Switchblade Head Review

manufacturer: Hughes & Kettner date: 02/28/2012 category: Guitar Amplifiers
Hughes & Kettner: Switchblade Head
For another first in guitar amp history, Hughes & Kettner has packed all the features guitarists have long been dreaming of into one amp: A genuine all-tube design and the boundless versatility of amp modeling. A bona fide tube amp.
 Sound: 8.5
 Overall Impression: 9
 Reliability & Durability: 9
 Features: 9.3
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reviews (4) pictures (1) 8 comments vote for this gear:
overall: 9.8
Switchblade Head Reviewed by: Aziraphale, on august 22, 2008
1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Price paid: € 1500

Purchased from: Musikcenter

Features: The previous reviewer went into great detail on features so I'll stick to the basics. 4 channels (Clean, Crunch, Lead and Ultra, each one with a gain boost), sharing one row of controls (Channel volume, Pres, Treb, Mid, Bass and Gain) aswell as controls for Reverb, Delay and Modulation (Chorus, Flanger and Tremolo). The AWESOME thing about this amp though is that all the parametres (EQ, Gain, FX and so on) are PROGRAMMABLE and stored in presets in the included MIDI footswitch. So there's no need for separate controls for each channel. The programmability, in practice, turns this thing into a virtual 128 Channel Tube Amp. Oh yeah, baby. 128 Channels. With independent settings. And all Tube. This is nothing special on modeling amps or POD's or whatever but as far as I know it's a first when it comes to Tube amps. I don't think I'll ever use 128 different sounds but it has proved valuable because I can set up separate sounds tuned for each of my guitars, aswell as have both Rhythm and Lead sounds on the same channel (in my case, the Ultra channel), but with completely different settings aswell as added Delay on my lead sound. 100w is a bit overkill, I've gigged on a few really large outdoors events for hundreds of people without going past 3 or 4 on the Master. However, the Blade sounds very good even on low volume so that's never been a problem. You can leave the Master alone and tweak the Channel volume to get a good house volume. // 10

Sound: This amp is hard to EQ. But it's worth the time. I play in three bands, one is a Symphonic/Progressive Metal band (Think In Flames meet Dream Theater with some Skillet in it). With that band I use a PRS Custom22 tuned to D standard (or Drop C) and a Schecter C-7 Blackjack 7-string, both with passive humbuckers. I dwell mostly on the Ultra channel for both lead and rhythm tones and I've never gotten so many compliments on my tone before, I know people Who play MESA's and Peavey's Who've thought about jumping ship and buying the Switchblade instead. It is a sick metal amp for sure (just ask Queensrche or Candlemass). I play a lot of heavy riffing and leads interchangeably in this band and the amp keeps up both high and low. I use the Hughes & Kettner slant cab with Vintage 30's btw. My other band is more of a rock/funk outfit (Think Bon Jovi meet Chili Peppers), in which I play a HSS Warmoth Soloist in standard tuning. A lot of my rhythm tones are played with either the Neck or Middle Singlecoils. For this I use the Crunch and Clean channels more extensively. The Crunch channel has a really gritty, Vox-y type tone with singlecoils, and almost bordering on Metal chug with humbuckers. The Clean channel is very clean, but with a good range of Gain to give a nice blues grit in the Boost mode. I tend to often use a longer, U2-like delay aswell as a high-rate flanger effect simulating a leslie to draw out some really nice ambient tones aswell. With this band I do use my rhythm and lead sounds from the other band aswell though (the Ultra channel), as they clean up very nicely with singlecoils, and the added bottom of the Ultra channe is really nice to have for certain riffs. My last band is a cover band, playing mostly 80's rock type hits (Toto, Bon Jovi, Gary Moore etc.) but with Disco numbers, Stevie Wonder, Beatles, Rockabilly and whatnot, typical cover band. This amp covers the lot, especially with the built-in effects making it possible to for example set a nice slapback rockabilly sound, a reverb-drenched surf sound, a classic rock distortion and so on, all saved in the footswitch and available at any time. // 10

Reliability & Durability: I have to admit that the amp, being quite heavy and so full of technology, seems a bit fragile. It's probably only paranoia, as I've read about Hughes & Kettner's absolutely brutal quality control (throwing around amps in concrete halls and whatnot), and given the fact that I've owned it for only about 2 months I can't give you any specific information. One big grudge I have though is the footswitch. The MIDI cable is hardwired into the footswitch, making it a huge hassle if the cable was to break. And when lugging around heavy amps and drums on stage aswell as running around trying to put on a good show, that cable takes a beating quite often. You're also left with an assload of cable (it's very long), that you have to wind up and unwind for every transportation, unless you want to get it entangled and even more likely to break. // 9

Overall Impression: Overall though, I love this thing. Just the sound of it is a good enough sales argument, but add to that the "128 Channels" and built in FX, that's a pretty hefty bonus. I've played MESA's and Marshalls and Peaveys and any number of brand-name amps and I'm not saying the Switchblade sounds "better" than all of them, but it can sound like all of them. And none of them has come close to the Live functionality of this amp. Guys like Allan Holdsworth, Tony McAlpine, Alex Lifeson and Michael Wilton all rave about this amp and I can see why. I can't think of any genre for which this amp wouldn't be appropriate. It's a cover guitarist's dream, because it can do any type of sound. So if you play in many different bands, do sessions or simply have one very versatile band, I'd really recommend this amp. // 10

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overall: 9
Switchblade Head Reviewed by: Malarkatron, on february 20, 2008
0 of 0 people found this review helpful

Price paid: $ 1500

Purchased from: Musicians Friend

Features: Truly amazing amp. I bought the 100w head. 100 watts all tube, 4 EL34s in the power amp section and 2 12AX7s in the preamp. 4 channels which are clean, crunch, lead, and ultra. The Lead channel is more of a British voiced distortion channel, while the Ultra channel is more American high gain channel. Built in reverb, delay, chorus, flanger, and tremolo. These built in effects are before the power amp stage, so it doesn't affect the tube tone of the amp. It features the standard 4, 8, and 16 ohms speaker outputs. Effects send and return along with a -10dB switch to adjust the level for the effects loop, cuts 10 db from the send's output level and boosts the returns sensitivity by 10 db, and a button on the front lets you Switch the effects loop from Serial to Parallel and vice versa. An input for optional footswitches to control on board effects. Includes a MIDI footswitch which stores up to 128 presets, but you can use other MIDI controllers, also has a MIDI thru to connect external MIDI processors. I don't use the MIDI thru so can't really comment too much on that. The footswitch is divided up into 32 banks with 4 presets to each bank. Also has a tap tempo for the delay. There is one set of EQ for the amp, these can be set and stored in the footswitch via the Store button. The channel your on as well as all the EQ's are stored with this, as well as any on board effects you have on, and the FX loop. I use this amp at my house (currently between bands) but I figured I'd get the head for the long run, it is very, very loud. // 10

Sound: I'm using an American stratocaster HSS, a Epiphone Les Paul Classic, and an Epiphone G-400 all sound amazing through this amp. The reverb sounds pretty good, the effects sound pretty good for being digital, I don't use a lot of effects anyways so I don't require an intensely great sounding chorus or anything like that, but it's nice to have that option right on the amp. I play many styles, my strat is more for bluesy rock tuned in Eb, my LP is used for a more general beefier rock and is tuned to E, and my G-400 is for more heavy metal and is tuned to either D or dropped C. The clean channel is very nice sounding, with the gain all the way up, you get a nice overdrive sound. The crunch channel offers a nice assortment of overdrive sounds, mild OD to more light to medium distortion. The lead channel offers up a little brighter distortion and has a little less gain than the ultra channel. The ultra channel has a darker sound to it. It has loads of distortion. In any channel if the gain is turned all the way up it will activate a boost which boosts certain frequencies depending on which channel you are on. // 9

Reliability & Durability: I have only owned this for a couple months now, but so far everything has been good. I haven't had to bring the amp anywhere so I can't comment on that aspect of reliability. Seems pretty well built to me, of course as with any tube amp I wouldn't suggest just throwing it around. // 8

Overall Impression: I play many styles and this amp is very versatile, it certainly meets all my needs. I have been playing for around 8 years and this was my first tube amp(though I've played other ones). I kind of had to blindly purchase this amp, as no where around where I Live sells them, so I could only go by the demos on the H&K website. I would gladly purchase another one if I had the money. This is a terrific amplifier and relative to other more high end tube amps it is a steal, and the MIDI stored presets makes it extremely easy to get multiple tones for many different types of styles, and switching is just a couple of button pushes. I was thinking about a Krankenstein and some Marshall's, particularly a JCM 800, but in the end, the versatility won me over. The only thing I wish it had was the ability to make my fingers cooperate with my mind and guitar neck. // 9

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overall: 9
Switchblade Head Reviewed by: mirrored_image, on june 18, 2009
0 of 0 people found this review helpful

Price paid: C$ 900

Purchased from: Craigslist

Features: 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. // 8

Sound: 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. // 9

Reliability & Durability: 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. // 9

Overall Impression: 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. // 10

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overall: 8
Switchblade Head Reviewed by: unregistered, on february 28, 2012
0 of 1 people found this review helpful

Price paid: C$ 621

Purchased from: Long and Mcquade

Features: When it comes to features, this amp comes with just about everything but the kitchen sink. With a multitude of effects each assignable to any bank in the 32 channels, this amp is an all in one guitar rig and it perfect for people who are looking to avoid the more in depth aspects of effect and are just looking for the basics. There is also an effects loop which is assignable to each channel which can be run serial or parallel. The only reason I'm giving it a 9 is because there is no way to go very in depth with the effects. // 9

Sound: This is where this amp falls short (in my opinion). While it sounds great considering there are so many effects and options in it, when I jammed with friends, the sound didn't cut through the way I would liked it to. It got lost amongst everything that was going on. When I consider that my friends with a 50 watt EVH 5150 was better heard than me, I realized that this wasn't the amp for me. Call me a purest but there are certain frequencies that you hit with non digital amps that you don't with digital amps (even if they are mostly tube). Also, there is a very high gain hiss that needs to be gated when you get into the more saturate Lead and Ultra channels. The last thing is that I couldn't get a good grinding distortion out of it or, on the opposite end of things, and smooth marshal, mesa stiletto kind of sound out of it. That being said I am very sensitive to tone and maybe I was being too picky. I might also have not spent enough time with the amp to really dial it in but I did try for about a month. // 6

Reliability & Durability: This amp is pretty reliable, I didn't have it long but I had no problems with it and my friends who have the same amp have never complained about malfunctions. It's solidly build and even though mine was somewhat beat up from the previous owner still worked like a dream and I never had an issue with it. Although, it would get a little HOT but that's normal for tube amps. // 10

Overall Impression: Overall, for a musician that is looking for simplicity in terms of switching effects and still have a pretty good sounding amp, I think this is a good fit for them. For myself, it came down to the fact that when I play, I want people to be able to really hear me and a tone that speaks to me, which this amp didn't provide. Definitely a step up from any modeling amp but still too digital for my taste. // 7

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