There’s probably a good reason why Metallica is considered to be one of the biggest rock bands of all time. They went into many different territories during the past few decades or so, and are favorites among thrashing metalheads and even to the listeners of other (softer) genres.
But no matter the album and the subgenre – or even a different genre – they went into, you could always recognize Metallica due to their signature style and guitar tone.
The duo of James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett has been praised by many, and they’ve pretty much popularized the use of Mesa Boogie amps. But in recent years, Mr. Hammett made a pretty exciting collaboration on his guitar amp front.
Teaming up with Randall, together they crafted a brand new beast piece of gear called KH103. We would like to use the opportunity and share our experiences, what we know about this guitar amp, and what makes it so special.
Let’s get the first thing out of the way. This is a tube amp with 120 watts of power. Which is pretty powerful and loud for a tube amp. It has a total of nine 12AX7 preamp tubes and four 6L6 tubes in the power section. Although it is quite a loud one, there is no power attenuation option for the KH103.
Like many other advanced modern tube amps, it features three independent channels. Each of these has gain, volume, bass, middle, treble, depth, and presence knobs.
The depth control is interesting since it works with the low frequencies that interact between the amp and the speakers. Basically, it helps you shape the low end much better.
Aside from those, there’s also a bright switch for each of the channels. With its three positions, you can add more of the high-end frequencies to your tone.
There are also many controls in the master section. Aside from Master 1 and Master 2 controls, there is a boost switch with adds gain to all three of the channels.
However, it will only work for channels 2 and 3 if “Voicing L” mode is engaged. With that being said, there are also “Voicing M” and “Voicing H” buttons.
Each of these adds a different kind of EQ and a gain boost to each of the channels, ultimately helping you shape your desired tone.
The amp also has two FX loops which can be engaged with the switches on the front panel. And right next to all these is a “store” button that lets you save a preset. Of course, the amp comes with the footswitch which allows you to easily access your stored presets.
It’s also important to add that you can combine it with 4, 8, or 16 ohm speaker cabinets and that you can also select the voltage. Which is definitely extremely useful if you’re traveling abroad and plugging into power outlets with different voltage.
One would probably care more about the design of the guitar, but it’s still amazing to have a good looking amp up on the stage. We could say that it generally looks as heavy as it sounds. It’s also pleasing to the eye.
Except you’re not a fan of green color – the on/off and standby switches are green, the lights inside are green, all the LED lights are, and even Kirk Hammett’s printed signature in front of the input.
Nice aesthetics aside, the controls are pretty well arranged. Although it might seem that there are too many controls on it, the features are pretty clear.
Although it might seem like an unimportant aspect, the white line that goes through the middle of one channel’s controls can be quite useful if there’s any tweaking necessary in live situations. You definitely won’t miss the knobs of the channel that you’re dealing with.
In addition, the fonts on the front panel are pretty readable. As funny as it may sound, an ugly font can be a huge turn-off.
To put things simply ñ this is a pure heavy metal monster with loads of features. The clean channel is described as the American 60’s style amps.
Channel 2 has that powerful and mean mid-range thickness typical for Metallica’s sound, while channel 3 is more like the modern type metal sound. This certainly brings a lot of versatility and loads of options for your guitar sound.
The aforementioned bright switches stand out as a great feature, although this option is less audible if you add more gain. The clean and crunchy tones are also pretty great, but it is true that the amp was primarily built for heavier sounds.
The built quality also seems to be in perfect order, so no need to expect stuff like pots and switches going loose after frequent use.
One thing that was kind of a letdown is that there’s no power attenuation. It’s a 120-watt tube amp and if you want to achieve its true sound, you need to push the volume high up over 12 o’clock. And that’s not exactly a great option for a home use or smaller gigs where 50 or even 30 watts could be too much.
On the other hand, if you do need an amp that you’ll often use in studio and bigger gigs, it is definitely worth considering.
Yes, it is expensive, but it’s worth the money if you’re going to use it in these situations as a member of an experienced metal band.
Although on the first sight one could be scared by all these knobs and controls, they won’t be that difficult to master after a couple of days of use.
This being said, there are so many different sonic options with the KH103 that you will easily find yourself playing around with it for hours without noticing.
To conclude it – yes, it is a great amp, but we wouldn’t recommend KH103 for less experienced players in non-touring bands.
Of course, you’re free to buy one but bear in mind that the home use won’t be exactly pleasant unless you live in a big house or a mansion with a large sound-isolated basement.