The Hotbox III is Matchless Amplifiers’ latest incarnation of their popular tube preamp pedal – locked and loaded with two channels and housed in a solid mirror-polished stainless steel enclosure that looks a treat. Like the British amps the sound is based upon, the controls are set up simply with an emphasis on driving your amp and locking into that sweet spot of cascading gain as opposed to endlessly tweaking the EQ. In an added bonus, the Hotbox III is kitted out with true bypass switching to keep your original signal intact, a detachable power cord, and a reinvigorated enclosure that'd work well on either a pedalboard or as a standalone unit.
The first thing you'll notice when pulling this badboy out of the box is its weight and size. With dimensions of 8.5” (W) x 5.125” (D) x 3” (H), this isn't a small unit. It's quite heavy too, coming in at just over 1.5kgs. Chanel 1 (clean) isn't the type of Fender clean you might imagine. Like most British-inspired amps, 'clean' is served up with a healthy rattle of mild overdrive. Tonally, think more subtle harmonic overtones as opposed to actual dirt. It is noticable, however, and if you're wishing to push your amp louder without adding any gain – this probably isn't the right choice for you. In saying that, the Hotbox III offers up that chimey, biting sound that's populated countless iconic recordings. Think Brian May's guitar tone, or the cranked amps of The Kinks or The Beatles. If that's what you're looking for, then you've come to the right place.
Moving into Channel 2 (overdrive) one thing becomes abundantly clear. The Hotbox III will make any amp you're playing through sound absolutely huge. The gain is thick, rich and chunky as hell, albeit complimented by that bell-like chime that we all know and love. It's a tone that'll cut through a mix like a knife through butter, but is still anchored by a beefy low-end. Marrying those two aspects is never easy, but in this case Matchless has unreservedly nailed it. Chords ring out with rich overtones, and single note lines seem to 'bloom' and change shape as they ring out. With sustain on tap for days, this is a pre-amp that offers a case in point example of classic rock tones and nails it to the wall in the process. From a mild crunch to a wailing lead tone, the Hotbox has you covered.
Realistically, if you're playing primarily blues and rock styles – this could be the only effect you'll need. It gives you more of what you've got already, focusing on bringing out the best in whatever guitar your playing and driving whatever amp you're using to their highest point, all wrapped up in that Matchless quality and British EQ that's been a hallmark of quintessential rock tones for years. For touring bands often using a variable backline, this will allow you to lock down your tone every time without carting around your own amp. Far from just a dirtbox, the Matchless Hotbox III is an investment that keeps on giving.
Hits and Misses
Nails iconic British tones
Overdrive is lush and harmonically rich
Delivers the best of your tone – no more, no less
Some players may find the housing too large or unwieldy for use on a pedalboard