Monday, June 26, 2017

Ugly Guitar Truth: BOSS Katana Mini

On the heels of the announcement of the new 500 series pedals from BOSS, BOSS has also put forward a new Katana amp. In addition to the 50 watt combo, 100 watt combo and 100 watts head, BOSS will add a mini, 7 watt version to the line up. The Katana series has been praised since it's introduced. The mini version looks to be a desk top version with a 4 inch speaker. Is this a solid solution to those that are want for space or in need of low key practice gear? Let's look at the facts...

It's Small
Less than 10 inches wide and under 3 pounds, this amp is aptly named. It is also priced at half of the next size in the line up. The amp is impressively small. Small amps are not know for known for having the best tone. However, this amp is housed in a specially designed ported cabinet with a custom designed 4 inch speaker. Other features that you wouldn't think to see is a three band EQ, three channels, and delay. The amp might be tiny, but the feature list is impressive for its size.

It Stands Out
I've previously written about the Vox Pathfinder 10 and how impressive it is for its size and price. I'm very interested in seeing how these two amp compare. Considering that the Vox has very limited features, the BOSS seems to have the very clear advantage. The amp modes make this tiny amp one of the most flexible compact amp in its price range. You'd have to triple the price to find an amp in its size and better feature set. Out of the gate the Mini make a strong case for anyone looking for an extremely portable amp.

It Has A Lot To Live Up To
The Katana line has been praised by many. Not only is it one of the best values on the market right now, but many have preferred the Katana over much pricier amps. While lacking some of the key features the Katana line have been noted for, you still get three amp modes. If these are related by more than just name, then the Katana Mini is offering a serious price at this price point. 

Conclusion
Many, are critical of these smaller amps and their ability to be more than a novelty. I have been very skeptical of any combo featuring a speaker under 10 inches. However, the 6.5 inch speaker in the pathfinder 10 was surprisingly able to produce quality tones. These amp wont be able to fill a large room, but these amps are built for quick, portable jamming. Barring a major flaw, these amps are poised to bring the Katana value and acclaim to the mini, battery-powered, super-portable amp market.

Check out the hands on review of the Katana: Here!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Ugly Guitar Truth: BOSS RV-500 Reverb

What many have considered a long awaited debut, BOSS has announced their first additions to the 500 series pedals. The RV-500 Reverb has been anticipated since the release of the original 500 pedal, the DD-500 Delay. While the DD-500 was a welcome update to the DD-20, the RV-500 (along with the MD-500) has now established a line of pedals that are poised to compete with Strymon and Eventide. With 32-bit processing, and 96 kHz sampling rate, the hardware under the hood is virtually matchless. 12 modes and 21 reverb types that are all highly customizable leaves little to be desired. The feature stack on this is impressive, so whats the ugly truth...

It's actually Not That Ugly
Visiting local music stores is a little bit of a hobby of mine.When I see a well stocked effects pedal display case, it is akin to visiting an art gallery. There are hints of style and theme (or lack there of) and you can tell the difference between pedal manufactures like artists' motifs. BOSS, for the most part, stopped stylistically somewhere in the 80's when they introduced their compact pedal line and the familiar shape of most BOSS pedal that we know today. The 500 series however complete redesigns the look of their pedals. The inspiration of the redesign clearly comes from some of their competition. The three button layout, knob layout, and even the stamped aluminum enclosure all seem rather similar to other high-end, powerful effect units. Did BOSS copy other effects? Well, that word does have a lot of stigma attached to it in the effects market, but yes they totally did.

It's Not A Big Sky Clone
Obviously, some of the exterior element of the pedal have been "borrowed", but this pedal is not trying to be a Strymon Big Sky or a Eventide Space. What it is trying to do is complete crush those exact pedals and any others that may stand to rival it. When Line 6 released the DL4 delay in 1999. BOSS took their time and came out with the DD-20. Like the 500 series. the DD-20 was on the front end of a whole line of pedals that would follow the same twin pedal format. I actually debated those two delay pedals back when they were two of the most powerful delays on the market. My decision then was the DD-20. The BOSS pedal beat the Line 6 in features and performance. It also cost less. It did take nearly four years after the DL4 to come to market, but when it did, it came to win. 

Too Soon?
If you remember when the DD-500 came out, it debuted at the same time as the RV-6. Needing a reverb pedal, I bought a RV-6. It has been my primary reverb ever since. While there was a sizable chunk of time between RV-5 and RV-6, it has barely two years between the RV-6 and RV-500. While two years is the standard dwell time between modern consumers and smartphones, many guitarists don't typically replace their pedals every other year. (I've been using my DD-20 for nearly 10 years.) However, there is probably little cross over is those that would buy the RV-6 and the RV-500 despite their apparent similarities. Instead of a update to their compact pedal, The RV-500 serves to entice the players considering other high-end, powerful units. 

Conclusion

I won't lie, I was very excited about the announcement of this pedal. This is probably the most exciting pedal announcement in the last 18 months. It seems that BOSS has been on a roll. The DD-500 was a huge step forward for them, the Katana amps are being praised over higher price competition, and now we get a powerful Reverb at a fraction of the cost of comparable units. It is hard to imagine that the RV-500 reverb will be anything other than great success.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Hands On Review: Fender Mustang GT Modeling Amp

Recently I was able to sit down with not just one, but all three model of the Fender Mustang GT. There is a lot of information out there about these amps. Some rave about the features (and there are some innovated and ambitious features in these amps). Others complain about performance. The best way to navigate all the information out there is to spend enough time to get to know these new amps form Fender. That's exactly what I did. Here's what I've found:

Fender Does Fender Well

Fenders Modeling amps have always done their clean tone the best. This may be because they know their particular tone better than anyone, or maybe they just aren't that good at doing models of other amps... The Basic 65 and Bassman models are my favorite. Now, this is across all version of the amp. The clean tones are standout, but that is partly due to the fact that the dirty channels don't really hold up. Marshall type tones aren't hitting mark here. Vox tones don't come across convincing either. Although the worst offender here is the metal sounds. The preset isn't impressive, but changing the setting, at least in my experience, just made things worse. Muddy tones and tons of mush are found in the metal tones. This amps doesn't djent (not that I'm an expert here).

Tech Troubles

I was prepared to check out the app that accompanies this amp, and I did sort of. As I was getting everything set up, I connected my phone to the amp via bluetooth... for a few minute until I lost my connection. I did not reestablish the connection after that. It wasn't for lack of trying. It did force me to get to know the physical controls on the amp. Lets be honest, if you are at a live show, you aren't relying on bluetooth to do on the fly changes. The controls are cleaned up from the previous model. However, that's not always the most convenient when making fast changes in the middle of a set. The large wheel is pretty integral to making any changes. You have to make selections by rotating the knob and then pressing it. This is not always the easies thing to do. I'm sure you can get used to this, but I found my self scrolling past my intended selection and rotating the knob when trying to push it. I will say that the controls are rather easy to get the hang of, but quick and reliable changes aren't easiest thing to do with this set up.

Pecking Order

How does this amp compare to other amps. Well, put this next to other fender amps and you'll find it wanting. Next to a Blues Jr., this amp doesn't stand up well. Even more so with a Princeton. Typical with solid state amps, there seems to be a cap to how loud the amp gets. There is an organic volume level and when you pass that the amp just can't handle it. Instead of tube break-up, these amps react harshly to high volume applications. Comparing the GT next a BOSS Katana is where it really get interesting. These amp are very comparable in price, however they function is a different way. The Mustang and Katana both start in the mid $200 range, but they have different strengths. The Mustang has decent cleans and can mock many of its high dollar relative. The Katana is a little sterile on some clean settings. Other than that, the Katana takes the cake. The higher gain models of the Mustang do not have the convincing openness of the cleans. The Katana shines in the higher gain settings. The Katana also handles effect in the front of the amp better than the Mustang. Which brings up a another point... The effects in the Mustang are a little less than convincing. The list of overdrives is a little thin as well. Just a reminder, the Katana has access to 55 effects... The Mustang doesn't stand up very well to many other amps...

Conclusion

I really wanted to like these amps. Fender took their time coming to market with their latest modeling amps. It looked like Fender had everything wrapped up, but the most important part of the amp is performance. No matter the feature set, at the end of the day, you want the amp to sound good. The more features you add, the more opportunity you have to get it wrong. We want an amp that does everything, and it's tempting to think that "Now they've done it", but they haven't yet. Specifically, the Fender Mustang GT hasn't.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Ugly Truth About The Fender Mustang GT Amp

If you've been living under a rock for the last week or so, then you may not have heard that Fender has finally released there entry into the current gen of digital modeling amps. Of course, we have all become familiar with the Marshal CODE, BOSS Katana, and Line6 Spider V, but Fender has thrown its hat into the ring with the new Mustang GT. So what is the story here? Do we need to run out and buy the latest addition to the Mustang line? Let's aggregate all the information we know about the GT and try to understand whats new, whats good, and what needs to change.

(Before we go anything further and we are on the same page, this is a "reactions" post. A hands-on review is in the works)

There Is A Lot Right
Many if not most of the features that are present in other current-gen modeling amps are present here. Most notably is the connectivity. The Marshal CODE and Line6 SpiderV both let you connect and control the amp via mobile app. What Fender did right, besides their iconic cleans, was to allow the mobile device connect via Bluetooth and the amp to connect via Wifi to your network. Finally a fully wireless amp (well, except for the power cable). The design is nice and clean, which puts it above the SpiderV right out of the gate. Other improvement: high quality interface, 60 second looper, Celestion speakers, more power (200 watts). Fender has put a lot of thought into the this amp. It is the last one to market with their modeling amp, so they'd better have learned from mistakes made by the other guys. So, does that mean that Fender got everything right? Well...

They Got A Lot Wrong Too
As you can imagine, this amps are popular with cover bands and session artist. Those that need to play many styles in the same set, and portability is important. So these amp tick a lot of boxes. Also high up on the list is reliability. You'd think that would be in the bag, what with it being solid state and all, but users have reported issues with one  of the key features: the bluetooth connection. First, the connection is lost when your phone goes to sleep, also, the app and amp have a few glitches to work out. Selections on the app have a slight chance to select the wrong option on the amp. Fortunately, there this is only a seldom annoyance, but reliability is paramount in every piece of a rig. Another misstep was to take away some functionality of the previous models. Everything is editable on the manual controls, but the on-the-fly on/off of effects is only available via the $100 footswitch that is only included on the flag ship $600 200 watt version. Not to mention, it is a four button switch with three different modes... I guess it need to do a lot since you aren't going to be running many effects into this amp.

Conclusion
I want to like this amp. I am, admittedly, a Fender fanboy. But I can't endorse this amp souly on the brand on the front of the amp. This amp delivers a multitude of options and effects. There are tons of presets and everything is customizability. There is a community build around the Mustang line that, no doubt, will provide endless possibilities for that looking to nail tones with little to no button mashing. There are some issue with this amp, just like there are with many others, The main feature of any amp though is what it sounds like. I've only really experience the presets and the fender cleans are legit. The dirtier (less-fender) the model, the weaker the sound. Will this be improved in the future? Can it be improved? I don't know. It is a solid, if not overdue, update to the Mustang line. Fans of the Mustang amps will enjoy the long awaited update to current spec. If you are on the fence about buying this amp, I'd suggest putting it next to the Marshal CODE and close your eyes. Pick the one that makes you feel the fuzziest.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Hands-On-Review: Boss Katana Amplifier

The Boss Katana amplifier has been a thing of interest for many guitarist since it's announcement at the end of 2016. The ever growing threat of solid-state technology catching up with our beloved tubes is once again made evident by Boss' latest offering. Would I consider trading in my tube combos for a Katana? No. But, with the feature set and price range of these little combos, many people are asking themselves if this amp is the right choice. I'll tell you what I think...


Punching Above It's Weight


Those of us accustom to 1X12 tube combos will notice that the Katana is a petite package. I found myself questioning whether or not it actually had a 12 inch speaker. It is also light-weight. I have seen the specs for the amp and told myself that I know what to expect, but the size and weight are actually surprising. So, naturally when you approach an amp like this you have certain expectations. Small, light-weight amps sound small and light-weight (thin). Perhaps this is a psychological tactic by Boss to precondition you, so that when you actually do play through this amp it sounds big and heavy. Because this amp sounds big and not light-weight. The cab and speaker reverberate harmoniously by providing bass and presence in equal measure.


Well Balanced


I've spoke about the initial shock of playing trough the amp, and how the low and high end are lovingly coupled in a homogeneous blend of frequencies. That is balanced indeed. However, the vast array of knobs would seem to tip the scales of form and function in an unfavorable direction. Again, at first glance, our impression is not congruent with our experience. Anyone who has fiddled with knobs on an amplifier can sit down with the Katana and produces varying tones of blissful harmony. With a neutral EQ and bypassed FX you can dial up four different Amp Types. The problem that has plagued many amp like this one has been the fact that they either have settings that all sound the same or so different that they couldn't possibly come from the same amplifier. This would make changing channels in a live setting unpleasant at least. But Boss has Balanced the amp types so that they sound related but not redundant. Probably the most impressive part of this amp, and that's before we talk about the effects.


The Effects


Undoubtedly the most anticipated aspect of this amp is the effects. obviously Boss wants to promote the 55 available effects, but the fine-print to that is that you can only store 15 and the fine print to that is that you can only use 3 at a time. To be fair, this is not limited in a way that makes the effects trivial, but you are bound to use a PC to do any great deal of editing to the stock effects. Given the recent focus on android and iOS connectivity, this seem like an oversight. This actually seems like area that Marshall got right with the CODE series. The CODE series features mobile connectivity and a on-board editing menu screen. The Katana would do well with one of those options. Instead, it has none. Not that this takes away with the impressive sounds that the amp is capable of. Plus, serious users have a great editing tool in the Tone Studio software. Having said that, this is Boss and the effect that were available during the review were solid. Boss really did their homework and provided quality effects that 100% usable.

Conclusion

I still really like these amps. They have a lot going for them. Would I use this as my everyday/gigging amp? No. It just can't replace a tube combo and pedal board. But, for the bedroom player or recording artist on a budget, this amp can really fit the bill. The amp really need a PC to be all that it can be. I've had gear with similar functionality and I doubt that I ever used it. All in all, this is an impressive unit. It shines most where you don't expect it. The effects are usable, but might be a little cumbersome to edit in depth. Boss nailed so tone of feature on this one, but at the same time, I'd like to see some improvements.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

5 Ugly Truths about Video Game's Love Affair With The Guitar

It's seems like a very long time ago, but there was a time when video games discovered the guitar. Every young guitarist that that their dreams had come true. They could combined their passion for an instrument into the brightly colored screens and scrolling dots.


The Predecessors


Before there were guitar heroes or rock bands there was Parappa the Rapper. It was an early rhythm bases game (the same type of game that all guitar related games are). In this game you had to press buttons on a regular controller in a particular rhythm. It was basic idea wrapped around an interesting interface. The game featured well written original music... ok, so as well as you can write a song about frying French fries and the like, but hey, it was rather entertaining. I actually played this game before the big guitar boom in gaming.


The Explosion


For the most part I turned my nose up at most of the Guitar Hero games. I thought that I was going to avoid degrading my self by not picking up one of those plastic atrocities. Of course, the popularity of the games finally came to a point where it was impossible not to try. ...and I sucked. I was disappointed in myself. I knew that I would be able to crush this fake guitar with my amazing real-guitar skill. But it turns out that following a scrolling dot and pressing buttons doesn't directly correlate to playing the guitar. There was a time, after the peak of popularity that I sat down and played the Guitar Hero for a few hours. I progressed very little and was very frustrated. Real guitar for life...


The Aftermath


Guitar Hero and the other games that followed had their time. I think that it was a novel idea and actually credit the games for an increased interest in learning actually guitar. However, there is a lot of disappointment when an expert Guitar Hero picks up an actual guitar and then must start over from the beginning.


Conclusion


I never invested in these games. Of course this was a fad. It blew up, then it fizzled. There were product tie-ins and band tie-ins. It did introduce a lot of young people to classic rock and guitar driven music. That hasn't help stop the onslaught of electronic noise in 117% of pop music, but sometimes you just can't stop the musical equivalent of Adderall.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

5 Ugly Truths About Being A Guitarist

If you are like me, then you began playing the guitar and had a very clear image of what 'playing the guitar' should have looked like. Very few actually achieve that initial image. You might have thought that you would make it big and play music with your heroes, or making a million dollars with nothing but your axe and sweet licks. Those ideas might be spectacular visions of grandeur, the truth is a little ugly...


About That Fame


Well, you might have guessed that it would be very difficult to make a name for yourself playing the guitar. The guitar is a wonderful instrument that many enjoy, but there is the problem, many enjoy playing the guitar. There is a crowd of people that are doing the same thing that you are. That is why there is such a large community of guitarist. Forums, Blogs, Stores, and other things exist because there are so many of us. This fact alone makes it difficult to stand out. It is difficult to play faster, smoother, harder, more technical or some other superlative more than everyone else. Just shear numbers would dictate that there is someone else that has been specializing in that one thing more than you. Not to discourage you from trying to progress, in fact, this reason is my personal motivation to keep pushing myself. Having said that, the thought that being the top of your particular ''field'' won't be enough to propel you to stardom


About That Fortune


Another common assumption is that learning and playing the guitar with just burry you in all the money. The logic here is a little funny here. Making money is a bad reason to pick up the guitar. I've spent countless dollars on my habit hobby. I have made a little bit of money hear and there, but fortune is not the word that I'd use to describe the amount. I'm sure I've spent way more than I've made and I doubt that will ever change. There are tons of working musicians that make a living with their craft. That's not completely out of reach for the average guitarist that devote enough time and energy toward it. Supplemental income is achievable, a living can be manageable, but breaking six figures is going to take a lot more than just talent. You'll have to constantly market yourself and network to make connection that will further your career.


Your Heroes Kind Of Suck


I mean, I don't know you heroes but I'm working with generalities here, so work with me. Let's assume that your hero has achieved that fame and fortune that we discussed earlier. This means that, in addition to the talent, they have a work ethic that has propelled them to were they are. They also have a personality and temperament that is complete different then what you image. It's easy to assume that you know the people that you look up to, but many times you can disappointed. I'm not saying that these people are all type-a jerks, but they are conditioned to a very demanding and time-consuming schedule. Depending on who you hero is, this is achievable goal, but you'll never know if that person will live up to your expectations. Also, depending on who your particular hero is, you might want to get on that, because they might die. That's why all my heroes are already dead. That way I don't have to try...


Other People Don't Love Your Playing


Yes, people enjoy the guitar, but growing up in my house, people did not always like listen to the same songs over and over (other wise know as practice). Most impressive guitar playing is enjoyed by other guitarist that know how hard it is to make those particular sounds. The common person will equate strumming chords and typically challenging arpeggios to one another. That's because they have to basis to compare the two. To them, they are both difficult. You could have Eric Clapton setting in you living room playing the guitar and, after a while, you'll ask him to stop. Even if you are very talented, sometimes the noise is just unwanted. Don't be the guy at the party to pick up the guitar and start playing Wonder Wall. for the love of Pete don't play Wonder Wall...


So Easy To Waste Money


I own so many things. Many of them relate to the guitar. I own several guitars... and amps... and pedals... cases... chords... books... *sigh* I've bought so many things. I like buying things. I also like buying guitar things. That cost money. Lots of money. Do I need to say more? Yes? Ok. A starting rig will run you a few hundred dollars, As you progress you will probably spend thousands of dollars if you continue to play. Acoustic or Electric, your rigs will get a little more complicated and refined (is that a contradiction?). You can also spend money on things that don't need. Extras are so temping. I've bought several 'boutique picks' because that's a thing now. They aren't necessarily better. My point is, just like many hobbies, you will spend countless dollars on your self... you self-centered narcissist.


Conclusion


I don't even know anymore. I've never given so much thought to why guitar playing might suck. It doesn't suck, in fact, it is absolutely rocks. I love playing guitar and I'll stop playing when I lose control of all of my limbs... Yes, I will start playing with my feet if I lose my hand in a harvesting accident.