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C.B. Evans Spitfire Review

C.B. Evans Spitfire Review

The Spitfire channels sixties-era Marshalls with EL34s, and keeps the price within reach

If you can’t find the exact sound you’re looking for in an amplifier, build one yourself! That’s exactly what C.B. Evans Amplification founder Berry Dickson did. After being unsatisfied with the tones of many amps—including high-end boutique models—he set out to build an amplifier that created the tones he was looking for. He even surprised himself with the result, and before long the word had spread, as other guitarists wanted him to build amps for them as well. C.B. Evans (named as a tribute to Berry’s grandfather Charles Berry Evans) is a company based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Their goal is to build high quality amplifiers without that high boutique price. They are achieving that with their new line of amps: The Spitfire, The Mustang and The Corsair.

They recently sent over the Spitfire for us to check out. It is a 50-watt single channel, dual mode amp with an EL34 based design. Both the vintage look and the overall design are reminiscent of sixties Marshall heads, with extra modification and features thrown in. The front panel has power and standby switches, Hi & Lo Inputs, and controls for Presence, Bass, Middle, Treble, Normal Gain and Bright Gain. The “chickenhead” knobs were a nice touch and they were easy to grab on to and control. A Gain Mode switch allows you to choose between Vintage and Modified modes. Thankfully, a Master Volume knob is included free of charge, so you can really crank up the gain and experience the full power of the amp and still keep it at a respectable level!

The back panel has a simple design with parameters that are easy to understand. There are two speaker outputs and a large impedance selector for 4, 8 or 16 ohms (again in the “chickenhead” knob style that I really like)! The slots for the fuses have convenient thumbscrews so no tools are needed if you require a quick fuse change.

I recently acquired a new Epiphone Slash Les Paul with great sounding Seymour Duncan Alnico Pro-II humbucking pickups. I used this guitar for my initial test drive of the Spitfire. I started in Vintage mode, after plugging the Spitfire into my Marshall Lead 1960 4X12 cabinet. The gain stages in Vintage mode are run in parallel so it’s easy to blend Normal and Bright gains together, or use each one independently. I dialed both the Normal and Bright Gain knobs to about 7 and got a really nice classic rock sound:

Download example 1

A clean tone was easy to achieve. I simply brought the Normal and Bright Gain knobs down and brought up the Master Volume to a nice level. I then adjusted the Gain accordingly, and found that turning up the Normal Gain really added a nice low end to the tone, which was well rounded and warm:

Download example 2

The Modified Mode was definitely my favorite. In this mode, the output of the Bright Gain feeds into the Normal Gain stage. The two controls then interact and allow a nice variety of gain—from a slightly overdriven tone to a full-on heavy metal high gain tone. After playing around and experimenting with the Normal and Bright Gain parameters, it was possible to create massive amounts of high gain without having to add an additional distortion box:

Download example 3

In fact, there was so much overdrive in Modified Mode that if you try to crank up both Normal and Bright Gain knobs to the fullest, it begins to squeal. However, there’s no need to push the gain parameters that high. Finding a nice combination and balance of both Gain knobs will produce a nice overdriven tone, without having to crank them up all the way. This modification is a great addition to the amp, and is something rock guitar players are looking for (and apparently willing to pay for). Marshall recently released a limited edition Randy Rhoads model with a similar modification, carrying a hefty price tag that is more than double the price of a Spitfire!

The amp produced a great variety of clean and dirty tones, which brings up what could possibly be its only minor drawback. Using this one amp in a live situation, there is no instant switching of channels between clean and overdrive. Even switching between Vintage and Modified modes may require adjustment of the Normal and Bright Gain settings. So even though it only takes a few moments to manually dial in new settings, it may not be fast enough for the instant switching that some guitarists have grown accustomed to.

The Spitfire is a high quality amp with good looks and great tones. The C.B. Evans company believes that a great sounding amp shouldn’t cost the average player an arm and a leg. They are able to maintain that boutique high-end quality at an affordable price, which is evident in their motto “Boutique for the Rest of Us.”

Buy if...
you''d like an instantly hot-rodded amp without the big price tag
Skip if...
you''ve become spoiled with the concept of instant switching of channels and sounds

MSRP $1499 - C.B. Evans -