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.

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