Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - An Open Letter to Roland Incorporated: Your Fatal Flaw

Sunday, October 14, 2018

An Open Letter to Roland Incorporated: Your Fatal Flaw

Dear Roland,

 You make, and have made, some really great products.

 The D-50 keyboard, the VS-880, pioneering guitar synthesis with the 303/707, and now through Boss the Katana amp line.

 I write this because I'm vexed.  I bought a Katana because for the price it seemed like a clever bit of kit for my guitar lesson business.  Very versatile, sounds pretty good, and it may even work as a throw-and-go amp with 50 watts and the 12" speaker.

 It has a fatal problem.  A problem that has plagued every Roland device in history.  So much so that there are a few of us professional musicians that KNOW this and avoid your products because of it.


This would be ok - on a floor pedal in 1988.

It can sort of be summed up as follows.

 Roland digital products generally have a lot of capability but with a less than adequate display interface and operation implementation.

 I'll avoid going into too much detail, anecdotes about the VS-880 "snatch mode", or the endless products where you get to "scroll" through a little led display. 

 I kinda get the feeling that there must be a "legacy Roland SDK" that is used to write all software.  The Katana has echoes of things that I saw in products from 20 years ago.  The anti-intuitive patch numbering, buttons that do double duty to "swap" functions to a different set of presets, and other things.  The big problem is that you decided to forego midi and require a bespoke footswitch to access more than 4 presets. 

 I can only get 2 presets at once, unless I go through the ordeal of pressing-holding etc..  In the Ancient Times before the Yamaha SPX-90 came out that was ok.  It's not in the year 2018.

 The double-duty knobs that switch function at 12 o'clock is a horrible idea.  That you can't get at both features at once makes it doubly worse.  A micro-tiny tap tempo button.  Not even an indicator led for which model is selected - it's like not only did you decide to go "retro" with an early-80's level of technology, you also decided to skimp on the hyper-expensive led (which cost you what - $.01?).  Peavey, Line6, various Chinese companies find it cheap enough to put display logic onboard for an LCD in entry-level beginner practice amps that cost even less than the Katana - there is no reason for this.

 So, one is never really sure what is going on with the Katana, even when plugged into the dodgy editing software with a computer.  The USER EXPERIENCE is diffuse and unpleasant.  To make matters even worse, I wasn't surprised to find the Katana manual looks like Every Roland Manual From the Dawn of Time: stereotypically dry and unhelpful.

 Line 6 is your competitor now, not necessarily because of a great sounding product, but because there has been some rudimentary thought put into the End User Experience, even down to the way the manuals are written.  It would be worthwhile to study and emulated them in that aspect.

 The Katana created a big splash based on price and capability, but I'm guessing that shine is becoming lack-luster as people realize in the day to day use it's just as frustrating as Any Other Roland Product.  I kind of expected the Katana to break that mold, I expected it at this point.  I was wrong, it's another clunky to use Roland product.

 So now I'm thinking of selling it, because while in theory it should be a great amp for guitar lessons, I'm basically just using it on one channel with one sound 99% of the time.  No, I'm not going to buy the footswitch that costs almost as much as the amp.  No, I don't feel like trying to switch it from a computer.  You haven't bothered with an IPad app - that might have sufficed, but no.

 I imagine the Roland Process is something like finding a New Capable Chip, throwing engineers at it to get the nth capability out of it, and then putting it in a box.  There is more to it than that IMO.  I'd imagine the perennial seller of Boss pedals keeps the money coming in, maybe I'm wrong, but it's a shame you can't couple capability with usability after all of these many years.

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