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Posts Tagged ‘BOSS’

Summary: The flagship amp of the Katana series, the Artist provides the ultimate in versatility to an already versatile line of amps. But with its larger cabinet and WazaCraft speaker tuned specifically for the amp, it has a richness in sound that surpasses the rest of the line.

Pros: As with the Katana 50, I have lots of praise to heap on this amp. The sounds it produces in addition to the feel and dynamics are incredible as with the other amps in the line, but the Line Out is really the secret weapon of this amp. And having the cabinet resonance and Line Out Air Feel – which simulates microphone distance – on the front panel makes it super-easy to dial in your direct signal to a board or a DAW.

Cons: My only nit with this is that I wish it had at 25 Watt setting. The difference between the 50 Watt and 0.5 Watt is so drastic, it makes me wish for a “tweener” power level.

Tone Bone Score: 5 
No two ways about it: This is a great amp.

Street Price: $599.99 

I’ve already written so much about this amp since I got it, but I’ll reiterate: This ain’t yo daddy’s solid-state amp. Ever since I got the Katana 50, I couldn’t believe that a solid-state amp could have touch and dynamics similar to a tube amp, let alone get as big a sound. And as I said in my review of the 50, I really tried to make it suck, but couldn’t. I did the same with the Artist.

Granted, when I first got it, the speaker was absolutely fresh. But now that I’ve been playing the amp daily for the last couple of weeks, the speaker is breaking in and the sound is becoming silky-smooth. I’ve done four gigs with the Artist and the sound just gets better every time I play it.

On top of that, I’ve been using recording with it daily. The Line Out is incredible. The sound I get out of it is so natural and so very close to a miked cabinet that I haven’t bothered to set up any of my tube amps. Of course, that could change depending on the song I’m recording because you just can’t duplicate something like a Plexi.

But make no bones about it, though it is said that the speaker was tuned to approximate an old Greenback through a vintage Marshall, this has more to do with feel and dynamics and less about sound. As I’ve said before, though the Katana is technically a modeling amp, using BOSS’ TubeLogic technology, it wasn’t voiced to sound like a Marshall or a Fender. It has a sound all its own.

Fit and Finish

Though only 45 lbs., this amp is built like a tank. The cabinet is MDF and though there have been comments circulating that it would’ve been better for it to be made of solid pine or birch, the semi-closed back makes it incredibly resonant and able to capture the low frequencies very well.

I absolutely love that the controls are on a front panel! It makes it so convenient to tweak during a gig, which I had to do last weekend at church. We have a really finicky PA system (what can I say, it’s old), and for some reason, my guitar was sounding horrible through the Line Out. But all I had to do was turn the Line Out Air Feel to “Blend” and all was right. I had the same setup as the previous week and it sounded killer. Everything on the board was also set up the same. That the Air Feel control was on the front panel made it super convenient; not to mention that I didn’t have to go into the software to make that change…

As far as controls are concerned, if you have any of the other amps in the line, you’ll immediately be familiar with this control layout. The big difference is the exposure of the cabinet resonance and line out air feel knobs. On the back, there are jacks for a GA-FC (which I highly recommend getting), extension speakers (16 ohms), headphone/record out, MIDI in, expression pedal, an effects loop jacks. In other words, pretty much everything that you need.

As far as the GA-FC foot controller is concerned, that’s a must-have as it allows you to quickly switch channels but also turn effects on and off on the fly (which I find extremely useful). In addition, you can hook up an expression pedal directly to the GA-FC so you don’t need to run two long cables from the amp to use the foot controller and an expression pedal. The GA-FC also has an extra jack for a volume pedal.

How It Sounds

One striking difference between the Artist and the 50 is the Acoustic setting on the amp. My old 50 sounded okay with an Acoustic guitar, but the Artist has a rich, deep tone that rivals my old SWR California Blonde which I have always felt was the pinnacle of acoustic guitar amplification. The semi-closed back really helps in capturing and projecting the rich lows of an acoustic guitar. In fact, the lows are so good, that I have to roll them off a little on the EQ.

To date, I still haven’t miked the amp. For recording, the Line Out produces such a nice, natural sound that I haven’t seen a need to mic it. This is evidenced by the dynamics in the wave-form it produces. It is VERY dynamic, much like the output I’d get from miking the amp.

I’ve already posted these clips, but here’s a playlist I created:

The first three clips are of my acoustic guitar through the Line Out. The EQ was all neutral. With the last two songs, I wanted to see how the Line Out performed within the context of a song. Someone in a forum kind of bagged on me posting a song and should have only posted raw clips. But I argued that while raw sound clips are useful to a point, you really see how something performs when it’s done with a song. And in that regard, the Katana Artist’s Line Out is AWESOME!

Ease of Use

Like the rest of the Katana line, this amp is easy to set up. Even the Tone Studio software is pretty straight-forward to use. Some people might argue that there are lots of things to tweak and that, by virtue, makes it much more complicated. But I want to make absolutely clear that I believe the amp’s natural sound is great by its own merit. A lot of the tweaks and patches I’ve seen people make try to make the amp sound like another amp. But for me, I love the way the amp sounds on its own. So for me, it’s simply a matter of dialing in the gain settings and EQ. Since I make limited use of the onboard effects, I don’t do much tweaking, so set up – at least for me – is super-easy.

How It Plays

As I mentioned in my original Katana 50 review, this is what endeared me to the Katana in the first place. It was the first amp that gave me tube-like response and dynamics. But more than that, it didn’t feel as if the response and dynamics were simulated or artificial. In fact, it felt completely organic and natural, just as I would have expected with a tube amp. The Katana Artist inherits this but with the larger cabinet and much much better speaker, that responsiveness is coupled to great sound.

Is the Katana Price-Competitive?

One of the arguments people have made about the Artist is that its price starts getting into the territory of some low wattage amps. But the one thing you have to keep in mind is that while this is true, a tube amp at that price will not have anywhere near the features that come with the Katana by default. Plus, let’s face it, amps at that price are going to be fairly low wattage. They will not have the big sound that you can get out of the Katana. Furthermore, tube amps at this price point will most likely be heads. You have to spend more to get a cabinet.

So is the Katana price-competitive? To me at least, the value it brings for the price makes it a totally viable option.

Should You Upgrade?

This really is elephant in the room with respect to the Artist, so as opposed to giving you a pat answer, I’m going to take a bit of time with this…

To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have considered the Artist had I not given my Katana 50 to my youngest son. I was using the amp mainly for gigging, and I was perfectly happy with it. I certainly didn’t need a 100 Watt amp, especially considering the venues that I normally play. The Katana 50 was plenty loud; besides, when I needed sound reinforcement, it was simply a matter of miking the amp.

But one shortcoming I saw with the 50 was that I didn’t like to use it for recording. I was not at all a fan of the headphone/record out. From that perspective, I was just fine recording one of my tube amps and using an IR and using the 50 as a pure gigging amp. But all that changed with the Artist. The Line Out output quality is killer, and as I spend a bulk of my playing in my home studio, the Artist is quickly becoming my go-to for my basic guitar part foundation, if not more. So for me at least, upgrading made a ton of sense.

But for those of you who are a bit conflicted about upgrading, it really depends on how useful it would be for you. For me, I’ve discovered a TON of versatility in it due to the Line Out. But then again, I’m actively gigging and recording, so it is invaluable in those respects.

But to be honest, take away the Line Out, and the only glaring thing that is better with the Artist is the sound quality which is much richer than both the 50 and the 100. It’s obvious at all volume levels. That bigger cabinet definitely makes a difference. And for some, while the obvious difference in sound quality could be a deciding factor, for me – and I know it sounds crazy given how much I love this amp – it wouldn’t have been enough for me to upgrade. And to be completely honest, it wasn’t until I started using the Line Out in recordings that I truly discovered its real value for me.

So am I or am I not recommending the amp? Well… yes and no. I’m basing my assessment of the amp on its versatility in both stage and studio use. And as far as versatility is concerned, I can give a resounding yes. But I have to be transparent and say that if you’re just going to play the amp in your bedroom, or just want a straight-forward gigging amp, stick with what you have for now. It’s great, but it’s not enough of an upgrade.

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…albeit not cheap.

For those of you who are familiar with attenuators, you know they solve a real problem with cranking a tube amp to get the power tubes to fully saturate: The volume that even a low wattage amp produces when it’s cranked is LOUD, and an attenuator helps to alleviate that by taking the amp’s output and reducing the power that ultimately gets to your speakers. I can tell you from personal experience, being able to record my cranked amp at conversation levels has saved my ears and saved me from the wrath of my family getting pissed that my amp’s too loud.

But the drawback of reducing the output power to levels that low is that you take the speaker out of the equation. Most amps work best when their distorted signal works in concert with the speaker cone moving air as the speaker add its own character to the overall sound. For a recent recording I made, I had to wait until no one was home to record my overdriven guitar parts so I could take advantage of the speaker moving some serious air. My ears didn’t appreciate the abuse they got, but the result was so much better than close-miking an attenuated amp.

But the folks at BOSS have seemingly overcome that by providing a unit that not only attenuates a cranked amp but also provides models to mimic various cabinets via built-in IR and a whole rash of other features. I’ll list the highlights later. Watch this demo. It’s pretty cool:

Here are the features off the BOSS website:

  • First-of-its-kind tube amp command center, built with Waza expertise and the Tube Logic design approach
  • Advanced variable reactive load circuit with discrete analog components supports tube amps up to 150 watts
  • User-adjustable impedance tuning correctly matches the reactive load to your amp, retaining its natural tone, dynamic feel, and distortion characteristics
  • 10 recallable rig settings for storing favorite setups
  • Deep real-time performance control via GA-FC/FS-series footswitches and MIDI I/O
  • Built-in 100-watt Class AB power amplifier with discrete analog design and seamless volume control
  • Powerful DSP section with 32-bit AD/DA, 32-bit floating-point processing, and 96 kHz sampling rate
  • Customizable stereo effects with premium tone quality: compressor, delay, reverb, and four EQs
  • Twenty-two mic’d cabinet emulations with five selectable close-mic types and three room-mic options, plus four slots for loading user speaker IRs
  • External effects loop with selectable series/parallel operation and control jack for switching amp channels
  • Parallel speaker outputs for connecting up to two cabs for gigging
  • Balanced XLR line outputs (mono and L/R stereo) for connecting to FOH console, stage monitors, and recording devices
  • Headphones output for quiet practice with cranked-up amp tones
  • Dedicated editor software (Mac/Windows)
  • USB for direct audio recording and editor communication

At $1299, it is not at all an inexpensive solution. However, that said, neither are the top attenuators that cost $500+. Considering the features this packs though, I’m surprised by the price point.

For me, this is something that I would seriously consider, especially for playing any of my tube amps on stage. I could attenuate the volume locally and use my speaker for local monitoring, then simultaneously send the signal via XLR into the board, eliminating a mic altogether and letting the sound guy do the mix.

Also, with the different IR models available, I could silently record my amp.

Looks like I’ll need to start saving my pennies…

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IMG_20181001_112403Or… this could be called Confessions of a Tube Amp Snob…

For the past decade or so, I’ve been a complete devotee of the tube amp. I’ve literally got 10 of them, and believe it or not, I still use most of them. In my mind, there has really been nothing like the feel and dynamics of a tube amp. And solid state amps? No way could that feel be duplicated.

Ten years ago, that might have been true – though admittedly, it was probably also drinking quite a bit of Koolaid – now though, that line between what separates tube amps and solid state amps is so narrow as to be almost imperceptible. WTF? Part of me is beside myself scratching my head and asking, “How could this be?”

Technology, of course, progresses. And luckily, amp manufacturers – specifically, solid state amp manufacturers – have listened to their customers over the years to create amps that have similar dynamics to valve amps.

I just bought a BOSS Katana 50 and I can describe it in two words: IT ROCKS! I can’t even begin to tell you how good it is. It not only sounds great with the deep, 3-dimensional sound I’ve come to love about tube amps, but the feel and dynamics of the amp are right on par with my tube amps. And I only paid $219.99 for the freakin’ thing!

Most solid state amps of old were fairly flat sounding and uninspiring hunks of junk (though I need to leave the Roland JC series out of that). But today? It’s a completely different story. Within the first few notes of playing with the Katana in the shop, I knew I was playing something special. I was expecting kind of a “toy” sound out of it. But what issued from the amp was simply magic. #blownaway

Even when I played the amp completely dry, the deep quality of the sound still remained. It didn’t become flat and lifeless. The sound still resonated and I was playing in a carpeted room with a low f-in’ ceiling! Look, I’ve been around gear for years and have literally reviewed thousands of guitars, amps, effects, and accessories in all sorts of different combinations. I’m not easily blown away because frankly, I’ve become quite jaded. But this amp completely changes my mind about solid state amps being inferior in both sound and dynamics compared to tube amps.

Am I going to scrap my tube amps? Absolutely not. Each amp has a particular voice that I may need when I record. So they will still be set up and still be used. I’ll even still gig with them.

But as far as voicing is concerned, what I like about the Katana is that at least to me, it seems that it isn’t an amp that was designed to emulate a tube amp platform like a Marshall or Fender. It has a sound all its own. What’s most important to me is that it possesses the tonal and dynamic characteristics I’ve come to expect out of a “good” amp. And I will just say it: This amp isn’t just “good enough;” it’s not a compromise. It’s just plain good.

Over the years, I’ve mellowed my perspective about gear. In my mind, if it sounds good and feels good, it is good, and the Katana fits that perfectly.

Here’s a Chappers demo of the amp:

I will be gigging with the amp in the coming week, and will follow this up with a full review!

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Adventures in Looping

boss-rc-2I’ve had my BOSS RC-2 Loop Station for almost three years now, and it has only been in the last month or so that I’ve actually put it to use on a regular basis. Frankly, I’m not too sure why I hadn’t used it. But since I’ve started using it, I’ve been having a blast!

I think what inspired me to start using it was the release of the TC Electronic Ditto Looper. I was very impressed by its simplicity, and then it occurred to me that the RC-2 was actually very simple to use if memory served. So I set up the RC-2 with my VHT Special 6, and started to play around with it for a few days.

To be honest, when I first started using it in those practice sessions, I was a little overwhelmed and intimidated, even with such a simple looper! But after awhile, I started to get the hang of it, and worked up the confidence to use it at my solo gig.

I now use it quite a bit. Most of the time, I use it for specific songs like Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” or Clapton’s “Wondeful Tonight.” But lately, I’ve had some riffs pop into my head during my gig, and I’ll tap out a rhythm, lay down the rhythm guitar, then just jam over it. It has added a lot of life into my gig; mind you, I’m into my 13th year playing this weekly gig, so any way I can add a new dimension to it breaks up the monotony.

Frankly, I don’t know if I’ll get another, more sophisticated looper. I’ve seen some amazing things people do with them, but for me, simple is good for right now.

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I was feeling a bit nostalgic yesterday and put my BOSS CE-2 on my board. Though I’ll never get rid of the pedal because of its value – both vintage and personal – I have to admit that I hadn’t played the pedal in at least year; maybe more, as I had moved on to other choruses such as the TC Electronic Corona Chorus and the Homebrew THC. But after playing it at my solo gig yesterday, I think it’ll definitely stay on my mini board.

When I mentioned feeling nostalgic earlier, the CE-2 was my first chorus pedal. Actually, it was the first pedal I purchased back in the early 80’s. I had an original black label model circa 1981 or so (been awhile). I had purchased it along with an in-hole pickup for my Yamaha FG-335 and a Roland 15 Watt solid state amp, and actually put a lot of mileage on that pedal but finally traded it for another cheapo. For years, I could never recapture that tone, so I just went without it. But I never forgot the tone.

Back in 2010, I purchased a green label, MIJ model from the mid-80’s, and played it for several months until I came across my other two chorus pedals that I mentioned above. Unfortunately, it didn’t really work well with my Plexi-style amps, so I just took it off my board. It sat collecting dust until I played it yesterday.

It hit me like a ton of bricks yesterday that what made me fall in love with the sound was how it sounded with an acoustic guitar. The chorus is voiced a bit bright, so the deep voice of an acoustic balances out the potentially harsh tones. I was very much in tonal heaven yesterday as that pedal just added so much to my acoustic tone. I could set it to thick and liquid, to very subtle and it just sounded fantastic.

Here are a few clips I recorded this morning. I’m playing my Gretch Electromatic and outputting through my VHT Special 6. The amp is miked with a Sennheiser e609 positioned off-axis, at the edge of the speaker cone to pick up the lows. The first two clips are short comparison clips, while the third is finger-picked chord progression.

Very Subtle (Rate @ Noon, Depth @ 9)

Adding a Bit More Chime (Rate @ Noon, Depth @ 10:30-11am)

Liquid, but not over the top (Rate @ Noon, Depth @ 2pm)

No EQ was used on the recording. What you heard was a straight recording of the amp’s output. I did level balance a bit to bring up the softer, finger-picked tracks, but did no EQ shaping.

The thing about the CE-2 tone is that it is not a thick chorus tone, and it is not smooth. There is a definite emphasis on the mids and high-mids with the CE-2, which is probably why it didn’t sound very good with my Plexi-style amps, plus the fact that I was using Alnico speakers which tended to be bright. So the added brightness was just not too pleasing at the time. Mind you, that was for my live sound. I could always get a good recorded sound by simply positioning my mic in the right place.

So there it is. I’m glad I’ve found a great use for my CE-2. Not sure what I’m going to do with the THC. It too is a great chorus… I’ll probably keep it for awhile or put it up on CraigsList…

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I’ve personally had a mostly tepid response to BOSS’s multi-effects units. A buddy of mine has an ME-50, and he rarely uses it – though he has other interests besides guitar. But from what I’ve heard from it, it just never inspired me. But the ME-70 seems a bit more promising; the operative word here being “promising.” This new version packs 40 effects of what BOSS claims to be it’s “hottest” pedals. It doesn’t make me all hot and bothered, but it does pique my interest enough to go down to my local Guitar Center and try it out. It’s not a bad price of at $299, and for the solo gigs I play, having a nice, compact effects rig with some built-in amp models is definitely something to consider. But that said, the only REALLY promising multi-effects unit I’ve come across is the TC Electronic Nova System. But it’s also twice the price. Only a test will prove it out. In the meantime, check out the video from BOSS:

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The problem with evalutating pedals online is that you can’t really audition them very easily – especially in combination with other pedals. But BOSS has gotten us one step closer with the new BOSS VPB-2 or Virtual Pedal Board. It’s very cool in concept. You go to the VPB site, select a style of music and a combination of pedals appears on the page. A loop in the style you’ve chosen begins playing, and you can then activate/and de-activate pedals to see how they change the recorded signal just by clicking on them. You can also swap some of the pedals out for the current style.

Check it out here: BOSS Virtual Pedal Board 2

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