Matchless is a brand that needs no introduction, from big secular bands like Kings of Leon & Imagine Dragons, to Hillsong’s Nigel Hendroff, these sparkling tones have been on numerous albums. I’ve been using my Matchless Lightning on tour, in church and in the studio for around 4 years, and I thought that it was about time I share my experience with it and inform you so you can decide if it would be a good fit for you. It checks in as one of the most expensive 15 watt amps on the market. Is it worth it? Here’s the scoop…
With a set of EL84 power tubes, you can bet this thing is British in it’s voicing style. The amp is similar to an AC 15 but has its own flavor. It’s definitely loud, more than most 15 watt amps I’ve played in my career of performing. While on the Road show tour of 2013, we would play on the B stage and I would have the amp under the stage. When I would start playing, you would feel the whole B stage rumble. Mind you these concerts were in arenas and the amp is 15 watts. Needless to say, so you’l get plenty of volume out of this guy.
You can guess that it has that “jangle” that we look for in British style amps but as with other Matchless clarity is absolutely stellar. The Celestion Heritage G12H30 is probably another reason why this thing is so clear. The Heritage series is notorious for that kind of tone and definitely does great at recreating the sound the amps designers had in mind for this circuit.
Driving the amp is also something different, with the trio of 12AX7 tubes in the preamp you can go very clean and start to break up around 11 o’clock. The breakup however is a bit hairy as opposed to other EL84 circuits I’ve played and it’s not what you would expect at 1st. Driving it all the way is also particular to its tone and while it’s a beautiful sound, you might want to rely on your pedals to do the heavy drive tones if you’re playing at church.
You also want to be mindful of your high end on this guy. Its very easy to go overboard and the low end knob will help to recover the low end but at the same time it doesn’t really help you go fat if that was the direction you wanted to go for.
How well does it take pedals?
It does a great job of taking pedals as long as you’re ok with putting everything into the front end. Because it’s made to be very true to your tone, almost everything will work out on this guy. I few jazz players I’ve had in the studio have hated it just because it lacks body but mind you they all love the Roland JC-120 and that thing has better low end than most tube amps I’ve ever heard.
Delay and reverb stick out well and modulation will work as expected. I’d also be mindful of the high end of your reverb tails as it could get overly bright if your presets are dialed to a darker kind of amp.
Single coil guitars work well here and most humbuckers are very nice as well. I tend to prefer single coils but ran a Duesenberg Starplayer TV and Starplayer Special through it and even with those hotter pickups the amp sounded great. Filtertron eqipped guitars get the best tone out of this amp for sure but that’s just a personal opinion. Really anything will work great on this amp for sure as long as you like a brighter overall tone. They also purposely put a wood panel down the center of the speaker which helps take some of the harsh high end off. Keep this in mind when you mic the amp. If you are struggling with the high end try moving the mic back a bit from the cone, allowing that wooden strip to break up some of the high end.
Is is bulletproof?
While the amp is not bulletproof it is much more durable than most. I recently used it on a tour with 35 dates where the amp took a ton of abuse and it has held up very well. I went almost 3 years before changing tubes which is absolutely incredible for a tube amp that is taken on tour. To be honest, I find that the amps value is in the durability over the years. If your constantly transporting your amp back and forth from Church this amp will save you tons in repairs and re-tubing costs. The amp isn’t light but it weighs in similar to other combos in it’s class.
Is it worth the price tag?
That’s a very interesting question and one that really depends on what you’re looking for. I personally am a sucker for 15 watt amps and this thing can scream when you get that master volume past 1 o’clock. For $2500 for a 1×12 combo with reverb you definitely have more options. Even if you just got the head it still comes in at $2200. With boutique builders like Benson, Tyler, and Bad Cat offering hand-wired amps in or below this price range I would have considered those if I to do it all over again.
Sometimes you just want the name which was my thing back then but we all mature over time and I’m not sure I’d pay that much another time around. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret it. It still in the studio till today and along with my AC15HW, 1961 Silvertone Twin Twelve, and the Kemper Amp Profiler it still has it’s place and get’s used very often on my productions. For now I am primarily using it in the studio or for when I need/want to run stereo.
If you have any questions you can leave them below on the comments, we want to help you make a good choice when it comes to buying the right amp.