With tons of sounds and the ability to link hands with your smart device for home recording, the latest Cube is trying very hard to please. Review by Martyn Casserly
Description: 40W 1X10″ modelling combo. Made in China
Contact: Roland UK – 01792 702701 – www.roland.co.uk
For years the Cube series of amps have graced the bedrooms and practice studios of many a musician. They have never picked up any awards for cultured design or elegant aesthetics, but they have built a reputation for great tones and hard-wearing construction that’s far more useful than looking pretty. Now the series has seen a nip-and-tuck revamp which adds a few features that can make that other small black device, your iPhone, part of the band.
The Roland Cube 40GX sits at the upper end of the range, with only the gig-ready 80W 80GX above. This makes it a loud little amp, almost too loud. If you live in a secluded house at the bottom of rarely-explored forest trail, then feel free to whack it up and let freedom ring. If, like most of us, you dwell in a more densely populated area then the Master is going to be hovering pretty much a hair above zero for most of the time. That’s not a big issue, as the Cube range doesn’t bother with valves which require proper volume to get singing; the solid state innards can be played with plenty of venom at bedroom levels and then let loose when you get to rehearsals.
Sporting the now famous industrial black livery with silver perforated grille, the 40GX looks every inch a Cube amp. Roland didn’t think was enough, though, and decided to replace its logo a while back with the all-caps CUBE legend, so that even when it’s turned off you feel like it’s shouting at you. Call us bluff old traditionalists (and considering that most guitars, pedals, and amps are based on designs over half a century old, so you’re on safe ground) but we miss the ‘R’ in the top left-hand corner.
The controls may be plasticky but the layout is simple and the sounds are good
The newer one just feels a bit brash. Of course you could level that accusation at most of the external elements. The corner pieces are chunky black plastic, the silver-topped dials lack a certain class, and the general absence of sleekness could cause Jony Ive to spontaneously combust in a furnace of artistic panic. So does this mean that the Cube 40GX is a bad amp? Absolutely not. It’s a great one.
Plugging in a guitar reminds you why the Cube range is so popular. The 40GX features three channels, JC Clean, Lead, and Solo, plus three FX sections, which gives the user a wide range of sonic options. The Lead channel also has 10 different COSM amp models going from slightly dirty up to heavy wig-out territory. If you add one of Roland’s GA-FC foot controllers (£79) then you can harness these features into a working pedalboard with the ability to swap channels and engage effects. The Solo channel can also be used to store a user-defined tone, turning it into secret weapon that can be employed easily during a gig. Roland are pushing the 40GX as a giggable amp and, while a frenetic drummer might cause you to disagree, as long as you can get a mic on it this would be a good, inexpensive unit for small venues.
For many people, though, this will be a domestic amp, and there are a few features built-in that suggest this might be its ideal location. Alongside the normal three-band EQ, FX controls, and various volume/gain controls, there’s also a 3.5mm jack input marked i-Cube Link. Using this you can connect your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch directly to the amp and actually record your playing onto the free Cube Jam app once you’ve downloaded it from the App Store.
Initially there are a few demo tracks to play along with, but you can also import any song from your iTunes library. The reason to do this is that the app can remove the main guitar line (or at least quieten it) and allow you to record a version yourself. You can also slow down the track without changing pitch, or transpose it if you don’t fancy detuning for all those Hendrix and Slash tracks. It’s not perfect, and the inability to loop the demo tracks or have a four-beat click-in is mystifying, but it does add fun to practising. The headphone socket also acts as a recording output as long as you have an interface that can take a signal from a ¼” jack.
The £79 GA-FC footcontroller expands live controllability
With Roland and Boss being part of the same company you always know that the tones coming out of their COSM powered devices will be quality. The 40GX delivers with great cleans that sound especially full and sparkly when mixed with a touch of onboard reverb. Steve Cropper-style riffs just beg to be played, while jazzy comping returns very satisfying results.
Moving through the gears on the dirty amp modes is also a pleasing experience, although you do need to balance the Gain and Volume controls differently on several of the models to avoid muddy tones at low volumes. Early Clapton grit is there, as is AC/DC leads, and even ’80s hair-metaltastic distortion that demands you turn up the delay and get those fingers a-tapping. At higher volumes the reverb can have a slight digital cloud as it fades, but judicious use will avoid it becoming a problem, and otherwise it sounds deep and rich, particularly when used with the tremolo effect.
A few years ago the 40GX would have been a very easy amp to recommend without reservation, but recent changes in the home amp market pose some awkward questions. If you want something that can be used as a live rig for small, mic’ed up gigs as well as practice and bedroom playing then yes, the 40GX is a competitively-priced amp that can do those things well, especially when paired with the GA-FC controller. For players who just want something to use at home it’s a more difficult choice. With desktop options such as the Yamaha TXR10 and Roland’s own Cube Lite offering extremely compact designs, integration with your PC or Smartphone, and optimised for home volumes, the classic boxy design is starting to look and feel a little cumbersome. The 40GX is a great amp that’s lots of fun to play, and which can produce some excellent tones. Whether you should buy one or not depends very much on where you intend to use it.
Tags: Amplifiers, Home, Reviews, Roland