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Archive for September, 2019

Seriously.

Though GuitarGear.org essentially started out as a vanity site, an online diary for me to write down my thoughts about the gear I’d get or evaluate, one thing I vowed to myself when I started this blog was to never talk out of my ass with respect to gear. I had been online in some way, shape, or form since the ’80s, long before there was an official Internet. The amount of bloviating that occurred online even at that time annoyed me as people would speak about subjects at length and really have no facts to back up what they were saying. That wasn’t going to be me.

Oh yes, I can write – a lot. But I wasn’t going to get trapped in my own misinformation by talking out of my ass. So I made sure that when I wrote about gear I did my best to become as informed and knowledgeable as possible. Take, for instance, when I started writing about tube amps. Though I’m no electronics expert, I understand the fundamental workings of how they work; enough to have an intelligent conversation. I did a lot of research and talked to and even befriended experts on the subject. This dogged determination to be as well-informed as possible carried over into my life outside of writing about guitar gear.

I now know way more about how toilets work than I probably cared to know in the first place…

A couple of years ago, I purchased three American Standard Champion 4 toilets. This is the model that American Standard claims can flush a small bucket of golf balls in one flush. When I first got the toilets, they worked like magic. I couldn’t believe how well they worked. Then after about a year and half, a one of them started requiring a couple of flushes to fully evacuate the bowls. And it got so bad that it would take a few flushes to clear the bowl, so I declared that toilet off-limits. Luckily it was the master bath toilet and not a guest bathroom toilet.

I jumped on the Web and tried all sorts of things, from using a snake to even clearing out the flush jets under the rim of the bowls. I did the bucket test to see if my toilet flushed well by pouring a bucket of water into the bowl. I tried everything with respect to the drain portion of the toilet.

After being frustrated several times, I finally decided to find out how a toilet works to see if I could get any insight on what could be causing my slow flush. What I found out was that toilets flush based on a siphon action. That is, the contents of the bowl are NOT pushed out by the flushing action. They’re actually PULLED down the drain! If you look at the bottom of your toilet, you will see the outline of the siphon. It is the tubing that curves upward.

The jets under the rim serve to rinse off the sides of the bowl but more importantly, they also serve to fill the bowl, which creates pressure in the siphon at the bottom of the toilet. When that tube gets filled, and the water starts flowing down the drain, it creates a vacuum that pulls the rest of the water out of the bowl.

The velocity of the water filling the bowl and subsequently the siphon is extremely important. If the velocity is too slow, the siphon will not fill fast enough and create a vacuum. In my case, the first flush would just barely fill the siphon and the second flush would take it over the edge, so to speak.

So given that, I took a little nail and started clearing the jets of scale and build-up. It was pretty bad as the water in my area has a high concentration of calcium. Great for our bones and teeth, but horrible for plumbing. But even that physical clearing of the jets didn’t work. The velocity was still too low, which meant that there was a lot of build-up within the rim tube itself.

Finally, after a little more research, I saw that there was a way to chemically clear the rim. So I got a gallon of CLR. I poured half of it down the overflow tube and let it sit for a day, then before I went to bed, I poured the other half down the tube.

When I poured the first half gallon, the cleaner was barely trickling out the jets. I had seen videos where you could see it streaking down the sides of the bowl! I realized then that there must’ve been a lot of buildup in the rim. When I poured the second half-gallon down the tube, it flowed much better. The end result was that this morning, I flushed the toilet and it worked like it was new!

Now you know more about toilets than you ever wanted to know in the first place!

The point to this is that had I not been so driven in the first place to do research, I would’ve never solved the problem and would’ve just purchased a new toilet. I just saved myself $300-$500!

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EWF Guitarists Serg Dimitrijevic and Morris O’Connor

Last night, I went to see Earth Wind & Fire at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, CA. I first saw them way, way back in the late ’70’s. What a show and what showmanship! At least for me, at the time, nothing compared to their show replete with lasers and pyrotechnics and magic. At the end of the show, they all climbed into a pyramid that lifted off the stage, then with a bang, broke apart to reveal – nothing. They did a disappearing act!

Almost fifty years later, their show is much much much more tame but no less entertaining. And the fact that the three remaining original members have been doing this for almost fifty years and sounding just as good is incredible!

And while most might think that as a funk band, they’re all about the horns, in actual fact, guitars have always played a major role in their music. They may not be front and center, but without those funky guitars in the background, the music wouldn’t be complete.

For the past few years, they’ve EWF has used two incredible guitarists: Morris O’Connor as lead guitar and Serg Dimitrijevic on rhythm. These guys aren’t household names in the guitar world which tends focus on jazz, blues, and rock, but they are accomplished session musicians and producers in their own right.

As far as playing for EWF is concerned, they’re tight Tight TIGHT! Morris plays these incredibly funky lead lines underneath the songs, while Serg plays some of the most funky rhythms I’ve heard. Make no mistake: Playing funk is hard. It’s palm-muting, plucking bass lines and two- or three-note chords up and down the fret board. And you have to combine that with a syncopated funk rhythm, so all that technique must be applied while you feel the rhythm. And you can’t be off the tempo because it’ll throw off everyone else in the band.

Neither of these guys is flashy. They both get solos in the concert, though Morris naturally gets more as the lead guitarist. The have a workmanlike approach and are the ideal sidemen. They’re positioned stage-right and -left and tucked a bit back in the corner; as I said, they’re not front and center. But you can definitely hear the both of them in the mix. Their guitars are essential to the overall sound of the band.

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I was working on a new Praise & Worship song the other day and had one of those moments where I realized that something was missing. I had just finished adding piano and organ which made the sound bigger, but I wanted it to be even more expansive. Then it hit me: A big, distorted guitar would do the trick.

And for that sound, the only thing I could think of and what was repeating inside my head was, “Plexi… plexi… plexi…” To me, and I know I’m dating myself, but that is the big guitar sound that I grew up with – it’s my archetype. So I took out my Aracom VRX18 which is an 18-watt Plexi clone and went to town. I didn’t even give it a second thought that that was the big sound I needed. Combine that with a Les Paul, and it’s just sonic goodness.

After I mixed and mastered the song, I got to thinking that there are gear sounds that I equate to archetypes. Mind you, these represent my own perspectives. Others will have their own “truth.” But here are mine:

Clean Tones

For me, doesn’t matter the guitar, but the archetypal clean tone has to be a Fender Clean; but not one of the low-wattage Fenders like a Blues Jr. (I actually can’t stand that tone). But a Deluxe Reverb or a Twin. Oooo, that clean tone is magnificent! But if I’m not using a Fender, what I look for is a deep, haunting clean.

Chorus

I have several chorus pedals, but the archetype for me is the BOSS CE-2. It was the first pedal of any kind I ever bought, and its sound sets the bar for all choruses that I consider. I’ve recently retired my CE-2 because I don’t want to ruin it. So I’m probably going to replace it with a BOSS Waza Craft repro, which sounds very, very close. The only thing that it appears to be missing is the slight gain boost that is sort of the trademark of the original CE-2. But that’s okay. The sound is right on par.

Overdriven Amp

I already mentioned that the Plexi sound was my archetype. I’ve played or owned various models from 18 Watt Blues Breakers all the way up to 100 Watt 1959. Even the low wattage amps with the right speaker have a huge sound to me. And mind you, it’s not just “Marshall” breakup. There’s a growl in these amps that’s absolutely distinctive.

Acoustic Guitar

Without any reservation, it’s the Gibson J-45. Ever since I played one a few years ago, I knew that I had to have one. I finally got the J-45 Avant-Garde that technically isn’t a true J-45 because it has a walnut body and maple neck and Richlite fingerboard, and it’s a cutaway. But it has all the mojo of the venerable J-45. I’ve played lots of different acoustics, but there is something about the J-45 that just speaks to me. For others, it’s a Martin sound; others, a Fender or Guild sound. But for me, it’s J-45 all the way.

Electric Guitar

I actually wasn’t going to add this section, because I have a bunch of electric guitars. But then I realized that unless I’m looking to get a specific tone, I always go to my ’58 Les Paul Reissue, which I have equipped with Deacci Green Faze pickups, based on Peter Green’s out of phase pickups. I always dug his sound from the early days of Fleetwood Mac. “Oh Well” still pumps me up!

But my backup – actually I shouldn’t really call it a backup because I use it a lot – is my custom Slash L that has Lollar Imperials. So with that in mind, I think

Delay

I’ve always preferred analog delay for some reason, and I like it on the darker side. So for me, the Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay sets the standard. Handwired or PCB, doesn’t matter. It produces that deep, rich analog delay that I absolutely love.

Reverb

We kind of get into murky territory here because there are TONS of reverb options out there. Personally, I’m not a big fan of spring reverb, even Fender, which frankly is what I consider to be the best spring reverb out there. But let me qualify that I don’t like spring reverb slathered on, but I do like a subtle spring reverb.

I also like digital reverb models, especially the Lexicon algorithms. I’ve used those as PA board inserts and in pedals like the Hardwire RV-1 Reverb. I’m currently using the excellent TC Electronic Hall of Fame, but I will probably go to the Digitech Polara, which uses Lexicon reverb algorithms.

Are there other archetypes? Probably so, but I just can’t think of them right now, but these are the major ones that stick out for me right now.

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I recently got ripped on by a reader who said the usual line that a solid-state amp will never sound as good as a tube amp and in the process kind of backhandedly insulted me by saying those of us who like the Katana must like “cheap sound.” Yada-yada-yada… I’ve heard all those comments before, and I used to say the same thing about most solid-state amps. But since the Katana came out and I played one – and have subsequently purchased two since then – I’ve been loving the line. They sound great to my ears and have a response that I expect an amp – any amp – to respond.

As someone on a forum said, “As a player, all I care is that it sounds and responds in a manner that I like and has features that work for me. The tech running it should be irrelevant.” I couldn’t have said that better myself. All I’m interested in is if I get the feel and dynamics and great sound that I’m expecting. That’s all that matters. Oh, and by the way, tube amp snobs, you can’t make a blanket statement that tube amps in general sound and respond better than all solid-state amps. I’ve played lots of tube amps that sound and play like shit.

But that said, one of the main reasons I’m such a big fan of the Katana is why I’m a big fan of lots of other gear that I have: I don’t have to do too much tweaking to get a good sound. It’s also a reason I haven’t gone to the real heavy-hitters like a Kemper or a Helix. I really just want to twiddle a few knobs and play.

Admittedly, with my new Katana Artist, I did spend a lot more time dialing it in than I did my Katana 50. But the amp does much more than the 50 – especially with the Line Out – so I was willing to invest more time to make sure my Line Out sound quality was reasonably on par with my speaker sound. That investment of time paid off this past weekend when I played it at church. I was able to keep my stage volume really low and use the PA to get my sound out. It worked like a charm! Plus, I got the GA-FC foot controller to switch channels, so I spent time dialing in sounds and matching volume levels.

But enough about the Katana. Like I said in the title, I’m a fan of great gear. And great gear to me is gear that inspires me to play. I’m not a bedroom player. I gig and record and occasionally do session work, so the gear I use has to work in the real world. In fact, I don’t think I own any gear that I’ve never used outside my home.

And that gear can be expensive or cheap. But as long as it performs well for me, who am I to judge it based on its cost or components? Remember the Bad Monkey overdrive? I got that puppy used for $20 and used it for quite some time before I donated it to a young man who needed a drive pedal. And for quite a while I’ve used an EHX Soul Food – $70.

One of my first electric guitars was a beat-up, old Ibanez Strat (I still have it but it needs work) that my little brother “lent” me decades ago. I used that guitar in many shows, including doing some pit work for local community theatre orchestras. This thing looked like shit! But it played like a dream. A bassist whom I played with originally laughed at it until I let him play it. Then he bugged me for months to buy it off me. But I knew that he just wanted the neck which was like butter to play.

But the point here is that I don’t just get cheap gear. I have some fairly expensive gear as well: Lots of amps and guitars and a bunch of boutique pedals. But I really do follow my bliss with respect to the gear I play. And writing this blog for the last 12 years has helped me open my mind to all the different gear possibilities and focus less on the technology and more on sound and playability. If those come from technology that’s considered inferior to the gear cognoscenti, well, all I can do is give ’em a shrug. I’m still going to play it because it makes me happy to play, and when I’m happy to play my audience responds accordingly. And let’s face it: They don’t give a shit what gear you play as long as you rock them.

Look, I get it. What I happen to like is purely subjective. I love the sound of the Katana amps. And I realize it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But I’ve learned to let people follow their own bliss. If they’re rocking it up with what they’ve got, more power to ’em.

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What? No review? Not just yet. As of late, I’ve been waiting to do a review until I’ve played gear live and have had some time learning to tweak it. I used to write reviews based on my home use, and even though I’d play the gear at a good volume, nothing really beats playing something live and in a band. So I’m holding off on a formal review until I’ve had a few live sessions with the amp.

That said, it doesn’t mean I can’t share my first impressions based on playing it for several hours a day since I got it a few days ago (it has been very late nights, indeed). Of course, part of spending so much time with it is having a new toy to play with, but to be honest, a lot of it had to do with preparing for Sunday, when I bring it to church. I wanted my channels dialed in beforehand. I will set up the EQ when I get there. Plus, I got the GA-FC foot controller and I want to make sure I’m comfortable with it. Also, I wanted to make sure I knew what to set for the Line Out. But with that, let me share what I think of it thus far.

First, as I expected, the speaker is going to take a bit of time to break in. When I first plugged it in and played it on Tuesday, the sound was really, really tight. Luckily, no one was home, so I could play it at 100 Watts and let it rip. But it was pretty stiff. Now on Friday, with me using the amp – especially with my acoustic that has a lot of lows, the sound has become noticeably richer. It’s still a little stiff, especially in the mids and highs, but it’s just going to get better.

Next, the Line Out absolutely rocks! When I recorded those initial acoustic clips the other day, I was using a regular instrument cable to run into my audio interface because the TRS cables I ordered were in a separate shipment. Based on that, I thought the Line Out sound was pretty good – good enough to plug into a board or DAW. The Line Out Air Feel knob helped a lot by setting it to Live to give the impression of a little distance between the cab and the “mic.”

But once I got a TRS cable, the difference in the sound quality was like night and day. And where the Air Feel “Rec” setting sounded horrible with a regular instrument cable, I actually now prefer that setting for recording acoustic guitar or plugging into a board. For electric guitar, I use the Blend setting with a Vintage Cabinet Resonance. It sounds a lot like a classic Greenback. For acoustic, I use the Deep setting. It makes the sound very rich.

Here are some samples:

Acoustic – Finger Style

Acoustic – Percussive Strum

Les Paul – Clean and Dirty

Mind you, if I was recording for real, especially with electric guitar, I’d either mic one of my tube amps or run it through an IR, or even mic the Artist, and I’d definitely mic my acoustic. But these tests were important because I wanted to make sure I could get a great sound going into a board or interface. But that said, for clean tones, and especially when I’m recording a reggae-style sound, I see no problem whatsoever using the Line Out on this little beastie.

I have yet to go into the software, though eventually, I will, especially to see if I can switch out and/or EQ the drive pedal models. As with my Katana 50, I am just not a fan of BOSS drive pedals. Never have been. Even the overdrives – where I expect much more dynamic response – are far too compressed for my liking. The overdrive of the amp itself is actually pretty nice, so truth be told, I’ll probably put one of my own overdrive pedals in front of the amp to interact with it.

Being a previous Katana owner, it was fairly easy to get to a good sound with the Artist, but it will take some time to tweak and break in. Though I kind of knew where to set things to my liking, though admittedly, with the larger cabinet and Waza speaker that provides much more bottom-end, I found myself adding more mids and highs to get a good, balanced tone. But make no bones about it. You have to make an investment of time setting up the amp. Like any amp, it takes a while to dial in the sound. And as the speaker is still a little stiff, I just need to play through it to loosen up the cone.

Mind you, I’m not trying to get it to sound like one of my Plexis or one of my Fenders. Just as I’ve said before with the Katana 50, it has a sound all its own and it takes time getting familiar with the amp. Besides, as I’ve mentioned, it seems as if the default settings were made for selling the amp in a store, not playing the amp, so tweaking the amp is absolutely necessary. Anyone who judges the amp on its default settings is doing themselves a real disservice. But then haters gonna be haters, ain’t nothin’ can be done ’bout that. 🙂

The GA-FC foot controller is essential. I’ve had a couple of days to play with it and damn! It sure makes things convenient. I thus far set up all four channels on each bank in similar ways. I’ve set up Bank A for electric guitar and Bank B for acoustic. For either bank, Channel 1 is clean with just a touch of reverb (Hall for acoustic and Spring for electric). Then all subsequent channels build on that.

I was a little unsure of the larger cabinet size and greater weight, but it provides a comparatively much richer sound than the small cabinet of the Katana 50. Combined with the Waza Craft speaker, the extra weight and size are really worth it, and it’s not going to be like lugging a Twin or a JC-120 that had to have casters to roll it. I’ve wanted a Twin for a long time, but the weight of that amp makes it totally impractical as a regular gigging amp.

Well, that’s kind of it in a nutshell for now. My initial verdict is that I will definitely be continuing my love affair with this line of amps!

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I just got my brand new BOSS Katana Artist this evening! OMG! What a beast. Since the family was home, I couldn’t really crank it, though I doubt I’ll ever really crank it at 100 Watt because it’s LOUD – even at .5 Watt. So I played around with it with my Les Paul, trying out the different gain settings, and trying out the effects.

But what I was REALLY interested in was the Line Out because I want to be able to plug this puppy into a board. On top of that, I wanted to see how my acoustic guitar sounded through the amp and the line out, because I will using the amp this Sunday at church and will be plugging it into the board.

But before I did that, I set up the amp to get a good sound through the speaker with my acoustic. It really didn’t take long at all. I just had to get the right Gain and Volume settings and do some minimal tweaking of the EQ by rolling off the highs (if I have time, I’ll probably use the 7-band Graphic EQ in Tone Studio to really dial in the EQ. But rolling it off just a smidgen got me real close.

Once I had it dialed in, I plugged in the Line Out and hooked it up to my audio interface and into GarageBand. It sounded extremely close to the live sound! I did set the Line Out Air Feel to “Live” for a distant mic simulation, but even the “Rec” setting, which is a close-mic simulation didn’t sound all that bad. But the extra “air” gave the guitar a little depth.

Inspired, I recorded a few quick tracks to demonstrate how good it sounds. Check it out:

All tracks were recorded with my Gibson J-45 Avant Garde equipped with a Seymour Duncan Mag Mic acoustic pickup. For the strummed “Take It Easy” I didn’t have a pick and used my fingernails. The muted tones are not the amp, they’re my finger. 🙂

As expected, yes, there are bits of digital traces in the tracks. But you really have to listen for them. Plus, I’m using a regular instrument cable running from the Katana to my audio interface (I have a couple of TRS cables on order). I’m expecting much better sound once I have a balanced cable. But the important thing is that running into a board, it’s going to sound awesome! What I’m looking for is a usable tone that I can send to the PA without having to mic the amp, and that tone is much more than usable.

Mind you, these tracks were recorded with no EQ or filtering whatsoever. The reverb and slight delay were applied at the amp and not in GarageBand.

One thing I was particularly keeping an eye on was the waveform for each of the tracks. If the Line Out was overly processed, there would be very little dynamics in the wave form. But the waveform for each track looks like the guitar was miked!

The picture says it all. The Line Out maintains the dynamics of what I’m playing. No compression; or little if there is any at all. It really is awesome. The sound is natural with none of those midrange transients so reminiscent of a plugged-in acoustic guitar that you hear on recordings. I’m going to have no problem using this amp plugged into a board or an interface!

To be completely transparent, I didn’t lay down any tracks with my Les Paul because I didn’t like how the wave forms were looking. But that was more a function of adding a track to an already mastered song. I will do a raw recording once I get used to dialing in the overdrive settings.

I know, providing sound samples is a little backwards compared to my usual method of doing a review, then following it up with a studio test. But I was so impressed with how the Line Out worked with my acoustic that I just had to put it out there!

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I ordered a BOSS Katana Artist last week and was expecting delivery tomorrow. But this morning, I checked the delivery status, and FedEx updated the delivery to TODAY! I am SO jazzed!

After I came down from my little celebration, I thought to myself, This is one of the reasons why I’ve been such a gear slut all these years. There really is nothing like the high you get anticipating the arrival of new gear!

Whether I’m waiting for some equipment to be finished with construction or waiting for the delivery of some cool gear, I love that feeling of butterflies in my stomach at the thought of un-boxing and unwrapping a brand new… whatever…

With respect to the Katana Artist, I’m anticipating getting it dialed in to do direct recording AND plugging it directly into my PA board. Even if all I can achieve is getting a good clean tone when going direct in, I can still use pedals. The convenience factor is pretty incredible.

I also got the BOSS GA-FC foot controller so I can dial in various patches. But with the Katana, since I have four channels per bank, I’m going to set up one bank for electric, the other bank for acoustic. With my Katana 50, though it wasn’t a dedicated acoustic amp, I was still able to dial in a great acoustic tone. And given this, it will be great to be able to use a single amp to serve two different purposes. Very excited about this.

Of course, experience has shown that I may not be able to check off all the boxes of what I’d like to do with the amp, but I do love exploring all the different possibilities!

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I got mildly chided the other day by a friend of mine while we were discussing gear. He said it in a fairly facetious way to mess with me because I’ve always been a proponent of “if it sounds good, then it is good” mentality. We happened to be talking about analog delays and I went off on a tangent about bucket-brigade devices and a bit of the history of the circuit.

“Dude…” my friend interrupted, “Does that really matter if you like the sound?” he asked with a smirk.

I laughed and replied, “In the end, maybe not. But you know me. I like to geek out. Besides, it drives my wife crazy!” We both laughed at that!

Mind you, when I’m talking about specs here, it’s not necessarily about the normal features that you see in the marketing literature, but much more about the minute technical details. For instance, the winds of a pickup magnet or the makeup of an amp’s circuitry, or how the bucket-brigade device came into being.

I’m naturally curious to see how stuff works, so I often take some time to research technical things I wonder about. For instance, I was wondering about the microprocessor or DSP used in the BOSS Katana line that gives the amps their voices. The information I came across in forums and articles is pretty fascinating.

One interesting tidbit was the “sneaky amps” models that apparently are in all Katana amps. These apparently are part of some old code in the firmware that’s based on the GT-100 models that BOSS hasn’t cleaned up yet, and with the right SysEx command, you can expose them in the Tone Studio. Pretty neat.

But in the end, none of that matters. I suppose with a deeper understanding of the technical details it may help in eeking out subtleties while I’m playing, but let’s face it. Only I will know. 🙂

Mind you, I’m saying all this tongue in cheek, mainly because I laugh at myself sometimes when I start geeking out. And perhaps it’s my way of reminding myself where my focus should be and that’s on making music.

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Ever since I got my BOSS Katana 50, my world has been turned upside down with respect to what a “good” amp is. For years, like many, I was of the mind that good could only come from a tube amp with just a few exceptions. No way could a solid state amp match the tone, feel, and dynamics of a tube amp. Oh, solid state amps could definitely keep up with tube amps with respect to clean tones, but when you’d get into overdrive territory, the sound would be brittle with very little in dynamics on offer.

But when I first auditioned the Katana 50 in my local Guitar Center, I was blown away. On that fateful day, I was expecting to just get a clean platform to put pedals in front of, but even with the short amount of time I played with the higher gain models – and at low volume, mind you – I knew this amp was something special. I bought it on the spot.

I have since given my Katana 50 to my youngest child and am awaiting delivery of a Katana 100 Artist. And as I wait, it really hit me: No way would I ever had thought to even consider a solid state amp – even just two or three years ago!

Yes, there were Axe FX, Kemper, and the Helix amps/modelers out there, and have been there for several years. But all those were out of my price range, so I just stuck with what I could afford; or to put a finer point on it, stuck with my tube amps. Plus, after my experience with my old Line 6 Flextone III, the thought of spending hours twiddling with software or doing amp profiling just didn’t appeal to me.

But with the Katana 50, the default sounds worked for me. Oh yes, I did do some tweaking in the Tone Studio like unlinking the delay from the reverb, but that was all I did. I’ve been using BOSS pedals for years – not really my primary pedals – so I was familiar with them, and the default settings were just fine with me. And that really was the kicker for me. Roland made it easy for me to just plug in and go.

I really have been faced with a quandary since then: I literally have thousands of dollars invested in tube amps, and now I have an amp that costs a fraction of the price that I’d rather play over my tube amps. And with that thought, I asked myself: What makes this so special?

Compared to solid state amps of old, new solid state amps are also digital; that is, circuitry is controlled by software, or more precisely, embedded firmware on a chip. Old solid state amps had limited firmware, so the sounds they produced were basically a function of the physical electronics. But with the much more sophisticated software of today, the ability to tweak and tune the chips has increased dramatically, producing these great-sounding and great-feeling amps. Definitely not your daddy’s solid state amp!

And the fact that they can be produced much cheaper than a tube amp while providing comparable sound quality and feel and dynamics is a testament to how far technology has come. Digital amp technology has come so far now that I no longer think about the components, when evaluating amps. I just want to know if the amp has a good sound and the feel and dynamics I’ve come to expect from a good amp, damn the technology. And the Katana 50 has just continued to perform for me on all fronts, save recording, which is why I’m moving up to the 100 Artist.

But the first time I did a full show with my Katana 50 where it was really pushing air, I about fell over in shock. Up until that point, I had only used the amp at church. I knew it sounded great at lower volumes (< 90 dB), but hadn’t played it in a real live situation where I could really open up the amp. The big sound that the 50 produced was just incredible! It was full and rich and punched right through the mix when I did a solo. Plus it had sag, or at least the digital equivalent to sag. That was completely unexpected. Right then and there, I was forever sold on it! It just reinforced the idea that the playing field in the amp world is becoming quite level.

Roland is a pioneer in this field (think the Cube line). Yes, there were competitors like Line 6 when digital amps started making inroads to the industry. But Roland was really the first to make the technology accessible, and they did this by limiting options. As I mentioned above, I had a Line 6 Flextone III. Great amp, but I spent more time tweaking it than I did playing it, and that just frustrated me. The Cube 60 that I had, on the other hand, was straight-forward: Twiddle a few knobs and I was off to the races.

And now with the Katana 100 Artist that I have coming to my doorstep this morning, I will have what could be considered the pinnacle of Roland’s digital amp prowess.

But why the Artist as opposed to the 100 which is much less in price? I have a couple of reasons. First, based on what I’ve heard in A/B demos online, the larger cabinet and Waza speaker provide a much richer sound than the smaller cabinet of the KTN-100. Also – and it might be a minor thing to some – the controls are located on the front of the amp. I put my amps on a stand that leans them back when I’m gigging, and making adjustments is a pain when they’re located on the backside of the top of the amp.

But even more important than those two things above are two controls that are exposed on the Artist that are not present on the KTN-100: Cabinet Resonance and Line Out Air Feel knobs (shown below).

These settings are only available in the software with the KTN-100. And they’re HUGE features for me because especially when I play at church, I will be using the Line Out to go into the board. On one demo of the Line Out feature that I watched, the Line Out Air Feel made a big difference in the sound produced by the line out. And being able to dynamically set the cabinet resonance on the fly is so awesome. If I’m playing a brooding song with deep cleans, I can set to deep. As I said, these had to be set from within Tone Studio, but if I can set them at a venue without having a computer, that’s huge! And it’s what took it over the top for me.

Truth be told, I will not get rid of my tube amps, but I seriously doubt that I will buy more in the future. The amps I do have will be used mainly in the studio when I want a specific sound. I have to admit that I’m a little sad about this because they’ve become such great companions over the years. But there’s no denying that the versatility that the Katana brings to the table just can’t be ignored.

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Am I Done with Tube Amps?

I’ve struggled with this question ever since I got my BOSS Katana 50 (BTW… it’s properly pronounced KAH-tah-nah, not kah-TAHN-nah – had a student who sings with me at church who speaks Japanese correct me). With the Katana 50, I got all the sound and dynamics that I needed; all in a super-lightweight amp. It took to pedals incredibly well but had it’s own very good built-in effects as well. And it was plenty loud. Now I say “was” because I technically no longer have the Katana 50. Oh, it’s in my house, but I gave it to my son for his birthday.

Which leads me back to the title of this article…

Last weekend, I played my Aracom VRX22 tube amp at church. All that Plexi mojo was there that I expected. But I have to say that I really missed my old Katana 50, especially with respect to setting up my rig. With my Katana, I had everything dialed in before I got to the church so it was simply a matter of setting the amp on my stand and plugging it into power and plugging in my guitar – all of a minute or so. With my tube amp, I had a lot more setup; not just with the physical connections. I then had to set up the tone and volume and make adjustments to both channels. Not really a big deal, but it did take considerably more time.

The convenience that my Katana 50 brought to the table was huge; enough to make me look for a new Katana, but I’m now looking at getting Katana 100 Artist this time ’round because of the extra versatility – especially the line out that I can plug directly into a board for playing live or an audio interface for recording. At least for a recording, I’ll still use IRs because nothing beats the specific character of a tube amp. But for general stuff, especially cleans, going all-digital is fine.

Back to gigging though, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a tube amp for gigging. The versatility of the Katana is just too hard to beat; not to mention the simplicity of setup. Plus, it has all the feel and dynamics of a tube amp, but gives me everything I need to gig with in a single unit. And with the Katana 100 Artist (which I’ve just ordered while taking a break writing this article and isnow on the way), I will spend the time to dial in the effects, so my aim is to do away with my pedalboard altogether.

That’s a sobering thought because I literally have thousands of dollars invested in tube amps and accessories like attenuators and pedals; not to mention software like IRs. Part of me feels really bad about relegating my tube amp gear to the studio. But a larger part of me is SUPER-excited about taking advantage of new technology.

People have asked me if I can tell if the amp is digital. The answer is yes. The attack of a solid-state amp is much more sudden than a tube amp, especially with a purely dry signal, so it takes a little getting used to at first. But it’s possible to tame that with some modulation effects, and irrespective of the type of amp I play, I always grease the sound with a little reverb and a touch of delay anyway. But that said, the attack is very similar to the attack of my ’58 Fender Champ. With that amp, there is NO room for error.

Sound-wise though, it’s hard to tell but that really doesn’t matter because it just sounds good. And no one from a congregation or an audience has ever come up and asked me, “Is that a solid-state amp you’re playing?” 🙂

So… great sound? Check. Versatility? Check. Ease of use? Check. I’m in!

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