REVIEW: Hughes & Kettner ATTAX 100


A solid state amp that isn’t a digital modeller? The very idea seems confusing and unusual today, when valve-swollen high gain heads and boutique handwired tone monsters jostle for position with digital simulations of same. There was a time when solid state amps occupied a larger corner of the market, but today those same units are regarded with suspicion at best, and flippant derision at worst. So what has Hughes & Kettner done differently to keep the Attax series from being relegated to a job as a coffee table in a music store?

It’s interesting that the very first thing you encounter on the Attax is the very sturdy on/off switch. I guess I got used to seeing plastic rocker switches on solid state amps, so the inclusion of the very serious-looking metallic toggle gives the very favourable first impression of a serious amp built to last.

The Attax features four channels: Clean, Crunch, Lead and Ultra. There are two EQ sections: one for Clean and Crunch, the other for Lead and Ultra, plus a volume control for each channel and a master volume for the whole amp. There are individual gain controls for each channel, and four pushbuttons for channel selection.

Next to the channel buttons, there sits an effects section. A modulation knob moves through increasing increments of chorus, flanger and tremolo, while there are dedicated delay time and level pots, and a reverb control. The idea of having digital modulation and delay effects in an analog amp isn’t unheard of, but it seems to usually be reserved for practice amps – I guess the theory in leaving them out of costlier amps is that if you can afford a top dollar valve head or combo, you can probably afford a swag of pedals or a rack of processors as well.

The power amp section uses current feedback similar to a valve amp, where current flowing through the speaker feeds back into the power amp, for a more organic response.

Around the back, connections include an effects loop, separate foot switch and FX on/of switch jacks, a line out, a CD/line in, a headphone output, and an external speaker jack (8oHm minimum). The head version adds a second external speaker jack (4oHm minimum). The included footswitch provides instant access to each of the 4 channels, and if you want to turn the effects section on or off, the FX switch jack supports multiple switch buttons for toggling the modulation effects and reverb.

The Clean channel especially likes active pickups and high gain humbuckers for that compressed Metallica clean tone, but it’s also good for LA studio funk. It’s certainly not where I’d look if I wanted a clean but growly or snappy tone for edgy rhythm work, but there’s plenty of sparkle and chime. The Crunch channel, however, has plenty of natural vintage bite at low gain levels, and sounds great with judicious use of slapback delay. Turn the gain up for chunky rhythm tones with tight bass. If you need more power, the Lead channel has plenty of chunk and fury for metal rhythm – or if you use Crunch for your main rhythm sound, Lead should have all the gain and body you need for your solo voice. It handles single notes cleanly and clearly, and has more than enough articulation to keep us shredders happy. The Ultra channel ratchets up the gain and fullness even more to almost ludicrous levels, and combined with a little delay and chorus it will appeal greatly to fans of Rush’s Alex Lifeson. In fact, this amp covers a lot of the sounds you can hear in Rush’s extensive discography, and while he doesn’t use this model, Lifeson is an avowed H&K fan, so it’s interesting to note that this amp cops so many of his tones so accurately, without even trying to. But Lifesonesque tones aside, this channel is a monster when you flip to the neck pickup and go into rapid-fire arpeggio meltdown.

This is an ideal amp for those who require four distinct rock-to-metal oriented sounds in a light and easy-to-navigate package. It may not feel exactly like a valve amp, but it’s close enough that it sounds like a really good recording of a valve amp, and far from being a gimmick, the effects are there to enhance the tone when required, when they could easily have been dropped in to mask an otherwise lacklustre offering.

NEWS: New Hughes & Kettner Switchblade saves your tubes

Man, everyone’s getting their press releases out in time for Easter. I guess everyone at our favourite gear companies is trying to get all their work done before taking some time off to scoff chocolate or something. Anyway, here’s a very interesting innovation by Hughes & Kettner which will no doubt save many a gig and prevent a whole bunch of guitarists from having a breakdown on stage when their amp blows a tube.

Hughes & Kettner Debuts Switchblade TSC Tube Safety Control

Careful selection and matching of vacuum tubes are the sonic fundamentals of every tube amp. Here, in particular, the meticulous matching of the bias according to the tube’s characteristics is of paramount importance. Unfortunately enough, these characteristics change over time, so an amplifier never really sounds the same. Especially not if one or more of the tubes are replaced, normally a task inevitably to be followed by a thorough bias matching, administered by a trained service technician. And that’s why Hughes & Kettner developed TSC (Tube Safety Control), the onboard tube management.

This all-new circuit constantly measures the characteristics of the tube and adjusts the bias accordingly, thus providing the best possible tone under all conditions. Your amp sounds as good at the beginning of the first show as at it does at the end of the tour. And what if a tube fails during a gig? No problem at all! TSC identifies the defective valve, indicates it with its LED display and switches it off. The show can go on! And after the culprits have been replaced? Simply turn on your amp and thanks to TSC you get perfect tone — instantaneously. One of the biggest disadvantages of tube technolgy has finally lost its scare. Also a nice-to-have feature: Using a plectrum you can recall each tube’s characteristics and have them displayed via LEDs.

The first amplifier to incorporate this groundbreaking technology is the Switchblade TSC. Like the original Switchblade it is foremost a four-channel all-tube amp, offering a wide range of sounds from the brightest of cleans to the most merciless of highgains. Being an amplifier of the 21st century, the Switchblade TSC also comes with an first-class fx section covering a wide range of effects like reverb, modulation and tap delay, that will keep every guitarist happy. Although the fx are generated in the digital domain, the original signal never leaves the analog path. This is due to our clever design that allows for the fx part to be added in parallel, therefore providing a guitar sound that never fails to amaze with its punch and clarity. To make all this sonic flexibility easily available on stage, the Switchblade TSC is fully programmable. Storing one of the 128 user presets is child’s play and recalling them reassuringly safe and fast with our included floorboard.

The Switchblade TSC will be available as a 100 W head, a 2 x 12″ combo (100 W) or a 1 x 12″ combo with 50 Watts end of April.

For more information, visit their web site at http://www.hughes-and-kettner.com/.


INTERVIEW: Razl

I’ve been embarking on a bit of a jazz discovery kick lately, so it’s perfect that I discover Razl, or Raúl Huelves, at this point in my musical journey. We were originally put in touch by Bryan Beller after I interviewed him, and Razl sent me his amazing CD, Rotonova, to check out. The music is funky, varied, passionate, always interesting, and is packed with emotion and groove. The cover art is also awesome (who doesn’t love robots?), winning the immediate approval of my 2-year-old, which is always a good sign cos he has impeccable taste.

PETER: Why do you play guitar? What was it about the guitar that drew you in?

RAZL: I remember well when I got a guitar in my hands for the first time. I think there was an old classic guitar in the basement of the Pharmacy where my father used to work, it had several cracks and it had almost no strings. One day, my father showed up with that thing when my brother in law happened to be around. He played a couple of Dire Straits and Eric Clapton songs and right there and then he draw a simple guitar method. Then I went to my room and stayed there the whole day practicing. Two days later I called him for more material, since I had already learnt the two songs.

PETER: So where did you go from there? What was your next guitar after the cracked-up classic? And did you take formal lessons?

RAZL: The next guitar after the classic “thing” was a red strat from korea, I don´t know the brand. Few years later I had to sell that guitar to buy a better one, and at that moment I knew how I loved that axe! I took some formal lessons from time to time, but I consider myself as a self-taught guitar player because all that I really know about playing, I learnt it from the music that I listened to the albums that I loved.

PETER: How was the album recorded? It sounds very live and real.

RAZL: Rotonova has tracks that I wrote a really long time ago. Groovin Ants has been in my head for several years but others like Glow Pig just came out while I was recording the album. It¹s quite complicated to gather all musicians at the same time, especially if their names are Mike Keneally or Dean Brown and live a thousand miles away from you. Some of the musicians recorded their part when they were on a tour in Spain or just visiting and others did that in their home studios or studios they liked. In order to keep the live and real touch, I tried not to give many instructions about what each of them had to do, just simple guidelines so they could feel as free as possible and leave room for improvisation, which was the main ‘directive.’

PETER: I like how you start the album with Glow Pig, and finish it with Glow Sheep ­ it’s like a book-end either side of the album. I find that it makes me want to go back to the start and listen again.

RAZL: Well I like that you have noticed that because that’s really what I tried to get. I’ve always liked albums that tell a story, like when you read a book. For many years I¹ve followed symphonic or progressive rock bands and one of the things I liked the most was to ‘read’ the music, so to speak. I just had to listen to the albums from the begging to the end because listening to just one track meant losing the meaning the album had for me. Obviously Rotonova doesn’t have anything to do with those bands musically but I think this perception has somehow remained in my brain and subconsciously the album took that ‘reading’ feel.

PETER: There’s some very cool organ-like guitar playing in Guachi Cola. Are you influenced by a lot of organ players?

RAZL: I’m a fan of the organ sound, I love the way it naturally integrates itself in the sound of a band and it’s especially amazing when it¹s a trio band. I’m a big admirer of music with a big presence of organ, especially funk and blues. I love Medeski, Martin & Wood and their aggressive sound, dirty and elegant at the same time. I¹m actually listening to the last Stanton Moore trio album right now and it’s brilliant. Since I discovered the Rotosphere pedal (that simulates a Leslie amplifier) it has become part of my sound, it gives the guitar a great expression. It also has been one of the main sounds of Charlie Hunter for many years. From my point of view, Charlie took a giant step in guitar expression with his way of playing, extraordinary.

PETER: What was Jungle Karma influenced by? I like the way that the nice ringing notes are balanced out by fast little runs ­ it has a very effective use of space.

RAZL: Jungle Karma is one of the most complex tracks in the album. It also has a complex story since I wrote parts of it a long time ago, while others I just improvised when I recorded the album. It’s influenced by some Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny and Erik Truffaz bits and pieces, especially when it comes to rhythm. I love what you have mentioned about the use of space, especially in more contemporary tracks when there is a dialog between the main player and the drummer that I particularly admire. It’s really incomparable.

PETER: The album features guest appearances by Bryan Beller and Mike Keneally. What was it like working with them? Are you a long-time Mike Keneally fan?

RAZL: To be honest, I still can’t believe that these incredible musicians have participated in my album. I thought of it at the beginning of the project in a very naive way and then I saw that all of them were delighted to accept the invitation. I obviously liked their professionalism and how easily they understood my suggestions but most of all, I saw that they were all really great guys. In fact, I had been a fan of Mike for many years, he has always been one of my favourite musicians since he has many of the qualities I like in a guitarist: his unique sound, his sense of humour at the guitar and the ability to move in very different styles but always making them his.

PETER: What are your favourite Keneally songs? Is there a particular song that made you think “I gotta get Mike to play on my album?”

RAZL: Wow! This is a very difficult question because there’s a lot of favorite Keneally songs for me. I think that maybe the album that contains the great majority of favorite Keneally songs is ‘Dancing.’ I love that album from the beginning to the end, and it’s very special for me because it was very hard for me to find it here in Spain. So once I had it in my hands I felt very happy.

PETER: What guitars do you use?

RAZL: The one I normally use, both in gigs and in the album, is the Carvin SC90. It has a spectacular thick and percussive sound, and that goes perfectly with my finger-picking style. I also use the Gibson ES 137 Custom a lot, it has a more classic tone and it sounds incredible even if you plug it into a toaster.

PETER: What amplifiers and effects do you use?

RAZL: Through out the years I’ve been reducing my equipment to the minimum. I had a really awful period when I had to set up a thousand pedals, effect processors and stuff like so after the concerts I ended up being really pissed at the end because something had gone wrong. At some point I decided to get rid of all that and I¹m happy now just plugging my Carvin to my Fender Blues Deville 4×10 amplifier, my pedal H&K Rotosphere and my wha-wha Carl Martin.

PETER: How did you develop your style? It’s very complex, yet natural and relaxed.

RAZL: Well, I’m not sure if it’s complex but it’s certainly relaxed. I really like the natural sound and that¹s why I started to leave my pickup behind and play only with my fingers. That has given me the expressive qualities that I was looking for. You find a great deal of nuances playing like that and for some reason it enlarges my vision of the fretboard. I’m still investigating finger-picking possibilities although always turning them into my style.

CLICK HERE to buy Razl’s ‘Rotonova’ from Amazon.com