HELP ME!! amp decisions


Senior Member
I need help (more ways than one). i am looking at getting a hughes an kettner switchblade, ive tried one and they effing rock.
i don't know whether i should get the 50w combo or the 100w head/cab. I am more keen on the head and cab for gigging, but i won't have a practice amp at home. and since i am between bands at the moment, don't know if i should get the head. i would prefer the head as i like the spread of sound that you get from a slanted cab (plus a stack looks way cool on stage). this will be my first tube amp. i am officially over my line 6 spider II. but from surfing through different forums (harmony central and the like) and just general knowledge indicates that tube amps are FRIGGING LOUD.
but i had an idea; is it feasible to buy, say, the 100 watt head and cab, and then use some home-made sound-proofing (a la foam mattresses, egg cartons, polystyrene etc etc) to "wrap" the cab, thus dampening some of the sound? i know it would create the old analogy of the "blanket over the amp" (literally in this case), but as my music room is not soundproofed (too many windows) i don't have much choice.
i have also heard of a bloke pulling 2 of the power amp tubes out to reduce volume, but would that compromise the amp in any way? sound/tone/warranty? i need help on this one.
Get the big one and use a "Power Attenuator".  These connect between the amp and the speakers. They allow you to crank the amp to get that sweet, sweet tube saturation sound without blowing the windows out of the trailer/house/refrigerator box, by controller the speaker volume. You loose the tone generated by strongly driven speakers, but most people don't notice.

Marshall Power Brake:

Gibson Power Stealth:

Koch Loadbox II :

THD Hotplate:  (This is  the one I have, and I like it)

Tom Scholz (of the Band Boston) Vintage Power Soak :

cheers dude, i'd kinda prefer a big assed amp anyways. so te power attenuator, i'd heard of them before. how low volume could it go without killing tone? i mean i dont want it super-low but ya know,so the neighbours don't put powder in my mail...
They all kill tone.

There's no such thing as a free lunch, but small amps "cranked" sound mo' betta than big amps needing a shot of laxative.

BTW... ya want a small amp for almost NOTHING?

Go find a used school phonograph with tubes.  Those big monster ones in the big boxes.  Take out the phonograph drive and leave the amp.  Wire a jack right to the where the phono pickup connected.  Most of those have "volume" and "tone", but some have bass and treble.  Some have Jensen speakers!  You can play the cabinet "open" or closed... HUGE monster tone.

Dammit, another secret revealed.... oh well.
Go with the THD hotplate if you decide to go with the big amp.  I've actually never played on one but they've got a lot more to them than the marshall powerbrake.  most power attenuators only have a volume knob but the hotplate compensates for how your ears hear whats going on with some fancy built in EQ that you can tweak as well.

At loud volumes your hear things differently than at lower volumes so no matter what Its going to sound different.

Power attenuators also make your tubes wear out faster.  I dont think this is because of anything sinister with them, just that you've got your amp pushing really hard all the time because It doesn't know how loud it really is. the attenuator takes all that power and dumps it out as heat instead of sound. So the amp is still working overtime even tho you're not playing at 120 dB.  So the tubes get a workout.

Just a thought.  Im no expert, but i have the same problem.  I play through a Rivera Knucklehead and its 100 Watts (rated, its a conservative rating) and its got selector switches to cut the wattage.  I can actually run it at 55W 25W or 12W.  But when I cut it down to 12 watts. i lose a lot of the saturation, it sounds more like a vintage brit amp than an american high gain amp.  but i've got a 2x12 120 watt solidstate practice amp so im not quite as worried about it.

I guess the last thing you need to consider is what is more important to you. Aesthetics or utility?  Yeah the stack looks friggen awesome behind you on stage... but is that look worth the trouble of carting the thing around and having to play at the loud volumes to get the right tone?  I'm not saying it isn't, im just saying make sure you know what YOU want and go accordingly.

There really isn't much difference between a combo amp and a slanted stack for dispersing the sound.  Guitar amps kind of suck all around for even sound distribution.

P.s. Where did you get to test drive the thing?  I live in canada and you can't find ANYWHERE that deals with Hughes and Kettner. I wanted to get a Triamp Mk II (im a big breaking bemjamin fan) but I couldn't find a place to play on one first.  As it is i had to drive 36 hours to California just to try out my Rivera. (which i friggen love by the way)
sorry dude i'm actually from Australia so i wouldn't know anywhere close. the store i demo'ed one at was just a short kangaroo trip away for me, on the back of old skippy  :laughing7:
. i imagine theyd have a list of distributors on the hughes and kettner site somewhere? that must eat a bunch of anus to live so far away from a dealer.
oh, i tried a few other H&K amps on the same day, through my hot rodded LTD explorer (duncan HB and 59) so here's my lowdown:

switchblade 50w combo- awesomely awesomely versatile, effects are pretty good too (delay is killer, modulations are decent but not heaps of control, but i only really use a small dash of chorus or flange anyway). mad as tones from all channels, stayed clean even when played hrad at about volume 4-5 (however couldnt crank it coz the guys that work at the shop are TOOLS), and the distortion was actually really good on low volumes so i don't know what i'm real worried about.. the shop only had the 50w combo (which i think i'm gonna get, the head will just be too much power for my current situation). midi switching is sooooo much better than pedal tap dancing, piss easy to use, patches change super-quick.

trilogy 100 w head/cab- oh so so so pretty blue lights!!!! however, as mentioned above, the guys who work there are TOOLS and kept telling me to turn it down, so i only got a brief chance to try it at about volume 3 (i kept sneaking it up a little at a time as the tubes warmed a bit more) and i gotta say in all honesty, the swwitchblade at it right up. the sound was, well, just better to my ears i guess! i ended up walking outta the shop saying "if the switchblade looked as cool as the trilogy, i'd probably cheat on my girlfriend by making love to it". it sounded like it had the POTENTIAL to open up at higher volumes (like any tube amp) but it just sounded a bit flabby to me. it wasn't tight distortion on any of the channels, and the ultra channel shares the same EQ as the lead channel, which is annoying for me. its like its only added as a distortion bosst, but they pass it off as an extra channel... but hey, i've becoma a picky picky bastard in my old age (cough, 19, cough).

Triamp Mk II- i stealthily plugged into this when the attendants where looking the other way (did i meantion they are TOOLS, and wouldn't let me play it cause it's an expensive amp and i have long hair? and possibly coz their shop is situated near a rehab, so they probably thought i was on crack and trying to steal some shit). Man, if i had the money... well id probably buy this amp. and then hump the shit out of it. but do i have that kinda money? no. but in the ten minutes or so i played it before the TOOLS caught on, it was pretty much tonal bliss at volume 2. so who knows how good it would sound on say, 9. but in all honesty, the switchblade came VERY close to the sounds of the triamp (in fact someone left a review on harony central detailing how they A/Bed their switchblade/triamp II and the differences were pretty minimal). but then, there IS a bit of difference between the switchblades 6 tubes and the triamps 13... have fun replacing them, but if you have the money to pay for it, you'd wann have the money for spare tubes too. And it looked about the coolest amp you've ever seen. It wouldn't look out of place in an episode of stargate or something.

well thats my opinions on the three H&K amps i tried. Triamp if i was famous rock star, switchblade for gigging musician. i should be a switchblade salesman or something... cause i love it! oh and both the heads were played through H&K 4X12's with V30's.

but thanks all for your input,, i must try playing guitar through a phonograph. thats about as hardcore music man as you get :headbang1:, where do you come up with this shit CB?!?!?! thanks for the input on attenuators everybody, i had heard of the THD hotplate, but just didn't know the full 1 1. or whatever.
BUT. i am leaving (gasp) for a well deserved 3 month holiday in europe/egypt. leaving on wednesday (so no chance of me spending big dollars on gear before i leave. without the missus murdering me, that is  :icon_biggrin:). right now its monday morning (10am) and its probably sunday some time over in the states yeah? "so don;t be afraid if the world ends today, because it's already tomorrow in Australia"  :icon_thumright: i love that quote!
cheers, mitch
and just a note on my review; i don't have a particular style. i play just as much blues as i do metal. i love the sound of a fender amp, and i love the sound of a marshall cranked, and i love boogie rectifiers. and the switchblade pretty much sums them all up. it doesnt absolutely KILL one particular sound (like the above-mentioned amps) but it does do a damn good job of doing them all really well. boom
I have been thinking of what amp to get as well and I pretty much decided on a Marshall plexi 50 clone from, problem is that amps are either very expensive or really crappy in Taiwan so I figure that ceriatone is going to be the best deal for now. It's powered by 2 EL34 I dont know if I can just half the power by pulling up one of the EL34, dont know if this one is push pull or single ended. What happens if I run a push pull amp with only one tube? will it break?
You can only yank the power tubes if there are four of them.  You can yank the two center or two outside tubes, but not two from each side.
-CB- said:
They all kill tone.

There's no such thing as a free lunch, but small amps "cranked" sound mo' betta than big amps needing a shot of laxative.

BTW... ya want a small amp for almost NOTHING?

Go find a used school phonograph with tubes.  Those big monster ones in the big boxes.  Take out the phonograph drive and leave the amp.  Wire a jack right to the where the phono pickup connected.  Most of those have "volume" and "tone", but some have bass and treble.  Some have Jensen speakers!  You can play the cabinet "open" or closed... HUGE monster tone.

Dammit, another secret revealed.... oh well.

Years ago when I first started playing guitar I was playing through my dad's old stereo system with the 1/4 input jacks until I got my own practice amp. I tried to keep playing out of it because it was so much cooler sounding but he got fed up with it.  :party07:
I use a THD Hotplate on my 50 watt Marshall JMP50 plexi and cab.  Any attenuator is going to suck tone.  The more you attenuate, the more tone you suck.  For home practice, I normally have to bring it all the way down to -16db, sometimes -12db.  I'll usually back off on the amps volume just a tad so it doesn't muddy up as much.  The hotplate does have "bright" and "deep" switches that help bring back some of the depth of the tone at higher attenuation levels.  The amp will start sounding more transparent and natural as you back off the attenuation past -8db, and start dis-engaging the bright and deep switches.  Only then, does the "Marshall" tonal quality start coming out.  I'd say at -4db, it's really just starting to let the amp breath, and take the tonal output of your speakers of choice into the tonal equation at higher output levels.

On the other hand, you may just consider a smaller tube amp.  I've always wanted to get a 5 to 15 watt tube practice amp of some kind.  Cranking a smaller wattage tube amp will tend to sound better than a highly attenuated high-wattage head.  For gigs you can always add an extension cab and/or mic the cab through the PA.


I just went through the whole amp shopping experience and I was looking at the H&K stuff too.  I also shopped Engl, Randall, Mesa, and an amp from a local builder named Dailey. 

My trade in was a Line 6 so I was turned off by the built in effects. (But thats just me)  The place I demoed the H&K was Guitar Center (a Switchblade) and I couldn't get a straght answer about the memory.  My Line 6 had a battery in the memory that had burnt out.  I didn't want to jack with the whole "Recomended Service Center" crap, and thats what started the shopping anyway.  Nice amp, nice price though.

The new Randall stuff with the different preamps are cool, but really new, and I questioned the reliability.  That plus no reverb on the combo kept me looking.

The Engl Screamer 50 combo is really cool.  (Their High gain heads are dreamy but I'm combo shopping)  The only reason I didn't go with it was there was 1 EQ for both channels.

I ended up with a Mesa Rect-o-verb 50.  I love it!! :icon_thumright:  It's straightforward and bulletproof.

I was thinking about the THD hot plate to run between my speaker and amp.  Has anyone tried that on a combo?

I was looking for a "little" amp though.  What's your budget? 
Regarding ANY attenuators ~

CB - "They all kill tone."
WMLHOP - "Any attenuator is going to suck tone."

Top shelf advice - be advised and proceed with extreme caution.
Get a VHT 2/90/2 tube power amp and a peavey rockmaster preamp. The rockmaster has three channels and a seperate FX loop for each channel, so you could get a good old rackmount spring reverb for what ever channels you would want it on or a newer digital rackmount unit with delays and what not. Any cab would be good with this. This set up is going to be my next rig, the peavey is all tube and so is the VHT. There is also a seperate volume for each channel and it comes with a simple three button footswitch.
Well I am getting my Plexi 50 from and I had them install a master volume on it so I guess I can just crank the preamp tube... I might crank the amp itself at about 12PM or so or when there is a stupid temple parade (one "feature" of living in Taiwan) just to see how it sounds like fully cranked. I will need to wear an attenuator in my ear though because I don't need hearing damage...
Suck Tone? 

I don't understand why you guys say that an attenuator sucks tone?  Maybe I dont understand what you mean by sucking tone.

When I think of attenuators, as you use the term,  the term " Dummy Load " comes to mind,

Perhaps two diferent things?  your basic tone controlls in audio works by attenuating certain frequencies, correct? the break point of those being determined by the potentiometer.

A true " Dummy Load" which it sounds like what you guys really want, is basically a resistive load. Or if you wanted to get fancy and try to emulate the impedance of a speaker, you might use an inductive load.

lets say you have a 4 speaker cabinet, and a 100 watt head. Normal funtion would be 25 watts to each speaker, if you replace 3 of those speakers with an equivalent impedance load. You should be able to drive the amp at its "sweet spot" with less audible output, I'm not sure the DB out  would be 1/4th, but keeping things simple, lets assume it is. Just as the amp has a sweet spot, so do the speakers. If you wanna attenuate the amp, you need to channel the remaining signal through the correct proportion of speaker. So if you cut your signal in half ( and by the way, I am refering to attenuating the amplified signal, not the little 4-20 ma stuff) and dont adjust the speaker load, it's probably gonna sound like crappola

So where do we lose "Tone"    I know some things about electronics and electricity, I know CB does too, Electrons don't care if its an 8 ohm speaker or an 8 ohm resistor bank.  And yes I know the speaker will have inductive reactance that a rsistor does not.  So is there a market for something like this?
Some of you have tried something, I have not.  I am thinking if it sounded like crap, maybe it was crap, or it wasn't hooked up or configured correctly. I don't doubt that there must be some adjustments made to reach a good ballance between your driven power and the speaker(s)

I really think a pure resistive load will work well enough, that you would not be able to hear any tone loss at all. Supposedly EVH used a dummy load in his signal path between his amp and speakers. He did this to drive his tubes hot and keep the speaker output low enough to put a mic nearby. You can hear his Amazing Tone loss on VanHalen I

Alfang said:
So where do we lose "Tone"   
Electrons don't care if its an 8 ohm speaker or an 8 ohm resistor bank.

There are several areas we lose tone.

Speakers are a dynamic component.  The voice coil itself reacts with the output transformer - in two directions (more on that later).  Voice coils are completely no linear in how the OT perceives them.  As the coil moves, it moves a cone with it.  The current through the coil behaves differently when the coil/cone is in motion, where it is during its excursion, the stiffness of the cone (mechanical springiness effecting the movement, and thereby the perceived electrical property).    So, on this point, we have a outrageously variable electrical load, that varies with the frequency of the signal, and mechanical elements of the cone (weight of paper... springiness of the spider and surround, cone flex....etc).  Even the shape of the magnetic circuit, and the flux density of the circuit along the path of the cones movement... they all effect the way the OT "sees" the speaker.  Consider too, that when the speaker is at higher volume,  it moves more, and all these properties change - dramatically.

When a coil moves through a magnetic field, it produces a current.  A coil driven by a current will want to traverse the magnetic field (how a speaker works in the first place), but will give its own current (yup) that mixes with whats driving it.  Then when the speaker relaxes, there is less driving current but... the speakers current "output" is still the same.  That is, a relaxing speaker creates its own current, and a flexing one does too, all of this mixes with and effects the way the output transformer "sees" the speaker. 

All of that, in turn effects how the coil is driven - think of it as a very complex closed loop... trying to drive something (the coil) that drives erratically (due to stated factors and more) and tries to actually take over the driving itself, all of which is scribble of frequency dependence - why they all sound different to begin with.

Ok, so much for the electrical.  Then there's the mechanical.  We've seen the Celestion line offer the same speaker in varying weight and formulation of cone material, for distinctly flavored speakers.  there are thick, thin, stiff, loose, ribbed, straight, belled... you name it... the ribbing plays a key factor in tone, btw.  Now consider that all of that is also volume dependent in that the way the cones react (along with the surrounds and spiders) varies considerably depending on how hard its pushed.

Then there is the way the cabinet itself reacts to volume.  Resonance (something cones have as well).  Airflow.  Etc etc... all of this effects both open and closed cabinets.

So, do attenuators suck tone? 

Like a fox sucks eggs.

I designed and built an attenuator that uses a circuit that is both resistive and inductive.  Much better than resistive.  Noplace like the real thing.  Weber makes his doodad (disbelieve half of what he says, then ignore 50 percent of whats left).  Gerald Weber makes his (it sucks royally, a fixed coil device... ).  THD makes theirs also rebadged as Gibson (maybe others).  They all really do the same thing.  They try to improve on the basic resistive/inductive loading in such a way that you get some tone back.  They all fall far from the mark, including my own.  The only claim to fame mine has is that it can handle 100 watts, at either 2, 4 or 8 ohms, and do that all with the same efficiency and characteristic, regardless of what you feed it, and regardless of the impedance.  Wooopdeee.  It still is not a substitute for da "real" McCoy.


The Greatest Dummy Load that Ever Was


The real McCoy