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This article was originally published in issue #45
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What happens if you merge a traditional valve/tube amp with the latest in high-tech programmable electronics? You get Hughes & Kettner's new Grandmeister DeLuxe 40. But is the result Frankenstein's monster or a work of art? Tom Quayle finds out.
Hughes and Kettner describes its latest amp, the Grandmeister Deluxe 40, as ‘the smartest all-tube amp the world has ever seen’ and, here at Guitar Interactive, we’re inclined to agree. Combining four channel, all-tube sounds, inspired by the tonal palette of the flagship ‘Triamp Mark 3’ head, with a fully programmable and recallable front end, featuring 128 presets and MIDI capability, plus high end studio quality effects makes for a very interesting package in a surprisingly compact chassis.
Just like the Tubemeister series, the Grandmeister Deluxe 40 is housed in a high quality metal chassis with a plexiglass front panel revealing all of those lovely tubes and electronics, backlit with blue LEDs for the ultimate high-tech look. It’s a visual approach that Hughes and Kettner has used for a long time now and no wonder – it looks amazing on the Grandmeister and makes editing your sounds on a dark stage so easy. Who doesn’t love to see glowing tubes, too!
The front panel is well designed and very intuitive, featuring the same Smart Rotary Control technology from the Grandmeister 36 head. The idea is that each of the pot values are saved individually for any of the 128 available presets. In this way you don’t need separate controls for each of the four channels and effects, you just need the nine included pots for each preset. This gives the appearance of an amp with an EQ section shared across all four channels but the Grandmeister is far more advanced than this with individual settings available for every channel and preset.
Every pot value can be stored per preset, giving you control over Master Volume, Presence, Resonance, Treble, Mid, Bass, Volume and Gain. H&K has also included a studio quality digital reverb with a mix control plus a superb sounding digital delay and modulation section with controls for Delay Level, Feedback, Delay Time, Modulation Type and Intensity for even further tone shaping. These controls are secondary functions of the Treble, Mid, Bass, Volume and Gain controls respectively and are accessed with a push of the FX Access button, saving space and keeping the front panel uncluttered and easy to operate. Chorus, Flanger, Phaser and Tremolo effects are included and all four sound fantastic, easily able to replace the average pedal board or external multi FX unit.
Just like the Grandmeister 36, you get Clean, Crunch, Lead and Ultra channels for ever increasing amounts of gain with incredible levels available if required, especially when combined with the boost function that can be applied to each channel and saved as part of the preset. A high quality noise gate with customisable hard or soft settings is included as is a series effects loop and the fantastic ‘Redbox Ae’ DI out for silent recording with ambience emulation built in, offering vintage/modern and small/large cab configurations. The Redbox is one of the most convincing solutions for mic free recording and the Ae version is even better here. Also included is a power soak for 40, 20, 5 and 1W output or to mute the out if no speaker is attached for silent recording, with H&K’s Tube Safety Control panel offering an easy visual method for checking tube health and biasing.
The Grandmeister Deluxe 40 sports full MIDI capability for recalling presets, channel switching and switching the FX, Boost and Loop in and out. H&K offers the excellent FSM-432 Mk III MIDI board for this purpose and it does a superb job of controlling all the required parameters whilst being built like a tank. For those on a budget, there is the free GM40 Remote app for iPad that allows you to control all the amp’s parameters, name, save and recall presets from the visual interface. It does require a MIDI interface for the iPad and H&K offers its WM-1 wireless solution for this purpose, but any third party interface will do the trick.
Tonally, the Deluxe 40 is quite a different beast from the earlier Grandmeister 36. The channels all flow naturally from one to the other and the circuitry has been completely redesigned to come closer to the Triamp Mk III model. In use the tones on offer are really impressive and fun to play. Crystal clean tones have tons of dynamics and can be programmed for Country slap back, ambient space sounds or dreamy reverbscapes with ease and saved as a preset. The variety of cleans and ‘edge of breakup’ tones is incredible and the fact that any of these can be combined with the onboard effects and stored as a preset is mind blowing. Moving into the crunch gives you a really rewarding set of thick crunch sounds ranging from a second, grittier clean channel affair to full on power chord grunt with the boost engaged. The Lead channel is quite trebly but can be tamed easily with the EQ controls and rounds out beautifully at higher master volume settings for a truly pleasurable playing experience that responds wonderfully to pick dynamics and volume changes. Moving into Ultra territory gives you insane amounts of saturation that will bring smiles to the metal and Djent players out there with plenty of bottom end thump through a 2x12 or 4x12 cab.
The Grandmeister Deluxe 40 is an absolute triumph of an amplifier that could theoretically replace your entire rig. Hughes and Kettner has successfully blended high tech kit with amazing tones and a beautifully intuitive and uncluttered user interface. Having 128 presets on hand (who actually uses this many?) where you can store ANY of the onboard parameters is fantastic and the Redbox Ae is so good that you could take just the head and floorboard to a gig or recording session and plug direct with fantastic results. Having this package supplied in a deluxe padded gigbag sweetens the deal even further and makes the amp seem like a steal at its retail price. Amazing stuff from H&K and very highly recommended!
Recommended accessories: Hughes & Kettner FSM-432 MK III MIDI Board.