Following recent efforts by makers such as Carr, Bümbox and Emery to make household friendly, low-wattage tube amps, Fender announced the Champion 600 earlier this year at NAMM. Where Fender bucks current trends is by offering the Champion 600 at a very reasonable price, accomplished by using modern construction methods and having the amp manufactured in China. We recently had the opportunity to get our hands on one, and while it won’t be a threat to any of the high-end, low-wattage offerings currently available, we enjoyed exploring Fender’s modern take on the brown and blond icon.
This adorable two-tone, five-watt beastie is not technically a reissue. Fender instead prefers to call this a “tribute” to the Champion 600 of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, due to several key differences between the two. The originals shipped with a 6SJ7 preamp tube, which has been replaced with a 12AX7 on the current offering, due to the 6SJ7s having been out of production for quite some time. Using a 12AX7 in the preamp section also allowed the amp gurus at Fender to design the preamp section closer to the 5F1 Champ, which allows for more gain than the original Champion 600. Also, the current Champion 600 is made in China, using modern construction methods. Building a point-to-point, hand-wired replica in the U.S. would likely result in multiplying the price by at least three.
The Champion 600 is by no means a high gain monster, but it does break up nicely from about 9 on up to 12 on the volume knob when using single coils. Of course, higher output pickups ran out of headroom sooner, but the Champion 600 remained cleaner longer than expected. With five watts pushing a 6” speaker, most guitarists will leave the amp’s volume all the way up, allowing the guitar to dictate when to go from clean to dirty. Different pickups will result in different amounts of breakup, but with both a Nocaster and a P-90 equipped Hamer Korina Special, the Champ never ventured beyond a nice medium Stones-y grind, which is just fine by me. If more gain is needed, stick a decent overdrive in front of it.
Clean or dirty, the Champ sounds phenomenal without any caveats regarding price or size. I honestly wasn’t expecting too much from this amp when I first plugged in, due in part to its size, as well as its price, but the clean tones it produced won me over straight away. It was nice and detailed, with a three dimensional quality not generally found in amps at this price range unless one is extremely lucky at garage sales. When the Champ starts to break up, it does so very gradually, in an organic, tweed-like way. Throttling can be accomplished with an adroit right hand, going from clean to overdriven without touching anything other than the strings. Sure, it is a subtle effect, but this amp’s responsiveness is exceptionally impressive.
The Champion 600 excels in low volume situations where tube warmth is needed. I found myself playing through it downstairs early one morning while the rest of my family snoozed away happily upstairs. The ability to get a little grind, as well as clean tube compression at an apartmentliving- approved volume is the Champion 600’s greatest strength. The fact that it can accomplish this while looking so good and without breaking the bank is all gravy.
FENDER MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS CO.
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