Everybody needs a Champ: Less is More

I admit, I bought this little guy on impulse because it caught my eye.    Being rough blond tolex with an oxblood grill, it’s a color combination that Fender never used on a champ of any sort, but still has a strong Fender vibe: the Champ that never was.   I am a sucker for Fender Clones in the wrong color (My 5E3 clones are silver and black), I was drawn to this little bugger.   It was built by a guy who goes by the handle of Muchxs, and you can find him hanging out of the TDPRI page in “Amp Central Station”.

The cabinet work is flawless and a peek inside it shows the same careful level of construction:

It has a phenomenal level of workmanship.   It has a multi-tap transformer so you can run  8 or 4 ohm speakers from it and it currently has a 4 ohm Weber ceramic speaker that I’m very happy with.   It’s basically a 5F1 tweed champ circuit, but I will say I think he’s done something to reduce noise levels. It’s dead quiet at the levels I use it at.

The first words that usually comes to mind with Champs are “Little Screamer“, an amp that you can crank without disturbing the family.  You crank this thing in your house and the only way you won’t be bothering your family or nearby neighbors is if they are all either guitar players, deaf, or both.     Six Watts is still pretty darn loud.   If I’m in the mood for distortion, I do have a Weber attenuator that can cut it down to about two watts without making it sound muffled.  Even that will be still louder than you think.  But there’s a lot more to a Champ than simulating “Summertime Blues” by Blue Cheer at bedroom volumes.  You can get that with an overdrive pedal with almost any amp.

Where the Champ excels is in that grey area between clean and dirty that I call the expression zone.  You can conjure up a whole spectrum of tonal change and expressiveness  just by varying your picking attack.  That whole “touch sensitive” thing.  With Fender style single coils, I like to turn the amp up to the point (usually over 3 or 4) where it just starts to add a little shimmer to chords.  This adds a little bite to notes that you really dig into.  If you’re on the bridge pickup, this gives you a great old school country tone, and faux-pedal steel bends sound fairly authentic.  The neck pickup is great for Cornell Dupree, Curtis Mayfield/Jimi Hendrix rhythm/lead style licks.   The 2 and 4 positions on a Strat also sound great and  can produce a an amazing variety of tones.  The Sutans of Swing are in there.  Turning the amp up to around 5 gives you just a little sustain and a little more hair.   Think of Eric Clapton’s tone on the outro solo of “Let it Rain” and you’re on the right track.  You can get it to sing, but you’re going to work for it. Further twisting of the Volume pot adds more compression and distortion, but not much more volume, and with humbuckers you can get nearly infinite sustain, but you do lose a little definition.

With humbuckers you’ll probably want to back off a bit on the guitar’s volume controls as you can very easily drive the 12AX-7 pre-amp tube into distortion, which can be a little buzzy.    I find the best tone is found with the amp set to around five and the guitar’s volume turned up around halfway, so you’re getting a tiny hint of pre-amp grind with some power stage grit on top of that.  Depending on how much hair you’ve added, this works for 50’s jazz tones,  blues, and a very authentic 50’s rock tone.  With my hollow body, I can nail Chuck’s tone on “Maybelline” in a very satisfying manner.

I use this amp like a lot of people use an acoustic guitar, it’s what I plug into when I want to play for my own entertainment.   (Playing my Martin acoustic, however, leaves me with aching and arthritic fingers.)    It’s a little like a microscope as it’s it very revealing of what you’re actually playing, and it’s a little more work to play.  If I’m trying to really polish a part and play it really cleanly, this is the perfect amp.

I think a big part of it’s mojo is that the circuitry is about the least amount you can have between your fingers and the speaker, there’s a directness to the feel of it, an intimacy, if you will.   Most larger, more powerful tube amps don’t really start to sound good (to me) until you get them turned up to where they’re uncomfortably loud to play around the house. With this little guy, the tubes are awake right when you turn it on at any volume.  They add a tube sound at ANY volume.

Before I had the Champ, my  plug-and-go amp for home use was a little Roland Cube.   That amp was voiced for low volume playing and also had some on-board effects.  With the Champ, I rarely plug a pedal or anything into it, and I find I don’t really miss it.

The other thing is that I can hear the differences of one guitar from the next, a lot more clearly with the Champ.  I have two SX “strats” that are set up with twin humbuckers, one with Smits pickups and the other with Dimarzios.  Through most amps they’re pretty close, but through the champ the differences are, while not huge, very audible, with the Smit’s pickups almost sounding like single coils by comparison.  So, if you’ve got a guitar “collection” of any size, you owe it to yourself to get a Champ of some sort.

Author: fauxsuper

Guitarist since 1964, motorized vehicle enthusist all my life, Married with two step children. Born and rasied in Lebanon, Ore.

6 thoughts on “Everybody needs a Champ: Less is More”

  1. Agree that everyone needs one of these little guys in some form. My choice was the tweed Princeton (5F2) clone from ValveTrain called Concord. Is has a SS rectifier, so not all tube, but is the all-Fender 6V6 circuit with a tone knob. Miles away, to my ears, from the current Pro Junior. BTW, that cab looks like a high-quality
    ProJr aftermarket box. Do you get any comments on the cab? Looks great to me.

    1. The cab has become sort of a trademark for MuchSX. I feels like it was carved out of a single piece of wood. Looking inside it it looks like it’s heirloom quality furniture. One review of his work on the TDPRI says the workmanship is superior to the current Fender product. I don’t know about that, but you can crank this little guy and not hear one rattle or funny sound.

      I often used to plug it into the 15″ Weber Blue Dog that I used to have in a separate cab, and that was such a warm combo that it brought out the jazzier (such as it is) sidfe of my playing. I’ve often toyed with the idea of a bigger speaker for it, but think I’ll keep it the way it so, so i have a good grab-n-go type rig. The 8″ that’s in there sounds just fine for in my garage. I also think the smaller speakers more rapid response and less low frequency output are part of the “microscpoe effect” where you really hear the every little thing that you’re playing.

      I use the amp as a set up tool as well, as a final test after the strobe tuner. Getting the guitar to play in accptable tune all over the neck is as much an art of listening as anything, as something just isn’t going to be in perfect tune. I’m willing to have the open low “E” a few cents flat, since I rarely play it, if that makes barre chords, (which I play a lot) sound more in tune higher up the neck. (if you have to make it flat by a lot, the nut slot on that string is probably too high and you’re stretching it to much to fret it) With the Champ I can hear beat frequencies that are often obscured with other amps. My Petersen tuner has a “sweetened” tuning in it that I can simulate by ear with the Champ by tuning the guitar by ear to a “C” barre chord.

  2. I had Eric (Muchxs) build me one and I absolutely love it! Hiis craftsmanship is impeccable and he put NOS US made tubes and an 8″ speaker taken out of an old Wurlitzer (I think) organ that he matched to go with the amp’s own individual character. I believe the only one who knows as much about old Fender amps would have been Leo. Maybe.

  3. He obviously has a great pair of ears as well. As you said, it’s hard to fault his workmanship, but none of that would matter if what he builds didn’t sound good.

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