Though it shares visual design cues with a lot of iconic axes, Terry McInturff’s new Spitfire is a kind of a “Super-Duper Strat”— a single-coil-driven beast that uses onboard electronics to generate the myriad tone options hot rodders love.
The Spitfire’s secret weapon, as powerful as the Royal Air Force stalwart from which it takes its name, is McInturff’s Mini-Q passive tone filter, which mimics the characteristics of the Pultec EQ found on so many great studio desks of the classic rock era.
Putting the sonic punch of a Pultec EQ in a guitar is ambitious. Doing it without throwing a battery in the mix is an even bigger deal. Whether it achieves the same results you’d get from a Pultec is hard to say. Nevertheless, the end result is impressive. I plugged the Spitfire into a variety of luxe-to-funky amps during its two-week visit, and emerged convinced that I could play this guitar for months on end and still find sounds to explore.
Heavy Metal (and Wood)
The beautiful wood that goes into the Spitfire almost certainly plays a role in creating such a delicious tone palette. McInturff starts with a reddish pumpkin (swamp) ash body, that feels especially resonant and lively. The recommended, but optional, solid rosewood neck (the alternative is a less expensive Honduras mahogany) is mounted via a dovetail joint.
The neck itself is scaled back a click from classic Stratocaster proportions to 25.125." To me, it just feels like a really comfortable Stratocaster neck, so I’ll have to take his word for it. The neck also has a natural-looking tung oil finish rather than lacquer, for smooth travel up and down the length of the neck.
The Spitfire’s hardware reflects a deep attention to detail, too. McInturff’s proprietary Zebra Nut is made of graphite and Teflon to ease string friction, but it’s also laminated with bone to enhance tone and sustain. The rear-locking tuners are fat and sturdy with pearloid keys, and the whammy bridge is a tough-but-flexible Gotoh 1055 with a pop-in arm that’s remarkably effective at returning to pitch.
The dials on the pots are milled aluminum with rubber grip rings. Potentiometers are a 250 kHz for volume and a custom-spec’d 500 kHz rotary fader with center detent for the Mini-Q’s filter control. The detent provides a reference point for rolling back and forth within the Mini-Q’s spectrum. Rolling the control higher than the detent boosts the signal. Counterclockwise turns cut the signal.
Tone Tweaker’s Delight
Evidence of the Spitfire’s tone circuit effectiveness is plain in how easy it is to coax soft burnished tones from the single-coils. The Mini-Q’s filter control dial replaces the traditional tone pot on the Spitfire, and even when it’s cranked to the max on a bridge pickup setting, the guitar lacks the icy brittleness that can make a Stratocaster’s brightest tones lacerating. Instead, the Spitfire’s howling high notes are colored with a warm, midrange-rich glow.
The three custom-wound Lollar pickups—Stratocaster style in the neck and middle, and a P-90 in the bridge—are key to the instrument’s cross of classic tones and versatility. Compared to my ’73 Stratocaster, which is buttery at the neck and bristling at the bridge, the breathier palette of the Spitfire sounds subtler and genuinely beguiling. It’s also more expansive sounding thanks to the Mini-Q, which can even deliver convincing humbucker tones from the neck pickup when dialed in right.
Fire Up The ’Q
Anyone who knows how to use a tone pot will intuitively know how to operate the Mini-Q function. You have to flip a toggle switch up for “sweet” and down for “warm.” Beyond that, you simple roll the Mini-Q’s filter dial to explore the Spitfire’s many nuances.
Though the guitar speaks with a bold, articulate voice with the Mini-Q in bypass mode, it’s the crafty use of the Mini-Q that makes this exceptionally built guitar exceptional sounding. Plugged into my modded Epiphone Value Standard, a Mesa/Boogie and, then, my Marshall plexi, the Spitfire easily conjured Cream-era Clapton tones from the neck pickup in the warm switch position and Mini-Q pot rolled to zero. Flipping the toggle up to sweet and moving the Mini-Q dial to plus five makes the Spitfire sing in a throaty honk. Using the P-90, it was easy to coax squealing pinched harmonics while still maintaining a dark, velvety tone.
With the warm filter engaged, the Mini-Q pot rolled back and the neck pickup set, the natural acoustic resonance of the guitar becomes a lot more apparent. Moving to the middle pickup can yield tones akin to a hollowbody. But sometimes I really like a duck to quack like a duck; so one of my favorite tones was fourth position (neck and middle pickup) with the sweet setting on and the Mini-Q filter pot at three. This tone is classic Stratocaster stuff, but with a bigger belly, though by flipping the warm/sweet toggle mid-solo you can get amazing variations on that tone.
The McInturff Spitfire is a superbly playable guitar with an innovative and intuitive means of achieving tones beyond what most six strings can deliver on their own. Make no mistake—it’s expensive. But the durable Spitfire could easily replace the need for multiple guitars thanks to the Mini-Q. And if you’re more player than collector, there’s a whole lot of value in that.
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