Boss Katana 100 Combo Review

I purchased this great amp in December 2016, there are many reviews on YouTube and by the shops.  My reason was to have a reliable amp to go jamming at gigs that was easy to carry and did not weigh very much without taking a hoard of pedals.

The Katana is well made and very solid with corner protectors, sturdy cabinet.

It has 55 programmable stomp boxes to select from using the Boss Tone Central Katana amp.  You can set up  4 channels of presets plus a further channel being the panel knobs themselves which you can save.  With a GA-FC foot controller you can :

  • Switch instantly between four channels and two routes of loops, reverbs, boost settings, etc.
  • Simultaneously connect two expression pedals* for realtime control of volume and drive
  • Simultaneously control stacked amps via Link In/Out port

I use it on half a watt in the condo and can get great sounds at  80db same volume as TV. On clean setting I find it clear and more tuneful than my valve amps Fender and Laney.  I find the dynamics and response make you want to play and some solid state amps are not like that.  I use my Fender JB stratocaster most of the time as it is incredibly pleasing at low volumes.  I use blues stomp delay and reverb settings and find them responsive and dynamic I can turn the strategy to about 6 and then up to get more gain tones especially for soloing.  It also has crunch, lead and brown settings for higher gain sounds and with my Les paul can get all those great rhythm tones.

For recording the Katana USB works easily into Logic Pro X very easy to add in and record directly.  No need for audio interface and there is no latency problems.

I have also used the send receive for my plethora of modulation/delay pedals working extremely well and also my front end comp, overdrive/distortion pedals.  One nice feature is you can easily adjust the noise gate to cut out any hum and hiss created by the pedals.  I would say that the amp as well as the valve amps and that is a major plus.

For me this amp would be great for the wet side of a dual amp set up as it is so clean like the JC120 at a fraction of the price and then use the valve amp for the high gain stuff.

Only thing that is missing is to add external speakers.  The speaker connections however, are easy to get to, so wiring in a parallel speaker add on speaker should not be difficult.

I would recommend this amp for gigging as at 5o watts it is plenty loud enough for small gigs at 100 watts a medium sized hall.

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Profilers and Modellers

I have been doing a lot of research on Kemper, Axe Fx, Line6 Helix in terms of what amplifier and speakers do Kemper, Fractal Audio and Line6 recommend you should use.

Full Range Flat Response FRFR, speakers and amplifiers are recommended.  Why because to reproduce the amp and cabinet model / profile you need the full range.  If you use a guitar amp / speaker it will be coloured by the valves and cones of those, plus a normal guitar amp goes to about 5k and starts higher hence cannot take on a bass guitar well.

So studio monitors are fine through your DAW where you will get the actual sounds the vendors are wanting you to here for practicing and recording.

This means any guitar amp or speaker you have you will not use with these modellers / profilers.

So what is recommended for on stage or in live situations:

Atomic CLR, Mission Engineering Gemini 1 and 2, Matrix, Yamaha DXR, JBL EON, Friedman ASM12 etc

These are all monitors, some wedges and

Others to be considered Laney IRTX

Kemper and Fractal Audio initialling went after the DAW market and have added products for live use, but added is the word.  Kemper really have added a pedal and an amp, but are reliant on 3rd party passive speakers!  FA have done nothing this area in terms of amp or speakers.

And then there is Line6 who are going full bore into the amplifiers for this to replace your standard amp.  Amplifi and the Firehawk 1500.  And of course these can be used as a full acoustic amp as much as pickup guitar.  The Firehawk 1500 is a tremendous replacement for your traditional valve areas, highly controllable.  Plus you can use the Helix through the Firehawk 1500 for wet dry models in the Helix.  Will they actually bring out a Helix 1500?  The other thing is these amps are all bluetooth controllable from an iPad or PC.  Very user friendly you can select amps, cabinets, pedals.

A bungle of questions arise:

Do these actually allow dynamics when you turn the guitar volume down, picking strength, feedback, thump, that awesome moving air of bigger speaker cabs?

Can you run your pedal board through these and how will they react?

Well the Kemper does, but I have not heard that questions answered for the others as yet.  My expectation is they will.  FA is definitely less user friendly and you need to use the PC interface for each of use, their pedals are not so easy to use and are work in progress.  Line6 is definitely the most easiest.

Positive Grid Bias have produced an amp no speaker and just recommend a standard 8/16ohm cab for its 600w, which I think is not helpful.  However, FRFR is what is designed for so if you want true model reproduction you will need one of third parties above.

Interesting Positive Grid are bringing out a modelling overdrive/distortion pedal so you can load up your favourite pedals into it and use with a standard valve set up.  A new platform and very interesting.

So where next.  Well fro smaller live full models you need the products like Line6 Firehawk 1500.  The cost is a la the same as a mid range valve combo £850 as this is written.  Kemper with amp is £1720 with passive speaker £500 to £600 plus £450 for the controller.  Fractal Audio AX8 is £1100.  So Line6 is the cheapest modeller with a complete amp set up.  It also runs a complete wet dry and stereo capability saves having two or in my case 3 amps!

So you can take your studio sounds to the stage in stereo, not have a huge variation based on your settings of your valve and pedal set up.

I am now thinking of downsizing everything to the Line6 Firehawk 1500 and controller, but I am going to wait a year to see if Helix model comes out or whether the other vendors will also compete.  Remember Yamaha is behind Line6 now and I see that as a way to increase R&D.  When I went to look more closely the 1500 weighs 63lbs much more than my valve set up and pedals, so it got crossed off the list.

Since getting to the last paragraph I have discovered Blackstar ID Core Stereo, Boss Katana and Waza, Line6 Spider V all producing FRFR speakers and solid state modelling amps to different degrees at a mid range price for true 100watts.  So not only are the modelling only people providing modellers, but the amp manufacturers too!

http://www.paulhindmarshmusic.com

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P90 pickups Internet Research

I am interested in buying a Gibson LP Special 100 Double Cut 2015.  This guitar has P90 SR and ST pickups the specs are at http://www.gibson.com/Products/Electric-Guitars/2015/USA/Les-Paul-Special-Double-Cutaway.aspx  just scroll down to see the spec of pickups.

I researched P90s on the internet and YouTube and came across Doug and Pats review at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3_U_gRCuL8

They reviewed Gibson LP P90 stock pickups, Lollar, Tyson Tone labs, RC and Sandford Magnetics.  The latter three are all boutique P90s.  I am looking for a great blues sound based on P90s as I have other pickup combos covered.  I did not consider Lollar as I did not like the sound from several YouTube viewings and SoundCloud listenings.

I came across Tyson Tone Labs on the Gibson LP thread and also in Doug and Pats review.  They do 57s, 53s, 50s P90s so very vintage style pickups.  Their customer service is also very good and helpful.  I also contacted RC who recommended Plus in the bridge and Standard in the neck, emailed back within a couple of hours.  Nate Sanford was extremely helpful recommending 9077 P90s and emailed back in less than an hour from Canada.  The examples on the Doug and Pat show were 9022.  All ship to Thailand with USPS.

There are other p90s by Dimarzio, Seymour Duncan, but they usually go via dealers.

The 3 shops here also do custom P90s as well as hum buckers so worth a look for the future.

 

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Upgrading Speakers Be Confident

I have just upgraded my Laney IRT112 cabinet which had a HH 1280 in it.  Tools you need are number 8 spanner and a philips screw driver and gentle fingers.

Most upgrades are simple.  I took the back off which was 10 screws and then carefully rested the back on the cabinet as the wire has two slide in connections to the speaker which you ease of carefully.  They are not solded to the speaker they are N shaped connectors. Once I had done that I could move the wire and the back away.  The existing speaker is held in place by 4 nuts on through bolts from the front.  They came off easily and then you can lift off the speaker carefully.  As long as you upgrading the speaker with the exact same size, in my case 12 inch Celestion G12H 70th Anniversary.  When the speaker comes you have to attach the foam strips which are cut out to go on the edge of the cone of the speaker.  They are self sticking just peel back the self adhesive sticky.  Once you have dont that you carefully lower the speaker onto the 4 bolts with the two connectors at the top and in the same position as the speaker you removed.  You then put the washers and nuts on one by one carefully and tighten carefully, not too tight but so you havent squished the foam.  Now get the back slide the connectors in as they were on the previous speaker that is red on the left and black on the right and make sure wire isnt flapping too much by attaching either to the speaker with tape or to side of the cabinet.  Then carefully affix the back initially with 4 screws.  Then go test the speaker and if it is all ok and working then put the other six screws in, job done.

The whole thing took 15min to take the speaker out, 5 min to prepare the new speaker, 10 min to put the speaker in and about 5 min to test and finish off the remaining screws.

Last time, I paid to have this done and waited a week to get in the queue for other jobs.  Cost me about £20 in Thailand which is not much, but now I thought I would do it myself.

So Be Confident its easy to do!

 

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Guitar pedals I see as a hobby in itself

I have quite a selection of pedals.  To get a good understanding of pedals, I use “That Pedal Show” on YouTube where Mick and Dan do an excellent job of describing, set up, amp set, order of pedals and then those classic pedals for overdrive, distortion, modulation, reverb and delay.

Pedals is almost a hobby in itself as you can get a lot of interesting sounds and tones with combos of pedals.  I have a Boss ME80 which is a digital set of all pedals in one.  It is great, but searching for that tone I find individual pedals more interesting.  Now FA AX8 and Line6 Helix are out and do modelling it is the difference between live and recording which make you think, hmm maybe pedals is now not necessary.  Space wise these are more ergonomic and both have some sounds you would need a huge array of pedals to find that tone you want.

I have tried out various overdrive and distortion pedals based on artist and shop recommendation.  They include a Klon Centaur clone J Rockett Archer, plexi drive, dumble drive for amp simulation and Fulltone OCD.  The rest include Wampler Dual Fusion from Tom Quayle, Big Muff Nano and Boss DS-1X used by Alex Hutchings.  None of these I like and all will go on ebay.  I am on the wait list for Analogman King of Tone, am thinking about the BK Butler Tube Driver, Ibanez mini tube screamer and Xotic EP booster as additions. I may replace the J Rockett Archer with a Wampler Tumnus which gets rave reviews from everyone.  For delay and modulation I have the TC Electronics mini series HOF, Flashback, Vortex and Corona.  I have an old original MXR Phase 90.  I like the idea of the toneprint with TC Electronics to change the complete sound in a pedal from your iPhone, but I hardly use it. For delay I have the Strymon Timeline and a Wampler Tape Echo. The Wampler will go on ebay as it is kinda redundant now.  The Timeline does everything it can do and much more and has a midi library you can use to upload and download patches from the internet.  I control the Timeline and TC pedals from an iPad.

Now I am spending more time recording using Logic Pro X which has a rich selection of soft sound for amps, speakers, I believe having the right models for amp, speaker and then modution and delay.  You can either choose the set ups in Logic Pro X which includes classic pedals or record outboard.

I am waiting to get the Marshall Code as I am told the Soft tube models are very representative of all the Marshall, Fender and Vox amps and speakers. A solid state modelling amp, which just may give the sound of some of the tube chaps especially for recording.  The product is relatively cheap compared to buying the models as well.  Once I have this I should have the complete recording needs I want.  It also comes with a stock of classic stomp pedal models.  It is also using bluetooth controllable from iPhone or iPad.  They all supply a footswitch as an optional extra.

I shall be interested to see how good a sound the Code can obtain.  If it is as good as some of the YouTube previews it may replace a lot of what I currently have and have an ebay field day.

For recording right now I use the Laney IRT Studio with its speaker simulation and a small array of pedals.  I switch all the internal Logic Pro X FX, amps, speakers etc off.  The IRT studio has a great natural overdrive in its Rhythm and Lead channels, I use the Fulltone OCD as well as it can be gentler when recording, but after that maybe some delay from Wampler Tape Echo or Strymon Timeline.  I intend to switch to the Marshall code which has a usb direct interface with all those models.

In my blog on Modelling this is another adventure, where you look more at IR and software for the modelling products than new pedals, but it is similar.

I get owe these preamp modellers are too expensive.  My pedal board currently is about the same price as a Kemper or Axe Fx XL, so the Line 6 Helix and FA AX8 two thirds the price of my current pedals.  Plus you can add new models to both at a cheaper increment than adding a pedal.  However, if you want those classic Analogman, Klon, Tubedrive tones, I suspect you will not get them from the modellers.

Too often today guitars and modern amps are too precise and have no character.  I played the new Fender Elites and found them dead.

Recently, I played a Gibson LP double cutaway with P90 through a classic tube amp no pedals and it was superb.  Changing picks made a whole lot of difference too, so just different picks for sound is great!  All the above tone search unnecessary.  My JB strat. is also such you do not need anything but the amp.  My other guitars are all too precise all though excellent they lack that feedback to your fingers.

I am hoping the Marshall Code will remove the need for anything else for the far distant future both for recording and live performance.

 

 

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Tone, sound and amp modelers

I have been reviewing Kemper, Fractal Audio, Positive Grid, Line6 and Boss guitar modelers for having the greatest access to tone created by profiles and impulse responses and then loaded into each of the manufacturers modelers.

Before we get into the different brands the most advanced are using 2 DSP chips and the older models using COSM processing of existing sounds.  Having developed DSP chips in my life, a DSP chip is based on speed and accuracy which reviewing all the current manufacturers are much of a muchness.  So the tone and sound is going to be as good for each of the manufacturers. FA, Line6 and Postive Grid use DSP chips. DSP chip and the chips used in each of the boxes is much of a muchness and you will get an exact sound of the impulse as loaded.  So Ownhammer or Two Notes Audio will sound exactly the same in each of the manufacturers as it will in all DAWs.  So it is like saying Logic Pro X sounds different to Presonus Studio 3 to Ableton, in fact they are exactly the same sound and tone for each.  Kemper has custom designed process and flash memory.  It is notably slow to load taking about 1 minute as opposed to 15secs by the others.  Kemper does not appear to use bought in DSP chips and approaches everything a little differently.

So what is the real difference between the modelers one asks and I would say the following:

  • Usability for the studio and gigging
  • Number of DSP chips
  • Each of profiling new impulses
  • Connection to computers and DAWs
  • Control of outboard amps
  • Price
  • Firmware upgrades
  • Support from the manufacturer.

Usability:

The Line 6 Helix is very intuitive and easy to use as is  the FA AX8 and FX8.  The Kemper and Boss are less so, but still give a high degree of usability.

The Line 6 right now scores higher in usability than anything else on the market.

The Kemper only as a librarian piece of software and scores last in Usability for this reason.  Even the cheaper Boss and ME80 have librarian functions.  The Helix and FA products have good control from the software.

Number of DSP chips

Kemper has an ARM processor and memory and does not appear to have a DSP as does FA, Positive Grid bias amp and Line 6 which offer 2 DSP chips. The BOSS with COSM processor has preloaded sounds and is less flexible than the others although has a lower price to go with it be it the current GT100 V2 or the ME80 which can allow different patches of already installed sounds.  Positive Grid use computers and software to do their work which again is a different approach.

Profiling

The Kemper was designed for profiling so if you are going to profile a lot of amps and cabs then this should be your choice although the Positive Grid Bias amp Match is also catching up.  Both FA and Line 6 do profiling and have a great usability for this too.

Kemper currently scores the highest for profiling usability.

Connection to Computers and DAWs

FA, Line6 have great connections Kemper has no direct interface and Positive Grid is software running on a Mac/iPad unless you have acquired the Bias amp which also has studio type interface.

FA is strongest here and why people like David Wallimann (who I like a lot) support this product as well as other producer guitarists.  It also I believe Pete Thorn who has the luxury of Kemper, FA and Helix.

Watch out as Positive Grid Bias amp at halve the price of Kemper and FA Axe FXII may soon be an interesting option.

Control and connectivity

Line6 Helix has the most control of outboard amps and studio connections and FX connections.  One artist I know uses the Line6 with a Kemper and a FA AXe II connected and his channels of his amp driving everything from the Helix.  That is awesome and demonstrates the flexibility of the connectivity of the Helix.  The FA Ax8 is weaker in this area as well as not having on board expression pedal

Price 

The FA AXE II and the Kemper are about the same price at $1980 and the Helix and FA AX8 are about the same at £1399.  Positive Grid Bias amp is $1100 and Boss GT100 and ME80 are the cheapest.

Firmware and Upgrades

FA and Kemper have regular upgrades.  Positive grid has most software releases and therefore has been the strongest in this area.  Helix are on a second firmware upgrade albeit the product is the newest.

Support from Manufacturer

FA are strongest in USA, Kemper built like a German Tank and Line6 Helix now owned by Yamaha probably has the biggest support network.  Positive Grid is great on software upgrades, but as the Bias amp is only being released in new batches at the moment one would have to say this comes in last, mainly as no experience as yet.

Conclusion

The issue is not tone or sound with DSP chip products which are currently superior for variety. The Kemper technology is different and needs a refresh to maintain power ratio with the DSP chips.  The Line6 Helix is the most flexible product for studio and gigging whereas the FA Axe FX II probably suits the studio as does the Kemper which was what they were orginally for. FA AX8 is great alternative to the Helix providing your connectivity is minimal and Postive Grid is still best for studio unless you are using the iPad with an amp.

Right now the Line6 Helix to me leads the pack as I would only need to take it and a guitar to gig where they had amps or PA.  Pete Thorn has Kemper, Axe FxII in his studio and is now building a pedal board where the Helix is his main controller.  He can load all the sounds from the others into it and take his studio on the road with his custom Suhr PT100 amp.  It will be interesting to see whether Positive Grid bring out a foot controller with the Bias amp that certainly would make for even more flexibility.

However, I invite you to stay with amps directly and find a small number to use for everything.

 

 

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Choosing a custom guitar

333To my guitar friends: The biggest mistake you can make when having a custom guitar is pickup size, once you make the wrong decision you limit your choice for the future. To be real it needs to be HHH or HH, because S limits you to what strats and teles have and if you want a warmer or jazz or metal sound, you dont have this capability you limit your choice. I went for HSS and now realise I can only really get a strat or tele sound because a rails single slot humbucker does not sound the same as a full size one. Also they make limited rails size equivalent humbuckers. All the main pickup manufacturers push the old crap more than the new for replacement from their Technical advice. Only new musicians and new pickups should be considered for a custom guitar, otherwise take the guitar you like and upgrade it or get an updated model. The guitar I liked is HSH Suhr Modern Satin and now I cannot emulate that due to my choice. So the best I can do is HSS Suhr and the Classic Pro which is a pity.

I currently have two HH guitars, one jazz one rock, 2 HSS guitars and 1 SSS, but I do not have a HHH or HSH guitar to cover the combinations.  1 HSS will be sold as it is signature model with the artists signature so will yield slightly more than I paid which was not a lot.  So to complete my mix I need a HHH or HSH.   So technically, you need two models HH, HHH to be able to cover all combinations for future proofing.  What you do not really need is HSS or SSS as you can achieve that by coil splitting or in more modern pickups selecting one side of the double poles.  So any musician or luthier who says different is not future proofing that guitar, he has put into a Stratocaster or Telecaster type sound only.  No manufacturer is building a single slot neck pickup other than Fender and their copies of the Stratocaster or Telecaster.  If you want that sound buy one of those they will be better.

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