Fuchs Clean Machine 150 Review
January 15, 2009
Fuchs Audio Technology may be on the verge of becoming the next “must have” amp company. Andy Fuchs has stated that his early amps were based on preexisting designs (such as Dumbles and Trainwrecks), but the new Clean Machine is the first amp he has designed from the ground up—and he had several concepts he wanted to explore. First, he wanted to design an amp that was based on 6550 tubes, because of their great low end, wonderful articulation and the musical quality of their midrange. Second, taking what he had learned from the well-regarded Tripledrive Supreme and Overdrive Supreme models, Fuchs wanted a platform to explore his love of reverb units. Last but not least, he wanted to design an amp for people who were overdrive pedal du jour players.
Hey, What Do You Say
The Clean Machine’s look is all business. While custom Tolex is available for a $125 charge, my sample came wrapped neatly in a 20″x12″x10″ black and white formal suit. Hidden underneath its classy exterior were four fan-cooled 6550 power tubes, three 12AX7 tubes (input preamp, FX loop and pre-driver) and a 6FQ7 power tube cathode follower/driver tube, a couple of massive transformers, and an Accutronics 6 spring reverb unit.
A quick glance at the 150-Watt version of the Clean Machine control panel reveals a few surprises. While some of the amp’s controls are self-explanatory, such as the 3-band tone stack and the Dwell and Level settings for the reverb unit, others, such as the EQ-1/EQ-2 switch, the two reverb “Tone” knobs, and “Accent” knob, deserve a little more attention. To further enhance the player’s control, each of the EQ knobs has a push/pull option. The EQ-1/EQ-2 option enables the player to change the voicing of the amp with the flick of a switch. In the EQ-1 position, the regular tone stack settings are used; activating the EQ-2 setting produces a midrange boost and an increase in gain.
Fuchs says that he’s treated the reverb unit as if it were an off-board effect being run through an effects loop, so the first “Tone” knob affects the signal input, while the second “Tone” affects the output. Last, the “Accent” control acts as a global presence setting. The effects loop itself can be run in either series or in parallel, depending on what effects are being used and how much wet/dry signal blending is desired.
For its inaugural run, I plugged the Clean Machine into a Tone Tubby 1x12″ wide-body cab with a single 40-Watt, 8-ohm Alnico speaker. Next, I set the all of the EQ knobs at noon and left both the “bright” and “deep” switches off, and let it rip. The first man up was the Bastardcaster: a one-piece swampash- bodied Tele variation outfitted with two of Dave Stephens’ X Set P-90 Zephyr pickups and a Bigsby. Instantly I was hit by a fat, classic, American-voiced clean tone. Andy Fuchs is a self-described reverb junkie, and his efforts shone through. Unlike some company’s reverb setups that seem like a last minute addition, the Accutronics 6 felt like part of a unified whole.
Like a lot of guitars that have non-potted P-90s, the Bastardcaster has a fair amount of inherent hum. For a 150-Watt amp, the Clean Machine was remarkably quiet. When brought up to a good playing level, the Clean Machine 150 helped pull out some nice woody tones from the Bastardcaster that were absent when I plugged it into other amps.
Playing with the EQ’s push/pull tone pots opened up surprising aspects of the Clean Machine. Pulling out the Treble knob added a subtle but noticeable amount of dirt into the signal. Granted, it was just a touch of hair, but it gave things a nice sort of hard, twangy bite. Country players will love this feature.
The “Deep” feature became particularly helpful when I moved the amp from a room that had a concrete floor to one with a wooden floor. With the deep feature activated on the concrete floor, it added some nice lowend resonance. With the same settings on a wooden floor, the bass frequencies practically shook the room apart. I then popped the deep switch off, and the earthquake rattling came to a halt. When I wanted just a tad more bass, I just pulled out the Bass knob, and the Clean Machine 150 produced a focused, articulate bass without needing to seismically retrofit my house.
The Flogging Will Continue Until Morale Improves
It seems almost a shame to flog the Clean Machine with a box, but it is in the job description. First up was a Mesa Boogie V-Twin through the Clean Machine’s effects loop with a dual set of George L’s vintage cables. I’ve had success mating the V-Twin to a variety of Fenders throughout the years, so I was excited to hear the results of this unlikely pairing.
As I had hoped, the Clean Machine 150 still maintained its tight, focused, warm, American voicing while blending nicely with an aggressive snarl from the V-Twin’s hyper-saturated red channel. The V-Twin didn’t override the fundamental voicing of the Clean Machine; it just melded the two differing approaches to American-voiced amps into a coherent whole. Clean, punchy and tight on one hand, crunchy and saturated on the other.
Next up to bat, a Tele Thinline with a Duncan SH1-59 in the neck and a stock Tele pickup in the bridge. This time, however, a Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive was drafted into service. Although the Sparkle Drive shares a lot of the positive aspects that have been so desired in TS9 and 808-inspired pedals, it also shares some if their deficits too, namely an adenoidal midrange honk. Running the Sparkle Drive through the effects loop tempered a lot of the pedal’s mealy-mouthed articulation, and produced a tone that would make Derek Trucks rethink his current set up.
Last was a Russian-made Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi, coupled with a late-nineties Guild Bluesbird. Usually this is a messy, noise-plagued pedal, but through the Clean Machine 150 it produced a sound reminiscent of Cream-era Clapton’s pairing of an ES-335 and a Marshall. Throughout the assault, individual notes could still easily be picked out through the din of sonic mayhem, even while running just the neck pickup! Amazing.
The Final Mojo
While I prefer a good two-channel amp for both my clean and dirty, the Fuchs Clean Machine 150 is far from being a one-trick pony. Andy Fuchs has said he designed the Clean Machine 150 with the pedal-user in mind—as far as I’m concerned the sounds from the Clean Machine are so focused, tight, and well balanced, it’s almost a shame to run any sort of pedal through it.
Country, blues, rock and surf or highlife players will go nuts over this amp. It’s also intriguing to think what will happen when this amp falls into the hands of lap steel players. If you love the sound of a really good combo amp but need something that has a lot more headroom, then the Fuchs Clean Machine 150 may just be what the doctor ordered. Be warned: there may be a hidden cost to an amp that has this degree of audiophile-level clarity—you may have to purchase new cables, new effects, and possibly even a new guitar to get the best out if this amp.
The Clean Machine is also available in a 75-Watt version (2x6550), as well as a 100-Watt model with four 6L6s—if you’d prefer less power or 6L6 voicing—and the 6550-equipped models can accommodate EL34s with a rebias. The only thing I can fault the Clean Machine 150 for is that I would’ve liked more ability to adjust the “Speed” and “Intensity” of the reverb unit. I guess you can’t have everything; in this case almost everything is more than enough.
You are looking for detailed clean sounds, fat reverb tones, or you run more stompboxes than David Gilmour.
You demand the end-all/be-all amp without the use of stompboxes.
MSRP $3300 - Fuchs Audio Technology - fuchsaudiotechnology.com.com