FRET12 Reviews: Hughes & Kettner AMPMAN
A guitar rig is a very complicated entity. Yes, they can be literally complicated, but even the more stripped-down rigs have an innate complexity to them as well. They have to deliver the sounds, tones, and ‘feels’ that a player craves and sometimes needs, to sound like themselves. While it’s true that you can have guitarist A plug into guitarist B’s rig and have them still sound like guitarist A; it goes without saying that many players still need those certain tools of the trade to get their sounds across as they envision it in their head.
Do you think you could play a show if it meant plugging into someone else’s foreign rig, especially if you had little to no time to dial it in? Even the most “simple” rigs often require at least an amplifier/speaker combo or stack set up that resembles either a very heavy piece of luggage at best or a veritable mountain of lumber, metal, and caster wheels at worst. This means carrying something around that could not only weigh a lot, but could also be very fragile, and if it’s vintage enough- possibly expensive/priceless.
Thankfully over the last decade or two, digital and computer-assisted amp/rig modelling has gotten better than ever. What started with products like the Korg Pandora/ToneWorks morphed into the Line6 POD/Behringer V-amp, which then evolved into the Fractal Axe-FX, which then culminated in the Kemper Profiler and Line6 HELIX we all know and love today. While this String Thing wouldn’t recommend using some of those earlier units to gig with or record with, many of today’s professional musicians rely on the ultra-lightweight/reliable/versatile modelers like the Fractal/Kemper/Helix for their modern touring needs. With these products, today’s guitarists can have every amp/speaker/effect/etc. they could ever want right at their fingertips, and they no longer need to carry those rare, heavy, fragile, and often expensive/priceless amps/pedals/cabs on tour.
Yet this still leaves guitarists with a few issues. Showing up to a show with a modeler may still mean you need to power a speaker cab at worst, or at best find a PA and soundman who can take the modeler’s DI signal and amplify it (and hopefully make it sound just like you want- easier said than done). Furthermore, any guitar players going direct to front of house, will now face the scenario of no longer having a blaring speaker on stage with them so they can hear themselves/obtain feedback/get into the vibe of a loud show/etc. This means that guitarists may have to add a power amp to their “lightweight” modeling rig so they can power a cab for stage, and possibly some extra associated gear. All of a sudden, these streamlined rigs have grown in weight, size, and complexity to be not-so-streamlined; and we’re kind of back where we started. True, the venue might have a cabinet backline, but you’ll still need an amp to power it, and that may not sound the way you want.
What if there was a product that combined the small size, durability and simplicity of modelers, with a real power amp? A power amp not designed for voice, but designed by guitarists for guitar tone. That way, you could show up at a show with a guitar and pedal and plug into a backline speaker cab with a mic, or go direct to front of house; or both! Fortunately for all of us reading this, it is 2021, and German amp gurus Hughes & Kettner have created an awesome new concept in portable amplification. Read on, my stringed brethren.
Known as the AmpMan Classic and AmpMan Modern, these spankin-new-for-2021 pedals feature a smorgasbord of guitar wizardry, perfect for everything ranging from bedroom, to studio, to stage. Both pedals feature a full-fledged 2 channel amp that goes at your feet rather than on the backline. These 2 channels offer the ability to switch seamlessly between tones ranging from clean chimes to dirty blues, to rock crunch and searing metal. As the names would imply, the Classic unit derives more British tones, while the Modern unit derives more California tones (you know what I’m talking about).
This lets players pick and choose what ‘school of tone’ will work best for their ear and sculpt their rig around that. In addition to dual channel switching, the AmpMan pedals also are loaded with channel sculpting knobs that allow the usual dialing (gain, presence, volume) but also dig in to the ‘feel’ of how the amp reacts- via resonance, sag, and more!
Another footswitch controls BOOST, which adds even more ‘hair’ to your signal, for when your inner Nigel Tufnel needs that push over the cliff. Another foot-switchable SOLO function cranks out an additional (up to +6 dB) of solo tone over your Master volume setting! These ‘AmpMen’ really can go to 11 (or 12?)! Amidst all of this is a Black Spirit 200-derived IDB noisegate that keeps a nice silent backdrop for your tones; because nothing ruins a great sound quicker than tons of excess noise, hiss, and hum.
Best of all? We’ve been saying AMP this whole time, and we mean it! It’s not just an amp sim, or a model of an amp. It’s not just another multi-channel distortion or associated gain box, this is a clean and dirty amp in a box that can drive real speaker cabinets! And if you are not driving cabinets, you can emulate them! Crammed into this ultra-slim form factor is a real deal 50-watt Ultra-Responsive power amp, delivering a punch and feel that can go toe-to-toe with that of any tube similar tube amp.
This means players can show up to a venue, and as long as there is a cab or a PA, this pedal is all you need to achieve the basics. Have some pedals you can’t live without, or are you upset that your AxeFX doesn’t quite sound like the real orange Phase 90? Plug ‘em in! Fear not, the AmpMan allows players to run their “tried and true” pedals they know and love through an effects loop or into the front, just like any other amp! And since the AmpMan is so small, it can even live ON your existing pedalboard for a great hybrid of old school tone and modern portability.
If you are running direct to front of house, or even into a recording console, players can use the built-in Red Box AE+ cabinet emulator to send a “mic’ed up speaker” tone to the PA. This built-in bonus supplies you with eight cab emulations, including gargantuan 4 x 12-inch stacks, compact 1 x 12-inch cabinets, and everything in-between.
And last but not least, let our stringed commune applaud the designers of the AmpMan for letting everything in the device be adjusted and accessed via real knobs. No phones, laptops, tiny LCD screens, and menu-diving. This is how it’s done. Because in the heat of a gig, or recording session, the last thing anyone wants to do is mess around with endless menus, chains, and hard-to-read screens. Dial in your tone, and go.
So, let’s hear it for Hughes & Kettner for creating a wonderful hybrid of amplifiers meets modelers meets emulators (and then some!). A unit like this may be the perfect solution for those players who want to continue using all that old-school, tried and true gear, but obtain the ease and reliability of lightweight “fly rigs”. This may be just what the doctor ordered for certain scenarios. The only flaw the String Thing can sense, is that if I want Marshall AND Mesa, I'll just need to buy both units.