Jon Daiello Product Designer 🦄

Journal

Three Black Amps

A few months ago, I decided I was going to get a new guitar amplifier. I made a list of requirements for any amplifier that I’d consider. I started forming a list of options and then quickly narrowed it down to three options. Unfortunately, some of these amps were hard to find in person, so Guitar Center let me buy all three to try them out with the intent to only keep one of them.

The Requirements

Since I often play at my church, I each amp needed to have a good, emulated line-out for the sound system. That was one of my primary requirements that helped me to develop a solid list of contenders. I also knew I wanted

  • (Preferably) 12″ speaker
  • FX loop
  • On-board reverb
  • Great sounding

The Amps

After I received all three amps, I set them up in my basement. I spent an entire week with all three of them side-by-side. I dove down into deep-editing modes in all of them and really was able to achieve some great sounds out of all three of them. As a side note all of the options are digital modeling amps.

Fender Mustang GT 100

The Fender Mustang GT 100 sports a 12″ speaker with an open back cabinet. It was the lightest of the amps and also the quickest to get up and running with a great sound.

It was also the newest to market. As I was preparing my order, I received notification that this new amp had been released. It was so new, it almost didn’t make it into my order.

My initial impressions made me think I’d be keeping this one. It had good volume levels, and had one or two solid Fender emulations out of the box. With the aid of the mobile app, I was able to deep-edit quickly and push it into a better sonic range.

I did find that the FX loop had some pretty gnarly side-effects on the sound. So much so, that I actually wrote it off once I discovered it. When using the FX loop it creates an incredible amount of tone-suck. I attempted to remedy this by using my TC Electronic BonaFide buffer, but it made no improvement.

Additionally, the maximum volume left me wanting. I dimed the volume and it was loud in my basement, but overall it wasn’t loud enough. I could see it getting lost in the mix in a live situation.

Blackstar ID:CORE 100

The Blackstar ID:CORE 100 really got my attention. It features 2×10″ speakers with their Superwide stereo sound. I made an exception on my 12″ speaker preference because there were so many great reviews on the sound of this amp. It also helped to have a closed-back cab to direct the sound out of the front.

The 2×10″ speakers sounded exceptional. Blackstar did an amazing job utilizing the stereo setup to improve the sound of this amp.  Unfortunately, it was also the heaviest of the three, since it sports two giant magnets for this speakers. The stereo effects put this amp into it’s own league when it came to the reverb. The other two amps just couldn’t compare with the stereo reverb. If my decision was hinging on the sound of the reverb, the Blackstar would have been my pick.

My main guitar is a Fender Stratocaster, and I really like having clean tones that barely break up at times. I also play a lot of bluesy tones. The big drawback that I experienced was the lack of clean and edge-of-breakup sounds. There was really only one amp model that I was drawn to. This wouldn’t be a huge problem except that as the volume increases, the amp voicing tends to jump into a distorted sound quickly. There’s not enough head-room for the clean sounds, and there’s not a lot of edge-of-breakup room. It’s either clean or distortion.

Boss Katana KTN-100 (1×12)

The third amp I had on the list was the Boss Katana KTN-100 in the 1×12″ configuration. I considered going with the 2×12″ configuration, however it’s still a mono rig, with the same power output as the 1×12″.

When you line all three amps up, this one is the least impressive from a visual perspective. It’s a 1×12″ open back design with a functionally, well-designed interface panel (knobs).

It may not be beautiful, but it’s got a LOT of volume. It sports three volume settings: 0.5W, 50W and 100W settings. In most of my testing, I kept it at the 0.5W setting, and the other amps couldn’t keep up. A few times, I’ve put it into 50W mode and it just gets better. The line-out is independent of the speaker so you can also put the amp in standby mode and still supply a sound system with a feed.

My first impressions with this amp left me wanting. After all of the hype I’ve read online, I was disappointed. I needed to spend a good amount of time deep-editing in the amp to get a great Fender-like sound. I got to a point where I was happy using the Boss Tone Studio. The Katana also provides a great set of options to really dial in a good sound.

The Katana also had the best edge-of-breakup sound. I would run it up against tube amps any day and walk away happy. For the money, you can’t beat the tonal quality.

The Winner

In the end, I decided to keep the Boss Katana KTN-100. It provided the best value (cheapest of the 3), the best overall sound, the most volume, and had the best line-out sound of the three.

A week or two later, I spent time with the “Sneaky Amps” that are embedded in the software and the amp came alive even more. I’m extremely happy with my purchase decision. The guys at Boss have really developed an incredible amp.