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This article was originally published in issue #19
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What every guitar player wants is a steaming, handmade, weighs-a-ton valve/tube amp, right? Well no, actually. We've had review requests from GI readers who prefer the idea of a lightweight, reliable, affordable solid state guitar amp. For all of you - and especially for anyone who isn't sure what they want - we decided to try a Hughes & Kettner Attax 100 solid state combo. So just how well does a solid state amp stand-up these days, we asked Tim Slater?
Hughes & Kettner is best known for its tube amplifiers; its flagship Tri-Amp remains one of the most sophisticated guitar amplifiers ever made, while the impressively compact TubeMeister series of compact heads and combos with built-in speaker emulation represent the German-based brand's most successful products to date.
The Hughes & Kettner Attax series, on the other hand, are high-powered solid-state amplifiers that are primarily aimed at gigging guitarists. The range offers a clear choice between either a 100 Watt combo or separate 100 Watt head, complemented by a compatible angled 4x12 cabinet. The combo version will probably find the widest appeal simply due to its relatively compact size, which makes it more convenient to transport, compared to lugging a full stack in and out the back of the family hatchback!
Guitarists often place a lot of value in multiple channel options and the Attax 100 duly features four separate channels that are selected by the heavy-duty four-button footswitch, which is helpfully supplied with the amplifier. It is important to stress that the Attax 100 is not a modelling amp; its versatility is based on the amp's digital memory that automatically stores the amp's settings every time that one of the volume, gain, EQ or effects parameter knobs is adjusted. This feature makes the Attax 100 feel very organic and user-friendly; there is no 'store' knob or complex menu for the player to worry about, simply adjust your settings as you would on any regular guitar amp and the Attax remembers them!
The memory function comes into play when setting different EQ and gain settings between the clean and overdriven sounds, aided by dedicated 3-band EQ and volume controls for the clean channel, while the crunch, Lead and Ultra modes are similarly assigned their own dedicated 3-band EQ. Crunch and Lead/Ultra modes also employ independent gain and volume controls, with a single separate volume control that sets the Ultra mode's high gain boost soaring into orbit if you need a mega solo sound that will cut through the band mix like a blowtorch!
The built-in effects are sensibly curbed - one hesitates to use the word 'limited' - to four popular effect types: chorus, flanging, tremolo and delay, plus a separate reverb. Any one of the modulation effects can be used in combination with the reverb and delay, which creates some really versatile sounding combinations. However, if you feel that you still would like to add more effects the amp's rear panel features FX loop send and returns for connecting external stomp boxes, plus there is also a Line Out for connecting the amp directly to a PA or recording console. The headphone jack feels slightly incongruous, considering that this is a very powerful amplifier but at least the facility is there if you do need to use the headphone socket for a quick backstage tune up or a quiet home practice session (the headphone jack disconnects the combo's internal speaker).
The combo's closed-back design gives the Attax 100 a meaty tone with plenty of low-end thump, helped by the versatility of the single 12-inch Rockdriver speaker that was designed in collaboration with former Celestion product development specialist Paul Airey, who now plays a similar role with H&K.
It's easy to run away with the idea that a valve/tube amp is the only thing that will do, these days but the reality is quite different. Solid state amps are inherently more reliable, cheaper and, importantly, weigh a considerable amount less than tube equivalents and when you get a good one like this, especially for clean sounds or when you are using FX, the delights of tube saturation are neither to everyone's taste nor even necessary. The Attax 100 is a very usable and practical amplifier for the gigging guitarist who feels that forking out on an expensive tube amplifier is less of a priority than owning an amplifier that is easy to transport, versatile and powerful enough to use in virtually any situation. All four channels offer a very workable choice of tones from sparkling clean, a warm bluesy crunch all the way to searing high-gain overdrive, with the high quality effects helping to add colour and depth to what is already a very flexible package. It's a great choice for the hard working guitar player.