I picked up a BOSS Katana 50 back in the spring of 2018 and I’m pretty impressed. I have always enjoyed using BOSS pedals, even though I use a variety of other brands, there has always been something really reliable and tough about BOSS products.
There are dozens of YouTube videos out there that will show you what the Katana 50 looks like, so I’ll talk here about a couple of things I have not seen mentioned much: that’s using multiple effects in a live setting. In other words, the power of the LiveSet.
When I first started using the Katana I was pleased to see that the amp came loaded with something like 55 BOSS effects, including a whole range of analog and digital delay effects, distortions, flangers, everything. I have always loved the sound of the Blues Driver, and just having that on board made the experience worth it. I used to play a blues driver through a Fender amp until it all got stolen, so it was a double bonus to realize I would not have to buy all my favorite pedals again.
The Panel Buttons Are Too Much Work
Before getting into what I love about the Katana, I will say that the function buttons and the little flashing LEDs are rather annoying. I find it hard enough to figure out the banks and channels from the comfort of my studio – I could not possibly picture leaning over the back of the amp in a live setting trying to remember which bank had the phaser and which one was clean.
I say this not as a complaint aimed at BOSS, but to offer some relief to anyone else who might feel frustrated, and who worried they’re probably not getting everything that the amp can deliver. There’s not a lot of space on the top of an amp, so it wouldn’t be practical to have an LED display there….or would it? Regardless, I am never going to be able to remember that a flashing button means Bank 2 or whatever.
So I figured just twiddling the knob between amp styles (acoustic, clean, crunch, lead, and brown) was going to be my solution. But that, too, would get a little style-cramping up on stage.
Tone Studio Sets You Free
Then I discovered the BOSS Tone Studio app. It’s a control panel that lives on your PC and talks in real time to the amp via a USB cable. I found it much easier to experiment with effects, including tweaking their parameters in myriad ways, by using the PC interface. So after reading the instructions and understanding that I would have four active sound settings to work with, I started to set up my four sounds. To clarify, I use the term “sounds” to represent a combination of effects. For example, the Blues Driver pedal with some reverb and a little digital delay represents one sound. BOSS calls it channels or banks or something. I have always been more interested in playing music than twiddling knobs, so this venture into gearheaddery tests the limits of my patience. So I was happy living with four sounds:
- The Blues Driver
- A terrific slapback analog echo sound for my Gretsch/Stray Cats stuff
- A chorus/flanged sound for the 80’s stuff.
I know nobody cares what sounds I prefer. The point is, I thought I had to settle for four, until I discovered the Liveset.
Playing Live With Livesets
Livesets are collections of saved sounds. For example, I could (and did) save the four sounds mentioned above as a liveset. This means if I have other sounds that I want to use, like an acoustic guitar simulation, or a wah effect, I can save them as other sounds in another liveset and load that liveset up when I need
So here’s the cool thing. At first I figured the liveset thing was something you did at home, loading up the amp before rehearsal. But then it dawned on me that that’s what the liveset were for: saved banks of sound files that could be loaded up between sets. I know that’s obvious in retrospect, but sometimes people have to discover these things in their own time.
For me, the conceptual gap was bringing a PC up on stage. I was never big on MIDI, so it never occurred to me to have the PC sitting quietly behind the amp, where I could go and apply a new liveset during a break.
This is where you can say, “Well duh!” that’s what livesets are: “live sets!” But the point is, every YouTube video I consulted about the Katana 50 shows someone wailing away in their bedroom or studio, showing off all the cool sounds a Katana can make, or even just unboxing it. I have yet to find a YouTube video that discusses how to really make use of it onstage.
You’re still restricted to four sounds, so if your set contains a lot of different-sounding guitars, you might find you’ll need to switch livesets between tunes. But really it’s just a matter of going back to the PC and dragging and dropping. It just takes a few seconds.
I use a BOSS FS-6 pedal to switch between the four sounds. To help me remember, I mark the pedal options (A, B, A+B and OFF) on my set list, and I always keep OFF as the clean sound and A as the Blues Driver sound. B and A+B are reserved for whatever special guitar sounds I would need for that set.
So that’s it really.
As I said, there are a lots of videos that talk about the the Katana-50 amp, and it really is a nice amplifier with a lot of guts and heart, but it’s like videos that talk about cars from inside a showroom. If you’re a gigging musician, all these extra devices, including a PC have to stand up to the rigors and the space and timing restrictions of the live stage.
Gotta say though, it was a delight to find out my PC and Katana are up to the task. They’re joined at the hip now (well, a USB actually), but they work so well together I might actually name them R2 and 3PO.