Rocktron | TABOO TWIN | - Johnson Amplification

Peavey TransFex Pro 2125
Rocktron Taboo Twin
Johnson Millennium Stereo 150
108 • January • GUITARIST
Johnson • Peavy • Rocktron Group Test
It’s the rutting season and the three leading multi-effects combos lock horns in a battle to decide which of these bucks
gets our doe. Doh!
At the fag-end of our century it seems the amp makret is in a state of
flux. It’s expanding at both ends of the technological spectrum, with
sales of classic valve amps ever increasing, but digits and computer
know-how creeping in by the back door.What’s great for everyone,
though, is that today’s players have never been more concerned with
tone, no matter how that laudable end is achieved.
Multi-effects processors are by now a familiar concept to all guitar
players. Love ‘em or loathe ‘em it’s impossible to ignore the impact
these little boxes have had on modern music. Imagine how U2 would
have evolved if The Edge hadn’t had access to his TC Electronics 2290.
Or Brian May with his Echoplexer. How about Hank Marvin without his
tape-loop Meazzi, for that matter? It was surely only a matter of time
108 • January • GUITARIST
before some boffin took the rack system—effects processors, a power
amp, preamp and any number of speakers—put the whole shooting
match in one portable box and hey presto! The multi-effects combo
was born.
The three amplifers that think they’re hard enough today are the
leading players in this new and burgeoining sector of the market. Now
you might say, "But what about the Line 6 Flextone and Yamaha DG1000?" Well, while those illustrious products are amplifiers with a certain number of digital effects built in, the amplifiers in this particular
trio are actually built around an existing stand-alone processor. But the
big question; is it worth chopping in all your gear for one of them? And
if so, which one?
Read on Macduff….
Peavey TransFex Pro 212S
PRICE £989 Amp giant Peavey has been making amplifiers for donkey’s years.
So is this digi-amp a groomed thoroughbred or a mere pack horse?
Thanks to the influence of Sir
Halen d’Edward’s trawls around
the world, Peavey’s profile has
never been so high. Building on
the solid foundations of a huge
range of amps that sell in even
huger numbers, giving them in
turn a large customer base, it was
clear that a company that makes
guitars, basses, keyboards and
drums wouldn’t be shy of a unit
such as this.
Build Quality
As with the other two bucks
that we find shivering in the headlights of the oncoming Guitarist
reviews juggernaut, Peavy has
taken an existing processor and
basically built an amp around it; in
this case, to the TransFex and
Special 212…a child is born.
Utilising Peavey’s excellent
TransTube circuits, the combo is a
wholly solid-state affair, boasting a
preamp with four gain modes
going through a power section
that kicks out 130 watts or, if you
prefer, 90 watts a side in stereo.
Subsequently, two Sheffield 1230
Turbo speakers handle the signal
and the whole thing is wrapped in
Peavey’s customary black and silver livery. I wish we could have
had the cool square logo like on
the S150, though — this one is
looking a little dated to us.
This processor is the biggest
of our trio, offering 128 user and
128 preset patches, with the
option of adding a further 128 via
RAM card.Therefore, you can play
with and store a huge variety of
tones. In addition to the four preamp modes there’s a choice of 37
effects types, with the option of
using up to seven at any one
time. Phew!
The front panel is split into
three distinct sections, with the
most important being the four
108 • January • GUITARIST
master pots to the right.These
enable you to fine tune the
combo’s output to a specific situation, assuming you’ve already balanced the patch’s own particular
mix and output beforehand.The
sound of all amps changes when
used in different sized and shaped
rooms, and by tweaking the ‘resonance,’ ‘presence’ and ‘master volume’ knobs, this is easily and
quickly overcome.
As with a vast majority of
multi-effects units, by far the easiest methods of beginning the programming operation is to scroll
through the preset patches until
you find one that’s at least
approaching the sound you’re
after. From here, it’s simple to add
or delete various effects; replacing
delay with reverb, adding a spot
of compression to a
chorus/reverb patch and so on.
Pressing the ‘edit’ button gets you
in the right place; then, moving
the cursor along the chain illustrated on the display and pressing
the ‘add/del’ button, lets you chop
and change. More often than not,
the effect you ’add’ won’t be the
correct one, but by using the up
and down arrow buttons, you can
scroll through all the effects the
unit possesses until you reach the
right one.Then, another press of
the edit button enables you to
get into the parameters of a particular effect, and from here it’s
easy to get exactly what you
want; presss ‘store’, assign a patch
number, store it and away you go.
The system is actually very
simple to get your head around;
it’s easy to get directly to the
effect you wish to edit and, as
with every similar unit, it doesn’t
take long before the particular
button-pressing process becomes
second nature.
Tailoring the preamp side is
just as straightforward, with five
pots designed to control the
amount of pre and post gain, as
well as the amount of treble, middle and bass—just like a conventional amp. It’s also possible,
depending on how the patch is
set up, to alter global settings too.
Being able to change the input,
output and EQ of every single
patch quickly has obvious advantages in terms of user-friendliness.
Peavey wears its heart of rock
firmly on its sleeve from the outset; the first patch, ‘Browncake’, is
unashamedly dedicated to Van
Halen— loads of drive and a
touch of chorus.To these ears,
however, the drive seemed rather
too woolly and even though use
of the EQ stages rectified the
problem somewhat, the sound did
seem to be coming from ‘far
away’, to quote Sammy Hagar.
The ‘Ultra’ preamp mode was
almost too much in the way of
gain and while thrashers will revel
in all this scoop, I found that by
far the most satisfying rock tones
came by way of the ‘Crunch’ and
‘Lead’ modes; things seemed just
that much more controllable.
As would expect from a total
of 128 presets, there’s all manner
of tones to choose from, and I
found the most impressive to be
the cleaner options. Using the
‘clean’ preamp mode, the obvious
starting point, and adding washes
of chorus embellished by reverb
and delay, you really do find yourself drifting off into another place
Other highlights include the
‘Harmony’ presets, particularly
the ‘SloHarmony’ options, which
repeats an already shifted not at
yet another pitch, for pure Brian
May fantasies.While on the subject of the Queeny one, something I always attempt on any
multi-effects unit we look at is to
set up a tapped or ping-pong
delay with zero feedback for his
trademark on-stage solo spot;
sorry Peavy, but to these ears, a
minuscule 726ms of delay does
not cut the poodled-haired mustard.
This aside, the vast majority of
digital effects are present here
and even if some of the drive settings require at least some tonal
twiddling, you’re left in no doubt
that this is very much a Peavey
Value for money
Here’s the rub that affects the
Peavey TransFex Pro, the
Rocktron Taboo Twin and, to a
lesser extend the Johnson 150
too; the additional cost of the relevant pro footswitch for each.
The Peavey comes in at £989, the
cheapest of the three amps, in
this test, but bang on the extra
£295 for the PFC 10 foot controller, plus yet more wonga for a
couple of expression pedals
and…well, you get the point.The
company doesn’t attempt to disguise the fact that you need to
spend this additional amount, but
it does make you wonder why
everything isn’t inlcuded in one
single package.You can’t really use
the amp to its full potential on
stage without it. Even so, it’s still
just about worth it, though…
Rocktron is one of the most
revered names in digital effects
and preamp units; Intellifex,
Repliflex, MIDI Mate, the list goes
on…Even the footswitches are
often more intelligent than the
guitarists at the other end of the
signal path!
We first clapped eyes on the
Taboo Twin combo at the last
Winter NAMM show in LA and
now, almost a year later, it finds
itself in a forest clearing, snorting
and stomping its front foot
towards a duo of its American
Rocktron Taboo Twin
PRICE £999.99 Effects giant Rocktron dabbles its toes in the guitar amp
waters for the first time.Will we bite them off?
Build Quality
On the face of it, the Taboo
Twin is a more straightforward
device than the Peavey, bristling
with familiar pots and a bank of
simply labelled, illuminated effects
However, within a cab swathed
in forearm-rasping black vinyl and
fronted by an in-yer-face steel
grille, lurks a processor full of
Rocktron trademarks in 128 programmable presets, helped on its
way by a single 12AX7 tube in
the preamp section.
Rocktron has opted for
Eminence speakers to handle the
100W output, and an intelligent
feature is that you can remove
the back of the cabinet for that
toppier, springier, open sound or
leave it affixed for more focused,
bass-heavier closed-back tones.
Nice touch, that.
Scrolling quickly through the
patches involves using the ‘preset’
knob, as opposed to a button, and
operating the front panel as a
whole is dependent on setting up
one of two modes ‘menu’ or
‘instant access’.When in the latter, each pot works just like on a
conventional amp, controlling anything from the amount of gain
and bass, to the levels of delay
and reverb, quickly and simply.
Using the red ‘menu’ button gets
you into the second mode, which
is where you need to be to begin
Each effect is split into three
subdivisions, controlled by its
108 • January • GUITARIST
own specific pot, and although a
significant amount of scrolling is
required, it’s actually quite an easy
system to get the hang of.
The ‘function’ knob provides
access to all the major editing
facilities, and if you wish to alter a
specific effect, you simply go
through the titles until you find
its name, ‘chorus’, ‘reverb’ and so
From here, using the ‘parameter select’ and subsequently the
‘parameter adjust’ controls
should bring you what you wanted; then it’s just a case of using
the ‘store’ button and ‘preset’
knob to etch your patch into the
combo’s memory. As well as following the above procedure, the
delay time can be changed via the
‘tap tempo’ button up to a maximum of 1000ms—that’s a whole
second to you and me.
Among the number of global
functions the Taboo possesses is
one to enable you to alter the
threshold of Rocktron’s
renowned Hush noise reduction
system across all patches, while
another lets you mute the
combo’s output, which is useful
for tuning, or while changing guitars between songs.
The preamp’s hi and low gain
modes are designed to operate in
completely different ways, to offer
the widest possible breadth of
tones form a single valve.The
‘variac adjust’ parameter of the hi
gain option mimics the way in
which the device lowers voltage
to increase valve saturation, while
the ‘tube’ parameter in the low
gain section offers four distinct
types of tube drive that differ in
Again, the first patch you
come across is a ‘doing-a-tondown-the-highway’ HM setting;
loads of gain with a slightly
warmer edge than the Peavey.
This is probably down to the
characteristics of the valve, but as
the Taboo is the largest in size
here, the bigger cabinet is almost
certainly a contributing factor,
The choice of presets isn’t as
large as I expected, with many of
them simply being variations on a
theme. However, the other school
of thought would say that there’s
little need for patches that sound
like a spaceship taking off with
the small alien left behind wittering in some sort of ‘computemeets- sparrow’ lingo —you’d
never use it— and you do at least
get a good idea of what the amp
itself is realistically capable of
without endless modulation
effects piled on top.
The EQ sections, as well as
both the ‘instant access’ and the
‘pre’ and ‘post’ section, are efficient and exhaustive in their
operation, which was useful in
brightening up many of the rather
dull-sounding presets.The settings
with less drive were the most
guilty of this, and although I managed to get close to the blusey
crunch I was after, it did require
quite a bit of fiddling.
However, opposing ends of the
tonal spectrum are served infinitely better, with everything from
scooped thrashy distortions to
super-clean and sparkly, reverby
chorus sounds being totally convincing—the clean sounds here
really are open and transparent—
especially with the back off.
Again due to the width of the
cab, the stereo picture is expansive indeed, and by panning the
stereo delays hard left and right
you can improve projection
Value for Money
Once more, there’s no
footswitch of any kind included
with the Taboo Twin, therefore,
for your £999.99 you get an amp
that is impossible to use effectively on stage without another significant outlay for a controller of
some sort. Both the Rocktron
options, the MIDI Mate at
£299.99 and the super-duper All
Access Remote at £599.99 (this is
a very pro foot controller indeed,
just in case you were wondering…) are excellent buys in their
own right, but neither includes an
expression pedal; so for wah
effects, aside from anything else,
more dosh needs to be spent.
The Taboo Twin is arguably the
most "amp-like" of this three in
conventional terms, especially in
its deisgn and layout, and the
sounds that can be extracted
from it should cover all tonal
bases—except perhaps for those
ever elusive just-breaking-up
blues tones—just be prepared to
twiddle somewhat beforehand.
Oh, and take a friend to help you
carry it around…
Johnson Millennium Stereo 150
PRICE £1,299.99 With not a dome in sight, DigiTech’s Johnson offers its own
cure for the millennium bug. But will it be the sale of the next century?
We have reviewed both this
combo and the 250 head version
in recent issues, and thanks to the
cool, semi retro styling, even the
technophobes among us sat up to
at least have a look…It couples
with the best parts of DigiTech’s
mighty 2120 effects processor
and preamp with a power amp
and speakers in what was surely
the obvious next step in the
American company’s evolution.
Build Quality
The Johnson differs slightly
from the other two amps by
offering specific amp modules, five
in all, based on a few well known
brands and some of their classic
settings.The left side of the gold
front panel is dedicated to this
part of the amp’s operation,
which is built on the tone of a
preamp powered by two 12AX7
A three-band EQ, gain and
master volume are controlled by
their own specific pot and a clear
digital display shows where each
has been set; each one has to be
stored in the memory if you
change it. It’s worth noting that
some of the amp modules don’t
feature a middle EQ pot; a nod
towards some of the amps that
inspired them.
The 2120 incorporates a ‘solo’
button via which you can add 6dB
of signal to a patch for lead work.
Here, this useful feature is taken a
step further, with each module
offering A/B channel switching.
This basically enables you to take
the exact sound you already have,
and increase the volume, gain and
EQ to boost solos without having
to entirely re-program another
108 • January • GUITARIST
patch. It certainly makes this feel
like a more conventional amp.
Programming, editing and simply getting to grips with the processing side of the Johnson is
made just that little bit easier by
the fact that the relevant part of
the front panel is tilted slightly
upwards towards you as you
bend down to look at it—sometimes it’s the little things…
Up to four digital effects out
of a total choice of 72 can be
used at one time, so it’s probably
a good thing that the row of controls beneath the display have
two distinct functions that
depend upon which mode you’re
in. In ‘play’ mode, they act as
instant access to the parameters
with which they are labelled—
effects levels, chorus speed and
depth—while in ‘edit’ mode they
enable you to alter the specific
workings of each patch.
After accessing a particular
patch via the effect wheel, things
are divided into pages; the ‘page’
knob lets you scoll through
before using the other controls
to alter, assign or edit functions
and parameters.This actually
works out as being quite a complex and involved process, and it’s
farily easy to get hopelessly lost
among the pages and functions in
short order. However, things are
simplified somewhat by the provision of five ‘effects library’ buttons that take you straight to
your chosen effect, whereupon
the page scrolling can begin in
earnest. If you change or alter
anything at all within a patch, the
‘store’ button illuminates in an
unmissable red and the display
depects ‘changed’ under the specific parameter; pressing the button several times commits your
settings to memory and away you
go again.
Probably the best way to
familiarise yourself with the
sounds of the Millennium is to
find patches that demonstrate
each amp module.Try not to be
put off when coming across a
patch entitlted something like
‘Bluesy Matchless’ or "Rectified’,
as it’s the sound that comes out
of the Celestion Vintage 30
speakers that’s really important,
not where its inspiration has been
drawn from.To this end, trial and
error with the gain levels and EQ
is a useful way of getting your
head around things and working
out which modules best suit your
needs. Useable sounds are present from the outset, and remember that if you edit any of the 100
presets, storing them automatically saves the changes to the corresponding number in the user section. High gain selections are satisfyingly full of saturation, but I
sometimes found them a little
harsh, as if the wick was wound
too far up. Depending on the type
of mega-gain you’re after, try the
‘American’ and ‘British stack’
modules first.
It’s best to opt for ‘combo’
modules if the more crunchy settings are your bag, and as with
the Rocktron and Peavey, adding a
touch of stereo delay widens the
whole sound out perfectly.
Physcially changing things while
actually playing is as easy as can
be expected, thanks to the instant
access facilities, tilted panel really
comes into its own if you find
yourself in this position.
The sounds from the
Millennium are arguably the most
tonally accessible, but, as usual, I
found a fair bit of tinkering was
required to get things just right.
However, as with the other two
amplifiers here, the preset patches are merely a guide and offer
starting points from which to
build your own patches.
Value for money
The fact that Johnson has bothered to include a J-3 footswitch
into the Millennium 150 package
is a major plus. And although this
only enables you to scroll up and
down the patches, as well as
changing between channels A and
B, it does at least allow you to
use the amp live. However, this
still doesn’t give any access to the
trademark Whammy effects, not
to mention the wah and some of
the morphing facilities. For this
you’ll require Johnson’s J12
footswitch which includes two
expression pedals and everything
else you’d need — at £299.99 it’s
hardly a snip.
The Millennium 150 is the
most involved of the three, ad
hence the hardest to get not
quickly. However, such is the
almost limitless array of features
available, it’s worth taking the
time to tweak your own bank of
favorite sounds. On top of the
that it sounds good
and…lawks…actually includes a
Before getting into which of
these three involved amps you
should splash out on, you need to
decide whether you actually need
one. On the surface, a powerful
2x12 combo loaded with digital
effects and several preamp modes
would seem to be a perfect setup. And if you’re currently using a
rack system that includes a preamp, effects processor, power
amp and a couple of speaker
cabs—all needing leads, a flightcase and a remote controller—a
combo that includes everything is
certainly a very attractive proposition indeed.
108 • January • GUITARIST
However, if you prefer just a
few basic sounds—clean, crunch
and distortion, with a bit of
reverb, delay and chorus—you’re
probably better off sticking with a
combo and a couple of pedals.
Still, if you’ve read this far, you’re
probably already interested and
would like to hear our recommendations.
I must just say that I found
them all annoying in one respect:
that the main lead sound that
most people want—a smooth, fat,
soaring overdrive—is particularly
hard to achieve.They all excel in
big thrash scoops and great clean
tones, but with all that processing
power, why is that natural tone so
difficult to find?
Anyway, after a long and
bloody battle there is a winner.
For me the Johnson Millennium
Stereo 150 has is.The programming facilities are exhaustive, the
layout is simple and the display
shows exactly where you are
within the editing process. It
might sound like a paradox, but
once you’ve overcome the initial
complexity, it’s the most userfriendly. Soundwise, too, apart
from some raspy distortions, I
preferred it. Perhaps those
Celestions are the tonal clincher…On top of that it looks by far
the best and at least comes with
a basic footswitch. All three companies recommend a specific
remote controller, in order to get
the most out of their specific
amps. Only Johnson’s J-12
footswitch includes expression
pedals, both the Peavey PFC10
and Rocktron’s MIDI Mate feature
inputs for these, but not the pedals themselves.
In Peavey’s and Rocktron’s
favour, both amps are easier to
get into quickly. But Peavey’s use f
abbreviations for the effects and
buttons slows down the process
somewhat, while the Rocktron’s
display was simply too hard to
As to whether this really is
the future for guitar amps, we’re
not sure, but we’d wager that
they’ll definitely help shape it.
Amp test specs
Johnson Millennium Stereo 150
Peavey TransFex Pro 2125
Rocktron Tabbo Twin
150W (75W a-side)
Two 12AX7 preamp valves, solid-state
power section
Two 12-inch Celestion Vintage 30
100 user, 100 preset
Five modules, two channels
72 in total, up to four digital simultaneously
Chromatic on-board
18.1” (H) x 28” (W) x 11.5” (D)
Digitech J3 included (J12 at £299)
Arbiter Group, Wilberforce Road,
London NW9 6AX Tel: 0181 202 1199
90W a-side @ 8Ω, 130W ™ 4Ω
100W (50-watt a-side @ 8Ω)
One 12AX7 preamp valve, solid-state
power section
Two 12-inch Eminence 75
128 programmable presets
Two modes
20.13” (H) x 30.75” (W) x 10.74” (D)
Not included (Rocktron MIDI Mate at £229.99)
Soho Soundhouse, 114-116 Charing Cross Road,
London WC2 ODT Tel: 0171 379-5148
Two 12-inch Sheffield 1230 Turbo
128 user, 128 preset
Four modes
37 digital, up to seven simultaneously
Chromatic on-board
20.8” (H) x 26.6” (W) x 11.3” (D)
Not included (Peavey PFC 10 at £295)
Peavey Electronics, Great Folds Road,
Oakley Hay, Corby NN18 9ET Tel: 01536 461234
How we test gear
HERE ARE MANY things to consider
when taking hte somewhat major step of
comparing a trio such as this. ThereÕs no way
that you can rush the process and the Guitarist
team spend over a week sitting with each amp
in turn, before comparing them directly with
one each other.
For the truest comparision, I decided to
choose a selection of sounds that would more
than likely turn up within the requirements of
a jobbing player. These included a heavy distoriton patch; an overdriven lead patch with
delay; a crunch patch, a clean patch including
reverb, chorus and delay; a slap-back
Shadstype delay and a Leslie rotary speakerstyle vibrato.
I took the back off the Rocktron to bring it
into step with the open back construction of
the Peavey and Johnson, and all three wre
tried through their own speakers before being
connected to our 4 x 12 can for that true stereo
During the course of the testing, I used a
DiMarzio-loaded Yamaha Pacifica 821, the
PRS McCarty Hollowbody reviewed in this
very issue and Godin LGX fitted with
Seymour Duncans.
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