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Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 18 Head

February 16, 2012
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Germany’s Hughes & Kettner is well known for its excellent high-powered rock amps, so it’s no surprise that the company has entered the mini-amp arena with an amp that has the features pro players demand and a sound that measures up to its reputation. The EL84-powered Tubemeister 18 starts out with a pair of footswitchable channels, a Lead Boost function, a builtin power attenuator, and an effects loop. There’s also an XLR line output with cabinet emulation that can be used to send a direct signal to the house in conjunction with a miked cabinet signal. Furthermore, when the power attenuator is switched to “silent” mode, the line out delivers a power-tube conditioned signal that works particularly well for home recording where miking isn’t always practical.

Tested with a 1965 Fender Stratocaster and a Fender Blacktop Jazzmaster equipped with humbuckers (the head driving a custom 1x12 cabinet with an Eminence Texas Heat speaker), the Tubemeister’s Clean channel lived up to its name: Even at full gain settings, single-coils barely drove it to breakup, while humbuckers elicited only mild crunch. Operating at 18 watts, the Tubemeister’s ability to deliver pristine clean sounds with impressive headroom is a boon for stompbox users who want their effects to really stand out. The amp also pumps out plenty of volume for smaller gigs.

The Lead channel provides much more overdrive, and its midrange- enhanced voicing makes the tones punch through very effectively. Activating the Lead Boost in this mode provides a significant increase in both gain and level, allowing near endless sustain even from single-coils. I’d be less likely to use it for a boost, however, and more inclined to simply leave it on for situations that demand a heavier distortion sound.

Even without the boost, the Tubemeister’s attitude is decidedly rock, with both channels exhibiting an edge in their clean and distortion voices that is cool and musical. It’s not particularly reminiscent of classic “British” or “American” amp tones, so this is definitely an aspect worth considering if you want a sound that will stand out in a mix with other amps.

 
The Tubemeister 18 sports neat and tidy circuitry on the inside.
I especially liked the way the channels cleaned up when I turned down my guitar, even with their Gain controls at maximum (as long as the Lead Boost was off). I was also impressed by how the tones remained remarkably consistent regardless of the wattage setting. Recording direct into the computer via the Red Box direct output also yielded very satisfying results.

With the trend these days toward smaller stage rigs, this addition to the growing list of low-wattage tube amplifiers is more than welcome. So if you’re looking for a versatile amp with a signature rock/metal sound, the Tubemeister 18 is something you should definitely try.

Specifications

Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 18 Head

CONTACT Hughes & Kettner; hughes-and-kettner.com
PRICE $749 retail/$599 street; 1x10 combo $899 retail/street price N/A
CHANNELS Two
CONTROLS (Clean channel) Gain, Master Volume. (Lead channel) Gain, Master Volume. Shared Treble, Mid, Bass. Channel Select and Lead Boost switch.
TUBES Two 12AX7 preamp tubes, two EL84 power tubes
POWER Selectable, 18-, 5-, or 1-watt
EXTRAS Series effects loop. Power Soak attenuator. Silent mode operation. XLR Red Box direct out/cabinet emulator. 8Ω/16Ω speaker out.
BUILT China
WEIGHT 11 lbs
KUDOS Versatile, dynamic low-wattage amp for club gigs, practice, or recording.
CONCERNS Front panel’s blue glow can make it tough to see the tiny dots on the knurled knobs.

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