New floor/rack unit heats up the modeler wars

RECENTLY a producer decided to drag me kicking and screaming into the digital age with the Line 6 Helix. It took him months to do it. I fought every step of the way. What you should probably know about me is that I didn’t have a cell phone until like 2006 and I didn’t want one. I’m not a big fan of change, or things that make doing things easier. I have at times in my life had a Steve Albini-like dedication to analog. Over time though, brands like Strymon have convinced me that digital tape emulation is not a sin worthy of excommunication. But we all know digital sounds terrible for distortion. Flat, sterile, lifeless — don’t believe me? Go listen to the (admittedly horribly recorded) AC/DC track ‘Live Wire’. Crank the volume. If you don’t get chills hearing that mostly clean, gained to hell and back Marshall when Angus holds that one feeding back note forever in the middle of the song while the band drops out and then comes back in… quit guitar. Now listen to Nickelback – that’s all rack-mount amp/effect sims you’re hearing. Again, if that’s not an easy choice… quit guitar.

Sure, the tracks I was working on were recorded to ProTools, and carried here on a hard drive. Sure, it’s gonna end up as an mp3 played through crappy headphones. Sure it’s just a doubled guitar track mixed in with real amps. Sure the audience can’t tell the difference… but I’ll know. And I have principles!

I’ve played all of the systems. I’ve had Fractal and Kemper employees dial in their products for me while I played. It’s not for me. Digital feels lifeless to me. It lacks the balls. And the worst offender of all the digital modeling companies to me has always been Line 6. If you must, give me a Boss DS1 and a cheap Chinese Fender, I’ll find a way to make it work, but keep your Line 6 amp modeling away from me.

Check out the rest of our review here
Go to the official Line 6 website here


Simplicity, wow factor in an unassuming white box

WITH THE emphasis on pomp and flash place on most goods we consume these days, whether off of store shelves or on our televisions and/or internet, the appearance of a rugged appliance that is a bit utilitarian in form, but simply other-worldly in function sweeps through my glitz-weary consciousness like a breath of fresh air. That’s not to say that the products that spring from the mind of Curt Malouin and the team at Red Panda Lab are not attractive, but much of what makes them so is the shear range, depth and expressiveness of each offering, and not necessarily the paint job or knob selection.

The latest to emerge from the Lab is the Raster — a digital delay with a pitch shifter integrated into the feedback loop. The control set is simple and intuitive. The pedal sports knobs for Shift, FDBK (Feedback), Delay and Blend (all wet to all dry), and has two mini-toggles that go between three independent settings for Feedback (reverse repeats, repeats shifted, first repeat shifted) and Shift (transpose by semitones, detune and phase shifter). There are two footswitches on the Raster — one is bypass, the other engages the shift effect. The input/output jacks are top-mounted and straddle an input for an expression pedal that can be used to control shift parameters. Like all Red Panda pedals, there is no battery option for the Raster. It requires a 9V DC center negative power supply.

Read the rest of our review of the Red Panda Raster here.
Check out Red Panda Lab’s official website here.


Park Amps Little Head 18 is a versatile, toneful tank

MITCH Colby knows his way around a guitar amplifier. With a 30-plus-year career with Korg (who distributed Marshall and Vox in the US for good stretches) in the rearview, he started his own boutique shop, Colby Amplification, around the first of the decade.

In 2013, Mitch cut a deal to roll the fabled Park brand of British-styled amps into the Colby family, and the results have been very well received. Park itself was a Jim Marshall (of Marshall Amplification) creation — one he created after a distribution deal he entered with UK-based Rose-Morris disenfranchised several of his former distributors. These original Parks were made during the 1960s and 1970s.

The new Park is picking up steam with faithful recreations of the classic P45 and P50 now being joined by a lower wattage sibling — the Park Little Head 18. The Little Head 18 is a two channel, 6V6-loaded amp that features the same preamp as the Park 45, the same cathode follower-driven tone stack derived from a Western Electric circuit, a super-variable power amp capable of using a number of octal-based power amp tubes and an octal-based rectifier tube socket that can use various tube and solid state rectifiers…

Read the rest of our review of the Park Amps Little Head 18 here.
Check out Park Amps official website here.


The triple threat 35-watt Category 5 Vera is a potent sonic storm

CATEGORY 5 has been making their own special brand of classic-voiced fire-breathers in the Dallas area for the better part of decade, targeting the vintage punch and smoothness seen in earlier rock and roll era tones both stateside and across the pond. With many of the amps taking their names from storms, the company has not only been busy building amps for the likes of Joe Bonamassa, Warren Haynes and Tab Benoit, but also is a champion for charities, including those that raise money for storm-ravaged areas.

We visited with Don Ritter and Berry Dickson of Category 5 at the recent Dallas International Guitar Festival and once again came away impressed with the volume of new amp ideas springing from the shop. We also came away with the new 35-watt Vera combo… the cathode-biased design amp versus the company’s 50-watt Vera, which is fixed bias.

The heart of the Category 5 Vera is based on an amp the company did for Govt. Mule’s Warren Haynes, who was looking for a single amp that could cover the ground of both his stalwart SLO and Diaz for shows where taking both amps wasn’t an option. The 35-watt Vera is a two-channel amp where Channel 1 offers higher gain sounds with robust sustain and a mid-boost option, while Channel 2 is a clean, open tone with a gain boost option.

On the front plate, Channel 1 offers up knob controls for Gain, Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, while Channel 2 boasts knobs for Volume, Treble and Bass. There are also global controls for Reverb and Voltage. On the back, you will find three toggle switches – Clean/Drive allows the user to switch between channels sans footswitch, Drive Mid Boost for Channel 1, and a Clean Mid Boost for Channel 2. There is also a separate 1/4-inch input allowing the user to operate the Clean Boost via a footswitch.

Read the rest of our review of the Category 5 Vera here.
Check out Category 5’s official website here.