Posts Tagged ‘fender champ’

ampendage3Shown to the left is my venerable 1958 Fender Champ… Well, it’s my ’58 Champ chassis in a custom 1 X 10 combo cab that my good buddy, Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps built.

Up until recently, I hadn’t really played it much. For one thing, I have a bunch of other amps. But mainly, it’s because that amp would hum after about 1/2 hour of playing. It’s okay on stage, but practically useless in my studio.

Originally, I thought it just might be the old circuitry – for goodness’ sake, it’s 55 years old – even though I had Jeff Aragaki replace the old oil-filled, paper caps with newer ones. I also thought it was a grounding issue because the amp uses a two-prong plug. But I had played another ’58 in a shop that was whisper quiet.

rocknstompnThen a couple of months ago, I got the RocknStompn power strip. I’ve been diggin’ it for how it turns my gear on in the proper order, so I never get any pops from things turning on in the wrong order. But as an added bonus, the unit includes two Ferrite cores in its circuitry to help filter out electromagnetic noise, plus the internal PCB board has a capacitor specifically designed for noise filtering. The net result is nicely filtered power going into the gear plugged into the power strip.

I loved what the power strip did to quiet down a couple of my sensitive pedals, like my ToneCandy Spring Fever Reverb unit. So I figured that if it could help quiet those pedals, it just might help with the Champ. So I switched out amps and hit the foot switch, all the while crossing my fingers, and then the Champ came to life.

From past experience, I knew it would take time for the hum to appear. But after two-and-a-half hours of playing. It never happened. The amp was dead quiet! Just to confirm that it was the power strip doing its filtering, I plugged the amp into a regular power strip, and lo and behold, the hum was there.

That was about three weeks ago. I’ve been using the Champ since then for everything from a little studio work to my regular gigs with nary a buzz or hum coming out of her. This is huge because this amp has such a bright, sweet tone, and it with no EQ controls, I get the natural character of whatever I plug into it. On top of that, it has tons of clean headroom, so when I need dirt, I just use either an overdrive or distortion box. It’s the perfect clean platform for using pedals in a lower-volume application!

That said, as I entitled this article, there ain’t nothin’ like clean power! The RocknStompn power strip has made a HUGE difference for me. When I have one less thing to worry about with respect to my gear, that’s always a good thing!

Read Full Post »

First off, Happy Mothers Day to all the mothers around the world!

A couple of years ago, I wrote a song for mothers called “Never Trade In Her Life,” attempting to capture the essence of the busy mother who’s constantly on the go, swamped by the life around her; half wishing she could be free and single, but knowing that the love of and for her family keeps her where she is. When I first laid down the song, it was purely acoustic with some drum and bass added – I think I even had some piano in it. But I updated the song today for Mothers Day, removing the piano, and adding electric guitars and backup vocals. Then I completely re-mixed the entire song to make the sound a bit fatter without losing dynamics. Here’s the final result:

And here are the lyrics:


Verse 1
She’s living in a world full of complication
Spinning in her mind like a merry-go-round
and she feels her life could use some renovation
to see the world rushing past her vision

Verse 2
She finds it hard to find some motivation
Coffee and a smoke help calm her down
She reads through all her status line to prove her isolation
But then she smiles…
It’s not so bad after all…

She just wants to have some fun
go out in the sun
shoot her worries out the barrel of a gun
See them speed away into the distance
She knows there’s a place in her heart
that needs a restart, to find a new direction
but then she sighs… she’ll never trade in her life

Verse 3
She knows that it’s a passing agrivation
Pictures of her kids bring back her smile
She looks into her world in fascination
and then she cries
with all the love in her heart

She remembers all the times
when she was young
and she was free…
But she knows the life she’s chosen for herself
was meant to be…

You might’ve noticed that after the line in the first verse, “spinning in her mind…” there was a little, distant shriek. That was little boy who was four years old at the time who was running through the house playing with his sister. Rather than remove it from the recording I decided to keep it to subliminally add to the mental and emotional chaos the subject was feeling. 🙂

For the electric guitar parts, I kept things VERY simple. There’s a basic rhythm track where I’m comping some two-string chords underneath the verses. This was done with my Perry Riggs Slash L “Katie Mae” custom guitar plugged directly into my custom Aracom VRX18 All the dirt is coming from the amp.

The lead guitar part was played with my Fender American Deluxe Strat plugged into a Circus Freaks Tattooed Lady Overdrive, then into my 1958 Fender Champ. The Tatooed Lady is providing all the grit and grime, plus lots of sustain. I decided to go this route so I could take advantage of the great tone controls of the pedal as the Champ has no tone circuit, and tons of clean headroom. Talk about fun! 🙂

Anyway, I’d like to again wish all mothers out there a wonderful and blessed Mothers Day!

Read Full Post »

I know, not a very good picture, oh well…

In any case, I recently won this amp in an eBay auction. As soon as I got it, I turned it over to Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps for him to inspect it, clean it up, and make it “safe.” The amp was in excellent working condition, considering it’s 52 years old, but to be safe, I wanted to make sure there was nothing amiss.

One of the first things Jeff looked at were the capacitors. Visual inspection didn’t reveal any leaks, but they needed to be measured to ensure that they were still able to keep a charge. Amazingly enough, they were still measuring well within operational tolerances, and none had to be replaced, which Jeff said indicated that the amp was being used. With those old paper capacitors, if they sit for a long time without use, they’ll eventually leak acid. But these were in great shape!

The next thing Jeff checked was the speaker. Interestingly enough, the speaker was a replacement, and not only that, it was a 16 ohm speaker, which actually attenuated the amp a bit, so I had Jeff replace the 8″ speaker with a new ceramic speaker.

Since the amp used a two-prong electrical plug, I asked Jeff to upgrade it to a three-prong medical-grade plug. Unfortunately, the way the amp was designed, doing that would require playing with the heater voltages, and while that wouldn’t necessarily harm the amp, it may have had an effect on the tone – not a good idea. So I just had Jeff replace the cord, which was in decent physical condition, but according to him, wasn’t carrying a full load of current to the amp.

In addition to cleaning it up and making sure it was in good working order, Jeff wired up an A/B switch box to the amp, so I could flip between using the internal speaker and an external cabinet (which is how I’ll normally play this amp). Jeff did this to avoid having to install a 1/4″ jack which would alter the amp from its original condition. Being a vintage gear collector, Jeff thinks about that stuff… This amp is going to be a player, so that wasn’t much a concern to me, but he kind of insisted, just in case I decide to sell it later.

Finally, since the amp didn’t have a back plate (which accounts for the great price I got it for), Jeff cut a nice 1/2″ ply board to protect the chassis. We’ll do a proper back plate with a tweed cover later, but I wanted to start using the amp right away, so we’ll do that as a future project.

Gig Report

With the amp complete, I played it all week to get used to how it responded. Now that I have one of these, it’s no small wonder why these have been long-time residents in studios all around the world. Hooked up to my 2 X 12, loaded with a Celestion Blue and Gold, the amp’s voicing is super rich, if a little on the bright side. But no matter. The cleans are absolutely incredible! They ring with a vintage chime that at least to me, invokes a visceral response in me that’s hard to explain. It’s a classic Fender clean, and through my 2 X 12, the cleans resonate and float through the air! As far as dirty is concerned, the Champ is no high-gain amp. Overdriven, it’s a dirty grind, perfect for blues- or classic-rock tones.

The Champ is also incredibly pedal friendly. I hooked up my super-versatile Doodad Guitars Check-A-Board RED overdrive/booster up to it, and the amp just responded! The overdrive is wonderful on this pedal, adding great sustain without overly compressing the signal, but where the pedal really worked with the Champ was with the booster. Slamming the front-end of the amp, I was rewarded with a gorgeous, smooth overdrive tone. Again, I thought to myself, this is why this little monster has been on so many songs over the years!

Yesterday, I took the amp to my church gig. Being the 4th of July, we had a skeleton crew: Just one other guitar besides myself, but no matter, I wanted to play it live. For this gig, I just used my custom Aracom 1 X 12 with a Jensen P12N, and I played my “hybrid” Fender Stratacoustic Deluxe through it. Despite the fact that I was ostensibly playing an acoustic guitar through the amp, the tone was absolutely natural. I was like, “This really shouldn’t sound that good, but I’m amazed at how it sounds!” Granted, the Stratacoustic is more like a hollow-body electric than an acoustic, but the Champ just took its natural voice and amplified it beautifully.

Once I have my studio set up again (just finished construction on the house, so I lost my recording space temporarily), I’ll make some recordings!

If you live in the Silicon Valley area and need some amp work, though Jeff sells his own line of amps, three of which I own, with a fourth on the way, Jeff is one of the best amp techs I’ve ever worked with and he’ll hook you up! He thinks of things I would’ve never thought of! Check out his site at http://www.aracom-amps.com. Needless to say, he is also the creator of the best attenuator on the market, the Aracom PRX150-Pro.

Read Full Post »

I’ve always had an appreciation for vintage gear, though the most “vintage” that I’ve ever gone is purchasing several sets of NOS tubes over the years. And quite frankly, though I’ve appreciated vintage gear in general, I’ve never been compelled to be a vintage gear collector as I’m an active musician who uses his stuff all the time.

But despite that, I have wanted to get an 50’s tweed Champ for quite awhile. I love small, low-powered amps, and the tweed Champ from the 50’s has been on my list to get for quite some time. After all, that little amp has been used in studios around the world for recording hundreds, if not thousands of Rock ‘N Roll songs.

My only problem with ever getting a tweed Champ was that I didn’t want to spend upwards of $1500 for a mint-condition unit, which is what these puppies go for. And since I’d use it as a player, I’d have to make modifications to it as soon as I got it to make it safe and usable with different cabinets; thus immediately reducing its value.

But luckily there are tweed Champs out there that aren’t in pristine shape, and they’re low enough in cost to warrant consideration. My criteria was that the amp had to work. Period. As long as it did, I wouldn’t have to do too much once I got it. So I found a ’58 Tweed Champ on eBay for a decent price that was missing the back plate, but was still in great working condition, so I purchased it, knowing I’d have to do some mods to make it safe, plus add some longevity to it.

Right now, it’s on transit here, and should arrive tomorrow – I’m so excited! But I will not plug it in until I have a few things done to it, that my good friend Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps will be doing:

  1. First of all, it still has the original two-prong plug. Jeff will install a three-prong grounded plug in it – I’m probably going to go with medical grade on this just to be extra-safe.
  2. It was clear from the pictures that a couple of the original capacitors had leaked a little, so they will be replaced with Sprague caps.
  3. The speaker is also hard-soldered to the amp output, so I’m having Jeff install a 1/4″ female jack so I can use different cabinets with the amp.
  4. Finally, Jeff will create a simple backplate to provide some protection to the electronic components.

All of these “mods” will be reversible, so at least I can retain some value in the amp should I ever sell it. However, I probably will keep this amp forever. I don’t even have it yet, and it still holds some nostalgic value for me. Can’t wait until it arrives!

Read Full Post »

Some people may scoff at the diminutive Fender Champ 600. After all, it’s only 5 Watts and has a tiny 6″ speaker. But those naysayers may be missing the point about the Champ or any super-low wattage speaker for that matter. It’s not meant to be a performance amp; though you can certainly hook it up to an extension cabinet, and it’ll do just fine in a small venue – hey! I do that A LOT. But the secret behind the beauty of this little $149 wonder isn’t on the stage, it’s in the studio.

I’ve heard feedback from various people that they get frustrated with this amp because it’s missing certain features. Let’s face it folks, with a single volume knob, no tone control, and not much gain on tap, it would be easy to dismiss this amp as nothing more than a toy. But it’s no mistake that its venerable sibling, the Champ, has been a mainstay in professional studios for decades. It’s all in how you make use of what it has to offer.

First off, let’s establish what I think is the most important thing when recording this amp: The Champ is really good at creating your base tone, and that’s all that it should be used for. It’s up to you to shape it. Keep that in mind, and you’ll get more than a lot of mileage out of it. So let’s look at some key factors when recording with the Champ:

  • The Champ is naturally bright because of its small speaker. So microphone placement is absolutely critical. If you want to get a bright, twangy sound with lots of treble content, place your mic head on in the center of the cone, or just off center to avoid getting those treble “pops.” If you want less treble response, move the mic off-center, nearer to the edge of the speaker cone. I’ve found that the richest sound comes from angling the mic at about the same angle as the speaker cone, placed right at the outer ring about an inch off the grille cloth. The EQ response is a lot flatter there, and makes it easy to dial in your EQ in your DAW.
  • Even cranked in the high input, and even with humbuckers, the most breakup you’ll get is about “dirty blues” overdrive. But that’s why we have overdrive and distortion pedals, right? I’ve found that Tube Screamer and TS-type overdrive pedals work great with the Champ, though my Holy Fire distortion can make the Champ serve up some whoop-ass if dialed in just right.
  • Looking for Fender cleans? The Champ does raw Fender cleans – and quite well. Again, it’s all about mic placement when recording cleans with the Champ. My favorite is angled as I described above.
  • Do yourself a favor and replace the stock tubes with NOS tubes. I’ve never been a big fan of Groove Tubes (though I know some people like them). But with a great NOS pre-amp tube (I’ve got a ’59 GE long plate), and a solid NOS 6V6 (mine is a ’53 GE 6V6), you’ll immediately tame the harshness of the amp. In fact, I’ve never seen a need to replace the power transformer or the speaker because of this $50 investment.

So with those points in mind, go and record. What you’ll get after you’ve played around a bit is a great, raw guitar tone. But your work isn’t done yet – or it could be if you’re satisfied with the raw tone. Personally, I like to add filters and effects in production to make the recording sound like it’s coming from a much bigger amp. Yes, boys and girls, you can make it sound MUCH bigger!

A Word on Amp Modeling

One thing that I have also done with the Champ is to record a purely clean rhythm tone, then run it through IK Multimedia’s Amplitube plug-in to essentially “re-amp” my guitar. You can get some amazing guitar tones with the Champ when it’s re-amped through this software.

My Champ 600 Recording Process

A couple of people have asked me how to record the amp, so I thought I’d share the process I employ:

  1. First, it starts with the guitar. Am I looking for a single-coil or humbucker tone. The cool thing about the Champ 600 is that what you hear when you play through it is your raw guitar tone. There’s no EQ so you have to establish that on your guitar. Simple enough.
  2. Then I’ll determine whether or not I want to track with effects. Usually, I’ll only track with overdrive or distortion. I leave all the modulation effects to production.
  3. Next, I place my mic head, dead-center on the speaker, then record a chord progression and perhaps some quick lead licks.
  4. Then I’ll move the mic off-center and repeat the same thing I played with the mic centered.
  5. Finally, I’ll angle the mic as described above and repeat the same progression. More likely than not, I’ll use this position because I like it the best, but different guitars actually sound better with the mic positioned dead-center.
  6. Once I decide what mic position I’ll use, then I’ll record the track.
  7. Once I’m finished, it’s time to apply EQ, filters and modulation effects. I like to use a hi-pass filter on most recordings with Champ to “tame” its natural edginess.

Here are some clips that I put together based upon the process above (I skipped recording head-on, off center):

Clean (Squier Classic Vibe Tele 50’s)

1. Mic head-on, dead-center

2. Mic angled along speaker cone, 1″ off the grille cloth.

Recording #2 with Graphic EQ, Chorus, Parametric EQ, Delay, Reverb, and Hi-pass filter applied

Overdriven with Tube Screamer for Extra Drive (Gibson Nighthawk 2009)

1. Mic head-on, dead-center

2. Mic angled along speaker cone, 1″ off the grille cloth.

Recording #2 with Graphic EQ, Flange, Delay, Reverb, and Hi-pass filter applied

It’s amazing what EQ, filters and effects can do to the recording! And it really didn’t take that much work to dial in the final version of what I wanted to ultimately print!

Finally, here’s a song I wrote and record awhile back (sorry for the over-abundance of bass). If I remember correctly, I used four guitars in six parts in that song (Epiphone Explorer, Gibson ES-335, MIM Strat, PRS SE Soapbar II), all recorded with the Champ – and with the stock speaker no less!

Rock on!!!

Read Full Post »

Fender Champion 600 Re-issueAs much as I have been ranting about Fender gear pricing as of late, and their latest “supposed” price drop (who knows for how long), my Champ 600 has been a tried and true companion in my studio ever since I got it. I’ve even used it at small venue gigs hooked to a 1 X12 cab, and it has performed wonderfully! This is a great amp!

Anyway, As I was doing a bit of research on the Fender price drop, I happened to go to GuitarCenter.com and couldn’t believe the pricing of the Champ 600 there! At $149, this is even cheaper than what I got it for two years ago!

Folks, this is phenomenal! While diminutive in size, this amp packs tone! You want classic Fender tone at a lower volume for home recording or just futzing around, this is the amp to get! And because it’s a low wattage amp, you can push it and not worry that your eardrums will start to bleed.

For my own purposes, this has been one of most pedal-friendly amps I’ve ever owned, so I retubed it with a NOS JAN-Philips 12AT7 and a JJ 6V6 to get maximum clean headroom out of the amp. Now, I have to open up the amp full to get even mild breakup. But that’s why I have my OD pedals. My thought behind this is that I want to get as pure character out of my OD’s as possible, so playing through a really clean amp will accomplish that.

So what’s the point of all this? As I mentioned above, this is a GREAT amp, and at $149, it’s a steal. Go get one at GC today!

Here’s a sample I recorded with the amp hooked up to my 1 X 12 extension cab:

Disclaimer: I’m not in any affiliate program with GC, so I get nothing out of announcing this. 🙂

Read Full Post »

Fender Champion 600 Re-issueI forgot how much fun this little 5 watter is to play! I just put in new tubes to make it have more headroom, as this is an incredibly pedal-friendly amp. The tubes I got were as follows: NOS JAN-Philips 12AT7 and a JJ 6V6. The idea behind this is that the 12AT7 has about half the gain of a regular 12AX7, so it won’t push the power tube as hard as a 12AX7. The JJ 6V6 has tons of gain, and is much harder to break up; thus, I hoped to attain more clean headroom with this combination.

While I like the breakup of the Champ 600, it’s a little weak, but the clean tone is spectacular with this amp. And hooking it up to a 1 X 12 extension cab really expands the depth of the tone it produces. Combine that with a couple of pedals, and the result is like candy to the ears.

Some people might frown upon this diminutive amp, but I used it throughout my first album, and for good reason: It’s so damn versatile! I can play pretty much any style with this amp, and miked properly, can make it sound much bigger than it actually is. And at $200 bucks (that’s what I paid for it), it was a total steal!

Here’s a simple clip I recorded using one of GarageBand’s “Magic Garage Band” backing tracks. It’s a slow blues in E. The first part of the song is played with the neck pickup of my Prestige Heritage Elite, into my Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2, into my Hardwire RV-7 Reverb, then into the Champ and out my custom Aracom 1 X 12 extension cab with a Jensen P12N (damn! that totally sounds like name dropping! Yikes!). In second half of the song, I switch to my bridge pickup and stack my Tube Screamer on top of the Abunai 2. Oh my freakin’ gawd! This was fun. In any case, here’s the clip:

Sorry for the mistakes. I actually didn’t care because I was having so much fun! And by the way, I played the lead parts with my brand-spankin’-new V-Picks Psycho pick, a 1 3/4″ wide, 5.85 mm thick monster of a pick. I’m in tone heaven right now! You just gotta check this pick out!

And I almost forgot! I just can’t believe who incredibly awesome these Wyres strings sound and play. They’re so pliable, so resonant, and they sustain so well that they send my inspiration through the roof! Like the Psycho pick, I just can’t enough of these absolutely wonderful strings!

Read Full Post »

Fender Champion 600 Re-issue
There are lots of mods out there that are aimed at improving the performance of a Fender Champ 600. And if you’re a proud owner of one as I am, you’ll know some of those mods such as this one that replaces the output transformer with a much better one from Mercury Magnetics. From what I’ve heard, this is one very nice mod and creates a much better output. There are also various transistor and resistor mods available as well. But for one such as myself that is scared to death of working with electrical components, there are a couple of easy and safe ways to drastically improve your Champ’s tone – all without doing modifications on any electrical component.

  • First, replace the stock 12AX7 with a different tube. For me, I love the NOS JAN-Philips 12AX7. But if I want a bit earlier breakup, a JAN-Philips 5751 works awesome as well.
  • Run the amp into a larger cabinet. The stock speaker is diminutive, and keeps the amp from being used in any live situation – even with a small band. There’s just not enough volume. But plug into a 1 X 12, and now you’ve got some volume! Throw in a couple of pedals, and you’ve got yourself a killer little setup.

See? No smell, no mess, though I do have to say that replacing the stock pre-amp tube is a bit of a pain as the tube has a protector around it, and it’s not all that easy to remove. But once you’ve got the protector off, it’s a simple matter of plucking the old tube and putting in the new one.

Read Full Post »