Hands-On Review:Hughes & Kettner Puretone
by Emile Menasché
Over the years, Hughes & Kettner has offered a wide range of guitar gear, from direct-box speaker emulators to high-powered heads with complex tube circuitry to digital amps that can produce of a warehouse worth of tones. With all these products, the common thread has been innovation—a willingness to tackle guitar tone in a distinctively forward-looking spirit that’s a far cry from the “vintage envy” suffered by many of H&K’s competitors.
So it was with some curiosity that I unboxed the Puretone, a Class A all-tube amplifier that’s about as close to the vintage spirit as the German manufacturer is likely to get. Would H&K churn out an amp with a “classic” tone reminiscent of the amps of yore, or would it keep to form and produce something new and different? The answer turned out to be “yes” on both counts.
The Puretone’s features are relatively basic. There are top-mounted controls for Volume, Bass, Treble, Mid and Growl, which progressively removes the tone control circuitry from the signal path (as we’ll see in a moment, this plays a major role in the Puretone’s sound). The top panel also houses three switches: Power, Standby and the three-position Output, which toggles the 40-watt power section between 100, 80 and 50 percent. The Puretone packs a pretty hearty wallop into its 40-watt 1x12 design, so the ability to tone it down while still enjoying the full effect of the volume control comes in handy.
For about the first third of the Volume control’s rotation the Puretone exhibits a parallel increase in Gain and Volume. Beyond that point, loudness takes a backseat to saturation. Pushing the Volume past 12 o’clock sends the Puretone into a screaming overdrive with incredible high-end shimmer.
The Volume control remains relatively progressive even after the onset of distortion. Perhaps even more important, the Puretone responds exceptionally well to changes in the guitar’s Volume control. With a Telecaster, for instance, I was able to set a beefy, biting lead tone with the guitar’s Volume control all the way up. Rolling back the Tele’s Volume cleaned up the crunch but did nothing to rob the Tele of its trademark detail and sparkle. With the guitar at full throttle, the Puretone added a natural compression to the tone.
The three-band EQ serves up a nice array of tone. The Middle and Treble knobs interact especially well; for instance, boosting Treble reduces the effect of the Midrange, and vice versa. Cut the Midrange, boost the Bass, and you get a Fender-like tone with loads of top-end character and low-midrange thump. Or boost the Midrange and set the Treble below 12 o’clock for a warmer, bluesier sound. But even with the Treble rolled back, the Puretone is a bright-sounding amp, especially when the Output switch is set to full power.
The Growl knob sounds like it should belong to some kind of distortion control, but its job is to remove other controls from the circuit. With Growl all the way up, the EQ is completely bypassed, resulting in an extremely present tone with increased overdrive. The tone isn’t simply bright or distorted; it has ample mid and low end too, but the knife-like distortion would stand out in any playing situation. Back off the Growl, and the tone controls return to play. One of the most interesting ways to use this feature is to set up a basic tone with Growl turned down, and then gradually increase the Growl to find a sweet spot.
The Puretone earns its moniker by removing all extras from the signal path. There’s no reverb and no effects loop, both of which will be missed in many situations. This isn’t the first premium amp to forego reverb or effects loops, but it’s still a questionable call. A tube-driven spring reverb would have been especially welcome; as things stands, you’d have to place a reverb in front of the amp’s inputs, which might sully your tone. Perhaps H&K will come out with an effects-friendly variation.
The Puretone’s documentation is even more sparse than its feature set. Our review model came with a booklet describing the head, which has a slightly different layout than the combo. The literature did not, unfortunately, include a description of the tube layout, something that would be useful come repair time.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Overall, the Puretone has plenty to offer. This is a dynamic, engaging and exciting instrument that can let your guitar speak with more range than ever before. Its distinctive tone, attractive package (gotta love the fluorescent blue lighting on the Plexiglas top panel), solid construction and easy operation put it in a category all its own.