ALEX WIL­SON PLUGS INTO THE LAT­EST BOU­TIQUE MATCH­LESS COMBO, ONE BOTH LIGHTER AND HEAV­IER THAN EX­PECTED.

Australian Guitar - - Top Shelf -

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.

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.

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