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After years of development, digital modeling technology can finally deliver tones, dynamics and feel that are almost identical to the characteristics of classic tube amps. Ironically, Roland has just introduced a modeling amp that doesn’t offer any copycat emulations at all. It’s a ballsy move, but Roland knows full well that its new GA Series amps can stand on their own merits instead of having to rely on “sounds-like” marketing. Eschewing the typical “collection of amps” designs that have characterized modeling amps from the beginning, Roland has taken a bold direction that combines the spirit of traditional tube amps with the benefits and versatility that make digital amps so appealing to gigging guitarists.
The GA-112 and GA-212 are the first of what will surely be many GA Series amps. The former is a 100-watt combo with a single 12-inch speaker, while the latter is a 2x12 combo that provides 200 watts of output. For this review, I tested the GA-212.
Unlike previous Roland COSM products, the GA-212 has just one amp model, called a Progressive Amp. Thanks to a versatile control set, it’s possible to dial in an impressively wide variety of tones, ranging from classic favorites to exciting new textures.
The GA-212’s front control panel is very welcoming and familiar looking, offering drive and volume controls for the Progressive Amp section; EQ controls consisting of bass, middle, treble, and presence knobs; and reverb and master volume controls. In addition to voice and boost buttons, the amp has pushbuttons for selecting two separate effect loops, four channel buttons with which you can save and recall presets, and a button marked “manual” that makes the current knob settings active.
The rear panel provides two mono effect loops, each with its own 1/4-inch send and return jacks, +4/-10dB level switches and series/parallel switches. Outputs include a 1/4-inch line out, tuner output and a link output for connecting several GA Series amps together. There is also an input for an optional footswitch controller that lets players select channels or control boost, effect loop and reverb functions, and you can connect two expression pedals to the foot controller and use them to control volume and drive in real time while playing.
A pair of 1/4-inch main input jacks allow you to connect a stereo processor in front of the amp and split the left and right signals to individual speakers in the 2x12 cabinet for true stereo sound. The speakers are housed in a half-open/half-closed cabinet that provides the tight, focused bottom end of a closed-back cabinet and the room-filling spatial expansiveness of an open-back cabinet.
What’s truly cool about the GA-212 design is that it forces guitarists to approach it with an open mind and use their ears to create tones instead of relying on some engineer or programmer’s preset. Because the controls are similar to those on a standard tube amp, it’s easy to quickly dial in any desired clean, overdrive, crunch or distortion texture.
While the GA-212 can produce a wide variety of familiar tones, it really excels at tones that go beyond the limitations of traditional tube and solid-state designs. The EQ goes a little further than typical amp controls while it delivers attractive, musical tones, so if you want more than typical treble cut or even bolder bass boom, it’s there with the tweak of a knob.
Best of all, the GA-212 truly feels like a traditional guitar amp, responding faithfully to all of a guitar’s attack, sustain and touch dynamics. While some may feel that having only four channels is somewhat limited, this is actually more than enough for most players, and it forces indecisive tweakers to focus on dialing in the amp’s best clean, overdrive and distortion tones for their needs.
List Price $1,559
Manufacturer Roland Corporation, rolandus.com
The unique Progressive Amp model goes well beyond traditional amp models (and traditional amps as well) to provide an impressively wide range of musical tones.
Pushbutton channel switches on the front panel let you save and recall four presets, allowing the GA-212 to function like a four-channel amp—or a five-channel amp, including the manual setting.
The Bottom Line
The Roland GA-212 is ideal for guitarists who want the familiar feel and functionality of a traditional amp but also like to dial in their own tones that stand apart in an increasingly soundalike world.