Thoughts on the new Line 6 Catalyst amps
Feb. 15, 2022
Filed Under: News Update
Why should the most popular modeling amps always use yesterday’s modeling technology?In the late 90’s I was gigging with an overly-complex setup. My amp lived in an Anvil 8 space rack case - a Marshall JMP-1 rack preamp, a Gemini DJ Power amp, and a Furman Power Conditioner. There were about 4 empty slots in the middle. It was huge, heavy, and didn’t sound very good, although it was pretty reliable. The homemade cab my friend Frank made for me sounded good. The amp, not so much.
Around the year 2000 I got tired of lugging that setup around, and went looking for a combo amp. I figured a 2x12 would be enough, and I only needed a relatively basic Marshall tone. I always wanted a Marshall amp head, but couldn’t find the willpower or cash to take the plunge. I also knew jack shit about Marshall heads so even if I had bought one, it probably would have been one of the not-so-great models.
I found a Line 6 Flextone II XL on Craigslist for a couple hundred dollars (with Footswitch!) and went for it. It was a cool tan tolex finish, which the seller assured me they only made 10 of, and that those 10 were given as gifts to artists. The one I was about to buy had been given to Bono. Was that true? No idea. But I bought it.
I was intrigued by the possibility of the Flextone amp - Not only could it give me Marshall tone, but also Twin Reverb, or AC30.
This is the part where you might expect me to say that the amp didn’t do any of that, that it was terrible or I made a big mistake - nope, the Flextone was awesome. It was relatively light weight, and other guitarists would tell me the tones were good. Sound guys loved it because it had an XLR out, so going to the PA was super easy and didn’t need a mic.
I played that Flextone for 3-4 years until by chance I ended up buying a DSL 100 Marshall head for a steal one Saturday morning. From then on I essentially went tube amp until I stopped playing regularly in 2012. Well, there was one brief and very expensive mistake along the way - a Line 6 Duoverb combo that was honestly terrible. I lost my ass on that one, selling it in mint condition for next to nothing.
In light of the new Line 6 Catalyst series of amps, I’m thinking a lot about the Flextone and the Duoverb, and how my experiences in those early days will undoubtedly be replicated by guitar players so many years later.
A modeling amp gives you freedom as a musician. It gives you the ability to play other types of music no explore your interests. To experiment with effects. To have a decent home recording option. All without shelling out extra money. For young musicians this is a gift. For more experienced musicians there is also a value proposition. Sound good wherever you are - at home in your bedroom, in the studio, on the stage.
It’s hard to talk about the Catalyst without mentioning the Boss Katana series of amps (I’ve owned the 50 combo and the 100 head in my post-band gear acquisition phase of guitar playing). Like the Katana, Catalyst disowns the notion of exactly replicating a vintage amp, and instead provides an amp tone that is reminiscent of a type of amp without the baggage of exactly modeling a particular model. This frees up engineers to create new takes, and idealized takes of amp tones for various musical needs. The Katana and Catalyst also share a simplified control mechanism that leaves deep tweaking and effects selection to apps on a computer or mobile device. OK, Line 6 has Boss beat here, as the Katana can only be connected to a PC or Mac.
Both Katana and Catalyst offer an input for external modelers to convert the amp into a powered cabinet. Guitar players will have an easy path to purchasing a Pod Go, HX Stomp or Helix and still use their amp purchase for amplification.
There are other similarities here, including choice of amp wattage, USB recording capabilities, and even a “manual mode” where the amp’s knob and settings memories are ignored and instead exactly follow the physical control placement, to simplify the experience. When the dude in the band after you begs to borrow your amp for his set, you’ll appreciate this feature.
I haven’t played a Catalyst amp yet (hardly anyone has), but the online demos sound fantastic, and I have no doubt that this generation of HX modeling will leave Catalyst players very happy. Unlike a lot of internet guitar players, I think overall the Katana sounds good and is very usable for practice and gigs, even if it may require some deeper editing to nail an ideal tone. Catalyst arrives as a “step-up” modeling amp with a rich amp modeling architecture and a modern effects library shared with the flagship Line 6 units. The price difference is less than a hundred dollars between comparable models.
In the many years since the Flextones and Duoverbs appeared, the internet and social media has brought guitar players closer than ever to the engineers who sweat the details creating these products. Even with a $400 amp, players expect excellence in sound and construction. They expect the amplifiers to also serve as USB recording devices. They expect stage-worthy tones. They expect bedroom-volume-level guitar hero experiences.
Why should the most popular modeling amps always use yesterday’s modeling technology? I think Catalyst fills a good niche in the amp world - a digital modeling amp that uses today’s best modeling, at a friendly price. I look forward to trying one out someday.
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