Fender Machete Amp Review
For players used to really big sounds, compact high-gain tube combo amps sometimes seem to demand too many tradeoffs to make the convenience and portability worth it. If you’re
For players used to really big sounds, compact high-gain tube combo amps sometimes seem to demand too many tradeoffs to make the convenience and portability worth it. If you’re used to pushing air with a 4X12, the relative lack of clarity and punch at high volumes and low headroom that you get from a 1X12 can feeling like you’re missing an arm—even if it’s still really dang loud.
With the Machete—Fender's newest addition to their Pro Tube series of amps—the aim is dish blisteringly aggressive tones from a 50 watt, dual-channel combo without sacrificing the range players get from big cabinets. And Fender achieves a lot of this versatility by making it one of the most tunable amps the company has ever built.
The Machete is styled like a ’60s muscle car, with a sleek, black vinyl covering and a grey vinyl racing stripe that looks like it was fashioned from a steering wheel grip. 50 watts of dual-6L6GC power are pumped through a single 12” Celestion Vintage 30 speaker, which is mounted in the combo’s semi-open back cabinet. Instead of using a back panel that extends halfway down the back of the cabinet, Fender opted for a gap that’s only about four inches tall, which seems to serve primarily as ventilation for the amp’s dual power tubes. The preamp is driven via five 12AX7 tubes and a 12AT7 that works as a phase splitter to keep the preamp’s signal tight and focused.
The Machete’s two channels each have dedicated three-band EQ, preamp gain, master volume, and Notch controls. The Notch control is designed to sweep through a wide spectrum of midrange settings, enabling you to more precisely tune the amp to the guitar that you’re using. For example, if you’d like to add a little more raunch and midrange presence to your single-coil equipped guitar, moving the Notch knob up will get you there. Guitars with heavy natural mids like a humbucker-equipped Les Paul can be made sharper and crisper with a less aggressive notch setting.
The Clean channel’s preamp gain and volume controls double as Pull Bright and Pull Gain Boost features respectively. And players who use active pickups can breathe a sigh of relief with the amp’s 6db input attenuation switch, which helps keep the signal clearer for low impedance signals. The digital reverb is controlled by a single control for both channels. Finally, a control for setting the level of speaker damping sits near the end of the panel, and it’s one of the real keys to the Machete’s performance—making the amp feel and sound tighter and punchier, or more loose and harmonically driven depending on how you set it up.
The Machete's features don't end on the front panel. There's an effects loop with individual send and return level controls on the back panel, which can also be set as a switchable lead boost by connecting both the jacks together with a patch cable—adding up to 12db of gain when engaged. Pressing the PA Mute switch disables the tube power amp output completely, giving the player the option of using their favorite power amp if they choose to. There's also an XLR line out jack, which enables you to run the Machete directly into a mixing console, along with cabinet emulation via a small switch next to the jack. The amp can also be controlled via MIDI, and there’s a four-button footswitch for channel switching and engaging the boost on channel one, effects loop, and reverb.
To put it succinctly, the Machete isn't the type of Fender amp most Fender-philes will expect. It has a great clean channel, no surprise give its family heritage. But the overdrive capabilities are about as far from the sparkly, low gain, super-clear snap that put the Bassman and Twin Reverb on the map. The Machete really enjoys living on the edge of thick, molten gain and meaty, defined grit.
Clean things first, though. The clean channel’s tone is clear, even and not a bit over-compressed. At its essence the voice is akin to a Twin Reverb with more midrange presence and a softer attack. But you can get a lot of range out of the super-sensitive controls, and even the slightest movements of each of the EQ knobs had a rather substantial effect on the tone. A Gibson SG’s neck pickup initially sounded way too bassy, but one slight adjustment of the Bass control was all it took to tame it. Most amps in my experience would have taken a much more dramatic adjustment.
When I felt like the tone wasn’t as cutting as I liked, careful adjustment of the channel's Notch control let me set the midrange curve with ease. The amp's Damping control, also came in handy when I wanted to add or subtract presence in the high end. Moving it towards Loose gave the highs more bite and lent some sag in the mids, and further adjustments towards Tight dulled the high end and tightened up the lows.
Lest you have any doubts about the amp's onboard digital reverb ( or questions about why Fender would forgo one of their most famous trademarks—deep and rich spring reverberation—for a digital replication) the reverb is spectacular, with a very wide, expansive and all-encompassing if you need it that way. It will fill the room for atmospheric tunes like Radiohead's "Subterranean Homesick Alien” with the control set at just 10 o'clock and beyond that you can get into deep space realms that are great for Adrian Belew’s volume swells on King Crimson's "Matte Kudasai".
Super-smooth voicing. Sensitive controls. Great reverb.
Ease of Use:
The Machete's second channel is what really sets it apart from the rest of Fender's amp line. The near-fire-breathing, muscular gain is a real surprise, and there's more than enough gain on this amp to satisfy the most demanding metalheads. I never really needed to move the Gain control past 11 o'clock for stuff as heavy as Alice in Chains riffs. Gain settings higher than three o'clock give the distortion an almost a square-wave, fuzzy quality that’s perfect for smooth and aggressive Santana-style lines. The tightest and most focused high-gain sounds come from keeping the control below the 12 o’clock setting. This is most definitely not an amp for a kid that expects bone-crushing metal rhythms from diming the gain.
Channel Two also is much more sensitive than Channel One to adjustments of the amp's Tuning control—an indispensable tool for getting different tones without having to touch any of the other controls. After setting all of the EQ controls and Notch control at noon, the Gain at 10:30 and dropping the Mid knob slightly, I had a killer hard rock rhythm tone to build upon. But moving the Tuning knob closer to Loose added much more bite and snarl to the high end while loosening up the lows and mids—effectively browning the sound. Turning the control the other direction tightened up the tone, though I needed to add a little high end via the EQ section in this instance. The sound and feel are not the same as the high-end bump you get from a looser speaker setting. But finding the right balance between speaker tuning and EQ will really help open up your guitar’s voice.
Fender's sleek 1x12 Machete combo has a lot to offer players who need to move between crystal cleans and bristling gain and favor a more modern voice in general. The Tuning and Notch controls make the amplifier a much more sensitive and versatile machine. And while the amp can go completely over the top with its overdrive, it’s smooth, harmonically rich, and big at moderate settings. And given that all this comes in a beautifully built and killer-looking combo that you can get in the trunk of your car, this is an amp that is arguably much, much more than the sum of its parts.
Watch our video review:
Album Review: Rodrigo Y Gabriela and C.U.B.A. - "Area 52"
The wildly talented Mexican guitar duo selected nine tracks from their last two albums, reworking them with the ace guidance of British jazz pianist Alex Wilson and the 13-piece C.U.B.A. orchestra.
This album’s birth is more complex than meets the eye. The songs aren’t new, in the conventional sense. The wildly talented Mexican guitar duo selected nine tracks from their last two albums—11:11 and Rodrigo y Gabriela—reworking them with the ace guidance of British jazz pianist Alex Wilson and the 13-piece C.U.B.A. (Collective Universal Band Association) orchestra.
For full effect, place a few of the originals next to new versions and you’ll find that the stripped-down guitar instrumentals, the ancestors of these new compositions, are infectious. But the result of meshing Latin, Cuban, jazz, metal, rock, Arabic, and Hindi influences is downright hot and sexy—the sense of urgency on Area 52 is overwhelming.
The DVD offers an intriguing behind-the-scenes glimpse of the music in the making, as the Cuban musicians attempt to match their classical training with Rod and Gab’s madly original phrasing. The musicians are shown clapping out syncopated beats, trying hard to grasp the rapid-fire rhythms, though they eventually find a common ground.
“Hanuman” is a lively track outshining its former self with added rock drumming and fleeting electric solos. Besides the nylon and steel strings, some electric and lap steel guitar (Gab gives an acoustic wah a whirl), the instrumentals incorporate experimental percussion, horns, piano and organ, bass, violin, sitar, oud, and rare Cuban drums. The adventurous “11:11” features David Gilmour-like tones (Rodrigo calls it an ode to Pink Floyd) and closes with native chanting. It’s not all exotic, though. The primal acoustic strummer “Logos” was given a jazz alter ego with subtle piano, drums, and bass.
If this all sounds complex—and literally, it does—imagine these formidable players trying to dismantle the sheer genius of Rod’s mind-boggling speed and Gab’s off-kilter rhythmic stylings. They play so percussively, harmonically, and passionately that at time as it’s hard to discern the guitar from the other instruments, especially on “Juan Loco.”
The primarily self-taught Rodrigo y Gabriela plunged into an alien world of orchestrated Cuban music, and it’s awe-inspiring to hear the result and see even a bit of how it was done. —Tessa Jeffers
Must-hear track: “Juan Loco“
Martin Style Types
Style numbers indicate the construction materials and appointments of the guitar, and this system allows for several combinations between body shapes and styles.
I’ve recently received a few requests for information about the differences amongst the various Martin style types. So this month, I’ll briefly cover what those two digits next to the letter or numbers inside your Martin guitar represent.
C.F. Martin & Co. has most certainly been a pioneer in many ways when it comes to building guitars. But in my opinion, one of their most important innovations was how they began naming their guitars, a system that is still in use today. Martin started building guitars in 1833, and by 1898, they were using a standardized system to number their instruments by body shape and style. The first letters or numbers indicate the body shape (0, 00, OM, D, etc.) that are followed by a style number (15, 18, 28, 45, etc.), and separated by a dash. These style numbers indicate the construction materials and appointments of the guitar, and this system allows for several combinations between body shapes and styles. The following are the main style-classifications for Martin guitars.
Martin style types (left to right): Style 0-15, Style 0-21, Style 00-17, and Style D-28.
Style 15: All-mahogany body, no binding, rosewood fretboard and bridge, dot inlays, single grouping of soundhole rings. For many years, the Style 15 was Martin’s least-expensive guitar and considered a workhorse.
Style 18: Spruce top, mahogany back and sides, multi-ply binding (5-ply since 1932), rosewood fretboard and bridge, dot inlays, multi-ring soundhole ring. The Style 18 originally featured rosewood for the back and sides, but was changed to mahogany in 1917. Style 18 appointments have appeared on virtually every Martin model and it is their most common style.
Style 21: Spruce top, rosewood back and sides, single-ply black or tortoiseshell binding, rosewood or ebony fretboard and bridge (depending on the model). The Style 21 was traditionally Martin’s least-expensive model that used rosewood.
Style 28: Spruce top, rosewood back and sides, multi-ply binding with a white outer layer, ebony fretboard and bridge, dot inlays, a back stripe, and 5/9/5 grouping of soundhole rings. Style 28 instruments are often regarded as the best-playing, best-sounding Martins.
Style 35: Spruce top, 3-piece rosewood back, a bound fretboard, and additional blackand- white lines inlaid beneath the bindings. Otherwise, Style 35 is very similar to the Style 28. The 3-piece back was introduced because large enough pieces of Brazilian rosewood for 2-piece backs were becoming increasingly difficult to obtain in the 1960s.
Style 42: Spruce top, rosewood back and sides, ivory/ ivoroid binding, abalone top-border going around the fretboard, bound-ebony fretboard with snowflake inlays, and an abalone soundhole ring.
Style 45: Similar to the Style 42, except for the additional, abalone-pearl inlays around the sides, back, neck heel, and endpiece. For standard production, the Style 45 represents top-of-the-line appointments for Martin, and many Style 45 instruments— including the D-45 and OM-45—are some of the most valuable guitars on the vintage guitar market today.
Other common styles include the Style 16, which was first used on classical guitars in the 1960s, but is now represented on Martin’s modern, production instruments. The Style 17—very similar to the Style 15—was phased out as a regular production model by 1960 because of their similarities. There is also the Style 41, similar to the Style 42, but without abalone pearl around the fretboard. In fact, there are style classifications for just about every number between 1 and 45—some only produced in the 1800s, others more modern, and some in very small quantities.
This was and still is a well-devised system. Most Martin instruments can be identified and correctly classified by the number stamped inside the guitar. Of course there are exceptions—some minor and some major—as Martin’s styles have changed and evolved over time. Major changes include the switch from Brazilian rosewood to Indian rosewood in 1969 and ivory binding to ivoroid in the early 1900s. But for the most part, this is an enduring classification system.
Martin produces acoustic guitars for just about every price point and there are several books available that explain Martin’s styles in detail. With a little research, you can find out if your Martin is indeed a treasure!