Matra – Made in Brisbane

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My latest obsession. Solid state goodness made here in Brisbane.

Through guitarnerd I’ve gotten to meet some amazing people who help create the tools us guitarnerds need to do what we do. Through a fellow Maton nerd, Greg T, I was introduced to Harry & Carol from Vase who are the nicest people ever and who happen to be behind the resurrection of the iconic 60′s amp, the Vase Trendsetter which I made now a proud owner of.

While I was at the factory a few years ago to check out Harry’s Yamaha collection, Harry pulled out a familiar looking carpet covered combo. I’d thought I’d seen a few being used by Brisbane bands through the years but i never really took much notice of them. I was surprised to learn that Harry built them in the 70′s and they were made in Brisbane.

I was even more surprised when I plugged it in. It had an almost Marshall JCM800 sound… perfect crunch with great bottom end and plenty loud. Here’s a recording I made with a Skunk and Harry’s Yamaha SG.

Harry was kind enough to fill me in on the history of Matra: “I left my job as a guitar teacher saleman repair guy in a music store in Ipswich in 1972 i started building speaker systems for pa,s guitar and bass amplifiers i called my business AIR ACOUSTICS. After a few years i was joined by Richard Faint who was a local musician and electronic boffin ( Richard built Dreamtime Studios at his house in Ipswich including a monster recording console ) So with Richard on board we started making little mixing desks power amps and some guitar and bass amps. Richard designed all the circuits Around about that time Tony Troughton sold Vase to Kevin and Alan Soper two brothers of which Kevin was an employee of Tonys. Kevin approached me about building some cabinets for Vase. In the meantime i decided that i wanted to change the name of the business so one day i was watching a F1 race on TV. and there was a french racing team called MATRA-FORD. bingo! So i registered MATRA MUSICAL INDUSTRIES. So further on we decided to make some products together we made the cabinets and Vase made the electronics. Out of that relationship came the Skunk Coyote ( the Coyote already existed under a VASE model called TROJAN ) and The COUNTRY PICKER. Tony in his last years had been developing solid state preamps for VASE and the Skunk circuit is a version of the original Vase circuits.”

Harry said only 100 or so were made… which meant I was instantly hooked. Rare and made in Brisbane? I needed one!

It took 3 years for me to find one. I happened to take a week off from work to relax and read Phantom comics in front of the TV and went for a drive to the nearby Cash Converters. There I spotted a ratty looking Skunk for $99. I couldn’t hand my money over fast enough

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It had cigarette burns and chucks of fur missing but most importantly it had that awesome Skunk sound. I was so STOKED… and hooked. I needed more Matra in my life. As luck would have it a week later a very rare Matra 1×12 cabinet came up for sale on Gumtree for a ridiculous price, so I snapped it up. It made a PERFECT speaker for my Vase as I can’t fit a 4×12 in my car anymore due to having a baby seat in there… #dadrockproblems

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I’m not sure if it’s the deep shape of the cabinet but they have great bottom end and are just fantastic sounding cabs. I had took a leaf from the Hot Snakes and started using it in stereo with the Skunk… the Skunk acting as the JCM800 roar and the Vase Matra acting as the Vox chime. Along with sounding huge, it looked cool as hell. And totally transportable in my tiny car.

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The story doesn’t end there. A few months ago I got an email from a friend Michael who had picked up a tiny Matra amp with an 8″ speaker. He was surprised with how great it sounded… which with the Vase circuitry isn’t a surprise.

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Harry said it was probably a prototype for a larger amp called the Pro System 25, which was built for a local music distributor. It was basically a Skunk without the master volume and distortion. I begged Michael to sell it to me but no dice… he loved it too much, which I can’t blame him

As luck would have it, a few weeks ago my friend Mark found a Pro Systems 25 with the 10″ speaker, which sounds so good. Score.

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This is larger than Michael’s… with the cab being the same size as the Skunk. So I now had an awesome collection for less than the price of a decent fuzz pedal.

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And no the story doesn’t end there! I asked Harry what else Matra built and he said there was actually 3 Matra’s in the range… the Skunk (50 watts of awesome distortion), the blue “Coyote” (50 watts of clean over drive) and the brown “Country Picker” (50 watts of cleeeeean country twang). The blue Matra 1×12 cab I have is actually an upside down Coyote! Harry happened to have a few photos in his archives which blew my mind…

Matra family photo (1)

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I need a Country Picker. I’ve never seen one or heard one, but I’m guessing it’s like a louder version of my Pro System 25 which sounds really good.

Harry also sent me a photo of a surfeit of brand new Skunks. Where are they now?! If you have one, let me know…

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And no, the story doesn’t end there. As a tribute to Harry’s great work to the Brisbane music scene, Tym Guitars and I designed and built Harry a limited edition Skunk distortion pedal.

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I gave it a blast into the clean Pro System 25 and it instantly turned it into a Skunk. It’s a winner. Tym Guitars & Matra… a match made in guitarnerd heaven.

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••• edit

This beast just sold on eBay…

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“This listing is for a Vintage MATRA Professional 100WPC Rack Mount Stereo Power Amplifier. Aussie/Brisbane made by the guy who started Acoustic Technologies (from what I’m told) and probably used non-stop in a Pub or Club for decades this Amp is built to last. It’s a ‘Workhorse’ (hence the model!) built for driving PA speakers but sounds great in a Hifi environment too. It features passive cooling so there no fans to make noise or clog up with dust however the large Power Transformer does hum/buzz and although not dangerous it will need to be tightened up or re-varnished to silence properly if to be used in a quiet environment. 100W of pure power per Channel at 8 Ohms.”

I’ve also been sent this picture of a Matra bass amp which is owned by a bandmate of a friend (excuse the blurry photo). I’m not sure what the specs of these are but I’m keen to track one down.

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