As new tech develops, especially quality cabinet simulation, the idea of lower-powered (or unpowered, in the case of Axe-FX, Kemper, Line6, etc) amps is gaining mindshare. As long as your band is at the level where most venues you play have a PA that can pick up the slack, sadly a factor that some small bands ignore, then the appeal of a “suitcase rig” is damn appealing.
Hughes and Kettner have just released their Grandmeister 36 head. It aims to be an all-in-one amplifier and effects unit that you can get on a plane with, just like an amp modeller, but with two advantages. Firstly, it has analog tube tone, and second, it has analog tube amplification. I know people think of those things as synonymous, but the amplification part is where some, like myself, feel that modellers don’t get the job done. After all, a Kemper is creating a facsimile the “tone” of a tube power section. Even an Axe-FX is doing a damn fine job of recreating the sound through reverse engineering. But for whatever reason, in practicality if you’re amplifying that sound to stage volume with a solid-state power section it just doesn’t have the same presence.
Now the Grandmeister 36’s quartet of el84 tubes won’t make for earth-shaking volume. But in most situations they should give you enough decibels that you can hear yourself over a drummer. Maybe you need a bit of backup from the PA depending on the volume of your band, but it should get you close anyway. And still it has most of the other advantages of a digital amp: presets, effects like delay/reverb/modulation, portability, external preset control via midi or ipad, etc. In theory you could use the Grandmeister without any pedals besides the foot controller.
Stone Sour’s Josh Rand is a fan. In the four videos below he walks you through all the features of the unit and gives some examples of the possible tones. What do you think? Most retailers have it for sale at around $1,200.