A high-gain Rock amp from Fender? Tom Quayle finds out if Fender can shake-off the 'country clean' aura and turn it up to 11.
Mention Fender amps and most people will immediately think of the superb clean tones produced from classic amps such as the Bassman, Deluxe Reverb and Twin. These are the archetypal clean tones that we all think of as the benchmark for all other clean amps and Fender has rightly earned this reputation. What most people won't think of is crushing, high gain tones suitable for Rock or Metal players - other manufacturers have cornered that market. Of course the majority of Fender's classic amps can be pushed into gorgeous overdriven tones and some of the best and most revered tones of all time have been produced from a Fender dialled in at 10 across the board with a boost pedal in the front, but you could never argue that they make great rock/metal amps.
Not content to sit on its laurels, however, Fender has now launched the Machete series, designed to give classic Fender clean tones matched with a great sounding high gain channel, perhaps even achieving the best of both worlds.
The Machete is available as a 50 Watt head and matching 1x12 or 4x12 cab and in a 50 Watt combo version with single 12" Celestion Vintage 30 speaker. We reviewed the head version but both head and combo sport exactly the same features and tonal characteristics.
The Machete head is a huge, seemingly bomb-proof beast with a very heavy weight and attractive two tone Tolex design, recognisable as a Fender only thanks to the traditional spaghetti logo on the front. This is a definite design departure from Fender but looks great and is clearly built to last. The tone of the two channels comes from one 12AT7 and five 12AX7 pre-amp tubes matched with two 6L6C power tubes providing the 50 Watts output. Each channel has independent gain, volume, treble, middle and bass EQ, with a notch control for tailoring the mids for either a more British or American sound. An onboard digital reverb adds ambiance and a damping control allows you to tailor the response of the amp and speaker relationship for a tighter or looser feel.
The clean channel of the Machete is pure Fender thanks to the 6L6 power and 12Ax7 pre-amp tubes. For an amp that is all about the gain channel, the clean side of things is very impressive but then you'd expect nothing less with this pedigree. This is a very touch sensitive and dynamic amp with a huge amount of tonal control. The EQ controls allow you to shape your sound with masses of flexibility giving you a ton of low-end thump if you want it and sparkling highs thanks to the bright switch. Almost all settings are musical and only extreme settings will render poorer tones. The extreme amount of low end available can cause things to become a little muddy but backing off the control a little cleans things up beautifully. The notch control works well, giving even more versatility and combined with the damping control allows you to easily tailor both the tone and feel for any room and gig you might be doing. A push/pull gain boost allows you to achieve a fantastic crunch tone from this channel, a feature that can also be switched in and out from the included footswitch. Fender has very sensibly included a 6db cut switch in front of the clean channel for any higher output guitars that might have problems achieving a cleaner tone.
Channel two is where things really take off and there is an impressive amount of gain on tap thanks to the high number of preamp tubes. At full pelt you get a very heavy and tight modern Rock tone that could easily be pushed into Metal territory with a boost pedal and correct setting of the notch and EQ controls. This is a quality tone and definitely doesn't feel like Fender is stepping outside of the comfort zone - the company knows how to build great sounding amps and channel two of the Machete is living proof. At lower gain settings a darker clean tone can be achieved and a plethora of vintage and modern tones are on tap with careful placement of this control along its range. As with channel one, the EQ is simultaneously powerful and musical, making the Machete a very versatile beast indeed. The onboard digital reverb also sounds very smooth and natural, especially on the clean channel.
A full suite of ins and outs are included round the back for speaker cabs, effects loop and direct, speaker simulated out for recording. Fender has even included midi implementation making this a truly 21st century amplifier. So here we have a superbly built and great sounding amplifier that genuinely expands the Fender range in a meaningful way and should appeal to a new customer base that may have overlooked Fender in the past. Even for an all-valve amp, it's quite pricey in the UK, but still well worth checking out.