Single-channel amps are certainly adequate in many situations, but they often don’t offer much tonal variation. On the other hand, a multichannel amp, like the Hughes & Kettner Trilogy I’m reviewing this month, can quickly provide a player with access to a multitude of sounds and ways to shape them. If the Trilogy’s four channels of all-tube tone aren’t enough to pique your interest, this 100-watt German sound factory also features H&K’s patented SmartLoop technology, which saves and recalls your effects loop settings for each of the four channels. Look through the Trilogy’s glass fascia and you’ll see that the symmetrically aligned tubes— four EL34 power tubes behind a quartet of 12AX7 preamp tubes—are artistically set against an open black background. Even the choke and output transformer are hidden from sight, so they don’t interfere with the head’s alterlike appearance. The glass window is etched with the Hughes & Kettner name, with the titles for each section of controls below. When the amp is turned on, all of the etched lettering on the glass illuminates with an exciting bright blue glow.
The amp’s front panel controls are arranged in a simple way that requires no help from the manual; each channel section has its own controls, with illuminated buttons that let you manually select the channels and their special features. The four-knob Clean channel has a three-band EQ, its own volume control and a Sparkle button that activates an extra presence circuit. The Crunch channel features a threeband EQ, dedicated controls for master and gain and a boost feature that adds girth and gain. The lead section contains two channels: Lead and Ultra Lead. These high-gain channels share EQ and master controls but benefit from separate gain knobs. The master section contains global controls to dial in presence, master output and the effect loop’s wet/dry mix. It also has buttons to turn the effect loop on and off, select serial or parallel loop operation and activate the MIDI “learn” feature.
Hughes & Kettner’s SmartLoop technology seriously increases this amp’s flexibility by allowing players to save the selected loop settings for each channel. The included FS-4 four-button footswitch provides a separate switch for each of the channels, and if you want even more switching at your feet, the Trilogy will accept a MIDI foot pedal that you can program to individually activate channels as well as boost, Sparkle and the effect settings.
For my review, I tested the Trilogy through an H&K slanted 4x12 cab bearing a nostalgia-inducing silver sparkle grille and loaded with a set of genuine Celestion Vintage 30 speakers. I did my testing with a Relic Strat, a Burstbucker-loaded Les Paul Custom and cables from MIT and Planet Waves.
Through the Clean channel, my Strat sounded soft and felt a little mushy at moderate volume settings. But when I activated the Sparkle circuit, the channel took on a new dimension. Notes responded much quicker, and there was a considerable increase in overtones and punch. Although the EL34s did not provide loads of bass, their sweet midrange kept the amp’s tone from becoming obnoxious as I explored the Trilogy’s ample clean headroom.
I found some of my favorite Trilogy tones with my Les Paul driving the Crunch channel. The tone was sharp and clear at low volumes and took on a fatter presence when I pushed the power section. I used the boost feature as an alternate lead tone but preferred the thinner nature of the Crunch channel’s unaffected state.
The Lead and Ultra Lead channels are voiced to present British and American ideals, respectively, of high-gain tone. Using my Les Paul, I heard the midrange dominance in the Lead mode and the bass extension and gain increase in the Ultra Lead channel, but to be fair, either one gave me enough sizzling distortion for some fun lead work.
The Bottom Line
The Hughes & Kettner Trilogy offers a stylized look and a number of distinct tones and usable features in a sensible price bracket. Its neon-style lighting creates a futuristic allure, the amp’s four channels create everything from spanking clean to edgy distortion, and the SmartLoop circuitry allows users to easily experiment with different effect configurations. This amp’s a winner all the way.