Founded in 1989 in Los Angeles, Matchless are renowned for their point-to-point hand-wired, premium quality amplifiers - with them, they've become one of the best sounding and most durable amps on the market. Their first design, the 30-watt DC-30 still remains their most sought after, used by such rockers as Bruce Springsteen, Brian May, Joe Perry, Billy Duffy and Neil Young.
The lower 15-watt range shines its target on bedroom players who also need a solid stage setup with enough volume to overcome a loud drummer. There are three models in the 15-watt range - Spitfire, Lightning and Nighthawk - each with their own characteristics. The Spitfire’s focus is on clean sounds for jazz, blues, chord melody, country picking, and rock; the Lightning produces a classic scooped mid-range “British sound” and the Nighthawk is perfect for higher-gain hot and raw blues and rock. So, if the Spitfire doesn’t sound like your style but you're after a bespoke handmade amp, it's worth taking a look at the other models.
This single-channel powerhouse is driven by three 12AX7 preamp tubes and two EL84s in the power section. A 5AR4 tube is used for the rectifier, with the electronics housed in a heavy-duty stainless steel chassis. The barrier strip wiring is all done point-to-point by hand, and the capacitors are made from quality NOS carbon. All of this comes together nicely to deliver clean tones through the 15-watt 8 ohm Celestion speaker that has been especially designed for Matchless. It's encased in a sturdy Birchwood cabinet joined with machine screws into a threaded insert. It's covered in quality tortex, with a leather handle on top. Across the front control panel, the Spitfire features high and low inputs and three off-white chicken head dials to control volume, tone and master volume, followed by a power on/off switch. On the rear, there are two impedance inputs for 4 and 8 Ohms, and a line out to connect to a PA system. The back is semi-enclosed.
Fresh and so clean
To look at, the quality is evident from the amp's leather handle, premium tolex finish and customisable features. You can order the straight-up all black model - like the one tested here - or be adventurous and mix or match the cabinet and faceplate colours. There are twelve colours to choose from online, which range from white, red and turquoise to... Shower curtain? Grill colour options are silver or gold. After turning it on, the amp's logo and controls are illuminated by internal globes - it's a nice touch, but the lack of a standby switch is a concern for tube longevity.
Plugging in your axe is easy via a high or low input. The low is great if you want to tame hotter pickups - for example, a P90 in your Les Paul - to achieve a mellower jazzy sound using the neck pickup. Simplicity is the key here, evident with three chicken head dials controlling volume, tone and master. The semi-open back features a line out jack to connect to a PA, as well as Ohm and 8 Ohm speaker impedance ports. There is no effects loop, headphone jack or amp input.
The Spitfire has only a single gain stage (dual triode 12AX7), giving the volume dial heaps of headroom that only slightly breaks up at the 9-10 mark with a Les Paul, and remains virtually clean with a single coil Fender Jaguar. If you really want a lot of breakup, this might be a bit frustrating (the Lightning would perhaps be a better choice), but if you don't like high gain, go with the Spitfire.
The amp responds sensitively to your pick attack on a single coil, so you’ll need to adjust your tone or use palm muting to control it. With a pair of EL84 tubes, it sounds more like 25-watts, as Matchless use higher plate voltages on the power tubes. A little goes a long way, so you’ll need to turn the mater volume down for bedroom playing.
With both volume and master dials at 12 o’clock, it's effortlessly loud enough for a gig. Cranking it all way will get you over the noisiest of drummers with a bright voicing that cuts through the band mix.
The tone dial has quite a bit of EQ range, making this a very versatile amp. With the tone down low, it sounds mellow and creamy- perfect for jazz tunes where definition and attack are needed for fast passages. Cranking the tone gives the amp more pop and sparkle, perfect for jangly rock, country twang, surf rock or staccato funk. As a comparison, it sounds very similar to a Vox AC15, but a little more tight and spanky. Turning it up too high, however, can result in a steely sound - as such, you’ll need to play with the limits.
Although set up for clean sounds, it also responds really well to overdrive, fuzz and distortion pedals. It becomes heavy in the base and has clarity in the mids without becoming too muddy, perfect for Drop D-tuned grunge or heavy ‘70s rock. A Matchless Hotbox III preamp pedal complimented it to a T, bringing out the sweetness of the notes. A Tube Screamer would also suffice for blues soloing. The tone knob also heavily influenced the gain level, ranging from thick fuzz to gritty buzzing distortion. However, you wouldn’t play metal or djent through this thing - if that's more your speed you might want to consider the Nighthawk model.
Best in the hands of
With almost a full range of headroom and good range of EQ, the Spitfire is best in the hands of professional jazz, country or clean rock/blues players, or the hobbyist who appreciates the whole buyer experience of a quality bespoke amp that is built to last. This is not for the player on a budget or beginners. Due to its wide range of dynamics, the Spitfire also sounds great paired with a good preamp, distortion or fuzz pedal for for heavy rhythm and mid-range melodic riffing. It's just quiet enough for bedroom playing, but has plenty of grunt for the stage.
Why it's on the Top Shelf
Everything about this amp screams quality. From the construction to the inside point-to-point hand wiring, it's a quality build which translates into an amazing tone. It can churn out everything from creamy jazzy tones to the spank and sparkle for country, funk and clean rock. Adding a boost, fuzz or distortion delivers buzzing basses and harmonic highs, which are great for '70s rock, Drop D tuning and grunge.
The Spitfire is easy to use and has great build quality with a wide tonal variation ranging from creamy jazz to jangly single-coil rock/blues, finger picking country/folk or chord melody playing styles. There's heaps of headroom for clean players, and plenty of volume ranging from bedroom bash to heavy gigging over a loud drummer.