MATCHLESS AVALON 30 REVERB COMBO
Alex Wilson plugs into the latest boutique Matchless combo, one both lighter and heavier than expected.
Full review and independent analysis of the Matchless Avalon 30 Reverb Combo by Australian Guitar Magazine.
PRICE: $4,595 AUD
Let’s have a short history lesson: Matchless Amplifiers were founded in 1989, and their core mission has been to build the best and most versatile amp possible. Price has rarely been a factor in this pursuit, and the company’s reputation has not only been built on quality, but also exclusivity. Players will need to put down a hefty sum to own one of these coveted Californian amps.
The Avalon represents Matchless looking to meet the budget-conscious guitarist halfway, without compromising on quality. It’s been around a few years now, but to knock roughly a grand off their usual RRPs, Matchless have had to give up their vaunted point-to-point circuitry in favour of mass-produced PCBs. For those unfamiliar with electronics, this means that the Avalon’s individual components are not hand-soldered directly to one another. Instead, they come on a green circuit board, and are also connected using other prefabricated component connection methods. This makes the amp far easier (and cheaper) to manufacture, but will it affect the tone?
The Avalon’s progenitor is the Matchless DC30 – one of the company’s iconic designs. The DC30's cleans are not as ubiquitous as those of Vox or Fender, but considered by many valve purists to be superlative – particularly in the detailed, nuanced way the amp breaks up. The Avalon aims to bring that same quality and versatility for a lower price, as its circuit is essentially a replication of the earlier model. It’s also about half the weight of the DC30.
With each pot sitting at about 12 o’clock, the Avalon courts a classic Matchless clean tone. It's nowhere near overdriven, but with an articulated hint of subtle tube distortion that enhances the clarity and attack of each note. There’s an inherent body and oomph to the tone, and you’ll find that the sound thickens up well as your fingers and picks dig in harder or grab more than one note at a time. Turning up the gain pot will replicate the famously smooth overdrive curve that DC30 fans are accustomed to, as the Avalon will begin to swell and bloom with lovely tube drive and natural compression.
What’s remarkable is how responsive the amp remains when pushed into the top end of its gain structure, romancing a saturated lead tone strongly reminiscent of the 1970s. A player who’s good with their volume knob will be able to transition comfortably between the amp’s generous overdrive and detailed cleans. Others will be pleased to find that the Avalon can take pedal drive well, whether it's a subtle Tubescreamer or Fulltone’s more ruckus OCD. Getting down to guitar specifics, the Avalon lent a pleasing air and presence to the dual-humbucker Les Paul I tested it with, without compromising the guitar’s natural darkness. Plugging in a Baja California Fender Tele – a fundamentally different instrument – the harmonic richness of single coils came through beautifully while retaining the instrument's snap and crackle. Although the amp feels very balanced and transparent, it imparted a useful push of presence and saturation to the upper mids of both guitars. Given its smaller size and modest 30 watts, this is a very useful aspect that will help the amp fit in properly to a band situation, whether live or on record.
The Avalon exudes boutique elegance, but is thankfully a highly practical amp. For a little thing, it’s perfectly spec’d: 12AX7 preamp tubes, EL84s in the power amp, and controls for volume, bass, treble, cut, master, and footswitchable reverb – oh, and a series effect loop. Having rattled all of that off, the first thing to note is that it also feels seriously loud for a 30-watter packing a humble 1x12-inch Celestion speaker. Matchless have also given the player a good amount of control over the volume/tone/gain equation, with the amp switchable down to 15 watts if needed. The master volume pot is not only welcome but, also bypassable if you decide you’re getting better sound without it.
The onboard reverb also deserves a bit of a special mention. It’s the aquatic spring-style sound that, when cranked, will have the silky warble needed for various styles of Americana. What’s impressive is how well-voiced it is relative to the Avalon’s inherent tone. At lower volumes, it still adds a noticeable depth and sense of movement to the sound without compromising the amp’s inherent transparency. Ultimately, it feels like a feature that will be an asset to many players regardless of style.
BEST IN THE HANDS OF
Sure, I can see this amp in the hands of many of us intense hobby players who worship the company’s tone, and are looking for a means to get serious tube sound in a home-friendly build. But it’s the gigging musician that may get the most mileage out of the Avalon. Its size and loudness makes it eminently practical onstage, and its particular tonal profile will fit effortlessly in a band mix.
WHY IT’S ON THE TOP SHELF
The Avalon’s combination of responsive, a practical size-to-volume ratio and a certain timeless, elegant vibe means it’s always going to be a high-tier, high-cost option. Think of it like a really good single-malt whisky: it’s nuanced, but also straightforward, and the subtleties are there to be appreciated if you can front up the cash.
WHY YOU’RE PROBABLY GOING TO WANT IT
When all is said and done, the Avalon is a beautiful, straightforward amp made with skill and smarts. It’s a pleasure to use and dial in, the reactivity of the circuit and the predictability of the controls really helping the player chase the sound that’s in their head. The Avalon also packs real practical punch and should be considered a serious option for gigging musicians, given how much usable tone and volume has been compacted into such a little amp. I also want to give props to the design and aesthetics: despite not being as common as other guitar companies, Matchless amps always look elegant and classy onstage – the Avalon is no exception here.
WHAT YOU SHOULD CONSIDER FIRST
Despite the fact that Matchless have done a lot to reduce the price, the Avalon still remains a pretty expensive proposition for many. Thankfully, it has the tone and playability that will let you fall in love with it and likely forget all about that pretty quickly. It's love at first strum. While it ultimately won’t be for everyone, the excellence, versatility and timeless nature of this amp means it should please the majority of those that can get their hands on one.
Gladesville Guitar Factory
Ph: (02) 9817 2173