Photo by Ariel M. Goldenthal

Classic vintage amps typically come with hefty price tags. But if you know what to look for, you might find a bargain hiding in plain sight.

This is a tale, not of two cities, but of two companies and of two amplifiers that, if it weren’t for their logos, might have been twins. Just about everybody who’s ever picked up a Strat or Tele is familiar with the tweed Fender Champ—the little practice amp that could, the one famous for being the amp that Clapton used to record “Layla.”

The tweed Champ is great for practicing at home, for recording in the studio, or for gigging when played through one of the high-quality PAs found in so many clubs, and it has that vintage-tweed cool factor. For the working musician, however, one problem presents itself. These amps are collectible, and collectability means higher prices. I had been coveting one of these little amps, but the $1,200 price tag was a bit daunting. When I was in Danny’s Guitar Shop in Narberth, Pennsylvania, and spotted a road-worn Gibson amp that looked a lot like a tweed Champ but was tagged with a more manageable price, I couldn’t resist. It turned out to be so great that I became curious: Why aren’t these amps better known? And why aren’t more people buying and using them?

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