Review Date: Wednesday 5th of December 2012 11:42:27 AM Last Updated: Thursday 1st of January 1970 01:00:00 AM Reviewed By: Huw Price
The R and D departments of Roland and Boss have collaborated to create the new GA Series amps, claimed to combine the latest advancements in tone technology with simplistic operation.
Roland is bucking the current trends in modelling amps. Rather than pack the GA-112 full of amp and effects simulations, most of which probably won’t end up being used, they have attempted to create an amp based on a single model that sounds like itself rather than a collection of other amps.
As for effects, all you get is reverb, and the preamp and power amp models have been configured to pass through various ‘sweet spots’.
Power is rated at 100W, and the open-backed combo cabinet houses a 12" speaker. According to our sources at Roland, this speaker has been ‘reverse engineered’ from a particularly sweet-sounding Celestion Vintage 30 and its power handling has been beefed up in the process. The new Smart Channel feature allows users to save up to four settings via front panel buttons and recall them with a single push; the foot controller can select them too. LEDs show which preset is selected, providing a convenient visual reference for when you’re onstage.
Despite the digital processing – or, more likely, because of it – this amp is extremely simple to operate. Roland has chosen to allow the technology to take a back seat and power the engine rather than dominate the interface.
For instance, we were going to have a moan about the absence of position markers on the control knobs, but the reason became apparent as soon as we switched on: the knobs have LEDs under each segment to indicate position, and the onboard electronics recall the previous settings and presets, so the physical position of the knobs becomes irrelevant.
The only exception is the Master Volume, which is set by hand the analogue way. For the most part the front panel layout is completely conventional. There’s the usual array of Bass, Middle and Treble tone controls with a Presence control tagged on the end. There’s also a midrange boost button and independent bypass switches for the two effects looks.
The only section of the control panel that requires a bit of help from the manual is designated ‘Progressive Amp’. Roland describes this as ‘a new and unique COSM amp model’. There are two control knobs designated Drive and Volume that work in conjunction with two push buttons labelled Voice and Boost, and these allow you to change the behaviour of the preamp and power amp to exploit the GA-112’s full rage of tones.
As you’d expect, Drive sets the amount of overdrive and distortion. With the boost button disengaged the range goes from ‘Clean to Crunch’ and when it’s engaged the GA-112 goes from ‘Crunch to Super Extreme’. All we can glean about the Voice button is that it ‘changes sound character’, and Volume functions in the normal way. Above the controls an LED display changes colour to indicate the level of distortion selected and this can be deactivated.
Although the front panel is conventional, the back panel provides access to a range of features and capabilities that few amps can match. For starters, there are two bypassable effects loops that can be selected individually or together. Both have two operating levels… 4dB for rackmounted effects and –10dB for stompboxes. The loops can operate in series mode, where all the signal passes through the effects and wet/dry balance is set on the effects unit. They also operate in parallel mode, where the dry guitar signal is split and sent straight from the preamp to the power amp as well as through the loop.
The foot controller plugs into the back panel and there’s a parallel output to drive two GA-112s from one foot controller. To link them sonically, you connect a regular guitar cable from the Thru/Tuner Out socket of amp one and plug it into the regular High/Low inputs on the front panel of amp two.
The Line Out socket can feed a PA system or recorder directly and the Main In sockets accept mono or stereo inputs from external units such as Roland guitar synth modules. Lastly, the bypassable Auto Off is an interesting feature in these eco-conscious times; it automatically turns the amp off after four hours of inactivity.
Everything works as it should, and switching between the four pre-stored settings is instantaneous. This degree of versatility and provision for storing sounds is surely where solid state amps have the potential to outshine valve amps. Of course, manufacturers have installed similar capabilities in valve amps, but somehow they always seem a bit incongruous. Even so, our job is to review the amp itself rather than hypothesise about what it might sound like with other pieces of equipment.
The GA-112 has a vast range of tones. You can go from crystal clear clean with Blackface and JC shimmer to completely over the top blasts of distortion that are so aggressive and full-on they approach white noise. We also enjoyed the surprisingly spring-like reverb.
The mid boost is well executed and adds to the versatility. When activated you can get tweed and early Marshall type tones with ease, and touch dynamics are fairy good. However, we did find that sounds became a tad dull and dark when we backed off the guitar’s volume control.
The tone controls have a nice feel, although you have to turn them slowly because any sonic changes seem to lag behind. It’s no big deal and there’s plenty of potential for sound-shaping. The Drive control takes some getting used to because it seems to move in stages rather than work gradually. You just need to move the knob slowly within each colour band to explore the full range of tones. It’s worth it because the slightly overdriven and mildly distorted tones are impressive.
The GA-112 more closely resembles a beefed-up Cube than Roland’s big-watts classic, the Jazz Chorus. Although it’s a viable standalone amp, the guiding principle behind the design seem to be that the GA-112 should operate as part of a more complex setup. The emphasis is on versatility and practicality rather than out-and-out tone. As a working tool that can deliver pretty much any sound you might need for a covers band, the GA-112 nails it; it’s also very loud, and we found that pushing the power amp and speaker hard smoothed out the slightly uneven harmonics and fizziness we heard at lower volumes.
The GA-112 is one of the most expensive solid state amps on the market and the all-important foot controller is a £90 extra. For sheer range of sounds it doesn’t compete with most modelling amps, and tone hounds will be keenly aware that £700 can buy a great valve amp. Ultimately we think the GA-112 is an accomplished amp for guitarists with a specific set of requirements, who like to mix technology with a range of traditional amplifier sounds.
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