Hughes & Kettner hit a home run with the original, all-tube, lunch box–sized TubeMeister 18 head.
Its plug-and-play design, English-inspired tones and low-power options, not to mention its compact chassis and chic illuminated front panel, made it a sensation worldwide. Naturally, it spawned a family of amplifiers, the latest of which is the three-channel, 36-watt TubeMeister 36 combo amp. It features the same amplification found in the TubeMeister 36 head with the convenience of a self-contained 1x12 combo.
Hit the power switch and the blue front panel comes to life. Pushbuttons activate each of the three channels: Lead, Crunch and Clean. The Crunch and Lead channels share bass, mid and treble controls, while the Clean channel has its own set. Each channel has dedicated gain and master pots.
The back panel offers a host of features, including a power soak with options for one, five, 18 or 36 watts, and speaker off. The combo’s single speaker output is connected to the internal 12-inch Celestion Vintage 30, and the built-in Red Box can emulate the sound of a 4x12 cab through its balanced output—perfect for connecting the TubeMeister 36 to a mixing console and for silent recording in combination with the power soak’s silent setting. There is also a reverb control with an on/off button, an effect loop with an on/off button, and separate footswitch jacks for each. If you have a MIDI switcher, you can use it to control the effect loop and reverb as well as to access channels and assign different power options to each.
Finally, LEDs on the back panel indicate the status of the amp’s four EL-84 power tubes, which are constantly biased and optimized by Hughes & Kettner’s own TSC (Tube Safety Control). Should a tube go bad, the TSC will adjust biasing to allow the amp to continue functioning.
As I own an 18-watt TubeMeister head, I decided to pit it against the combo for part of my tests. In addition to the combo’s higher-power option, it displays a more fluid midrange. The combo’s bass response remains taut and well extended, even at stage volumes. Clean tones resonated with a sweet but controlled demeanor in the closed-back cabinet, and I preferred them to tones from most combinations of head and cab. The TubeMeister combo’s Eighties Brit-style crunch is quite punchy, if not as spacious as what I’ve heard through the head, and lead tones felt particularly lively through the combo.
List Price $1,499
Manufacturer Hughes and Kettner, Inc., hughes-and-kettner.com
The single 12-inch Celestion Vintage 30 delivers delicious midrange tones that sound and feel like the amp has more gain and sustain than its head counterpart.
All of the TubeMeister 36’s features are present in the combo, including the Red Box output, power soak options, three channels and MIDI controllability.
The Bottom Line
Hughes & Kettner’s TubeMeister 36 combo provides all the hot-rodded tone and features of the head—including MIDI control of its three channels, reverb and effect loop—in a portable 1x12 combo.