The Matchless Avalon 35 features a hybrid circuit with both PC-board-mounted components and point-to-point-wired, chassis-mounted tube sockets and controls.

Wielding the Blade
I tested the Avalon with a nice variety of guitars, including a ’60s Strat reissue with Custom Shop Fat ’50s pickups, a PRS Ted McCarty DC 245 with 57/08 humbuckers, a Schecter Ultra III with splittable mini-humbuckers, and a Gretsch G6118T-LTV with TV Jones Classics. With each axe, the tones were dynamic, detailed, and varied. The key to the variety is the Master Push/Pull knob, which enables you to go from needling AC30 glory to higher-gain, Marshall plexi-type sounds at less problematic volumes. For the former, you’ll want Master Push/Pull disengaged (pushed in) so you can experience the open, airy feel that comes when you let the Volume knob control both gain and output. For rock and hard-rock sounds, turn Master Push/ Pull to a lower setting (so you don’t get blasted in the face) and crank Volume toward its upper regions for rich distortion. As with most master-volume amps, this convenient feature is very practical, though it slightly darkens the timbres and decreases some of the to-die-for dynamics. With Volume and Master Push/Pull nearing their limits, things can get splatty and fizzy, but the same can be said of a lot of classic amps.

The Avalon’s EQ is remarkably interactive, too. As with classic Vox and Matchless circuits, Cut shaves off high-end frequencies as you turn it clockwise. When it’s completely counterclockwise, you get those glassy sounds made famous by the Who and the Fab Four. With it maxed, you get a thick, scooped-out tone that could accommodate jazz cats or rock guys looking for notched mids. While jazz cats won’t be the first to gravitate to an amp like the Avalon—and the same probably goes for hardcore rockabilly guys—I got fat, neck-pickup jazz tones and bristling rockabilly bombast with the Gretsch.

The Treble and Bass knobs work like they do on other amps, and the latter in particular has much more impact than many other tube amps. Dime it, and you get more mids for a honkier sound—but in a musical, absolutely usable way. Bring it back a bit, say, to three or four o’clock, and you get muscular, in-your-face tones. My playing runs the gamut from heavy-handed rock/rockabilly riffing and chording to a lot of hybrid picking, so I eventually settled on Volume at two or two-thirty, Master Push/Pull off, Bass at two o’clock, Treble dimed, Cut off, and Reverb—a three-spring unit that adds nice dimension but less depth than I’d hoped—at two o’clock. This let me get the broadest array of tones, from all-out brashness and crystalline detail to full, rounded notes by going from a heavy pick attack to curling the plectrum under my index finger and strumming with my thumb. With the Strat, I got deliciously detailed quackiness in the in-between positions—perfect for Southern rock flavors or funky chording like in Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.” With the Schecter, I got raw, in-your-face indie-rock sounds using the bridge pickup. The PRS yielded everything from Zeppelin-esque PAF sounds to fat neck-pickup tones that would make SRV proud.

The Final Mojo
Like a lot of aficionados of high-end anything, guitarists can get pretty hung up on certain details before they’ve even tried a product. They might dismiss an amp for even minimal PC-board construction or because it wasn’t designed during a certain period of the company’s history. There’s a kernel of wisdom in some arguments over such minutia, because the longer you play, the more you realize your sound is the sum of all the little things—from your pick gauge to how hard you fret and what kind of tubes are in your amp. But we all know such obsession can be crippling, too. The trick is to do your homework and find great equipment, and then focus more on your playing and your ear than on your gear. That’s what most of our heroes did (or do). And that’s why I really dig the new Matchless Avalon 35. It offers an excellent balance of flexibility, durability, and quality tone.

Buy if...
you revel in bristling, dynamic EL34 tones and simplified flexibililty.
Skip if...
you want more sophisticated control of surf-able reverb.

Street $2500 - Matchless Amplifiers -