I really like the little 5 Watt Champion 600. It’s best attribute is being able to turn it up to 12 for nice sustain and distortion without alarming the neighbors. It’s also very amenable to modification, and there are dozens of sites out there which detail potential modification; everything from more clean headroom to massive gritty distortion.
I have 4 of them at the moment, for some reason, all in different states of modification. In the photo, from right to left:
1. Bone stock
2. Better tubes and a Jensen Mod 6″ speaker.
3. Gain stage and tone stack mods, no feedback loop, 1959 Jensen AlNiCo 5 8″ speaker, I replaced the fuzzy grill cloth with Fender Oxblood grill cloth – it is more transparent and looks better, in my opinion.
4. Original circuit board replaced with the 1958 Fender 5F1 circuit; New transformer, needed for rectifier output, 5Y3GT rectifier, New Jensen AlNiCo 5 6″ speaker ( this is a new speaker offering from Jensen, and it’s quite good). Changed the grill cloth.
Notes on the modifications:
1. The stock unit sounds pretty good out of the box. You can buy used stock Champion 600s on e-Bay for about $100 or less. You will be hard-pressed to find a better tube amp value for this kind of money. Yes, it’s a little clanky and muddy, but overall a nice tone, especially when cranked.
2. The Jensen Mod speaker cleans up the amp a bit, and better quality tubes than the stock Chinese tubes is a good idea. The gain is reduced a bit, probably by the inefficiency of the speaker, and the amp seems to have more clean headroom. Smoother distortion at volume.
3. The biggest contributor to the tone here is the 8″ Jensen AlNiCo 5 speaker. Combined with the gain improvements to the circuit, and changing tone capacitors so the amp doesn’t try to reproduce low frequencies that are under its range, the amp is louder, with more presence, smoother distortion, and less muddy.
4. The Fender 5F1 circuit is well established as one of the best designs from the early Fender days. With some effort, the 5F1 bits can be stuffed into the (empty) chassis. It requires a new power transformer for the rectifier, and of course a new hole and socket in the chassis for the rectifier.
The bottom line is that the 5F1 it is not a particularly difficult modification for an experienced builder, but be prepared to spend several times what you paid for the amp for all the new components. The Jensen 6″ AlNiCo is expensive (about $70) and a very good speaker: it is hard to distinguish it from the vintage 8″ Jensen in amp #3. The tone is superb.
The tweed Champ is arguably the quintessential studio amp; It has been used in the studio for many years by guitarists like Joe Walsh, Joe Perry, Billy Gibbons, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, etc., etc., etc.
This is the amp that Clapton used to record the studio version of Layla. It is “The Tone”. (By the way, Duane Allman used the same amp for his slide parts on Layla.)
Early Fender Champion Amps, Information
1948: The first little amp was the Champion 800, which had an 8″ speaker pushing 3 Watts.
1949: The Champion 600, a 6″ speaker, and the circuit was designated 5B1.
1953: I was one year old, and Fender introduced the tweed “wide-panel” amp. circuit 5C1. Tubes were a 6SJ7, 6V6, and a 5Y3.
1955: The “narrow-panel” tweed amp. Circuit 5E1, and the amp name was officially the “Champ”. It had a 12AX7 as the pre-amp, and two stages of gain increased power to 5 Watts.
1958: The 5F1 circuit. same as 5E1, except the circuit lost the choke of the 5E1, and went to an 8″ speaker.
1964: The end of the 5F1 tweed Champs.
If you are a guitar player and you don’t have one of these amps, you need to get one. Right now. Hurry up. I’m timing you!