Hughes & Kettner GrandMeister 36 amp head review

  • £1129

The GrandMeister has possibly everything anybody is ever going to need from their amp. Ever!

Image 1 of 3 Hughes Kettner GrandMeister 36 amp head
Love it or hate it, the GrandMeister's blue-lit front panel will get you noticed. We think it's totally cool as well as practical.
Image 2 of 3 Hughes Kettner GrandMeister 36 amp head
Ten years ago nobody could have made an amp this good anywhere, let alone China. Behind the girlfriend/spouse-approved good looks, the GrandMeister is hard as nails.
Image 3 of 3 Hughes Kettner GrandMeister 36 amp head
FSM432 Mk III – It sounds like an automatic weapon, but it's the best MIDI controller you can get for the GrandMeister and at £169 it's good value too.

Our Verdict

One amp to rule them all? H&K might just have launched the amp of the decade

For

  • Supreme versatility, killer sounds, cutting-edge functionality

Against

  • Only that we wish the brilliant iPad app could provide control of the amp over Bluetooth or WiFi
Buying options

German amp supremo Hughes & Kettner is on a major roll with its Chinese-made TubeMeister amp range, especially as the TubeMeister 18 is presently the biggest-selling amp in America. We thought the flagship TubeMeister 36 was already pretty good, however H&K's R&D team happened to have a top-secret ace up their sleeve and here it is, the modestly named GrandMeister 36 (£1,129).

Four channels. Boost. Onboard digital effects. Red Box DI. Noise gate. Five output levels down to zero for silent recording. If that's not enough to get you salivating, how about total MIDI control, not just of every switched functions, but all the pots too? That's what Hughes & Kettner has shoehorned into the same slim steel chassis, with its trademark side-lit Perspex control panel.

By making the preamp gain, volume and EQ controls double up for effects editing, Hughes & Kettner has kept the front panel relatively clean and uncluttered too. Behind each knob (apart from the global master volume) is what H&K calls a Smart Rotary Control, connected to a network of 256 resistors that remember the exact control position and let you store it in one of 128 patches.

Teamed with the new FSM432 MIDI foot controller (£169), the GrandMeister can run in either preset mode, or stompbox mode, with on/off access to all the effects, and if you use the included seven-pin MIDI lead, the foot controller is phantom-powered from the amp.

Sounds

Thanks to oversized mains and output transformers, the sounds are just as good as the looks, with the new fourth Ultra channel providing a superheated lead sound that's as good as you'll hear from any top boutique amp.

The other channel voicings are just as versatile as before, going from bouncy sweet cleans through creamy blues and classic rock to all-out devastation from the lead channel, with the trick EL84 output stage reconfiguring itself with different levels of feedback to suit the four very different voicings.

"The Ultra channel provides a superheated lead sound that's as good as you'll hear from any top boutique amp."

The cherry on top is a free app that works on the iOS platform through an appropriate MIDI interface and gives you real-time control over everything. It looks almost as good as the real amp and lets you store and name all your patches.

Probably the best amp you'll see this year, if not this decade, we reckon the new GrandMeister 36 is totally unbeatable at the price and heading for amp superstardom!

Total Guitar issue 247 (on sale 28 October 2013) and in-depth in Guitarist issue 375 (on sale 15 November).

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Tech Specs

Additional Features36-watts output switchable to 18, 5, 1 or zero. CONTROLS: Global master volume, presence, resonance, channel volume, bass, mid, treble, gain, reverb, noise gate hard/soft. Switches for channel select, boost, loop on/off, noise gate on/off, store, FX access, Red Box cabinet type, Power switching. SOCKETS: Guitar in, 8-16 ohm speaker out, effects loop, line out, MIDI in, MIDI out/thru
Country of OriginChina
Power (W)36
Weight (kg)7.7
Height (mm)171
Width (mm)446
Device TypeValve head with digital effects and control systems
Depth (mm)152