In terms of great gear at reasonable prices, guitarists have never had it better. As solid state technology improves, the gear gets better and prices keep dropping. Nowhere is this more evident than with modeling amps like the Boss Katana and the Fender Mustang.
In this KillerGuitarRigs review, we’ll be directly comparing the Boss Katana and the Fender Mustang to find out which offers the best tones, and ultimately, the best value.
Models and Pricing
Both Boss and Fender offer a pretty broad range of models in their modeling amp lineups. Between the two brands you’ll find everything from headphone amps and mini combos, through to separate heads and cabs ready to play big venues.
Starting with Boss, at the bottom end of the range is the Boss Katana Mini – a 7 watt mini combo amp, which is without a doubt the best micro amp money can buy. It’s usually available for around $100, give or take a dollar or two.
The most popular Katana model, and the one we got our hands on, is the Katana 50MKII. A 50 watt solid state combo amp featuring a single 12 inch speaker, retailing at around $250.
At the top of the Katana range are the amp head and cabinet separates, retailing at about $370 and $360 respectively. If you’re looking for an amp for larger venues and you’d prefer a combo, then the Boss Katana 100/212, which is typically available for $500 at retailers like Sweetwater.
The Mustang range is pretty similar, although Fender has broken it up into two submodels, the LT and the GTX, with the LT being the more inexpensive of the two. The smallest model in the series is the Mustang Micro headphone amp, which by all accounts is one of the best headphone amps on the market, and normally retails around $100. This is a hot seller, however, and is frequently out of stock.
The best selling combo in the Fender lineup is the Mustang LT25. It’s frequently found in bundle deals and typically retails at around $175. If you need something bigger in the LT range, you can opt for the LT50 (the model we tested). The LT50 sells around the $280 mark.
Within the high end GTX series, there is a 50W (GTX50), and a 100W (GTX100) option. The 50 watt model retails around $400, and to double the power and get a 100 watt model, you’ll pay somewhere around $500.
Both being modeling amps, the Katana and the Mustang do share some similarities as far as feature sets go, how they sound, and how they are to operate is really what separates these two amplifiers.
The Boss Katana 50 came with 5 different amp voicings (Clean, Crunch, Lead, Acoustic, and Brown). These presets, with the exception of ‘Brown’, are not modeled on any particular amps, but regardless, they all had incredible tone right out of the box. The ‘Brown’ amp is pulled from the incredible Boss Waza amp. In all settings we found that the amp was clear and articulate, with excellent mid range presence, and a nice balance of bass and trebles.
The Fender Mustang LT 50 does feature more amp voicings, many of which are based upon classic Fender models, including the ‘57 Champ, ‘59 Bassman, and the ‘59 Twin Reverb, amongst others. In addition, there are voicings inspired by famous amps from other brands including the Vox AC30, and the Marshall Super Lead. While there is a lot more variety, we found the models to be a little numb. In most cases, if we didn’t read the manual, we wouldn’t necessarily have known which amps we were playing.
Boss are one of the best known, and most played brands when it comes to standalone FX pedals, and the 60 digital replicas of those pedals built into the Katana 50 are worth the price of the amp alone. While having digital FX in an amp isn’t as versatile as having an actual pedal board or even a digital multi FX unit like a Quad Cortex, it still gives you the opportunity to experiment and play with some great effects without having to purchase additional pedals.
Fender loaded the LX50 with 26 FX, including some stompbox FX inspired by famous pedals like the Tube Screamer, and the Klon. There are also a range of modulation, delay, and reverb effects. We found that the FX were more convincing than the amp models, but still not as close to the originals as the Boss Katana 50’s FX were.
Both the Boss Katana and the Mustang LX50 feature a single 12” speaker, and both are house made. The boss has a Katana branded speaker, while the Mustang is equipped with a Fender Special Design. Overall, we found that the Boss speaker produced much tighter tones, both with heavy distortion and played clean.
The Fender Special Design speaker was a little lackluster. It didn’t give us much mid range presence at all, which we suspect is to blame for the numb sounding amp models.
As far as ease of use goes, the Fender’s layout is initially more user friendly. There are fewer knobs and switches, which to a new user, may feel easier to use, although after some time, the lack of readily available controls can feel limiting. A nice feature on the Mustang was the small LCD display that highlights which amp model you’re currently using.
The Boss has no display, and relies on colored lights above the FX knobs to indicate which particular effect is currently active. This isn’t the most user friendly way we’ve ever seen built in FX units set up, but after some time you do get used to it.
Final Thoughts on the Boss Katana vs. the Fender Mustang
Ultimately this is a fairly easy choice. Not only is the Boss the less expensive of the two, but the tones are far superior, the build quality is better, and the amp voicings are much more accurate. The Boss feels much more like a prosumer level amp, something that will keep intermediate and advanced guitarists satisfied, while still being accessible to new players. THe Fender on the other hand never gets away from the feeling of being a bundle amplifier. The models and FX can feel a little gimmicky at times, and it doesn’t feel like the type of amp that grows with your ability, rather one that you’ll probably end up trading for a Katana at some point in the future.