Hughes & Kettner Bass Master Tube Pre-amp
Rackmounted pre-amps are definitely the in thing at the moment when it comes to recording guitars; they're convenient, clean and versatile, some models sporting built-in effects and EQ. It's taken longer for the benefits to be applied to the bass guitar, but it looks as though that's the way things are going — perhaps eventually every studio in the country will have a bass pre-amp alongside their guitar pre-amp. No doubt Hughes and Kettner are hoping most will be theirs! This particular unit is useful both as a direct recording device and as a pre-amp for a large stage setup.
As well as having a tube pre-amp, the Bass Master has a built-in 1W power-amp, useful for quiet rehearsal or even for miking up. It is mains powered with Input, Power switch and all the controls on the front panel, with a parallel input, four outputs and a footswitch socket on the rear panel. On the top of the unit is a block diagram showing you what all the sockets are for and where in the signal path the various controls act.
The EQ section consists of three boost switches (bass, mid and treble) and a Tone control ranging from low to high. The boost switches seem too subtle, but this may be because the 'flat' signal is already fairly coloured when compared to a completely untreated signal — the woolliness in the bottom end is removed, while the mids are emphasised, and there is little in the high top end. In fact, the basic sound with no additional EQ alteration is very classy; you can just plug in and go. The Tone control boosts the bass and cuts the top at one extreme, while doing the converse at the other. However, the changeover all seems to happen more or less at one point rather than being a gradual cross-fade as you turn the control, which makes accurate setting tricky. An Input Gain control adjusts the level of your signal coming in but there's no indicator to help you set the correct level, and it does distort quite easily if you have it turned up too far.
The four outputs comprise a Speaker output, a PA output, a Line output for use when recording or to feed a separate power amplifier, and an Instrument output which you could send to an effects unit or another preamp (if you wanted a bi-amp setup, say, or wanted to monitor the bass through a combo when recording). A Master level control determines the output level of the Line and Instrument outputs, with no effect on the PA output. There's no headphone socket, which might have been useful for a bass guitarist wishing to practice privately, but for rehearsing you can use a small speaker (or high-impedance headphones) plugged into the speaker output. The footswitch option enables you to mute the output to the PA out socket or to bypass the tube amp; another switch on the front panel enables you to bring the second tube amp into use on the Line signal.
To sum up: the Bass Master could do with an input overload LED and there isn't anything to get excited about on the EQ section, the Tone control being rather limited and the boost controls being a touch subtle. However, its chief selling point is that it does provide an excellent basic sound which I'd describe as warm and punchy, no doubt attributable to H&K's use of tubes. The sound becomes even more warm and punchy if you choose to incorporate both amplifiers. Also there's a good choice of outputs to cover most uses, both live and in the studio, and it is quiet in operation, an important consideration for intended studio use.
Hughes & Kettner Bass Master £259 including VAT.
John Hornby Skewes, (Contact Details).
Review by Shirley Gray
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