Matchless Chieftain: best kept amplification secret?

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs' started by lukeII, Feb 20, 2009.

  1. lukeII

    lukeII Supporting Member

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    I have been on the hunt for a couple of months for an amp that is really different from my TR Classic Reverb. In the past two or three years I've had a Fargen Blackbiird 30, a Suhr Badger 18 and a CAA OD50 classic +. I can get the TR in the same ballpark as blackbird which is why I sold that to a friend (I regret that one cos even though the TR gets close to the Fargen, the Fargen still does what it does better) and I struggled with the headroom on the Badger 18 -which I also regret selling as it is a great home and studio amp with a nice mix of Vox and Marshall). I don't regret letting go of the Classic + as the clean sounds were in the same league as the TR except the TR is far better and despite a month or two working the od channel it was either too dark sounding or too harsh for my tastes it was also (despite a great master volume) a bit too loud for my wants or needs. The CAA is a good amp it just wasn't the right amp for me.

    A couple of weeks ago I picked up a Matchless Chieftain head with reverb that I have been running through my Reinhardt 1x12 with his proprietary 1265 speaker. It seems the Chieftain is well suited to the Reinhardt as the Chieftain is quite a bright amp and the Reinhardt slightly tames the high end while retaining the complexity. That being said I haven't played the Chieftain through Matchless cabs so wouldn't be able to say if that were better are worse. I played the CAA through a Matchless ESD212 (when I bought the CAA) and compared to the Reinhardt, the Matchless cab was definitely brighter. It took me some time to figure out a couple of different settings on the Chieftain (not a plug and play amp) but now that I have I am damned if this isn't one off the most original and best amps I have ever played. It sounds like nothing else I have ever heard from any other amp manufacturer (see each setting below for explanation).

    - The first setting I have is basically to run treble and bass at 1 o'clock, brilliance at 12 o'clock, mids at around 11 o'clock (lower than that the amp is not as good with pedals I find), gain any where between 9 and 12 o'clock and Master Volume and Reverb as desired (beyond 1 o'clock on the Master you get some power amp distortion). This setting gave me a really nice clean sound that run well with pedals. It sounded especially great with single coil guitars (strats and teles) yielding unbelievable chime swirl and body to the tone or some klang when you really hit chords. The closest thing to describe it is a mix of Tweed, Vox with a little Hiwatt mixed in. With humbuckers you still have a decent amount of clean headroom and get a nice clean tone for rock or alternative but obvously you loose some chime and swirl because of the higher output of the Humbuckers. In any case the amp has a very fast response. you can play a number of clean styles so long as you accept the fast response. I used a Timmy, a Zendrive and a Little Green Wonder in this setting and they all worked great. The bumped mids in the Zendrive was great for adding some body to the bridge position of single coils for a low to mid drive and the LGW worked great with humbuckers to get a Marshall type drive.

    - For the second setting I found I moved the gain up to about 1 or 2 o'clock, the bass down 11.30, mids and treble at 3 o'clock and brillance to around 10.30. Again Master and reverb set to taste. With this setting you are in low breakup territory which I think is the best overdriven sound the Chieftain has to offer. You can push the preamp more but from my perspective I don't think it as musical as it doesn't give a really rich sound and get a bit buzzy. This second setting gives a nice low drive with single coils but it sounds best with a Les Paul. This is Black Crowes territory and sounds great for the Who and Stones songs as well (depending on where you are on the vol knob of the guitar). kind of like a Tweed overdrive mixed in with a Hiwatt and that nice Matchless klang, it is not as full sounding as an old plexi or JTM45 but just a really great tone. Response of the amp is immediate and percussive. What a great tone. For a little more push I use the Timmy and roll of the Treble and Bass to yield a fuller tone great for Classic Rock tones and a little AC/DC. The Zenrdrive is also very good and the mid push adds a little more muscle to the tone. The LGW doesn't add much in this setting.

    This amp really has a great tone of its own, its not a Marshall, Fender or Vox tone and won't copy those tones. Then again I don't think any other amp I know of that can get the tones the Chieftain gives up either which makes it unique. If you like good old fashioned rock n'roll or alternative rock this is an amp to seriously contemplate if you want very responsive and complex tones. If you want a very full sounding overdrive like an old plexi or a big sounding mid to higain distortion like those offered by modern amps you will be (bitterly) disappointed. This amp doesn't get as much attention as the DC30 or the Clubman but I think it is every bit just as much of a classic as those are. I chose the Chieftain over the Clubman because I thought the EF86 makes the Clubman more aggressive sounding than the Chieftain and the Chieftain has just about enough in that department for my taste. As for the DC30 I've never really clicked with that tone and tend to prefer the less aggressive and klangy character of the more traditional AC30 or its clones.

    I would be Interested to know the thoughts, suggested settings or tube and speaker combos used by other Chieftain owners.
     
  2. NyteOwl

    NyteOwl Member

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    If I could only have one amp, it would be a Sampson-era Chieftain.
     
  3. indravayu

    indravayu Senior Member

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    I love the sound of a Chieftain 2x12 combo.
     
  4. BlackIrish

    BlackIrish Member

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    Hi sorry for the noob question but what makes that era more desirable? Different transformers or something? Please inform me?
    Thanks,
    Tim
     
  5. Stormin

    Stormin Tele's and Plexis Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

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    I love my '98 Chieftain 1x12! I switched out the Matchless G12H for an English V30 which works a little better with the Gibson. I tend to run my gain around 10:00, with the Bass at 1:30, Mid at noon, Treble at 10:00, and Presence at 9:00. The Master Volume is set appropriately. Pedal wise, I use an OCD or a Fulldrive II to go from BB King to Setzer to Thorogood.


    [​IMG]
     
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  6. Guinness Lad

    Guinness Lad Silver Supporting Member

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    Hype, nothing more.
     
  7. GreenKnight18

    GreenKnight18 Member

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    I was going to say the same thing, or add: guys trying to unload their Sampson era amps.
     
  8. traviswalk

    traviswalk In the Great State Gold Supporting Member

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    Nice Luke, I dig your tastes so I'm going to have to check those out in earnest!
     
  9. lukeII

    lukeII Supporting Member

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    I think Sampson are viewed as more desireable because he was viewed as the Moses of Matchless amps. Mine is likely a 2008 jamison era and it sounds really great and quality wise is buily beautifully so from my perspective (and I'm not the only one) the added collector value of a Sampson era is not worth the premium (for some collectors it might be). Phil Jamison has spoken about how he feels that this era Matchless is at least as good or better in terms of build quality and his dealers and a lot of end users have backed up this claim.
     
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  10. bismark

    bismark Member

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    Mine is a trusty '96 Chieftain 1x12 combo. It's my one and only amp for years now. I use the Ethos Overdrive.
     
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  11. therhodeo

    therhodeo Member

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    I believe Sonny Landreth Uses a Chieftain with his dumble. Not too bad of an endorsement.
     
  12. sickboy79

    sickboy79 Member

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    I've got 2 Chief heads from the Sampson era. They don't make them anymore but, it's the Chieftain's bigger brother. 4xEL34s and a SS rectifier - same preamp circuit. Definetly one of my favorite Matchless amps.
     
  13. guitarsnguns04

    guitarsnguns04 Member

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    I love the chieftain I have. They are amazing amps and I have owned a few of them. If you havent tried one do so. It may not be the amp for everyone but those looking for those types of tones will look no further. Quality and tone to spare for sure.
     
  14. NyteOwl

    NyteOwl Member

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    I don't know about these guys, but I'm speaking from my own personal experience.

    A few years back I had four Sampson-era Chieftains and was offered a newer Matchless in trade for one. When it arrived at the house I plugged it in and thought it sounded like crap so I turned down the deal. A few months later I did a deal for a Gain Star 1x12 combo and didn't even keep it a week. Call it hype or whatever you will, but my Sampson-era amps sounded much better to me.
     
  15. snoggin

    snoggin Member

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    I have both a Chieftan and a Clubman.. I am using the Clubman more right now as I am into more of a heavy rock thing but if I do some more country roots thing it would be the Chieftan. And I am gonna do that so its going nowhere. Plus it matches the 4x10 I am using now.

    exquisite
     
  16. Guinness Lad

    Guinness Lad Silver Supporting Member

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    It could have been all kinds of things, tubes, bias point, speakers you had at the time.
     
  17. Jerrod

    Jerrod Silver Supporting Member

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    +1 not to mention that as a "hand-wired" amp, there's some inherent possibility for variability from amp to amp.
     
  18. lukeII

    lukeII Supporting Member

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    Traviswalk the Chieftain is absolutely worth a try. If you can try some place that will give you a decent amount of time to figure out the tone. The Chieftain doesn't bare its charms easily but once you figure it out it is really an original voice. Not for everyone like I said but if its your thing its your thing. It is as far removed from the Two Rock's as you can get.
     
  19. stonedtone

    stonedtone Member

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  20. lukeII

    lukeII Supporting Member

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    Secret as there isn't much talk about the Chieftain for the great amp it is.
     

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