MATCHLESS SPITFIRE '15 AMPLIFIER HEAD
Alex Wilson takes a closer look at an amp that exemplifies simplicity, both in form and function.
Full review and independent analysis of the Matchless Spitfire '15 Amp Head by Australian Guitar Magazine.
PRICE: $2,995 AUD
Taken out of the box, the amp looks great. It’s very black, with the logo plate and product engraving rendered in elegant grey. In addition to a single on/off switch, there’s high and low inputs (one channel only) and cream Volume, Tone and Master knobs. The backplate is equally minimal, boasting only TRS line out, two speaker outs (rated at eight and four ohms), and a 240 VAC input for the power cord.
The Spitfire '15 head is not an especially big unit, all things considered, but it is a bit heavy due to the old‑school circuitry onboard. Speaking of which, the tubes themselves consist of two EL84s in the power section, three 12AX7s in the pre and a rectifying 5AR7.
In terms of sound, this amp’s strength lies in its high headroom and pleasing, creamy clean tone. The simple design means the amp is not especially versatile, and if you’re looking to get even moderately high gain out of the Spitfire, you won’t have much luck. However, the flipside is a tremendous capacity for detailed clean sounds. Even with louder pickups, you have to push the volume past eight o’clock to reach the early signs of breakup. Combine this with the grunt of two EL84s, and you can get the Spitfire ringing out loud and beautiful sounds with headroom for days.
In truth, this little 15-watter has more than enough oomph for most players shredding out in a live setting, but is still humble enough to be a friend to your neighbours.
The sound itself resembles a Vox AC15, albeit a little brighter. This is well in line with the classic Matchless sound and the inspiration it draws from Vox designs. The generous headroom of the amp also allows it a very specific Matchless ‘feel’ under the fingers.
One of the real pleasures of this brand comes from the way the amp responds to subtleties in a player’s fretting articulation and specific pickings. It’s very easy to become enthralled in its sensitivity once you’ve got the knobs set right relative to your guitar.
And speaking of those chicken-head knobs: the tone is definitely more of a musical than technical control. Roll it off and the sound warms up, evoking the sound of venerated jazz guitarists. It’s a really pleasing mellowness that has a really great darkness to it, which seems to highlight a rich midrange at the same time as it attenuates treble.
Push the tone knob back up high, and you’ll find spank and sparkle returning. This is where the ‘Voxiness’ of the Spitfire resides. It is possible to overdo the brightness and wind up with a brittle sound, but with one knob controlling tone, that's a problem which is easily solved.
One last note on tone and playability: this is a great head for pedal aficionados. The simple circuit and wide headroom mean that your favourite dirtboxes, your wildest modulators or lushest time-based effects can express themselves fully within the spitfire Spitfire.
Push those stompboxes a little bit harder into the pre and you’ll come across the spongy, blooming tube compression that makes a great pedal sing all the more sweetly. In this respect, the Spitfire '15 truly is an amp that would make a head‑turning alternative to other dependable, high-headroom amplifiers such as a Fender Twin.
Matchless’ first amp hit it big for the Californian company. The 30-watt DC-30 burst out of the gate in a big way, finding its way into the rigs of players as massive as Neil Young, Brian May and The Boss. The company’s reputation is built on its handwired point-to-point circuitry, and since their start in 1989, they’ve expanded their product range significantly.
For those who are unaware exactly what these terms mean, it essentially indicates that Matchless use as few pre-fabricated components or processes as possible when constructing the circuit itself. You’re talking wires and solder more than a bevy of green PCBs.
The Spitfire ’15 is part of a trio of similar amps from the company. It’s a bit cleaner than its rowdier Lightning and Nighthawk brothers, yet the Spitfire '15 shares a similar purpose. All three models focus on different styles, but share the lower 15-watt range that works both in the bedroom and small stages.
Although it has its own distinctive and intentional gain structure, the Spitfire’s particular circuit is intended to work best with clean styles, such as jazz, country, blues and easygoing rock. Overall, the amp’s simple design and relatively specific sound suggest it’s designed to be a solid master of certain styles more than a middling jack-of-all-trades.
WHY IT’S ON THE TOP SHELF
Because it can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with just about any other amp of its size (and in some cases, bigger) when it comes to clean headroom and creamy analog sound. While the Spitfire is not especially heavy on features, what is there can be considered the very best in its class. Accordingly, you’re gonna be paying extra for all that goodness.
BEST IN THE HANDS OF
Although it could make just about any player sound better, this is not a beginner’s amp. It’s built for serious players who can fully exploit and understand its specific circuit and get the most mileage. Someone like a serious jazzbo with a regular gig, or a longtime home player who would appreciate the quality of an expensive amp made for long-term ownership.
WHY YOU’RE PROBABLY GOING TO WANT IT
If you play music that doesn’t need lots of distortion, but you’re still stylistically versatile, then this amp would be one of the most appropriate you could find. You’d be buying an amp that is easy to use, built to last and simply exudes vibe.
WHAT YOU SHOULD CONSIDER FIRST
The Spitfire '15 is a proper investment. While its main tone is exceptional, there’s not a lot of immediate flexibility to be had with one channel and 15 watts. Unless, of course, you supplement the amp with some great pedals which it pairs with beautifully – but that is more dollars you may need to invest. If you've got the right pedal collection and the cash to splash, however, this might just be your new favourite small amp.
Gladesville Guitar Factory
Ph: (02) 9817 2173