Shown to the left is my trusty ’58 Fender Champ. I bought this a few years ago, specifically for use in my studio. That’s not the original cabinet that it came in though. The original is to the right. It was a bit beat up after years of use. But amazingly enough, the chassis was in great condition, and it still sounded great. It sounds even better in the new cabinet with a 10″ Weber; good enough to even keep up with a band so long as you mic the amp. After all, I just need to hear myself, and let my sound guy work the house. 🙂
I’ve been playing this amp A LOT since I got that RocknStompn power strip that has great filters, keeping the amp dead quiet. But after playing it straight for the last few weeks, I’ve taken some notes about playing.
First of all, as I entitled this article, you can run all you like, but you can’t hide with this amp. It has such a fast attack, that any mistake you make will be picked up. On top of that, it has no tone stack, though it’s voiced in the upper mid-range by nature of its diminutive speaker, so you cut right through a mix, and even though the volume might be low, the frequency range will pretty much guarantee you’ll be heard, mistakes and all. Even with the 10″ speaker I have in the custom cab, the amp’s tone is still bright.
The other thing about this amp is that it’s VERY difficult to overdrive. Even at 5 watts, I have to use lots of input gain to get the amp to break up. That’s not a bad thing because it makes the amp perfect as a pedal platform. I use my Timmy in front of it, and even though it does add a bit of sustain, the amp’s tone is still raw.
And even with the tube rectifier, you’d think you could take advantage of the sag for a little sustain, but no dice. You stop playing, and the amp stops making sound – instantly.
But despite that in-your-face, fast attack, and zero sustain, that amp has forced me to take my time with my playing and more importantly, try to squeeze out as much tone out of every note that I play. In a very real way, the amp has helped me improve my expression. For instance, I took the amp to my weekly church gig yesterday along with my Les Paul R8. During rehearsal, we played a song I just wrote yesterday, that was a real prayerful piece. Since we had lots of other guitars yesterday, I was able to focus mainly on playing solos or little call and response runs against the lines of the verses.
What struck me was the sustain that I was getting out of my notes. Even though I had brought a reverb pedal, I wasn’t using it in the song. I relied entirely on my fingers to squeeze out as much sustain as I could. Especially in the solo break, it sounded like a Hawaiian slack key or pedal steel. My bandmates remarked on how good it sounded. I just said thanks but in the back of my mind I was thinking that the Champ really made me work harder.
Mind you, working harder is NOT a negative in any sense. I should probably rephrase and say that it inspired me to work harder because I knew that I didn’t have a leg to stand on with sustain – I had to produce it myself.
And I think that’s sort of the crux of my latest bare-bones approach to playing. It makes me work a lot harder to express myself. In the very early days of this blog, I wrote an article called “Fighting with my guitars…” where I talked about not changing my strings that often because the used strings made me work hard to squeeze out as much tone as I could. I change strings a bit more often now, but it’s not a regular thing by any means. I like the tension of fighting a bit with my gear. If it was completely effortless, I might get bored pretty fast.