Some amp and guitar manufacturers have a habit of resting on their laurels, and letting their past glories carry them through decades forward. Hughes & Kettner is not one of those companies. Instead of rehashing old ideas and repackaging them as new, Hughes & Kettner always seem to be pushing the envelope in amp design, while never forgetting that it’s all about the tone. From high-end stomp boxes, to killer tube and solid state amps, to the legendary Red Box DI, H&K continues to move forward and wow guitarists the world over. Their newest line, the Tubemeister series, has been making major waves over the last year with 18 and 5 watt heads and combos. Combining big tube tone in a portable package, the Tubemeister amps have been extremely well received, deservedly so. Riding on that success, Hughes and Kettner introduces the Tubemeister 36 Head.
The Tubemeister 36 (TM36) is a 36 watt edition of the popular new series. Like the 18 watt version before it, is sports an FX loop, multiple channels, and a built-in power attenuator. It also includes the Red Box DI output, which is allows you to send a cabinet-emulated line out to a mixer or mic preamp. This is a great option for those of us who love home recording but have neighbors who don’t appreciate our musical genius! It also offers a power soak, allowing you to operate in 18, 5, and 1watt modes, or a silent modes which you can activate for direct recording. However, the TM36 packs a lot more than its 18-watt predecessor. Here are some key upgrades:
1) MORE POWER! – As you’ve probably figured out by now, the TM36 has twice the power as the 18 watter. It is powered by 4 EL84 tubes, and 3 12AX7 preamp tubes. Aside from volume, it does add quite a bit of depth to the overall tone. The lows are able to push quite a bit more, and 4×12 cabs get to resonate and move more air.
2) 3 Channels – The TM36 features Clean, Crunch, and Lead channels. The Clean channel has its own independent EQ controls, while the Crunch and share an EQ. All 3 channels have their own Gain and Master volume controls.
3) Digital Reverb – Unlike the 18 and 5, the 36 has built-in digital reverb, accessed on the rear panel via an On/Off button and a Min-Max knob. While the reverb does not get very saturated, it does vary depending on the channel you are on. If you are on the Clean Channel, it is wetter, and dries up as you move to the Crunch and Lead channels.
4) MIDI Footswitching – Here’s where the TM36 is unlike nearly any amp available, regardless of power. Using the optional FSM-432 MIDI board (the same one used for their Coreblade series), you suddenly have access to a multitude of tone combinations. Not only can you switch between channels, but using the MIDI board allows to to preset the power soak setting, the FX Loop, and Reverb. Heres a quick example: You can program the board so you can have one channel be Clean, with Reverb on, running at 36 watts. Then you can program another channel to be your Lead channel, running at 18 watts for added breakup, with Reverb off and the FX loop on! As the FSM-432 has 32 banks, each with 4 presets, you can program 128 different settings….which is freaking crazy.
As Hughes & Kettner was kind enough to loan this to me for a week, I decided to put it to good use. My first night with it, I took it to my band’s rehearsal. Hourly rehearsal joints are hit or miss when it comes to amps, so it was nice to bring something solid to the jam. I plugged it into a Marshall 1960 cab, and blasted away.
I started by checking out the Clean channel. With the added power, I was taken aback by the clarity. Compared to the TM18, the 36 gives a considerable amount of depth and true clean tone. Set the Gain low and the Master high, and you have a very clean, AC30-like chime. Crank the gain and pull back on the Master, and you get a Plexi vibe that is very reactive to your picking velocity.
The Crunch channel offers a very open sound that lends itself well to big open rock chords. As it is not overly compressed, it is a bit unforgiving. In other words, if you haven’t been practicing, this channel will not cover it up for you. It is very reactive to touch, and has a bit of a darker overall tone to it.
The Lead channel was where I spent most of rehearsal, as I like big loud gain. For me, this is where the TM36 won me over, much like the 18. With most amps, I usually dial in a thick rhythm sound, and use an overdrive for leads to add some compression and saturation. With the TM36, I didn’t even use a pedal. I was able to dial in a tone where the chords shined through, yet with enough sustain to bust out leads without any assistance form a pedal. This is a rare trait for any guitar amp in my experience.
Then it was gig time. I strapped the TM36 and my Pedaltrain Jr. to my cart, and hit the road……make that rails. My band was playing Trash Bar in Brooklyn that night, and I was stoked to play through this thing again at an unreasonable volume. Upon plugging it into the house Marshal 4×12, many friends approached me to ask what the little glowing box I had was. After turning it on and up, the sound guy kindly asked me to bring down the volume. I obliged…..until he walked back to his booth of course. Throughout the set, the TM36 held it’s own, and sounded fantastic. It must have brought something extra out of me, because many of my friends told me after the set that my playing was particularly on point that night. I’d like to take all of the credit of course, but great gear brings out the best in any player.
We then took the TM36 to the studio to do the demo video that is featured with this blog. The sound you hear in the video is my Les Paul Custom plugged straight into the head, into a THD 2×12 cab. To mic the cab, we used a Shure SM57 (is there any other cab mic out there?). We also included the raw audio files from this session, as we wanted to give you the same performance through a cab, as well as the Red Box DI out so you can hear the tone from each.
We also included a short little ditty I came up with on the fly. It’s basically sampled drums, 2 rhythm tracks (recorded using the Crunch channel), and one blistering solo (Me? Humble?) recorded using the Lead channel. Hopefully this provides some added context for how good this amp really sounds.
Between the video, the review, and the included audio files, I think I’ve made my point: This amp rules! When I reviewed the TM18 head last year, I was so blown away that I didn’t give it back. The TM36 might take some strong arms to pluck from my hands as well. Thanks again to our friends at Hughes & Kettner for letting us put this through the rigors of NYC, and for making another solid amp in their huge family of amazing gear. If you want to get one for yourself, hit us up at ProAudioStar.com. Until next time, PLAY LOUD!!!!