Review: Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 36 Amp Head
I reviewed Hughes & Kettner’s Tubemeister 5 mini amp a few issues ago, and was impressed by both its feature set and huge sound. The new Tubemeister 36, with 36 watts of output and three channels, offers considerably more features in a compact package that’s only about twice the size of the Tubemeister 5. The Tubemeister 36 may still qualify as a mini amp, but the only things small about it are its physical dimensions and affordable price. It offers versatility, performance and functions that aren’t available on many three-channel amps nearly four times its size.
The Tubemeister 36 is a stylish amp head featuring chrome handles on its sides and a clear Plexiglas faceplate that lets you see the transformers and glowing tubes inside. The interior is also illuminated with cool blue LEDs when the amp is powered up. Four EL84 tubes drive the power amp section to provide 36 watts of output, while three 12AX7 tubes drive the preamp section. To keep the size as small as possible, the Tubemeister 36 features onboard digital reverb instead of a bulky spring reverb tank. The reverb is also programed to sound full and lush with clean tones and become less pronounced with crunch and distortion tones to avoid the smeared mush that often occurs when using reverb with high-gain sounds.
The front panel is logically laid out. It has separate gain and master volume controls for the Clean, Crunch and Lead channels, three-band EQ (treble, mid, bass) controls for the Clean channel, and three-band EQ controls that are shared by the Crunch and Lead channels. Each channel has its own push-button selector switch, although you can also switch channels with an optional footswitch controller or via MIDI. The rear panel reveals most of the Tubemeister 36’s “secret” weapons, which include its Power Soak feature, Red Box DI output and TSC (Tube Safety Control) self-adjusting bias feature.
The Power Soak reduces power to 18 watts, five watts or one watt and provides a speaker-off setting that allows guitarists to use the head without an external speaker cabinet or load box. The Power Soak is also MIDI programmable, allowing users to program different settings for each channel (such as 36 watts for the Clean channel for maximum clean headroom, 18 watts for the Crunch channel to produce full-bodied power amp overdrive and five watts for the Lead channel to generate singing sustain at lower volumes). Up to 128 different combinations can be saved. The Red Box is an XLR DI output with 4x12 speaker emulation for sending the preamp and power amp tone to a mixing console or recorder. The TSC automatically adjusts optimum bias, and rear-panel LEDs indicate if the power tubes are malfunctioning.
A MIDI input lets guitarists use an external MIDI controller to switch channels, reverb, effect loop and Power Soak settings, and a MIDI Learn switch makes it easy to assign amp settings to a program-change number. The seven-pin MIDI connector also provides up to 20 volts of direct current for powering a MIDI controller without an external power supply.
I thought the Tubemeister 5 sounded huge, but the Tubemeister 36 sounds absolutely colossal, especially when connected to a 4x12 cabinet. Like most Hughes & Kettner amps, it has its own sonic personality, so you’ll want to try a variety of cabinets to find the best match. With 1x12 cabinets, the amp sounded best through speakers with scooped midrange characteristics, as the Tubemeister 36’s inherent midrange is quite pronounced and assertive.
The Clean channel offers more than ample undistorted headroom, and it can generate lush, gorgeous tones with the reverb dialed in. The Crunch and Lead channels deliver plenty of supersaturated gain and sustain, but if you prefer muscular power amp thump you can get that even at low volume levels thanks to the Power Soak. Don’t let the Tubemeister 36’s small size and 36-watt output fool you—this is a truly gigworthy amp that’s more than loud enough for the stage. And if you need more volume you can feed its glorious tone to the house PA via its impressive Red Box DI.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Hughes & Kettner Tubemeister 36 may be a mini amp head, but it provides outstanding tones, versatile professional features and distinctive innovations that many full-size amps don’t offer.