#1
The last review I posted caused some controversy about where it should be posted so if this should be somewhere else, could a moderator please move it.

Nothing divides opinion quite like a Hughes & Kettner Switchblade! People invariably either thought it had fantastic tone or was the worst thing since a Marshall MG. I’ll try to address both sides of the argument as best I can. The issues people have with the Switchblade seems to be the accusation that:

‘It’s not a real valve amp’

This would appear to be a common refrain when it comes to this amp and I think is based on four factors. Firstly, it comes loaded with a number of digital effects and for valve purists, the word ‘digital’ amounts to sacrilege. I have a foot in both camps on this one as I love pure valve tone but I appreciate the convenience of having the most common effects built in to the amp. The onboard digital effects have nothing to do with the actual amplification of the sound so it’s an unfair accusation in many respects, yet at the same time I can’t deny that on certain settings the amp does have a slightly more sterile and solid state feel to it than something like a Marshall DSL. Does this mean that the amp is no better than any other modelling amp? No, not at all, but I think it is the conclusion that most people leap to having never actually tried the amp for themselves. I’ve tried plenty modelling units and this isn’t like any of them. While they really do sound digital, the Switchblade doesn’t.

Secondly, the Switchblade is usually dismissed by valve purists because it gets so much gain from so few valves. My 50w combo only uses two 12AX7 preamp valves and two EL34 power amp valves and that’s not much to generate the kind of distortion levels that you find on the Ultra channel. So how do they do it? Simple really; they build into the amp what many guitarists do themselves anyway – they add gain to the signal before it gets to the preamp valves (this information came from Hughes & Kettner themselves). People like Zakk Wylde do it with an overdrive pedal in front of their amp while Hughes & Kettner simply build it into the amp itself. How valid this is as an approach is down to the individual I suppose but in all honesty, it really doesn’t bother me. I’ve seen loads of threads on guitar forums where valve purists swear by a Marshall JCM800 and advise people to boost their distortion with a pedal if they need more gain and I have no problem if Hughes & Kettner choose to do that within the amp and call it a different channel. The end result is much the same to me but I find it a lot more convenient to have it all in the amp. Perhaps I’m over-simplifying things here but to me, it has valve preamp and power amp stages, it certainly sounds like a valve amp and it feels like a valve amp to play, therefore, it’s a valve amp.

The third reason is the perception that this is a modelling amp and therefore can’t be a pure valve amp. In this respect, Hughes & Kettner have done themselves no favours at all because in the owner’s manual it says that the amp has ‘the boundless versatility of amp modelling’. The phrasing here is poor because it suggests that it is in fact a modelling amp when it isn’t; it merely has the versatility that is commonly associated with modelling amps. The manual also talks about ‘Californian cleans’ and ‘classic British high gain’ tones but these channels are not merely copies of Fender and Marshall amps. They certainly share a similar voicing to those amps so the Ultra channel tends to have a similar feel to it as a Dual Rectifier but make no mistake, the tone you hear is Hughes & Kettner and not an attempt to duplicate somebody else’s amp tone. Each of the channels has a distinct tonal characteristic but on every channel you know you’re playing a Hughes & Kettner and not a Marshall, Fender or Mesa Boogie.

The final problem some people seem to have with it is the fact that it’s midi controllable and that makes it something other than a pure valve amp. All I can say is ‘Marshall JVM’ which was another amp I was considering before buying the Switchblade. As with most amps, some love it and some loathe it but it is a real valve amp for sure.

So what does it actually do well? Quite a lot really. It’s German so it’s built to a very high standard with everything having a solid and quality feel to it. As a 50w valve amp it’s bloody loud and could certainly be used for gigs just as a 1X12 combo, though I will hook it up to a 4X12 instead for better projection. For me it’s ideal because I have a conveniently sized amp for the home and rehearsals that can be easily converted into a large head unit for a 4X12. Best of both worlds. As with many valve amps, it can sound a little muffled at very low volumes and the more you open the taps on it, the more it starts to really sing. The amp is crisp and articulate with quite a modern voicing on all channels rather than having say the smoothness of a Marshall and this is exactly why I say it isn’t a modelling amp.

I LOVE the way you can programme a vast array of sounds into this thing. The front panel looks pretty basic compared to something like a JVM410 but because of the way you can program your settings into the foot controller, you effectively have independent EQ and presence on all channels as well as two master volumes. You can also program in up to three popular effects onto a preset so once you’ve got your channel and EQ etc. set, you can then choose to add Reverb and Delay as well as either Chorus, Flanger or Tremolo. The Delay is the most tweakable effect with controls for volume, feedback and time (80ms – 1.4 secs.). The controls for the other effects are quite basic but the effects themselves are of a surprisingly good quality and I’ve had no qualms about selling some very expensive effects pedals now that I have this amp. In many respects, the basic approach and programmability makes these effects more useable in the real world. To take two examples, I am now selling my Hardwire DL-8 Delay and CR-7 Chorus pedals because I no longer need them. These are fantastic pedals with a vast array of sounds available but in reality, rather than fiddling with a pedal between songs, I just used one setting and never bothered moving it. The effects on the Switchblade, basic as they are, can be programmed so I can have chorus and a particular delay setting on one channel for the main part of the song and then switch to a different channel for the solo that has a totally different sound, volume and delay etc. Basic these effects may well be, but in the real world I’m getting a lot more variety from them than my expensive pedals. Of course, there is an effects loop so you can add your own effects as well and even this is programmable! You can program into a preset whether the effects loop is activated or not and you can even program whether the effects loop is serial or parallel and with 128 presets available, that’s a hell of a lot of flexibility.

Now that I’ve started getting used to the modern voicing of the amp, I really like it. It’s very different to the Marshall I’m used to but I like the crisp nature of the sound. It’s quite an articulate amp and I like having that note definition within the distortion. Most of my time seems to be spent on the Lead and Ultra channels but last night I spent ages playing some Blues on the Crunch channel with a little delay and tremolo added. As with most amps, you tend to gravitate towards a relatively small number of core tones and this is no different. Four basic channels is enough for me and it’s good to be able to add effects to additional presets but I can’t see me ever using all 128. It’s so nice having a smaller pedalboard. All I have now is the midi controller for the amp, a Weeping Demon Wah, an Ibanez stage tuner and an MXR Super Compressor and I don’t even use the compressor as much as I used to.

Is there anything I’d change? No amp is perfect so there are things I would change in an ideal world. I wish I could name a preset like you can on a multi-effects system rather than just allocating it a number and letter (bank 5, channel C) as that would make it far easier to recall the specific settings I want for songs. I also wish it was a little less muffled at low volumes and I think the lack of a DI Out is a serious omission on an amp at this price point. You can get around this by using something like a Hughes & Kettner Red Box but you really shouldn’t have to spend another £50 to have this facility. For me, I would also have loved it if they’d included a Wah effect, a tuner and a compressor, then I really would have found an amp that was an all-in-one solution.

Overall I am very impressed with this amp and I think it does an awful lot of what a musician wants if he’s playing in the home and doing gigs in places like pubs. If you’re in a covers band like me, it’s perfect. I’m happy to accept that a full valve amp is a tonal ideal but for me it came with too many compromises. I simply didn’t want to have to spend a fortune on an amp and then also cart around a load of effects that I’d need to tweak between songs and possibly tap dance while playing. At the other extreme, multi-effects and amp modelling are fantastic for convenience but there is no doubt in my mind that you do sacrifice valve tone for that convenience and when it came right down to it, that was a price I wasn’t prepared to pay. The Switchblade does exactly what it says; it gives me a lot of the versatility of multi-effects units without sacrificing real valve tone. I can’t think of any other amp available that gives this level of flexibility while retaining such quality of tone. I’m certainly not saying it’s for everyone but it is, without a shadow of a doubt, worth a very serious look.
Gibson Les Paul Studio with Catswhiskers pickups
PRS SE 'Floyd' Custom 24 with Creamery pickups
Fender Standard Stratocaster with DiMarzio pickups
Takamine GN30
BluGuitar AMP1
#3
Yes, I think that's the point and is what I said in the review. Personally I don't care if it's 'all valve' or not. The bottom line is it sounds great, has the warmth of a valve amp and the feel of one. I was merely reflecting on some of the common comments made about the amp. I thought I'd made that clear.
Gibson Les Paul Studio with Catswhiskers pickups
PRS SE 'Floyd' Custom 24 with Creamery pickups
Fender Standard Stratocaster with DiMarzio pickups
Takamine GN30
BluGuitar AMP1
#4
I think your points were clear Doadman, good review.

@GSLEAD5 , It is an amp review. It needs to be compared to other amps and amp types.

I found it to be useful and informative. Sounds like a nice tube amp with built in pedals.
Most people at first glance may not realize that it is a valve amp at all, which would exclude many purist who never look twice at a ss amp.
#5
^It's a good amp, no doubt. Fearedse's vids on it were pretty impressive.
Its just that he seemed to concentrate more on the SS vs Tube can of worms than the amp itself.
My bad if I sounded offensive.
Congo on the amp
And btw where the ngd thread?