Hands-On Review:Hughes & Kettner Triplex, Marshall TSL601 and Yamaha DG60-112
As long as guitarists live in fifth-floor walkups and play on postage stamp–size stages, there will be a need for small combo amps. Although they usually have little more than one 12-inch speaker and are portable enough to tote with one hand, these squat brutes manage to hold their own against ham-fisted drummers and overamped bassists, while providing channel switching and basic effects duties, too.
Leave it to three fine amp manufacturers to arrive at three different takes on the classic combo format. Marshall’s TSL601 continues to massage its benchmark array of high-gain sounds while adding some sparkle to its clean channel, all via vintage vacuum tubes. Yamaha puts a unique spin on the digital modeling game with its DG60-112, and Hughes & Kettner’s Triplex proves there’s still life in the solid-state format.
Hughes & Kettner Triplex
Hughes & Kettner’s Triplex boasts light weight, a light price and three onboard effects in one workmanlike unit. While its two channels—clean and overdrive—share bass, mid and treble controls, each has independent three-position switches for selecting reverb, delay or chorus. The clean channel is true to its name. delivering detailed and full tone that responds well to single-coil and humbucking pickups. Inch the volume past the halfway mark, however, and a nice, gritty distortion sneaks in. Turn the volume up full, and a nicely ragged overdrive takes over.
The overdrive channel’s gain picks up where the clean channel volume left off. Here, the saturation levels continue to rise, culminating in a meltdown-level, shrieking, squealing grungefest. And that ain’t all. A flick the mode switch brings forth even more gain, along with a generous helping of subharmonic distortion.
The onboard effects add useful colors; the reverb, in particular, is quite good in small to medium amounts, although massive doses reveal its solid-state roots. The variable-rate chorus is a welcome addition, adding notable brilliance to the clean channel settings. Fans of analog echo will swoon upon hearing the delay circuit, which offers a delay range from 50ms to 1,000ms and produces wickedly long oscillations via the feedback control.
If the Triplex has any weakness, it is the master volume control, which takes the unit into volume levels beyond its capacity. Levels beyond the control’s half way mark elicited rattles and buzzes most unbecoming of a 50-watt combo. It would be best to use the Triplex alone for studio chores and add a satellite amp when performing with a full band.
Marshall’s JCM2000 series of amps has been all the rage of late. By lowering the output of the TSL122 combo from 100 watts to 60, they’ve managed to cram the 2000’s triple-channel, triple-threat tone into a hot little combo package worthy of consideration by any serious gigging guitarist. The TSL601 packs three switchable and largely independent channels into its compact frame and sports a front panel layout that’s easy to navigate and features Marshall’s classic good looks.
The clean channel tone is bright, tight and crisp, and will win over many a Fender fanatic. In fact, with both the clean and master volumes pinned, this little titan remained amazingly clear, while moving enough air to challenge the most overbearing bandmates. The crunch channel harkens back to a gravelly Bluesbreaker sound that reveals the plump, low mids of a Les Paul, and gives a Strat or Tele a thick, wide snarl we reviewers often call "Texan." The lead channel handles the most extreme, molten overdrive settings. Special mention goes to the shift switch, which manages to morph the crunch and lead channels from a loose, midrangey Seventies response to a tight, scooped-midrange Nineties sound. Further kudos go to the reverb circuit, which produces a thick and swirly cloud of heavenly mist that hangs long in the air, yet never interferes with the primary signal.
Thanks to the wonders of digital modeling technology, Yamaha’s DG60-112 provides eight amp models in each of its two channels. Although Yamaha has chosen to play it safe and not specify the amp models by name, it’s obvious that the usual suspects—Fender, Vox, Marshall, et al—have had their sonic DNA sampled herein. The models are labeled (in ascending order of gain) clean 1 and 2, crunch 1 and 2, drive 1 and 2, and lead 1 and 2. The "2" settings are essentially re-equalized versions of the "1" settings, with a little top and bottom added to each. The choices proved very useful. For example, a Strat sounded somewhat anemic in clean 1, but it became very alive in clean 2. On the other hand, a blustery Gibson 335 sounded great in clean 1, but it became tubby and harsh when played through clean 2.
The crunch, drive and lead settings all delivered appropriate levels of overdrive, and it was easy to conjure up tones reminiscent of tweed Fenders, boxy Voxs and rockin’ Marshalls, Boogies and Soldanos. The response was amazingly tube-like and equal to, if not better than that any of the "big name" digital modeling amps. What’s more, the output of the DG60-112 lives up to its 60-watt rating, and the reverb circuit complements the amp wonderfully with a full range of useful sounds. The only quibble—and it’s a small one—is with the somewhat tame tone controls. With a little more robust eq circuitry in the DG60-112, the amp’s eight models could have been pared down to a more user-friendly four.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Hughes & Kettner Triplex is a fine solid-state amp for low-to-moderate volume settings, and the added onboard effects make it a bargain to boot. Marshall’s TSL601 represents the opposite end of the spectrum—a top-shelf production amp with a boutique vibe, worth its considerable weight in sonic gold. But the real surprise of the batch is the Yamaha DG60-112, which manages to deliver killer sounds in a package that is friendly both to your back and your bank account.