Which sword is in charge? The Boss Katana. O ho ho. That’s my quota of droll wit per article fulfilled.
Last week saw the first in-store arrivals from Roland’s 909 Day, a global announcement event back in September which unleashed upon us a slew of new gadgets. We’ve seen everything from re-imaginings of fan favourite synthesisers from the ’80s to the new Roland TD-50 usurping the [still supremely excellent] TD-30 as the flagship V-Drums product, the System 8 emerging as the evil twin of the JD-XA, and plenty of others. It’s very Game of Thrones. The house of Roland has been busy, and the hype with customers in store is tangible.
Boss (Roland’s guitar-focused brand) got a couple of products as well, namely the new GT-1 multi-effects unit and the Katana Amp range, but they didn’t have as much time in the spotlight. Other announcements were more anticipated, granted, but it’s still a shame. The arrival of these new Katana amplifiers, particularly under the Boss name, is indicative of better things to come from the smaller Roland family. Arguably, these are most exciting products to come from 909 Day altogether, even if the new synths have more buttons.
Before swathes of furious TR-909 fans call me out for talking nonsense, let me explain.
Boss is a company entrenched in legacy. Some of their most popular pedals (such as the DS-1 Distortion, CS-3 Compressor Sustainer, and NS-2 Noise Suppressor) have a history dating back to the 1980s, and the physical design of the pedals themselves hasn’t changed since the 1970s. Recent attempts to reinterpret older effects, like the DS-1X Distortion, have failed to become pedalboard staples the same way that the aforementioned classics are. It’s actually become problematic that the originals still perform their roles so admirably in their advanced years: they’ve inadvertently created a situation where anything new they bring out is being measured against a 40 year old behemoth of a yard stick, similar to new sitcoms and M*A*S*H.
In the last eighteen months or so, however, they’ve been aiming for the sweet spot between nostalgia and modern day usability and absolutely nailing it. Take the Boss CE-2W Chorus Ensemble pedal for example: it’s nearly identical to the original CE-2 from the 1980s, but is now made by hand and comes bundled with the much hallowed CE-1 Chorus/Vibrato settings and stereo outputs, all completely unobtrusive to the original character of the pedal. Classic sound with modern features. Ding ding ding.
This brings us to the Katana Amps themselves. This new range use the tried and true Roland COS-M modelling technology with the presets found in the high end Waza amp, in-built Boss pedal effects we all recognise such as the Blues Driver and Analog Delay, but with new tone editing via the Tone Studio software. They also come in four different specifications – 30W head/combo hybrid, 50W, 100W 1×12″ and 100W 2×12″. Again, classic sound with modern features. Ding ding ding.
Now, keep in mind that there has never been a dedicated Boss amp until the Katana series (with the exception of the super high-end Waza Craft amp from earlier this year) so a Boss amp is a big deal. All the previous amps have flown under the Roland flag, a carryover from decades past when titans like the Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus amp and the Roland RE-201 Space Echo were released before Boss even existed. It suggests an investment, an intention to flesh out Boss as a fully-realised guitar brand.
Never mind the fact that they sound good. Did I not mention? We didn’t know what to expect when the Katana 50 and 100 turned up in store, but it took barely a few minutes to realise that they’re essentially a guitarist’s entire rig in one. The preset amp characters are all distinct and tweakable, and the wealth of effects are good approximations of their compact cousins (there’s even a tape echo which doesn’t exist as a single compact…potential future release?). Modelling amps in that price range aren’t rare, but a gig-able 100 watt all-in-one modelling combo for £250 is pretty spectacular. If you’re a beginner then these give you a comprehensive set up with a great stepping stone into understanding guitar effects and signal chains. Gigging musicians might even use one to save on car space for low-key gigs or those living room practices when the drummer doesn’t turn up.
Please note: I’m not Dave Gardner, our Roland product specialist. I’m an impartial party, although I do spend a considerable amount of time hassling Dave to source me a coveted Boss digital watch, I’ll give you that. More importantly, I’m a guitar player and pedal enthusiast, and you can’t be either for very long without an opinion on Boss. I’ve enjoyed their pedals long before I ever joined the Red Dog ensemble – they were my first ever effects pedals, like so many others, and they’re probably one of the few brands who have never failed me on stage or in the studio. My trusty OC-3 Super Octave is about ten years old, still working the same way it did the day it came out of the box.
Having released some interesting products recently, I’m excited to see where Boss are going with this new range as well as others. There’s an air of potential and fresh perspective to all of this and it’s hard not to be intrigued when a stalwart of the musical instrument industry reacts to new trends and technology this well.
And you’re telling me you’re excited about a drum machine?
Sick of reading the word Boss? Want to drag my argument across hot coals? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below or on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Alternatively, drop into our Edinburgh store to try the Katanas yourself! I’ll be there with my unnecessarily bare wrist, waiting for the clasp of a miniature SD-1 Overdrive watch face…