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Microphone Month 2

Hands-On Review Hughes & Kettner GrandMeister 36 Tube Head

At the core of the Hughes & Kettner GrandMeister 36 is a killer-sounding, 4-channel tube amp that’s loud enough for just about any gig and small enough to carry with one hand. Hughes & Kettner massively expanded on that awesome core and created an amplifier that excels in almost any situation by adding a bunch of great, practical features. The Hughes & Kettner GrandMeister 36 is literally in a class by itself.

Just under 17lbs, the GrandMeister 36 has four distinctly voiced channels; Clean, Crunch, Lead, and Ultra. The preamp section is driven by three 12AX7 tubes and each channel also has a switchable boost function. Four EL84 tubes give the GrandMeister its 36 watts and an onboard attenuator allows that to be switched all the way to silent. With the built-in Redbox DI/cabinet simulator, I was able to capture the tone and feel of the GrandMeister 36 through a cabinet and miked up, plugged straight into my DAW — no microphone required. Since it’s silent, the amp was right next to me! This would be perfect for live settings too; you could even mic a cab and use the Redbox out as well for a “composite” signal where you could blend the two together for the ultimate tone.

Only one set of tone and volume controls are necessary — even though there are four channels — because the GrandMeister 36 is fully programmable with 128 memory slots. Let that one sink in a bit; a feature-packed, real- honest-to-goodness tube amp that is fully programmable! Hughes & Kettner’s Smart Rotary Controls make this possible. Smart Rotary allows every knob to function as it would on a regular tube amp, but instantly recalls it to the position it was set at when the program was saved, all without the knobs physically moving.

I was easily dialing-in a variety of lush effects with the onboard, programmable reverb, delay, and modulation effects. The GrandMeister’s switchable effects loop and variable noise gate are also programmable as is the power attenuator and nearly every other function on the amp.

The optional FSM432 Footswitch puts control of the GrandMeister at your feet via MIDI, with either program-change or stomp-box mode. In stomp-box mode, you can switch between the four channels, turn the boost on or off, and turn on the delay and modulation for an amp-and-pedal-type feel. The free IOS app allows program editing in a larger view and unlimited storage of presets. It’s also the perfect way to back-up your presets, load them on another GrandMeister 36, or share them with someone else.

The GrandMeister 36’s best attributes are that it sounds and performs like a wicked, old-school, channel switching amp and a pedalboard full of great pedals; all of the technical wizardry in the world wouldn’t matter if that weren’t the case. It is the case with the GrandMeister 36, however, and combining that with the 21st century functionality makes this an amp you’ll love to use in any situation.

Don Carr

About Don Carr

With a three-decade career as a professional guitarist in Nashville, Tennessee, Sweetwater's Don Carr has a long list of album credits in multiple genres of music. His resume includes hundreds of radio and television appearances, as well as thousands of live performances in America and abroad as lead guitarist for the legendary Oak Ridge Boys. Don provides Sweetwater with professional insight through product demos, reviews, how-to’s, and group instruction. He is also the first-call session guitarist for Sweetwater Studios.
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