Two" networks which make available a total of five octave ranges per note on the keyboard. Each "Octave" has its own volume slider and its own waveform selector switch. Any combination of these is acceptable.

3) V.C.F. From here the signal is passed to a voltage sensitive tone filter with a cut-off frequency slider which adjusts the pitch and a resonance slider to control the "Q" of the filter and cause a peak to occur just below the cut-off frequency. This exaggeration of the high harmonics gives a very wide tonal range to the filter. This can be programmed to change automatically by setting the "Envelope" switch to wave length and adjusting the sensitivity control to the desired level. The effect is similar to that created by a Wah-Wah, Cry-Baby or Race filter but automatic in operation, the exact effect being also dependant on the waveform chosen, the octave range(s) selected and the settings of the two filter sliders.

An interesting side effect with this type of V.C.F. is that, when the resonance control crosses over the cut-off control, (is set higher than the cut-off), the controlling signal breaks through and causes resonances in the filter which, at the output end, sound like a Swannee Whistle. This sound is fairly consistant in its behaviour and gives a quite attractive effect, which is obviously why it has not been muted.

4) V.C.A. The enveloping of the waveforms is done with a voltage controlled amplifier which is, in its turn, controlled by four sliders:
1) The Attack Speed.
2) Speed of Decay from the Attack level to the rest of the note.
3) The Sustain Volume.
4) The Release time.

A selection of preset enveloping settings are also available on the "Enveloping" control.

These positions are:
a) "ADSR" — being the initials of the sliders, gives normal manual operation.
b) Preset Violin/Trumpet mode.
c) Pizzicato I Percussion mode (Preset).
d) Preset Organ mode.

A "Hold" control overrides sliders 3 and 4 and holds the note indefinitely at the volume to which it is set. By transferring information voltages from the V.C.A. to the V.C.F., the automatic (Wah-wah) facility on the filter is triggered by each new note played on the keyboard. Should you not wish to trigger the filter, just play in a legato manner and no trigger pulse will be generated. Thus, complex passages can be phrased and single notes accented without resorting to knob twiddling.



A tuning control allows overall tuning over an interval of approximately nine semi-tones on the synthesizer we tested.

Octave Transposition

This switch has three positions, giving a central (loco), an "up" and a "down" one octave position for all the voices. This is in addition to the five octave sliders available at the V.C.O.


The ability to slide or glissando up or down to the next note is very useful and the Portamento knob adjusts the time it takes to reach the new note. Most stringed and windblown instruments have a natural facility for portamento of some sort or another, so it is essential to have this effect available if you are intending to synthesize these instruments (or a human voice) effectively.


A manually operated, short time duration, one semitone only, upwards only preset version of the portamento is also included.


"White" or "Pink" at whatever volume you require. By having a VCF/OFF/VCA switch, you can decide whether you want the fitter to modify both the musical note and the noise or just the musical note.

Low Frequency Voltage Controlled Oscillators

The Vibrato, Tremelo, Growl, Vibrato Delay and Phasing facilities are all controlled by two very low frequency oscillators built in as effects units.

Three waveforms are available:
1) Sawtooth, a reiteration effect.
2) Square Wave, an off/on/off/on effect.
3) Sinewave, a Tremelo or Vibrato effect.

The various effects controls can select which waveform is used to drive which effect by means of three triple-position switches.


The Vibrato control introduces pitch variations of the V.C.O. at a speed set by the Low-Frequency Oscillator's "Rate" slider and by a pitch interval set by the amount of Vibrato selected.

On the sinewave mode, it sounds like ordinary vibrato, on the Sawtooth, a little like an American Police siren and on the squarewave, like a twin-mallet marimba playing in intervals defined by the vibrato slider.


This is similar to the vibrato, except that it works purely as a volume variant.


This effect is one of the many facets of the V.C.F.

It enables you to trigger the filter from low frequency oscillator signals instead of doing it from the keyboard's trigger pulses. It can also create the growl a flautist can get from his instrument, switch-clicks and buzzing noises.

The trigger mode can be selected by means of a second "Envelope" switch which selects the V.C.F's behaviour characteristics.


This is a phase-shift effect with a sweep speed controlled by the eight Chorus knob and only works on the eight range of voices.

This can give a very realistic "Leslie speaker" effect or make a good reverberation sound when used in conjunction with the "Release" slider.


A master Volume slider is included.


A random and three semi-random "Note selection" modes are available:
1) Off. (i.e. You play the keyboard).
2) Scales up and down;
3) Scales slowly up and quickly down;
4) Scales quickly up and slowly down;
5) Random.

A sample "time" control sets the speed at which the sampler operates by means of its own (the third) low frequency oscillator. A level control sets the top note to which the sampler will operate. Thus you can set for long or short scales.


These include an Off/On switch, Red Indicator LED, (no fuse was evident from careful external examination), eight feet of mains cable, complete with a moulded-on two-pin American plugtop, is wired directly into the instrument.


A jacksocket for the amplifier cable with a three position volume switch labelled H., M. and L. is located at the rear of the instrument, and an earphone socket with its own volume control is also located at the rear.


A steel, chromium plated music rack, and lid for the instrument are included in the price (complete with lock). A padfull of "Memo" sheets with a drawing of the control panel comes with the instrument, making it easy to take accurate notes of the setting of any new or favourite sound. A pedal to control either the V.C.O. glide or the V.C.F. cut-off frequency is available at extra cost.

Separate jack sockets are fitted for each of these pedal facilities, so two pedals could be used if required.


40" x 12¾" x 6".


32½ lbs.

Power Consumption

9 watts

Voltage Selection

117v., 220v. or 240v. AC @ 50/60 Hertz.


Some players may find this synthesizer too complicated for ordinary on-stage use but it is certainly a beautiful and very flexible studio machine. Bigger knobs and longer sliders would have made operating the SH-3A much easier but I can see the advantage of giving each and every control lots of range.

The background noise and interference levels were very low indeed, which is why I think this device was built especially for studio work, or possibly as a dual purpose machine. The Roland Corporation of Japan also make an on-stage synthesizer with presets and much simpler controls, but a loss of flexibility is inevitable as a result, so we have a swings and roundabouts situation where one has to trade versatility for practicality.

It is very disturbing to see a new product appear which has no visible fuse and no earth connection via its main power cable. These points are too serious to be overlooked and they mar an otherwise well built, well designed and strongly constructed instrument. On the credit side, a nice feature, is the extra V.C.O. tuning control on the rear panel which allows one to set the tuning knob on the control panel to zero and adjust the V.C.O. to concert pitch. The ability to calibrate an instrument is very useful indeed.

In my opinion, the Roland SH-3A Synthesizer is a very good keyboard instrument, not likely to be prone to annoying little faults and well worth its price.

Previous Article in this issue

Arbiter Auto-Tune

Next article in this issue

On Tour With The Who's Road Crew

International Musician & Recording World - Copyright: Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.


International Musician - Dec 1975

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Gear in this article:

Synthesizer > Roland > SH3A

Gear Tags:

Analog Synth

Review by Bruce Gibbs

Previous article in this issue:

> Arbiter Auto-Tune

Next article in this issue:

> On Tour With The Who's Road ...

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