The Hughes & Kettner Coreblade is quite unashamedly one thing: a metal amp. You can tell by looking at it [‘hell, you can tell by simply picking it up’ – Peter’s spine]and you can definitely tell when you plug in. An amp that can garner the approval of Annihilator’s Jeff Waters is nothing to be grunted at. So what’s under the hood of this metal-spewing monster?

The 100 watt Coreblade head packs a quartet of EL34 power tubes, known for their warm sound and open attack. Oh but if you’re more into the steely, punchy, tight vibe of 6L6CG power tubes, the Coreblade can hang with those too. The preamp section includes three 12AX7s and four modes – Clean, Drive, Ultra I and Ultra II – selectable via a 4-way rotary switch over on the far right. Travelling right to left, there’s a Boost switch then Gain, Bass, Middle, Treble, Resonance (for fine-tuning low end), Presence (for the high end) and Volume controls.

There are three independent digital effects processors onboard; Reverb (with a single control), Modulation (with one control for Effect Depth and one for Effect Select, between chorus, flanger, phaser and tremolo) and Digital Delay (controls for Level, Feedback and Time). A bunch of blue buttons next to the master volume handle your effects loop on/of and series/parallel duties (if you’re unfamiliar with series/parallel, it means you can either have your effects appear on top of or alongside your straight guitar sound), as well as buttons for turning on the adjustable noise gate and for storing your settings. The Coreblade is able to store 128 user presets, and you can store your settings on a USB memory stick, then pop in an entirely different stick with another 128 settings. The included footswitch allows you to access all of those sounds in banks of four. Hughes & Kettner goes to great lengths in the product manual to reassure players that the Coreblade is not a modelling amp – all of its raging tone is achieved via real tubes. The user presets simply mean you can exert digital control over true analog tone.

Around the back are various speaker outputs (4, 8 or 16 Ohms); buttons for copying memory from memory stick to amp or amp to memory stick; MIDI in and thru, effects jack; stageboard jack; effects loop with selectable -10dB pad; noise gate sensitivity control; and an ingenious tube matching read-out that you activate by inserting a guitar pick into a tiny slot to light up various LEDs which display the tube status.

The Clean mode is able to go from tight and snappy like L.A. funk and bright country, to warm and woolly in the best mellow jazz tradition. It’s a great launchpad for front-end effects, and the inbuilt digital delay adds a little extra warmth, voiced as it is to be a little more like an analog delay than a harsh digital one. The Crunch mode can actually get pretty aggressive – we’re talking Metallica Black album levels of gain – or it can approach more traditional bluesy, UK-type light overdrive sounds, especially with humbuckers. Switch to Ultra I and you have plenty of gain for hard rock, metal, thrash, grincore, hardcore or any other kind of core you care to throw at it. Ultra II cranks this up even further, and can be easily coaxed into great shred tones of the Satriani and Jason Becker varieties (especially when combined with delay or modulation effects). The Tone and Gain controls are extremely interactive, and you can get vastly different responses if you incorporate the Boost switch as well. And here’s a tip: try using the Boost switch on lower gain control settings for a fatter character for less saturated tones. The sounds aren’t as distinctive as, say, a Hughes & Kettner TriAmp or a Peavey 5150, but they’re very versatile and dynamic.

The effects are super-handy, but it’s great that H&K has included the series/parallel loop as well so you can add your own dedicated effects units if you choose. In a pinch I’m sure most players would be happy to use the inbuilt effects but we all appreciate being given the option.

The Coreblade probably isn’t going to win too many fans among vintage-loving traditionalists but hard rock, prog, metal and shred players are going to love it. The sheer degree of control, the ability to store 128 different presets, the great effects loop, the handy onboard effects and ultimately the tone make the Coreblade a real standout among the glut of metal amps in the market.