Is it a Reissue? Is it a New Fender?
Fender Champion 600 Amplifier.
The above questions were on my mind when I first heard about the Fender Champion 600 Amp. On the Fender website it’s listed as being part of the “Vintage Modified” series, so already, there’s a hint that this is not a reissue.
It is also made in China, which is a problem for some people, but in any event, whatever your politics about the global, economic market place, it is a decent amp. I believe Fender made a significant breakthrough by introducing this product. For the first time in my life I simply went and ordered it online without really thinking about it. Kind of an impulse purchase, just like the little extras and the candy by the checkout in the supermarket. My view was if I didn’t like it then I hadn’t really lost anything. I imagine they have sold a large number of them on that impulse-buy basis. It’s not really a long, thought-out buying decision when getting a tube amp for $200 – It cost me £115 on Ebay UK. I mean, how bad can a Fender tube amp really be? It turned out to be a good purchase, but initially I wasn’t sure, until I modded it and then it really came to life.
The other advantage to it being such a cheap amp is that I had no worries about hacking away at the inside of it and treating as a testing ground. It just might be possible to turn this thing into an amp that sounds much more expensive. Those were my thoughts. So I set myself one strict rule: To spend as little money as possible modifying it.
So to make it clear. It isn’t a reissue, but the cosmetically it is pretty faithful to the late 40’s Champion 600 in two-tone burgundy/brown & cream and format wise it is the same too: 6 inch speaker and 5 watts output. Actually it’s slightly higher wattage than an original 600 because it has a solid state rectifier. The original one used half of the 6V6 output tube as the rectifier (as far as my terrible knowledge of tube electronics recalls).
Tone stack wise it is a different amp to the original too and after a bit of reading up on it and using my ears (very important) it seems to have a similar type of preamp circuit to a blackface champ, but with fixed tone controls, which initially I was a bit disappointed about.
A few years ago I had a 1955 Champ (5D1 circuit) and that was basically the same amp as a Champion 600, except covered in tweed with a “Wide Panel” style front. The control panel was the same except it read “Champ” instead of “Champion 600”. That was a beautiful amp, even the little 6″ speaker sounded nice. Of course it sounded small, but it sounded nice!
Back to the modifications I made to this amp. I discovered on Ebay in the UK that a guy was selling modification kits for the Champion 600, which corrected the voltage supply to the amp (Fender make the UK version 230v, when the UK has a 240v power supply), reduced the amount of hum coming from the amp dramatically and also, if you wish to go further there is a mod to alter the tone stack to be closer to a 5E1 or 5F1 tweed champ.
I opted to go for all the mods and purchased the kit to install myself. It was fun and it works a treat!
I have written in some more detail about the really cool Champion 600 modifications that I made to my amp.
One big issue for me with this amplifier is the standard speaker. I think it is absolutely terrible. It sounds ok up to about 4 on the volume dial, but above that I just can’t bear to hear it. I didn’t bother to upgrade the speaker with a higher quality replacement because of the other issue I have with this amp:
I have tried to mic it up for recording and as soon as I get my SM57 mic
up close in front of it, the hum coming from the amp is enough to render it useless for recording, even after the hum-reducing modification. I assumed that a new speaker would not fix this issue as it may be more to do with the proximity of the output transformer to the speaker. It is therefore not of the same quality as an original champ, but at the price it is still amazing.
Using an external speaker cab for this amp will give you great results though. With the mods, the Tonetubby and the NOS Brimar tubes (I replaced both the tubes in this amp) it is now a terrific recording amp. Despite the low output of this amp, it is still necessary for me to use a THD Hotplate power attenuator to keep the level down when I crank the volume knob, so as not to disturb the family, but I can get loads of great tones out of this amp now. It can even sound like a little plexi with a tube screamer in front of it!
All the mods, except the external speaker cost me about £40 or £50 ($70), which still makes it a very cost effective recording solution without using any digital amp modeling for you purists out there.