Bye Bye, Champ

It never ends, does it? Guitar players are never satisfied with their stuff.

27 years of dissatisfaction

Seven years ago I traded-in my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe amp because it was much too big and loud for a bedroom amp. After that I get a Fender Vibro Champ XD, which I loved for along time. But eventually I started to hate the sound of it. I wanted that glassy Fender clean sound, and that amp couldn't get there. At one time, I swear it could, but it couldn't do it any more.

When the Champ broke down I bought a Fender Mustang I amp: an all-digital amp with a baffling number of options and a terrible interface with which to set them. That was fun for a couple of months. But once I got the Vibro Champ working again, the Mustang was repurposed as a step for the cats to use to climb up on my desk.

So, yesterday I threw them both in the back seat and went on a guitar store odyssey. I spent four hours driving around the area, visiting every guitar store my phone could find. I looked at dozens of amps. The Vox AC15 has that beautiful cranked Vox sound (think end of We Will Rock You), but I didn't really like the clean sound and I'm not a fan of their styling. Orange makes some cool looking amps but they are more geared to loud screaming overdrive and that's not my thing right now. I almost pulled the trigger on a used tweed Fender Pro Jr, but the lack of reverb and the minimal controls (two knobs: volume & tone) worked against it. The Fender Bassbreakers are interesting, but not quite right. Saw a Vox Brian May edition AC30 (only 500 made!), which I didn't bother trying since it has only one knob: Volume.

I ended up buying a Fender Blues Jr.. It's actually the little brother of the Hot Rod Deluxe I used to have, but with 15 watts instead of 40 and fewer bells and whistles. It's similar to the Pro Jr, but has reverb, low/mid/high tone controls, a pre-amp stage, etc. - much more flexible. It can get loud and keeping it in bedroom volume is a bit tricky, but it also sounds so so so good. The jump from the 8" speakers of the Champ and the Mustang to the 12" speaker of the Blues Jr is huge - more than 2x the volume of air gets pushed by a 12" speaker vs an 8" ! So the sound is much much fuller and 'rounder'. Glorious. And yet, the amp is only an inch or two bigger than the others. Fits perfectly on the bright red amp stand I made for the Champ.

A Guitar Center on a Saturday afternoon in December is unbearable.

8 thoughts on “Bye Bye, Champ

  1. ChrisR

    I don’t know a lot about amps, so I was googling each one you listed, to get a rough idea. The pictures and timeline are a cool addition!

  2. cleek Post author

    oh shit, that’s practically an invitation to talk about amps…!

    look out! nerd coming!

    in order…

    Peavey Decade: 1×8″, solid state, 10W, practice amp. my first. eventually used it as tweeter for my…
    Peavey Bandit (“blue stripe”): 1×12″, solid state, 80W. you can hear them both shrieking away here. Killer 80s hard rock sound. But, that amp died, so I bought…
    Fender Ultra Chorus: 2×12″, 130W, solid state, built-in stereo chorus. You can hear it, here. It didn’t really thrill me, so I didn’t keep it for long.
    Fender Super Amp: 4×10″, 60W, tubes. This was a monster of an amp. Incredibly loud, heavy, hard to move. Had a beautiful sound, though and was very versatile. It’s doing the leads on this.
    Fender Hot Rod Deluxe: 1×12″, 40W, tubes. Very nice amp, but was just too big and loud for ‘bedroom’ use.
    Fender Vibro Champ XD: 1×8″, 5W, hybrid tube/solid state (tube pre-amp => solid state modelling section => tube power amp). Has circuitry to mimic (“model”) a bunch of other amps, and does an acceptable job of it.
    Fender Mustang 1: 1×8″, 20W, solid state. Also does amp modelling, plus it has a plethora of built-in effects. But it tries to handle it all with a few knobs and a handful of blinking lights. Newer models have nice LED screens to help you navigate the options. Still, I didn’t like the sound.
    Fender Blues Jr III: 1×12″, tubes, 15W. Lovely Fender clean sound.

    watts are watts, but the way tube amps and solid state amps work (and what their rated wattage actually means in practice) is very different. generally, a tube amp will sound several times louder than a solid state amp with a similar wattage rating.

  3. Jewish Steel

    I’m a Fender fella myself. I’ve been running the same 67 Bandmaster since 95. The other guitaist in the band plays a 72 Super. We get some variety between my 2×12 and his 4×10’s.

    But I would have steered you towards the Egnater Tweaker and building your own cabinet. Maybe a nice little 1X12 with a Weber. Boutique sound on a budget!

    1. cleek Post author

      i think i saw some Egnaters, while i was out shopping. didn’t try any, though – were all too big.

      building my own cabinet… thought of that for the little vChamp, since it did have a speaker out jack. but i have neither cabinetry skills nor serious woodworking tools.

      i am going to try building a pedalboard this month, though.

      1. Jewish Steel

        Oh, when I say “build” I mean “have built.” Like from these guys:

        The Tweaker head I’ve got is just 15 watts. A cute little guy that will really roar if you ask him to. NOT a modelling amp. It actually changes its circuitry when you flip its switches. It’s astonishingly good for its dirt cheap price.

    2. cleek Post author

      Boutique sound on a budget!

      i live like 4 miles from the Carr amp factory. but i can’t afford anything they make, not even used.

      1. Jewish Steel

        It gets crazy out there for sure. I still want a Matchless, kind of. But a good Fender sound is still hard to beat.

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