The guitarist’s quest for tone at times can seem an endless journey. Many seek the snap, bounce and crunch of traditional tube designs, but want a variety of signature tones of iconic American and British amps. The Boss Nextone Stage, a lightweight, compact, two-channel 1x12 combo, uses the Roland/BOSS Tube Logic circuitry to deliver emulations of four classic power tube sections based on 6V6, 6L6, EL84 and EL34. It’s a conveniently packaged amp that delivers on that promise of tones in those classic ranges. Having a chance to work with it in my home studio for a while showed that it also provides a few pleasant surprises along the way.
Easy to carry tone, ready for any gig
At under 30 pounds total weight, and with a compact, retro-styled 112 open-back design, the Nextone Stage is certainly in the “grab-and-go” category for small venue gigs. The headphone output mutes the speaker output, so if that gig is one of the increasing number that calls for a “silent stage,” or you’re looking to do some late night practice, it’s got you covered. There’s also a separate line-level out that doesn’t mute the speaker for mic-less connection to front-of-house sound. If you’re recording at home, the built-in USB connection functions as an audio interface. Sound from all three non-mic sources was solidly in the ballpark of the open room sound of the amp. There’s obviously some form of cabinet compensation on all the direct-out sources, though that’s not mentioned in the manual, which helps the amp record smoothly and sound, well, like a speaker cabinet.
The top-mounted control panel of the amp will be totally familiar to any guitarist who’s used a dual-channel amp, with a couple of exceptions on the right-hand side of the panel. From left to right you’ve got clean channel volume, lead channel gain and volume, a three-knob tone stack, level controls for the built-in delay and reverb effects, presence and master volume. There are also small buttons for channel switching, gain boost, tone boost, delay on/off and tap tempo. All of those functions, as well as access to the presets (yes, there are both factory and user presets) are available from the optional footswitch. So far, pretty normal, right? Then there are those two extra knobs next to the top-mounted power switch, which is where the Nextone Stage starts to become more than just a normal small combo amp.
Selecting the right TubeLogic power section
The knob labeled “Power Amp Select” is the place to select which of four Tube Logic power amp voicings you desire. The first choice is 6V6, which provides a response similar to the 1950’s-era tweed-voiced world and 1960’s low-wattage American combos. Next is 6L6, the big, bold, cleaner tonal stamp of larger American combos of the ‘60s. Stepping across the Atlantic, we come to EL84, the classic British chime of mid-’60s 15- and 30-watt combo amps. Finally, choose EL34 for the bark and snarl of larger British combos and heads. When you make a selection, there are other things that happen “under the hood.” The voicing and placement of the tone stack will change from “American” to “British” and the type and level of boost may alter. But these are things you don’t have to worry about — just play with the knobs and find the sounds that your ear enjoys.
Speaking of ears, it’s important to protect yours, and the other knob at that end of the control panel is labeled “Power Control.” It offers you three different levels of output power. You can get the full 40 watts, half power, and a half-watt setting that’s ideal for low-level practice, while still pushing the amp as hard as you need. A half watt, by the way, can still get plenty loud in a small room, due to the efficiency of the custom 12” speaker in the Nextone Stage.
Discovering options in the editor
For many players, that level of control will be more than enough for them to fully enjoy this versatile little amp. It delivers a lot of variety in a very simple-to-use format. But, if you, like me, like to dig in and really start deeply tweaking the sound, you’ll want to download and install the USB driver and Nextone Editor from the BOSS website, so you can start exploring the universe inside the Nextone Stage. Once there, you’ll discover a plethora of features that are only accessible via this route — features that make this amp even more versatile.
Once you connect the amp’s USB port to your computer and boot up the editor program, you’ll see a screen that lets you flip between preamp, power amp and effects sections. In the preamp section you can set up any of three kinds of boost, or a compressor, that are then accessed from the “Boost” button on the panel or footswitch. You can also change the type and level of tone boost, determine whether the current amp should have American- or British-style tone stack, set up a noise gate, and set up a semi-parametric EQ that can be placed either before or after the preamp section. All of these are independent for the clean and lead channel. So you could, for example, set up a clean channel with a compressor, an American-style tone stack, no noise gate and tailor it all with some post-preamp EQ, then create a lead channel with a mid-boost, noise gate on, British-Style tone stack and pre-EQ the tone so you can better control what frequencies overdrive.
Create the amp feel you want
The Power Amp section not only lets you choose which of the four output section types a preset uses, but gets you independent control of virtual tube bias and “sag” to further customize the sound and feel of a preset. While it’s not exactly the same degree of “sag” you’d get from a tube-rectified, cathode-biased circuit, it’s definitely noticeable and adds a lot to the overall feel of the amp. You can also control the amount of low-cut and high-cut to further zero in on exactly the tone you’re looking for.
Selecting the right effects
In the effects section, you’ll discover three different types of available delay: a tape delay, analog delay and a delay based on the classic Roland SDE-3000 rack-mount, studio digital delay. There is also a tremolo effect that can be swapped into the delay spot if you’re feeling a little swampy. In the reverb spot, you can choose from plate, spring or hall reverbs, with a full set of controls for reverb length, pre-delay, hi- and lo-cut, reverb density, level, and, for the spring, a sensitivity control.
As with the Preamp and Power Amp sections, the Effects are independent for the clean and lead channels. What this means is that you can program presets with two completely different amps, and seamlessly switch between them. It’s really worth taking the time to dig into the editor, as those hidden internal features turn what’s already a great deal in a conveniently sized combo amp into a true gem of a recording and gigging machine.
I had this amp around the studio for a couple of weeks, used it for a couple of rehearsals, and did a little tracking with it. In the hours I spent with it, I was often pleasantly surprised and, once I started experimenting with the editor, felt that I was barely scratching the surface of its capabilities. The tones were organic and harmonically rich with a good “tubey” feel. The control panel gives you just enough access for easy on-the-gig tweaking, with the power lying underneath to put together some seriously custom sounds using the editor software and a USB connection. If you’re looking for an affordable, lightweight amp that can hold its own both on stage and in the studio while delivering a huge amount of flexibility, the Nextone Stage should