The Boss Katana amps. Are they great? Yes.

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 Katana Amps

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.

Boss Katana Head

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.

Boss Katana Controls

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…

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Gregor Graham

Guitar & bass specialist at Red Dog Music
Gregor joined the Red Dog Music team in 2015 as Edinburgh's resident acoustic guitar specialist. He's also a total electric guitar buff, plus bass ace. Plus he's a totally bad-ass drummer. Also he's a great singer. Given that track record, he's also probably a virtuoso flugelhornist and Balinese gamalaner.

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9 Responses to “The Boss Katana amps. Are they great? Yes.”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Olly says:

    Hi – I was in your store yesterday trying the Katana amps and they do sound great. One thing I’d like to ask though please is this; using the Tone Bank software you can store 100’s of patches – and using the GA-FC footswitch unit you can do a number of different things, including selecting any one of 5 presets (Ch 1-4 and then the Panel settings) BUT – I can’t see any mention of being able to change banks with the footswitch – which seems very odd to me for an amp that has 100’s of different patches and is supposed to be optimised for live use. Are you able to store and recall banks using the footswitch to increase the number of patches available or are you limited to just those 5 channels unless you are plugged in to your computer?

  2. Red Dog Music says:

    Hi Olly, apologies for delay in getting back to you. Hopefully I can clear this up for you. The Katana 100 allows you to store 15 patches on board. While you have access to 100s of presets and 55 separate effects via the software, you can only store 15 on board the amp. The GA-FC allows you to switch through your stored effects patches. The function button on the left acts as a bank select and the numeric buttons allow you to choose the individual presets. I hope that this helps. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions whatsoever.

    • Stephen Lewis says:

      Hi, I have a similar question. With the tanner 100 W head are you able to switch patches and channels using a midi foot switch?

  3. tony says:

    Hi. Just bought the Katana 100/212. To allow me to store and recall a lot of patches for live use.Im thinking of buying a Boss ME-80 that has 36 user patches. Would this be compatable with the Katana without colouring the sound. Could you suggest the best way to link it up eg;Loop…Aux in….Main input on Clean setting or Acoustic for the best quality sound. Im spoiled really because i also have a Roland JC 40 which is perfect but not loud enough,and lacks a little bottom end due to the 2×10 inch speakers and only 40watts. Im hoping the Katana+the ME-80 would solve my problem. Many thanks in advance. Tony.

  4. Oly says:

    Hi Tony – further to Red Dog’s reply on 7th feb, we later agreed in a phone conversation that you can’t actually store 15 patches, but just 5 – the 4 Channels and the Panel setting to make the 5th patch. To answer your question, surely the point of the Katana is that you are wanting to use the (very good) tones and effects the amp generates rather than an external amp modeller / FX unit – which is one reason I can’t see why they’ve only allowed you to recall 5 different patches…

  5. Stevew says:

    I’ve got the 100w combo. It does indeed sound great. However, even with the foot switch it is fairly limited as to what you can do with it. Best think of it as a unit that can store just a few models, effects etc. – it’s good for bread and butter sounds that a gigging musician would actually use. However, once you’ve set it up using the software (which is a bit old school with USB rather than a phone app for example) there is little to tell you on the amp what you’ve actually got. It’s got lots of clever features under the hood, it sounds great and is well built but you can’t actually do all the things you might expect on a modelling amp.

  6. Grant says:

    The thing is, it’s not a modelling amp and isn’t meant to be. What it does is do five different amp sounds/styles without attempting to copy any particular amps. By all accounts it sounds really good, is well built, loud, and has very good Boss effects built in, or accessible using software.
    As someone who own’s two Mustang III v2 amps, the Katana 100 appeals to be – because of it’s simplicity. I’ve been playing guitar for a little over fifty years, and I reckon having 5 saved options is excellent. I don’t play many genre’s but if you do, there are always amps or floor modellers that will do that. I think Boss are on the right track with these amps. Roland made a good start with the Blues Cube models. They are also excellent amps. I feel GAS coming on again . . .

  7. Lee Perry says:

    The main issue with these amps is the limited number of effects per patch. If like me you always have some reverb on then you only have two other effects that you can switch on / off per patch.

    I think that the boss tone studio should allow at least three individual effects plus reverb!

    Having tap tempo on the foot controller is less important to me than an extra effect.

    This limitation means my Katana 100 combo stays at home when I wanted to use it for rehearsal

  8. paul cameron says:

    If you use the footswitxh you can use 8 individual patches …you can also chain the delay to the reverb in to be central allowing you to have 4 effects per patch

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