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The Hottest Attenuator: Aracom PRX150-Pro

Looking for the “Doppler on the Dumble” series?

The other day, my cousin Willie texted me to let me know that he was in town for a few weeks. In his text, he mentioned that he was thinking about selling his dad’s baritone ukulele and got it appraised at Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto. I’ve known this uke for many many years. My uncle Roy – Willie’s father – used to play it with the Hawaiian music group he was with and I remember many family gatherings where my ohana would sit and play and this uke was one of the instruments.

So when Willie told me he wanted to sell it, all those memories came in a flood and I knew I had to have it. On the one hand, I knew he probably needed the money, but on the other hand, it was a family heirloom and it would be a total shame for it to leave our family, especially considering its history. So I told him that I’d like to check it out and I would buy it for what Gryphon would offer.

Willie brought it over to the house yesterday and as soon as I took it out of its case, even though I hadn’t even played it, I could feel my beloved uncle’s spirit in it, and I had a Wayne’s World moment… Oh yes! It will be mine!

Of course I had to play it. But once I picked it up, I got lost in its sound, and I immediately hit upon a riff and just went from there to where I went right to my office and laid down what I was playing (recording below).

I don’t know the exact provenance of the instrument, but I do know that it was made in the 70s as that was when my uncle purchased it. Apparently there’s date coding in the body somewhere, but I haven’t looked as of yet. As for the build, it is made entirely of Hawaiian Koa – even the fretboard.

As for how it sounds, it has a haunting voice which gave me this image of walking on a steep mountain trail in the tropics. Even with the strings being a decade old since it hasn’t been played since my Uncle Roy passed away, it still sounds incredible!

Summary: Like its cousin for the classical guitar, the NG-2, the UK-2 is a piezo pickup that slips under the string loops on the tie-down bar. And like the NG-2 the sound that this pickup produces is absolutely natural, capturing even the subtle harmonics and overtones that my uke creates. And at $99, it’s an affordable solution to get a great sound!

Pros: Incredibly easy to install. In fact, it took me more time to loosen my strings than it did to slide the pickup under the loops! As I mentioned above, the sound is crisp and natural.

Cons: None.

Price: $99

Tone Bones:

Having experience with the NG-2, I figured this would be yet another great pickup from KNA and I wasn’t wrong. Don’t be fooled by the low price. As I always say: It doesn’t have to be expensive to sound good.

Funny What You Can Find In An Antique Store

Last weekend while I was shopping in an antique store in Healdsburg, CA, I heard the beautiful sound of a ukulele being played. Recognizing the tune and the playing style, I realized my son was playing. So I walked over to where he was and I saw him playing this absolutely gorgeous instrument. When he saw me, he handed me the uke and I immediately fell in love with it and just about bought it on impulse.

But the pragmatic side of me took over and I knew I had to do some research, so I looked up the ukulele. From what I could gather at the time, the Alulu brand is part of a Taiwanese company. According to forum posts I read, Alulu produces inexpensive instruments that tend to be a step or two above the cheapo stuff, and as such, quality tends to be a little hit or miss.

The recommendation of those who have them is to play a few, which means this brand is a bit like the Squier brand for Fender. They’re excellent guitars but you have to play a few to find the gems. With my Alulu, I got lucky and found a real gem of an uke!

This particular model, the UKT has an acacia top with Koa sides and back with a mahogany neck and a laminated koa headstock. The company claims the neck is Koa, but I know mahogany when I see it. 🙂 Maybe I’m wrong but that grain is pretty hard to mistake. But frankly, it just doesn’t matter because the uke sounds so good!

So I pulled the trigger and bought it…

Getting Gig-Ready

The gods must’ve been smiling on me because next week I’m playing a memorial service gig and the family asked me to play Brother Iz’ rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Normally I just play that on my guitar, but as soon as I purchased the uke, I knew I was going to use it for the gig. Given that, I knew that I had to get pickup for the uke, and I immediately thought of KNA. I wasn’t sure if they had one for ukulele, but I figured that if they had one for classical guitar, they’d have one for uke. Luckily they did and I immediately purchased it.

So Easy to Install!

Installing the pickup couldn’t be easier. Once your strings are loosened enough, it literally takes seconds to slip the stick under the string loops on the tie-down bar. In fact, it took me over 10 minutes to loosen my strings because the machine heads move so little with each turn. Then it took another 20 minutes after installing the pickup to tune up my uke and get the strings stable again.

How It Sounds

But here’s where it all pays off! Like the NG-2 this pickup is like having a microphone close up to the instrument! It just doesn’t pick up the sound of the instrument. It produces an incredibly natural tone that when recorded, sounds so close to the original sound of the instrument, it’s hard to tell the difference. And it’s incredibly sensitive as well, picking up even the slightest taps and rubs on the body.

I recorded a couple of clips to demo the pickup. These were recorded raw, right into GarageBand with no compression nor EQ and all ambient and reverb effects turned off. The sounds is awesome!

What’s so incredible to me is that as the pickup captures the natural sound of my uke, I will not have to do much EQ with it, if at all. And while I’ll probably add reverb or room ambient effects to create a more live sound, I just won’t have to do much more than that.

This is a winner!

Summary: Based on the classic Nobels ODR-1 circuit, Brian Wampler added his own touches (of course) making this one helluva a versatile pedal. You can use this as a transparent boost on up to an absolute crunch machine. And make no bones about it: This isn’t a copy of the other green overdrive. This circuit is absolutely unique and has been a mainstay on many guitarists’ boards.

Pros: Though there are five controls (including the clipping switch on the side of the pedal), it’s incredibly easy to dial in a great tone. For me, the Bass and Color knobs are what makes this pedal so amazing. And the sound? Fuggedaboudit! This is unlike the TS sound by a long shot.

Cons: Absolutely none so far.

Price: $129-$149 street

Tone Bones:

I was all set to get a regular Nobels ODR-1 Mini, but then I saw this pedal come up in my search. The variable Bass control knob did it for me. Having that sweep makes such a difference!

Getting Reacquainted with the ODR-1 Sound

Many years ago, I had an original Nobels ODR-1. I liked it then, but to be honest, I wasn’t playing enough electric guitar to know the difference between the different dirt pedals, so I just kept on using the MXR distortion pedal my brother gave me. Fast forward 25 years (or is it 30 now… sheesh) and I play all sorts of guitars. So when I saw a video of a guy using one, I remembered having that pedal and thought that it would be good to get this one as I have a bunch of TS808 derivatives already.

So I did a search for some videos on the ODR-1 and the Wampler Belle came up. Since I had already seen several ODR-1 videos, I loved the fact that the Belle had a variable Bass control. That sold me even though it’s almost twice the price of the ODR-1 Mini! But I’ve liked Wampler pedals for a long time and the build quality of Brian’s pedals are awesome, so I decided to pull the trigger.

Luckily, they had one in stock at my local Guitar Center and I was able to audition it. I only need five minutes. Everything that I had heard on the videos was pretty much confirmed when I played some chords and some scales. And yes, it was the Bass knob that sold me.

I was playing through an amp that I detested: The Fender Princeton Reverb. To me, that amp is just way too trebly, but I was able to tame that with the Bass control, then with a couple of tweaks of the Color knob, I was able to dial in a sound that was absolutely incredible. And I was playing a Strat! That was it. I unplugged it and bought it on the spot.

For those who are familiar with the ODR-1, it’s known to be popular with Nashville session players. I’m thinking it has to do with the tight bass of the circuit. Since a lot of those players use Telecasters and Strats, it’s not a surprise why it would be so popular. However, make no mistake about it. It’s not just a country or country rock pedal. Though it’s considered a lower gain overdrive, it can put out some serious crunch.

How It Sounds

I was going to do a few clips but I ran across this video that does a MUCH better job of explaining the sonic differences between the TubeScreamer sound and the ODR-1 circuit – plus Brian’s take on it with the Belle. Check it out:

I was watching a GREAT video on Rhett Shull’s channel today where he was interviewing one of the greatest session guitarists, Tim Pierce. Near the end of the video, Tim said something that I just had to share:

“I paid a lot for this amp but it doesn’t do everything… It just does one thing… That’s the thing you’ve GOT to make peace with…”

Here’s where he says it in the video:

I recommend watching the whole video because it focuses on how to use something near and dear to my heart: Overdrive!

But OMG!!! When I heard Tim say those words, “Make peace with it,” I said, “F#$k yeah!” out loud because that simple, short phrase articulates exactly where I’ve evolved to with respect to gear.

Other than my guitars, I’ve always been about versatility with all my other gear. But not in the way you might think. With pedals or amps, I will dial them into their sweet spot – at least where I feel the sweet spot is – then always keep them set there. But that said, I always wanted to know that if I wanted to do something different, the potential was there, and I could make an easy change.

For instance, take my BOSS Katana Artist. It is loaded with great BOSS effects. But I don’t use it that way. In fact, I use it like I would a tube amp. I have four channels to work with on that amp. The first channel I have the amp set to the edge of break-up. It’s the channel I use the most. The second and third channels I add a touch of reverb and both reverb and delay, respectively, on top of Channel 1’s settings. The fourth channel is my clean, maximum headroom channel where I texture my sound with pedals. I don’t use any other effects on the amp other than reverb and delay, and I use those sparingly. But it’s comforting to know that I have access to other effects on the amp if I need to add other textures. But to be honest, in the 2 1/2 years that I’ve had the amp, I haven’t used it any other way.

But making peace with what your gear does best is a pretty important thing. And make no bones about it, it’s an intensely personal matter as well. The sweet spot that you may find for something may be completely different than someone else’s sweet spot. Especially if you participate in online forums, it’s easy to fall into the trap of taking someone’s word about some gear, especially if that person is popular. That’s why I always say to evaluate gear yourself. The point is that you have to find the sweet spot that works for you. And it may very well be that you don’t find that sweet spot.

Though GuitarGear.org is still a pretty popular site, I only post a few articles a year now. It’s not so much that I’ve lost interest in gear. It’s really that I’ve found my sound and I know what I want and the gear that I have accomplishes what I need – for now. That may very well change. And if I’m really going to be honest, I’ll never get tired of overdrives. 🙂 Watching that video and Tim Pierce playing the Nobels ODR-1, I realized that – amazingly enough – I don’t have that one in my collection. I’m going to go to my local Guitar Center and play and perhaps pick one up today if I like it.

To be clear, it won’t be an impulse buy. I’ve actually been looking for an overdrive that works well with my Taylor T5z. Since I’m back playing regularly at my church gig again, I realized that the T5z needs a little help when I play rock and roll. I’ve been using my Timmy, and it’s okay, but it’s a little thin. I’m looking for a different kind of sound and I think setting up the ODR-1 with a slightly scooped sound will help a lot! I’ll just have to play it and find out!

Summary: If you’re looking for a great amplification solution for your classical guitar, look no further. This pickup not only has a great, natural sound, it requires absolutely no modifications to your guitar!

Pros: Super-easy to install. Just loosen your strings, then literally slide the pickup under them on the tie-down bar. It takes less than 10 minutes! The pickup is also super-sensitive and even picks up subtle harmonics. The volume control on this model is VERY helpful to dial in gain.

Cons: The ONLY thing that’s even remotely negative is that you’ll need to run this through a DI box before you plug into an amp or PA system as this pickup can be a bit noisy if plugged directly into an input. But any performing musician using an acoustic guitar should have a DI in their bag already, so this is practically a non-issue. But for those that don’t have one, you’ll have to spend the extra cash.

Price: $99

Tone Bones:

Despite that single con, I love this pickup! Once I ran it through my Radial PRO passive DI, the pickup was absolutely quiet, whether I plugged it into my Katana Artist (which required using an XLR to 1/4″ converter), my JBL Eon One PA, or my M-Audio M-Track interface. The sound it produces is incredibly natural, and as you’ll hear in the clips below, just a dream to work with for recording!

It Doesn’t Get Any More Uncomplicated Than This

To the left is my vintage 1972 Hiroshi Tamura classical guitar that I received as a gift from a friend a few years ago. This was part of a three-guitar set she gave me that belonged to her late uncle who passed away in 2003. The guitars sat in her storage shed for 15 years, forgotten until she and her mom cleaned it out. Her mom wanted to give the guitars to the Salvation Army, but my friend suggested that they give the guitars to someone who’ll play them.

I’m a bit ashamed to say that I while I fixed up and played the acoustic and electric guitars, I didn’t touch the classical guitar until a few weeks ago when I had an idea for a new song whose solo would be great using a classical guitar. Then I remembered the P40.

I had only looked at it once or twice since I got it. It had a couple of strings missing but was in otherwise great condition. But rather than work on the guitar myself, I took it into Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, CA to have it set up and strung. In the meantime, I started researching classical guitar pickups.

One requirement that I had for a pickup was that I wanted to get one that didn’t require drilling a hole at the butt of the guitar to install a jack. That didn’t leave me with many options other than soundhole pickups.

But fortunately, I ran across a review someone did on the Kremona (now KNA Pickups) NG-1 pickup a few years back. The big selling point of that pickup was that it didn’t require any modifications to be made to the guitar. And unlike under-the-saddle piezo pickups, didn’t require sticking contacts inside the guitar. It was literally a flat, wooden stick that slid under the string loops on the tie-down bar. And the sound quality in the reviews of that first version of the pickup was fantastic!

Still, my only nit about it was that it didn’t have a volume control. Being thorough, I surfed over to the KNA Pickups site, and saw that they had an updated version of the pickup, the NG-2, that had a volume control! But the best thing about it was that it only cost $99.00! That was far less than other solutions.

Technically, I could’ve gone the soundhole pickup route. Several manufacturers have them. I even have one installed in my Gibson J-45. But having a wire coming out of the soundhole is a bit annoying as it gets in the way. I had my Seymour Duncan installed that way and used painters tape to secure the wire to the body of my guitar. But I got nervous about the adhesive eventually ruining my guitar’s finish so I had it installed permanently.

But with NG-2, because it sits on the tie-down bar, the cord is completely out of the way. You can see that in the picture of my guitar. Plus, you’ll notice that the jack elevates the cord above the soundboard, so there’s no worry of it contacting the soundboard and vibrating while playing. The KNA folks really got this right!

How It Sounds

Now, as far as sound is concerned, I couldn’t be happier. The pickup is incredibly sensitive and as I mentioned above, manages to pick up even subtle harmonics. Look, it’s not going to be nearly as good as miking the guitar, but then to really capture the sound of an acoustic instrument, you have to have a hell of a good microphone, or use a couple of them.

The volume control is very nice, though it does seem to have a logarithmic taper to it, so little movements of the knob at the upper end of the volume sweep make huge changes in the volume. But that’s not really a big deal. Luckily there’s a nice resistance in the action of the knob, so you won’t have to worry about knocking the knob and changing the volume. Then again, the pickup is really out of the way of the playing area so that should never be an issue.

Below is a set of clips I put together to demonstrate the pickup. The first clip is the raw sound of the pickup with no EQ or any kind of signal processing. The second clip is the raw clip, but with a slightly scooped EQ, with super light compression (1.8:1) and with a touch of reverb and room ambience. The third clip pans the processed clip to the left and I play a solo with a longer tail reverb and deeper room ambience, keeping the compression and EQ the same.

I’m simply beside myself with how natural this pickup sounds. The raw recording is incredibly close to how my guitar sounds naturally. It really sounds like the guitar is right in front of me. Just amazing! And when I add just minimal processing, it takes the sound over the top!

It’s not common to get this kind of sound at such a reasonable price. The value proposition of this pickup alone makes it worth getting. But the ease of installation plus the sound quality makes this pickup – at least to me – the best choice for amplifying a classical guitar.

For more information, visit the KNA Pickups NG-2 page.

The NG-2 installed on my classical guitar

A few years ago, a friend of mine kindly gave me three guitars that belonged to her late uncle: A 1990 Simon & Patrick PRO acoustic, a 1993 Godin Artisan ST v5, and a 1972 Hiroshi Tamura P40 classical guitar. I fixed up the S&P and the Godin and have gigged with both since I got the guitars. But I didn’t touch the Tamura because I’m not a classical guitar player. So I kept it in its hardshell case, out of the sunlight.

But a few weeks ago, I started envisioning playing and recording solos with a classical guitar to get that natural woody sound that only a nylon string can produce. So I brought the P40 to my local guitar repair to have it set up and strung. When I got it back, I couldn’t believe just how gorgeous it sounded and just how well it projected its sound (I’ll do a review on the guitar at a later date).

The only problem was that if I wanted to gig with the guitar, I needed a pickup. Unfortunately, the soundhole is too small to fit my pickup of choice, which is a Seymour Duncan Mag Mic. Plus, the Mag Mic is really optimized for steel-string guitars. So I had to do some research.

One thing that I didn’t want was something that required me to drill a pickup hole in the guitar. The P40 is a real vintage guitar, and while it doesn’t have a big street value, it carries with it a lot of sentimental value for me and I didn’t want to be drilling holes in it, lest I alter its sound or mar the memory of my friend’s uncle. So I needed a good, portable solution. My search led me to the KNA Pickups NG-2.

The incredible thing about this pickup is that it sits on top of the tie block right behind the saddle. You loosen your strings so that you can slide the pickup right under them. It’s ingenious! It literally took me ten minutes to install it, with most of the time spent loosening my strings enough to be able to slide the pickup into place.

I do have to admit that I was a little leary of the pickup’s sound because it’s a piezo and they’re notorious for producing that “piezo quack.” But all my concerns were laid to rest once I plugged it into my amp. Once I dialed in the EQ, I couldn’t believe just how natural the pickup sounded. It really captured the woody tones of my guitar!

To be honest, the pickup does have a slight hum plugged straight into my amp, but I was able to get rid of most of the hum by dialing back the volume on the pickup, reducing the input gain on my amp, and controlling volume with the master volume. I should be able to eliminate it for the most part with a notch filter. And when using it to record, I can just isolate the frequency and take it out of the mix. Yeah, it’s a bit more work, but for how it sounds despite that hum, I couldn’t be happier.

When I do my full review on the pickup, I will include sound clips.

It’s funny how this debate still rages. I wrote about this a few years ago and also participated in forum discussions surrounding the benefits of low-capacitance cables. The divide back then was as wide as our political climate today! So many people claimed to be able to hear a difference, and I was never convinced.

Even when presented with actual evidence that there was no sonic difference between different cables (except for super-high capacitance cables which will impede high-frequenceies), those in favor of low-cap cables were undeterred. And that’s fine. Whatever floats your boat.

For me, the issue was the price that was being charged for low-cap cables. I wouldn’t dream of paying a couple of hundred bucks for a 25′ length of cable just because it was advertised as low-cap. However, that said, I would pay – and have paid – more for a well-constructed cable because at least for me, durability and material quality are ultra-important.

Years ago, when I recorded my first album, I purchase a set of Mogami Gold XLR cables. I still have them and use them. They’re just damn good cables that are incredibly well-built with a low signal-to-noise ratio. That they’re lower capacitance didn’t really figure into my buying decision. I wanted good connectors and a high-quality cable to ensure I’d get as much signal from my mic into my DAW. In that case, it makes a huge difference. But low-cap? I dind’t give a shit then, and I still don’t give a shit.

The reason I’m circling back to this is that I needed some gigging cables. Amazingly enough, even with the severe lockdown rules in Silicon Valley, I’ve been back at church to do my weekly service. Before the lockdown, I was using these great Pig Hog XLRs, but I think someone swiped them or I may have left them at a retreat venue up in the mountains – oh well, consider it a donation to the retreat center. And now that I’m back at the church on a regular basis, I needed to invest in a new set.

I decided to try something a bit different from the Pig Hog cables and have gone with Hosa HMIC Pro cables with REAN connectors. I like them because the connectors are metal. I had a set of Monster cables, but their connectors are plastic. They break.

In my search, I harkened back to the great low-cap debate and looked around for discussions on it. Yup, it’s still raging…

If you record at home like me, you’ve probably devised different ways to get good quality sound in your recordings; all without breaking the bank. Make no bones about it, to record good-sounding songs is going to take a small investment but it shouldn’t make you spend your life savings. I’ve been recording in my garage for decades and I’ve learned some neat tricks; in fact, I’m still learning!

Now one thing that has always been a challenge to record for me is acoustic guitar. I’ve pored over article after article from pros on how they do it. But they also use great and expensive mics. But it’s not that I dismissed the great information in these articles. I just had to adjust it to the equipment and environment that I had to work with, and I’ll share some of the things I’ve learned here.

Use two decent mics. Okay, I know that’s a bit of money. But believe me, it’s worth it. And while I have a dedicated instrument mic – a Sennheiser e609 – I only use it to mic my amp cabinet. I actually use vocal mics to record acoustic guitar because I feel they’re designed for natural sounds. The mics I use are a Heil PR22 and a Shure Beta 58a. The Heil costs $119 while the Beta 58a costs $159. Yes, it’s a bit of an investment but to me, these are simply great mics for the money. The Heil has more presence than the 58, but the 58 has a nice, round, bottom-end.

How you place your mics is important. I’ve read about all sorts of different mic-placement methods, but many of those were using condenser mics and recorded at a far distance. The PR22 and Beta 58a are dynamic mics, and work best closer to the sound source. What I discovered in my last couple of recordings is a placement that works with all my acoustic guitars (I have three). Here’s a quick sketch of where I place them:

As far as distance is concerned, the PR22 is about 6″ from sound hole, while the Beta 58a is about 2″. Both are pointed directly at the guitar.

You’ll notice that the PR22 points more towards the high strings above the sound hole. This avoids the boominess from lower strings. The Beta 58 picks up the body resonance. Once I have the mics placed, I set their input levels on my interface so they’re roughly equal, and I arm both inputs for recording.

When I finally get to mixing them, I pick a side I want to pan the two tracks. Whatever side I choose, I pan the PR22 10-15 degrees to that side, then pan the Beta 58a about 25 degrees. This provides a really rich sound.

Here’s an example of how my J45 sounds in a song recorded this way.

Note that the ONLY things I did with either of these tracks was to filter out some of the bass and I added a bit of reverb to the PR22 track to get a kind of wet/dry sound. I also rolled off some of the highs from the PR22 track because that mike has a natural presence boost that can make the guitar sound a little too shimmery. The result is a really rich sound!

Note that this is my setup. But it’s a good starting point as I’ve used different mics in the same configuration and gotten pretty good results.

Don’t assume you can EQ bad stuff out.

I used to be of the mind that I’d just get a take, then EQ to “fix” the sound. But to be honest, that only works for real minor things, such as how I rolled off the highs a bit on my PR22 track above. But anything more than a slight adjustment will never sound good.

I say this immediately after the mic placement section because though I gave a good starting point, ultimately, depending on your guitar(s) or mics, you’ll have to play around with placement. I found that even if you just have inexpensive mics, getting good placement will give you a good starting point from which you can EQ if necessary.

You need a quite place to record, but you don’t need a silent place. I’d love to have a completely sound-proofed recording space, but as long as I don’t have a lot of background noise (like kids screaming), it’s quite possible to get good takes where it would be really difficult to tell if there was ambient noise. Plus, one of the things that I love about the PR22 mic is that, like all Heil mics, it has unparalleled rear sound cancellation, so that helps keep tame any background noises.

Don’t be afraid of your input gain knob. The more sonic content you can capture, the better, so make sure you have your input gain up. You just have to be careful when you play that you don’t move or make other sounds that’ll get picked up by the mic. It’s not easy to do at times, especially if you’re capturing a strummed guitar, but it’s not not doable.

Yeah, this is the poor man’s approach to approaching acoustic guitar recording, but it’s effective and produces great results if you work at it!

If you didn’t hear about this, here’s a good article about what transpired on Guitar.com.

In essence, Mike Fuller vented online about the looters and how they were ruining businesses. People somehow conflated that with him making racist statements which, from what I’ve read at least, he didn’t make. Or that Mike cared more about business than people. Irrespective, it touched off a HUGE backlash on social media that forced Mike to eat a huge portion of humble pie and make a public apology.

And along with the social media backlash, Guitar Center decided to pull Fulltone products from its shelves in response to Mike’s rant. Yikes!

But this is a perfect example of why words matter. Frankly, part of me agrees with Mike condemning the looting – he even stated that it was the work of bad actors and NOT the protesters. But the way in which he communicated his perspective could have been done so much more diplomatically.

One thing I’ve learned about having an online presence is to carefully weigh my words and do the best I can to not write when I’m angry. You tend to miss details and worse yet, especially with someone like me who wears their heart on their sleeve, overdo the emotion. People react to emotion – especially anger – and in an environment where all it takes is a spark to ignite a wildfire, it can get out of hand quickly.

So all that said, this is a good lesson. To be clear, I’m not saying don’t express your viewpoint. But there are ways to do it that people will hear and others that will, well, have a big box retailer remove your products from their shelves. Definitely food for thought.

Much love has been given out to the BOSS Katana amp line since it was released and over time, it has gained many devotees; myself included. Still, there are those folks out there who will argue that it’s still just a solid-state amp and could never be as good as a real tube amp.

I get that. I have eight tube amps ranging in wattage from 5 watts to 50 watts. They’re all set up differently and each has its own distinctive characteristics. With my Plexi-style amps, there really is nothing like the high-end sizzle when the amp is cranked. My Fender Hot Rod Deluxe has a hauntingly rich and beautiful clean tone. And let’s face it: There’s really nothing like the power sag of a tube rectifier.

But despite all those great things about tube amps, my Katana Artist (v1) is my #1 amp for both stage and studio. Why? For one, simply because it has a sound and feel that speaks to me and I’m inspired every time I play it. But perhaps more importantly, it has a sound and feel that’s all its own. I don’t look at it as a digital, solid-state amp. I look at it as a great amp that gives me the tone and dynamics that I expect out of any amp that I call my own.

That said, historically, there is a justifiable reason for the stigma around solid-state amps not being as good tube amps. Twenty-five or so years ago, with just a couple of exceptions, solid-state amps were definitely the cheap alternatives – at least the ones built for electric guitar.

Acoustic guitar amps, on the other hand, tended – and still tend – to be all solid-state. To me, SR and Genz-Benz have been my go-to standards, and I still play through my SR California Blonde. It’s a 75-lb. behemoth with a 15″ speaker. Even as old as it is, I’ll pit it against any other acoustic amp. Sorry, I digress. Back to electric guitar solid state amps…

Back in the day, solid-state amps sounded horrible and felt even worse with little to no dynamics, and don’t get me started with their “overdrive” sound. They totally sucked! They were bad enough that they left a lasting impression and a stigma built up against them that lingers even to today.

And it’s really unfortunate because there are amps like the Katana and the recent Fender Tone Master amps whose sound quality and dynamics are just simply stellar. But where the Tone Master amps are copping the Deluxe and Twin, the Katana line, at least to me, have their own sounds, and not trying to copy specific amps. And that’s the thing that sold me with my original Katana 50 and now with my Katana Artist. They both have their own sounds. But because of that historical stigma with solid-state amps, lots of people still frown upon them.

But as with any amp, you have to take the time to dial it in with your playing style and equipment. When I got my Katana 50, I had to spend lots of time getting the gain, volume, and EQ dialed in for my guitars. Playing a Les Paul, I had to bump the mids and highs. With my Godin, I had to roll off the highs and bump up the bass. That’s not even taking into account the fact that I had to break in the speaker, which makes EQ adjustments a moving target!

The same went for my Katana Artist. But I spent even more time playing to break it in because that Waza speaker has just gotten better with time. I recently did a recording session with the Artist and at first, I was using the DI. But I noticed that the speaker sounded SO good that I ended up miking the amp.

The point to this is that no amp, whether digital or valve is going to sound great right out of the box with everything set in the middle. You have to invest time into getting it dialed in and broken in before you get a truly great sound out of it.

Now I realize there will still be detractors. That’s unavoidable. All I can say is this: You do you. But I’m willing to bet that if a detractor kept an open mind and really spent some time dialing in a Katana, while they may not take the plunge and buy one, they may at least get over the notion that all solid-state amps are bad.