Avalon 35 1x12 Combo
BY SHAWN HAMMOND
Matchless’ production manager in 1994 and
helped get the company back on its feet in
2000—fewer than 10 Starliner and Skyliner
amps were produced, and several of them
were returned due to faulty operation.
For more than a decade now, Jamison
and current owner Geoff Emery have kept
Matchless going steady and strong by offering most of the original amp designs and
coming up with innovative new models for
a wider array of players—including those
with high-gain needs. They also recently
began offering more affordable amps, first
the EL84-powered Avalon 30 and now the
EL34-powered Avalon 35, that incorporate
top-shelf components in a design with partial
PC-board construction. It’s a move many
boutique builders have made since the beginning of the recession.
At the beginning of the boutique amp boom
in the late 1980s and early ’90s, one of the
biggest names being bandied about was
Matchless. Original designers Rick Perotta,
Chris Perotta, and company co-founder Mark
Sampson were huge Beatles fans, and that
jangly AC30 sound drove them to start analyzing and repairing vintage Voxes imported
from the UK. Eventually, they took the next
logical step and began building handwired,
roadworthy interpretations of the iconic AC30.
Sampson, Rick Perotta, and John Jorgenson
(who would later go on to gain acclaim for
his work with Will Ray and Jerry Donahue in
the Hellecasters) came up with the company’s
most famous designs—the now-legendary
DC30, Chieftain, and Lightning—which became staples for artists as diverse as Jimmie
Vaughan, Hank Marvin, Alex Lifeson, and Toad
the Wet Sprocket’s Glen Phillips.
But by 1998, the company had serious
financial troubles and had to close shop.
Amp nuts everywhere lamented Matchless’
demise and the original amps skyrocketed in
value overnight. Just prior to Matchless MK I’s
implosion, they hit on an idea that might have
saved the company, given time. The idea: offer more affordable amps that incorporate the
same quality components as other Matchless
models, but in a circuit with limited PC-board
construction, channel switching, and footswitchable reverb.
Consumer products in general often have
names that convey a gross inflation of their
true worth, and guitar gear is no different.
But sometimes those lofty-sounding names
aren’t far from the mark. Look up “Avalon”
and you’ll discover that, in Arthurian legend,
it was the island where King Arthur’s magical
sword, Excalibur, was forged. I don’t know if
that’s what Matchless was going for, but I like
the possible comparisons the name suggests.
So, they gave it a whirl. The Superliner series
was supposed to include three models, but
only the 40-watt, EL34-powered Starliner
Reverb 2x12 and the 15-watt, EL84-pow-
ered Skyliner Reverb 2x10 ever got off the
ground—and in extremely limited numbers.
According to Phil Jamison—who became
For a lot of players, acquiring the Avalon
35—which retails at $2629 (with reverb, $2599
without)—isn’t going to be as easy as lifting the
amp from an enchanted stone, but compared to
the similarly featured SC- 30 combo, it’s a relative
steal. Likewise, despite having a feature set that’s
rather primitive by modern standards, the amp
isn’t without its magic. Inside, the Avalon com-
bines two EL34s, five 12AX7s (three for the pre-
amp, two for the reverb), a 5AR4 tube rectifier,
and the same quality components used in other
Matchless amps—including robust transform-
ers—in a class-A, cathode-biased hybrid circuit
that uses both point-to-point, turret-style con-
struction, and cost-cutting PC-board elements.