There are probably more Boss stompboxes on the planet right now than there are ants, but maybe it’s time to stop thinking of the legendary Japanese brand as just a pedal peddler. Its original Katana amps won over a lot of digi-sceptics – and the MkII range, led by this 2×12 beast, looks set to push things on again.
While we weren’t wowed by absolutely every aspect of the Katana-50 MkII combo, there’s no denying it sounds a lot like a real valve amp. Or, to be precise, 10 real valve amps. So how about a 100-watt version, combining the 50-watter’s tonal chops and multiple effects with enhanced footswitching functionality to create a genuine all-in-one gigging solution?
The Katana-100 is available in three formats: the 2×12 combo on review here, a 1×12 version, and a head that’s secretly a bit of a combo too, thanks to a built-in five-inch speaker for home practice.
The extra width of this model means there’s room for a bigger control panel, but Boss hasn’t exactly gone to town with it. Yes, we get four separate buttons for the presets instead of two doubling up, but the five effects aren’t allowed the luxury of one whole control each: booster/mod and FX/delay are still paired up concentrically, which can make things a touch more fiddly then they really ought to be. At least you can now run all five at once, where the original Katanas restricted you to three.
One feature shared by this model and the 100-watt head is the three-way cab resonance switch, letting you select ‘vintage’, ‘modern’ or ‘deep’ voicing for the two Katana-branded speakers and the DI/headphone output. This function is also available on the cheaper amps in the range, but not directly from the control panel – only through the Boss Tone Studio desktop software.
Speaking of which… you’ll need to supply your own USB Type B cable, but once it’s linked up – and you’ve got the driver working on your PC or Mac – Tone Studio will let you load up and edit a huge range of preset sounds and effects. And when you’ve created the virtual rig and/or pedalboard of your dreams and stored it in the amp, the optional GA-FC footswitch (available for around £75) allows you to flip between presets or simply turn individual effects on or off.
If your reference point for 2×12 combos is a Fender Twin Reverb or Marshall Bluesbreaker, you’ll find this a refreshingly un-hospitalising amp to pick up one-handed – although it’s still almost twice the weight of the single-speaker Katana-50 MkII. Like that amp, it’s made in Malaysia using fibreboard construction and feels solid enough, if not exactly ultra-robust.
Of course, 100 solid-state watts aren’t going to be anywhere near as loud as the valve equivalent, but that’s still more than enough for today’s stages. In fact, while we’re impressed by the sheer power of this thing in 100-watt mode, it’s good news for the tinnitus (and the neighbours) that its output can easily be switched down to 50-watts or even a bedsit-friendly 0.5-watt.
At all output settings, the sound scores highly for clarity and ‘bigness’. Single-coils through either of the two clean models remain totally pristine most of the way around the gain control, and when the breakup does come, it’s free of digital harshness.
Switching to ‘crunch’ brings a major leap in aggression, much like hopping from a blackface amp to a plexi. But as with the 50-watt model, it’s in the four high-gain modes that this amp really cranks up the fun factor – especially when we start adding delay, reverb and modulation to the mix. Get carried away here and things can easily spiral off down a 1980s soft-metal plughole, but the factory-loaded effects are reliably ‘Boss’ in terms of audio quality.
Having found one of those USB cables, we now connect our amp to the Tone Studio software and really open up our options. There are libraries of preset sounds available, but you shouldn’t need to cheat with those – basic amplifier tones are easily dialled up on the Katana’s top panel, and navigating the effects on screen is every bit as intuitive.
If you’re a fan of Boss’s real-life stompers, you’ll find everything you need here; and with the freedom of up to five effects available at once, it takes just a few minutes to conjure up four drastically different sounds and save them into the amp (with a fifth available in manual ‘panel’ mode).
This is where that GA-FC footswitch really comes in handy. Five of its six switches mirror the channel buttons on the amp’s control panel, but the sixth is every bit as vital. It lets you flip between preset and effects modes – that is, whether you’re hopping between whole sounds or turning individual ‘pedals’ on and off. After two minutes of tap-dancing worthy of the late Brucie himself, we’re enamoured – and bemused that this game-changing accessory isn’t compatible with the 50W model.
The Katana-100/212 MkII isn’t the kind of rugged combo we’d be happy to hoik into the back of a Transit van for a tour of Uzbekistan – and let’s be realistic, sound-wise it’s not going to tear anyone away from their favourite handwired classic – but there’s no doubt Boss has nailed the basics here. It’s a solid-sounding combo and a versatile pedalboard rolled into one, and it could be all the backline some players will ever need.
- PRICE £439
- DESCRIPTION Digital modelling combo with 10 amp models and five effects, made in Malaysia
- POWER RATING 100W
- CONTROL PANEL Guitar input; five-way amp type selector with variation button, gain, volume; bass, middle, treble; booster, mod, FX, delay and reverb controls with variation buttons and tap tempo; master volume, output power (100W, 50W, 0.5W, standby), preset buttons (four plus bypass), three-way cab resonance switch, power switch
- REAR PANEL Effects loop send and return, stereo expand on/off switch, line output, power amp input, USB Type B, stereo aux input, GA-FC footswitch and expression pedal inputs, recording/headphones output
- SPEAKERS 2×12
- DIMENSIONS 670 x 484 x 248mm
- WEIGHT 19.8kg/43.11lb
- CONTACT Boss