Hands-On Review:Hughes & Kettner Statesman Amplifiers
Flexible, vintage tube tone
By Ara Ajizian, Music123 Staff Writer
Vintage tube amps are highly sought after by guitarists who won’t settle for less than the cream and crunch of days gone by. There’s a good reason for that: many vintage amps simply got it right. Hughes & Kettner’s Statesman Series amplifiers don’t rely on modeling or digital voodoo to recreate classic tube sound—they are pure, 100% tube amps loaded with all the killer tone and mojo that vintage-amp lovers crave, but with modern twists that allow you to shape them across styles and even time.
Past meets present
Vintage amps typically do one or two things, and do them very well. This is generally because of the type of tubes and circuitry they contain. For example, a 12AX7 tube preamp coupled with 6L6 power tubes gives what's typically referred to as an "American" sound, due to the predominant use of 6L6 tubes in most U.S.-made vintage amps. These amps are celebrated for their loads of airy headroom on the clean side and a round, warm breakup when overdriven. However, in your typical vintage amp, nothing changes in the circuitry when the amp is pushed harder, so, tonally speaking, what you get is what you get.
Hughes & Kettner's engineers have given the Statesman amps the most gratifying tube combinations and incorporated modern circuitry that actually restructures the preamp circuits and switches the current feedback when you switch from the Clean to Drive channels, allowing the power tubes to adjust perfectly to either preamp channel. Result: vintage tone that is more versatile than most vintage amps could ever approach.
Men of state
The Statesman family of amps offers a number of models to choose from—the DUAL EL84, QUAD EL84, and DUAL 6L6 combos, as well as the DUAL EL34 head and a 4x12 cabinet for half- and full-stack rigs. All utilize a 2 x 12AX7 preamp section, but each offers its own power tube section for a variety of power outputs, tones, and applications.
In addition to the varied power sections, there are some EQ and other control differences that give each of these amps its own versatile take on vintage tone. The DUAL EL84 and QUAD EL84 use a shared 3-band EQ for both channels, while the DUAL EL34 head and DUAL 6L6 combo offer separate EQs for each channel and plus an additional master volume for the Drive channel. The DUAL and QUAD EL84 both employ a serial effects loop; the other two amps have a selectable serial/parallel loop.
Although they have their differences, there are some notable shared features that speak to the flexibility of the entire series. All Statesman amps come equipped with a phenomenal-sounding Accutronics spring reverb with a balance control to match the effect to your preference for each channel. Two very handy functions are the Twang and Boost switches for the Clean and Drive channels, respectively. Twang boosts the higher-end mids—perfect for chicken pickin' country rhythms or shimmering leads—while Boost ups the gain, taking the overdrive from a smooth '60s crunch to the scorching lead tones of the '80s.
The DUAL EL84 and QUAD EL84 combo models are identical except for the doubling of the EL84 tubes (hence power output) in the QUAD model. At 20 watts, the DUAL EL84 delivers plenty of volume and is perfect for guitarists playing clubs and other small venues, while the QUAD EL84 revs things up for those needing more headroom and volume.
Thanks to their EL84 power tubes, these combos deliver a classic, open-back clean sound that breaks up nicely with higher gain, perfect for the classic "British Invasion" sound. But the wonderful thing about these (and all the Statesman amps) is their ability to make sonic time jumps. Switch over to the Drive channel and you can easily call up '70s and '80s big rock sounds that you'd normally expect from a half stack.
The third combo in the Statesman series is also the most powerful—the 60-watt DUAL 6L6. This amp stands out due to its use of two 6L6 tubes in the power section. As mentioned earlier, 6L6 was the preferred tube for the big, classic American amps of the '50s and '60s. The DUAL 6L6 delivers the warm, rich clean tones many of those amps are revered for magnificently, as well as thick, creamy distortion with a modern edge.
For the ultimate in vintage versatility, pairing the 50-watt DUAL EL34 head with the Statesman 412 cabinet is the way to go. As its name suggests, two EL34 tubes make up the power section on this model. EL34s defined the sound of the British amps of the '60s that drove the British blues revival, and the DUAL EL34 certainly has that type of growl and punch.
However, like its fellow Statesmen, the DUAL EL34 is capable of so much more, including its impressive ability to reproduce the signature clean sound of an open-back combo. I admit I was a bit skeptical about this claim, but hearing is believing, and I am now a firm believer. The DUAL EL34 can also be used in a full-stack configuration via separate 4-, 8-, and 16-ohm outputs.
Back to the future
With its Statesman Series amplifiers, Hughes & Kettner has gone back to the roots of vintage tone. But rather than just delivering one or two signature sounds, by enhancing the circuitry and control sets, these amps deliver an incredibly wide range of classic tones. Whether you need vintage American twang or the throaty roar of a big British beast from days of old, look no further than the Statesman series. These amps are modern vintage, done right!