HUGHES & KETTNER HAVE BEEN
getting players to dig into their programmable
tube amps for years now, with artists
such as Alex Lifeson and Allan Holdsworth
gigging with Switchblade models and
Annihilator’s Jeff Waters touring with the
Coreblade reviewed here. The Coreblade
represents the pinnacle of H & K’s programmable
line and is packed with features.
I tested it with a Larrivee RS-4, a
Gibson Les Paul, a Fender Strat, and a
Schecter Damien Elite 7-string.
We unboxed the Coreblade and were
very impressed—if not a little intimidated—
by its tough, mean appearance. It looks and
feels very much like a tank, with bars to
protect the tubes inside, 15 beefy knobs,
two sturdy switches, a red Boost button,
and six cool blue illuminated buttons (to
show the status of the noise gate and effects
loop and to store and up- or download presets).
The back panel is just as full featured,
sporting a bevy of jacks for speakers,
footswitches, MIDI controllers, and effects loop, as well as a Sensitivity control for the
programmable Noise Gate and a series of
LEDs for the Tube Status Control (more on
this bitchin’ feature later). Firing up the Coreblade
revealed a sexy glow from the tubes
that foreshadowed the hot tones that this
amp is capable of.
Without further ado, I plugged in a Les
Paul and auditioned Clean, the first of the
four channels. It is as advertised, with lots
of headroom and pristine ring with the Gain
anywhere below 2 o’clock. The passive 3-
band EQ was very effective at taking the
sound from pop jangle to smoky jazz, with
the Presence and Resonance controls offering
further tone shaping. I like at
least a little dirt on my clean sounds, and
engaging the Boost provided just the right
amount of hair for a big, sweet sound that
filled the room with no need for reverb or
other effects. Being greedy, however, I
reached for the Reverb knob and dialed a little
in, followed by a hint of Delay and Chorus.
The process couldn’t be easier and the results
were beautiful. I didn’t want to lose my killer
tone so I pressed and held the Store button
and bam! Preset stored.
Next I switched over to the Drive channel.
This is where you’ll go for your bluesy
grind and AC/DC-style power chords. I really
dig this channel—very dynamic with a huge
range of tones. Lower Gain settings can actually
work great for clean tones and adding
the Boost rocks them out. Higher Gain levels
produce fat, saturated chords that still
have detail and definition, and kicking the
Boost in makes them sustain forever. I saved
a couple of my favorites with varying levels
of Gain and effects and moved to Ultra 1.
Although the Ultra 1 channel is capable
of other styles, what it wants is metal. Fierce,
in-your-face metal (or, for Metallica fans,
metal up a slightly lower region of the body).
Even at modest Gain settings, this tone is
thick and saturated, with big lows and slicing
highs. There’s plenty of pick attack, so
fast riffs don’t get mushy. Any amp with this
much gain is going to produce some hiss, so
I engaged the Noise Gate and was amazed
at how quiet it made the ’blade. Like “on
standby” quiet. I turned the Master up and
made the mistake of hitting a chord and the
ensuing sound tore my head off. This gate
is so effective it should come with a warning
label. After collecting my thoughts, I got
back to chugging. The Schecter 7-string
sounded amazingly heavy through this channel,
with a massive low end and vicious
distortion. The Schecter’s EMG pickups were
also a great match for Ultra 1—this channel
was probably voiced with EMGs. With the
Gain at high noon, I had a skull-crushing
rhythm tone and all I had to do was kick in
the boost for leads. Ultra 1 isn’t as flexible
as the Drive channel, but who cares?
That takes us to Ultra 2, which has so
much gain and distortion that it’s best suited
for extreme metal. Even at whisper levels,
the sustain is endless. One great non-metal
tone I got on this channel was neck pickup
on a Strat with the tone control rolled all the
way off. This was flutey and sing-y, almost
like an EBow.
In addition to all this flexibility, the Coreblade
still has one unique feature up its
sleeve: the Tube Status Control. The TSC
gives you a visual readout of tube health,
automatically sets optimum bias, removes
bad tubes from the circuit so you can get
through the gig, and allows you to swap 6L6s
for EL34s or run a combination of the two.
We tried it and it works like a charm. The
sonic differences between the EL34s and
6L6s weren’t quite as pronounced as I would
have thought, but this feature could be a lifesaver
on the road.
To sum up, this is a really hip tone
machine. While it might look like a fourchannel
amp, it’s really more like a
128-channel amp (or more) thanks to its
programmability. Even if you don’t play
music that requires the mayhem that the
Ultra channels are capable of, you could program
out 25 different versions of Clean and
Drive and get through any gig or session.
Then there’s the effects, which sound gorgeous.
The Coreblade gives you the tone
sculpting options of a modeling amp but
with all-tube tone. It’s a winner.
CONTACT Hughes & Kettner; hughes-and-kettner.com
PRICE $3,129 retail/$2,499 street
CHANNELS Four, up to 128 presets
CONTROLS Master Volume, Reverb Volume, Delay Level,
Feedback, and Time; Mod FX Intensity and Type;
Volume, Presence, Resonance, Treble, Mid, Bass,
Gain. Switchable functions: Boost, noise gate, FX
loop (on/serial), store, memory (stick/amp),
channel selector (Clean, Drive, Ultra II, Ultra II).
TUBES Four EL34 power tubes (also handles 6L6GC power
tubes), three Sovtek 12AX7 preamp tubes.
POWER 100 watts
EXTRAS Three independent effects processors for programmable
reverb, modulation, and delay; 16Ω,
8Ω, and 4Ω speaker outs, MIDI-Board FSM-432
MKII footswitch, TSC Tube Status Control, frontpanel
memory stick port.
WEIGHT 40.12 lbs
KUDOS Unreal flexibility. Huge range of tones. Unique
Tube Status Control.
CONCERNS All this flexibility and power could be overwhelming
for old-school players.