Could this combo truly offer the best of everything? By Tully Mansfield.
Full review and independent analysis of the Matchless SC-30 by Australian Guitar magazine.
PRICE $6099 RRP
Founded in 1989, Matchless are widely credited as the brand that instigated the boutique amplifier craze in the early nineties. At a time when most amplifier companies were moving away from the old vacuum tube style of amps and embracing modern, solid state technology, Matchless came into the market with a totally different approach. Their goal was simple: build the best sounding, most durable amp on the market. Designed by musicians, for musicians, and built to deliver flawless tone night after night, never missing a beat. The SC-30 is one of three models in their core C-30 range, the others being their flagship DC-30 2x12 combo and the HC-30 head.
No expense is spared, and no corner is cut in the production of these amps. All the components are of the absolute highest quality, from the Teflon shielded, silver coated copper wiring to the hand selected tubes, there is nothing but the best throughout the amp’s construction. Everything is also point-to-point wired, which means that rather than using the cheaper, faster, but also more fragile option of using a printed circuit board, every single component of the amp is wired directly to the next using the aforementioned silver coated copper wiring. This gives the circuitry far greater durability, and ensures nothing gets in the way of the clean, pure valve tone that is the hallmark of Matchless amps.
Given everything mentioned thus far, it probably won’t come as much of a surprise to hear that this amp sounds absolutely incredible. From the brightest, glassiest cleans; smooth, mellow overdrive; right through to all-out high gain rock, the SC-30 delivers on every level. No matter the tone you dial in, it always delivers sonic perfection with brilliant clarity, piercing sustain and a beautiful richness coming through in every note and chord.
General quality of tone aside, the other thing that really stands out about the SC-30 is the sheer versatility of it. With two channels driven by different preamps, and individual high and lo gain inputs for each, you have a veritable smorgasbord of tonal options at your fingertips, despite the amp’s incredibly simple control layout.
Channel 1 - with its 12AX7 driven preamp - offers up beautiful, rich, clean tones with brilliant headroom. There is total satisfaction to be had in simple ringing out on big open chords. The clean headroom also makes it a fantastic platform for pedals, if that’s your thing. That being said, this amps sounds so good on its own you may find yourself stripping back your pedal board.
Channel 2 offers up more gain, and when really pushed, can deliver some pretty heavy sounds. That being said, if you’re playing metal, you may find that you want to use an overdrive or distortion pedal to give it an extra nudge. The use of the rotary switch on this channel is also quite interesting - it’s a nice way to make you think beyond the traditional treble/ mid/bass approach to tone shaping.
WHY YOU’RE PROBABLY GOING TO WANT IT
This is a hand made, point-to-point wired amplifier, built from the very best components and designed to last a lifetime. It’s amazingly versatile, sounds incredible, and comes from a brand that has an almost 30 year legacy of excellence behind it.
WHAT YOU SHOULD CONSIDER FIRST
There aren’t many true cons to this amp. Really, it’s just a couple of things to be aware of. Firstly, no reverb. Whilst Matchless do offer this option for an additional premium, it isn’t part of the regular feature set. Whilst this may not be a deal breaker for some, we did feel that - given the price tag - it would be nice to have reverb included as a standard feature. The second big thing, which isn’t necessarily a con, but definitely needs to be touched on, is its weight. This is a seriously heavy bit of kit. You might be forgiven for thinking that a 1x12 combo would be pretty easy to cart around, but the SC-30 is actually comparable in weight to the notoriously hefty Fender Twin, which definitely took us by surprise.
Beyond that, our only other gripes were very minor things - despite it being a 240v version shipped into Australia, the included power cord was not an AU one. It’s cheap and easy to swap this over, but it’s an inconvenience we could do without on a top shelf amp. Likewise, the lack of a manual in the box was a little odd. It was pretty easy to find one online, but again, it would be nice if a printed version came with the amp.
The Matchless SC-30 offers up a (very conservative) 30w of all tube power, driving a single, customized Celestion G12H30 speaker. It features two channels, each with their own unique preamp as well as separate high and low gain inputs. Channel 1 offers a simple layout, featuring a volume knob alongside interactive treble and bass controls, and is driven by a pair of 12AX7 vacuum tubes. Channel 2 utilizes a single EF86 “pentode” vacuum tube, which is capable of more gain, and can be driven harder than Channel 1. Rather than the active bass and treble controls, Channel 2 instead opts for a simple six position rotary switch, allowing adjustment of the thickness and texture of the tone. The power amp section is driven by a quartet of EL84 tubes and can be switched down to run on only two by using the ‘half power’ mode. Other features include a speaker phase inverter switch for more tonal options, a push/ pull master volume control, and a Cut control, which allows you to ‘cut’ out some of the higher frequencies in the signal to smooth your your tone.
BEST IN THE HANDS OF
This is an amp for professional and amateur alike, if you’re willing to spend the money. The one caveat to this is that you’re probably not going to get the most out of it unless you’re using it in a live setting. Matchless are notoriously conservative with their power ratings, so even using the half power (15 watt) setting, this thing is seriously loud, and you’ll struggle to get the most out of it if you’re just using it at home. If you want something that performs better at low volume, but still gives you enough power for the occasional jam with friends, you may want to have a look at some of the lower powered amps in the Matchless range.
WHY IT’S ON THE TOP SHELF
What you’re paying for with a Matchless amp is, in effect, the best of everything. They meticulously select the very best individual examples of the very best components, and then everything is expertly hand built from start to finish - it’s been quoted that a single DC-30 amplifier takes a total of 13 hours to construct. The expense of the components and the rigorous build process, coupled with limited availability and high demand, is what puts this on the top shelf.
Gladesville Guitar Factory
Ph: 02 9817 2173