The Rockman

Thus was born the Rockman, a small black box with some very large implications for guitarists. Tom plugged an Ibanez electric into his only working prototype and said, "What the hell, let's give it some power here, might as well go all out." He pushed a four-position switch all the way over to "distortion" and did the same with the three-stop volume control, then began spinning off bursts of rock 'n' roll guitar fire, which I heard over a companion set of phones ("You've got to have another headphone outlet; how else can you impress anybody with how great you are?") The sound, including chorus and a sleek but restrained echo was very full, balanced and quite exciting. It was not the Boston/Scholz sound I expected; it was really your basic meat 'n' potatoes rock guitar sound, but a very well crafted and subtly distinctive one. It became even more apparent that the unit was not a Boston-clone device as Tom switched to half-distortion, an intermediate setting "you could use for rhythm"; as he picked harder, the distortion increased; as he lightened his touch, it cleaned up.

Then Scholz plugged in my Gibson ES-345, the first semi-hollow he's ever run through the Rockman and tried two "clean" settings. One enhanced the mid-range of my guitar and brought out all its natural warmth. Then he demonstrated a second setting, explaining why he decided on two different equalization patterns: "If you look at the difference between a Fender and a Gibson, they're on opposite ends of the spectrum; incredibly different. That's what led me to include two clean settings. This second, higher position is also what you'd do for an electric piano, pushing the highs a lot and shoving the bass in a reasonable place."

The larger issues of Scholz literally selling his sound seemed to have reverberations and I asked him if he felt there were any dangers to it. He quickly refuted my suggestion: "Oh, it's not MY sound. That's the nice thing about it; that's why we have all these choices." Scholz then quickly demonstrated a series of totally different rock sounds, including a T-Bone Walker blues, a Birdsian ring, a Joe Pass thick-and-dry jazziness and a top-forty sheen.

"Somebody once commented that if I make the Boston sound available to everyone, I'll be out of a job. Lots of people will be able to get my sound with the Rockman if they really want to; all they have to do is use a Les Paul, some SGs'll do it, a set of DiMarzio super humbuckings, turn the volume down a little bit and use the bridge pickup and they'll be all set. But it won't play the guitar for you. It certainly won't put Boston out of business. It'll make it a little easier for all the producers and engineers who've been trying to cop the Boston sound for the last five years, but I'm not worried."

[Editor's note: Contrary to popular belief, the original Rockman and the later version, the X-100, were not "Boston in a box". They did NOT have the same EQ filtering provided by the 6 band EQ (Tom has said in interviews that he used a 10 band MXR EQ in front of the X-100 to change sounds while recording Third Stage). However, that filtering was added to the Sustainor and also to the Distortion Generator, but was later made to be far less pronounced in the XP series. The XP series is based more on the original filtering of the X-100.]

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Last updated October 6, 2003 1