Switchblade Head review by Hughes & Kettner

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  • Sound: 9
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reliability & Durability: 9
  • Features: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 9 Superb
  • Users' score: 6.9 (29 votes)
Hughes & Kettner: Switchblade Head

Price paid: C$ 900

Purchased from: Craigslist

Sound — 9
I've been using my Gibson SG Standard with stock ceramic pickups (498T in the bridge, 490R in the neck). I've been wanting to build a guitar for quite some time now, in which I plan to put an EMG 81/85 tag-team, but for now the SG sounds fine. I'm amazed at how well this amp does what I need it to do. Again my band is a modern geared hardcore-emoish type thing. We tend to vary between clean and heavily saturated sounds frequently. This amp nails both and all points in between. A really cool thing about this amp is that you can get it to sustain at bedroom levels of volume. It sings like crazy. It doesn't have much background noise at all moving into the higher volumes, and consider that I don't even have a noise-gate. I have been in close proximity to the amp whenever I've used it, and feedback has never been an issue as long as I pay attention and dial the volume on my guitar down when I'm not playing (I used to use a little 15w Marshall solid-state for practice, but it sounds so bad compared to the H&K that I even use the head for quiet practice). The clean channel is quite interesting. The presence setting really affects the character of the sound, and I find myself tweaking presence a lot more than I used to on other amps. Since the gain knob is universal, it affects the clean channel just as it would the hi-gain channels. With the gain cranked I can get some nice breakup once I move past 9:00 on the volume, and a decent blues sound when below that (although I rarely play blues, and I doubt one would buy this amp for solely playing blues). The crunch channel is not one that I use often. As the lead guitarist in my group I tend to gravitate towards the Lead and Ultra settings for more articulation, but the crunch setting is excellent in it's own right. It retains the californian sparkle of the clean channel, but the gain structure is inherently british as one would expect from an EL34 tubed amp. You can take the gain to a point where it would be capable of doing Metal, but I would reserve this channel for more pop-punk oriented music due to it's loose attack and lack of over-saturated gain. It reminds me of a Mesa Dual Rec or something similar. The Lead channel is where it starts getting fun (or more fun than it already was if that's possible). You can take the gain right out of the Park on this channel, and since it's rich in overtones even without too much out of the presence knob, it really cuts through a band mix. The Ultra voicing is very similar, although it sounds more American and has the tighter attack of the two. It doesn't cut through the mix quite as much, but is my preferred channel because it's very articulate.

Overall Impression — 10
For a player oriented toward heavier (but not apocalyptic) music like myself, this amp is perfect. The onboard FX have really kickstarted my riff-writing and helped me break through a bout of writer's block. I've only been playing guitar for five years, but I play 24/7 so I think I have a pretty good idea of the ins and outs. I've used Mesa Rectifiers and Marshall JCMs and JVMs but none of these amps compare to the versatility and outright good sound of the Switchblade. If it were stolen I would buy it in a heartbeat, but since I don't have the money right now, I'll just get a pitbull or something to guard it. The best thing, I think, is that such a good sound can come out of a tube-modeling amp. I never thought I'd find an amp so versatile, but so good-sounding. There's not much to hate about this amp other than the MIDI cable. I tried Mesa Dual and Triple Recs, Marshalls, Oranges and Traynors before settling on the Switchblade. I think I ended up with the H&K because of it's versatility, and it hasn't let me down.

Reliability & Durability — 9
This amp is built like a tank, in Germany no less, so you know it's gonna survive a good beating. I haven't gigged with it at all yet, (as my band is in the writing process for it's first album) nor do I have a backup that would even remotely cover what this amp does, but I'm confident I wouldn't need a backup, though maybe a backup footswitch would be nice. I'm considering just sticking a MIDI jack in the board and buying a bunch of MIDI cables incase one fails. I haven't had this amp long enough to judge it's long-term reliability, but I baby it. It usually sits on standby for five minutes before I cut the power, and I only crank it when I really get the urge. I give it a 9 based on other people's experience with the amp long-term.

Features — 8
This switchblade was made in 2008. I was planning on buying one Brand New from Long & McQuade for $1750 CAD because they don't go up in the classifieds very often. Coincidentally, the very night before I was planning to go out and buy it, an ad popped up on the local craigslist. I play mostly Hardcore and Nu-Metal, though my current band sounds more Saosin-esqe. I was looking for a good versatile tube head (I had been considering Dual Rectifiers), and I heard that they used this amp in the studio on their self-titled debut LP so I decided to check it out. One of the main things that sold me on this amp is it's versatility. It has four different sounds (Clean, Crunch, Lead and Ultra) that all operate from one channel. Normally this would pose a significant problem to anyone Who wanted to use more than one sound in quick succession, but the included MIDI footswitch makes my life (and the lives of many others) quite simple. The footswitch stores up to 128 presets (32 banks, four presets each), each retaining the master volume, presence, three band EQ and gain settings you were using at the time it was saved as well as weather your FX loop was activated. This Amp has no headphone jack, but Who uses headphones with a 100w tube head? One drawback to this amp is the construction of the footswitch. The MIDI cable is hardwired into the board, so transportation is a bit precarious. The wiring is also flimsy. When I first bought it I was having trouble getting it to Switch, so I opened up the plug on the amp-end. One of the wires was touching and grounding out the others stopping the signal from reaching the amp. If you ever have a problem switching, the first place to check is the cable. I had to re-solder mine to get it to work again. I haven't had the opportunity to use this amp Live yet, or in the studio, but I'm confident it will be more than capable in both environments. I've actually been running it through the speakers in my old Musicman 2X12 combo, but even taking the volume up to 9 o'clock is enough to rattle the windows in my studio. With a closed-back 1X12 cab, I see no reason not to use this amp in the studio. As I said before, Saosin did, and they got some pretty legit sounding results as far as guitar sound goes. Another great feature is the onboard FX section. The amp has digital reverb, delay and modulation and they all sound very good for digital FX. The fact that you don't need to waste time or money on pedals is a huge bonus.

1 comment sorted by best / new / date

    I've had my switchblade for a couple years now. It sounds great here's my notes: clean channel, sounds great crunch channel, too brittle lead channel, great for 80s sounds ultra channel, the place to be. It's very thick, great sustain, harmonics come out nice. effects chorus, tremolo and flange sound good. I use the chorus on the clean channel and it sounds wonderful. The flange is very sensitive and you have to tweak it carefully midi features 128 presets is nice but i only use about 8 different settings. What's handy is that you can EQ different settings for your different guitars. If one has a lower output pickup you can boost your levels on your preset and just stomp the button when you change guitars on stage. The misi controller.....is junk. I had 2 of them suddenly crap out on me because of the hard wired cord. I emailed H&K about it and they were great for support. After 2 tries they sent me the midiboard from the switchblade TSC which is the FSM432 markII. This midiboard has a detachable cable. It works great and I havcn't had a single problem with it. Reverb- sounds a bit tinny delay-works great, very adjustable with taptempo