New Gear, Roland AC-40

Gear - AC-40

by Teja Gerken

It’s the rare guitarist who doesn’t own at least one product made by Japanese electronics giant Roland or its subdivision Boss. From tuners to multitrack recorders, effects pedals to amps, the company has guitarists covered. And I’m not even talking about its extensive offerings of keyboards, electronic drums, and even high-tech accordions. In the electric-guitar-amplifier world, Roland’s venerable JC-120, an amp used by countless guitarists in numerous styles, is the only solid-state amp to have achieved the legendary status accorded classic tube-driven Fender or Marshall amps. Roland first applied its amp expertise to an acoustic-specific model in the mid-1990s, with the AC-100, and has continuously refined its line since. Roland’s AC line has grown to include, among others, the 90-watt AC-90 and the portable 30-watt AC-33, which can run on batteries and has a built-in looper. The company’s newest is the AC-40—an amp with simpler features but slightly more power than the AC-33, at almost the same price.

Familiar Face with Simple Features

The AC-40 will look familiar to fans of Roland’s acoustic amps, with its plywood housing covered with a seamless black cover, cloth grille, and control panel. The closed-back cabinet is just large enough to hold the amp’s twin 6.5-inch speakers, while the top is home to a simple control panel with two channels: one labeled guitar, the other mic/line. With the exception of the inputs (1/4 inch for the guitar channel and a combination 1/4 inch/XLR for the mic/line channel) the two channels are basically identical, with controls for volume, bass, middle, treble, and reverb, as well as a switch to engage two fixed chorus settings: “wide” and “space.” To the right of the channel strips is a compact master section consisting of a master volume control, anti-feedback switch, and power switch.

The amp’s rear panel is basic, but it does include one unusual element: an external power supply attached to a standard power cable, not a wall wart. The external power supply helps reduce the amp’s weight (just 11 pounds, 11 ounces), but it does mean having to remember an additional piece of gear—not an off-the shelf item at your local Best Buy or Radio Shack. Performers who travel internationally, however, could easily substitute power supplies that match the requirements in various countries, such as the 220 volts needed in Europe. The rear panel is also home to a headphone jack, left and right 1/4-inch line outputs, a stereo mini-jack auxiliary input with a small volume control, and a 1/4-inch TRS jack for an (optional) footswitch to engage the amp’s reverb and chorus effects. One cool feature, which is part of all Roland AC series amps (and I wish were included by more manufacturers), is a simple kickstand on the bottom of the unit—no need to look around the stage for something to put under the front of the amp to angle it upward for better sound dispersion.

Clean Tones and Rich Reverb

I tried the AC-40 with a trio of guitars, each with a different pickup system: a Lowden O10 with an L.R. Baggs Lyric, a Martin OM with an L.R. Baggs Dual Source system, and a Taylor 712c with a Fishman Rare Earth Blend. Right off the bat, with all the EQ settings completely flat, the amp sounded pleasantly clear, with enough transparency to allow each guitar/pickup system to display its individual character. The differences in tone among the three instruments became increasingly pronounced as I turned up the volume: the Lowden and Lyric sounded really good at a living-room volume, but when cranked to a level I might use for a café or similar gig, the sound became a bit woofy and I began encountering feedback, which I was unable to remove with the onboard controls (though the amp’s anti-feedback function was useful when I used the other guitars at higher volumes). With the Dual Source–equipped Martin, I got a really nice, full sound regardless of the volume, but I wished for a little more fine-tunable midrange control. I tried adding an L.R. Baggs Para DI to the signal path, and this allowed me to dial out a prominent lower-midrange frequency, resulting in a more natural sound. But the Taylor with the magnetic Fishman Rare Earth pickup turned out to be a perfect match for the amp. With this instrument, I got a super warm, fat tone that was about as good as I’ve heard from this particular guitar through any amplification setup.

During all of my experiments with the various guitars, I was impressed by how great the AC-40’s digital reverb sounded. Whether I used just a touch or dialed in so much that I was swimming in reverb, it always sounded rich, never grainy, adding Roland’s characteristic dimension and shimmer. Before I knew it, I was reaching for my Telecaster and playing the Police’s “Message in a Bottle” riff, which sounded great—you could definitely use this amp for clean electric sounds. I tried the amp’s mic input with a Shure SM-58. Again, the amp was able to reproduce this signal with a clean tone, and I could see using the AC-40 as a miniature PA in situations where volume requirements are modest.

Overall, the Roland AC-40 is a welcome addition to the acoustic-amp field. With its small size and light weight, it’s a great choice for gigs with modest volume needs where an unobtrusive setup is required. It definitely has enough juice for a coffee-shop or restaurant gig, but you may want to look at one of Roland’s larger amps if you need to compete with a loud band or fill a big room. ag

At A Glance

SPECS: 35 watts (2 x 17.5 watts in stereo). Two 6.5-inch speakers. Two channels, each with volume, bass, mid, and treble controls. 1/4-inch input on guitar channel and combination 1/4-inch/XLR input on mic/line channel. Digital reverb and stereo chorus effects (with optional footswitch). Anti-feedback control. Left and right 1/4-inch line output jacks. External power supply. 145/16 x 91/2 x 107/16 inches. 11 pounds, 11 ounces. Made in China. 

PRICE: $502.50 list/$420 street.
Maker: Roland Corp. US: (323) 890-3700; rolandus.com.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar January 2014

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