Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Fender Champ

One of my favorite amplifiers is the Fender Champ. These little guys have been around since 1949 and still remain in Fenders line-up.

Though they were meant to be student amplifiers for home use, players have found out, they make excellent recording amps and even sound great when miked. Cranked up and miked, these amps sound like a 50-watt Marshall.

The Champ is Fenders only Class A amplifier. Most Fender amplifiers come with two to four power tubes and operate in Class AB mode. This means the amp comes with a phase inverter tube (usually a 12AX7) that oscillates the power between the two power tubes, or two pairs of power tubes in high watt amps. This lessens the load on the power tubes and makes the amp run more efficiently.

The Champ has but one 6V6 power tube and therefore a phase inverter tube is unnecessary. The Champs power tube runs hot at 100% when the amp is running. Some players that believe this gives a punchier sound. Tom Jennings and Dick Denney, the creator of Vox amps, utilize Class A in most of the British made Vox AC line.

The oldest Fender Champ design was the Fender Champion 600. It had it’s beginnings in 1949 and was in the line for four years. Most of us are familiar with it due to the Chinese reissue. The 600, model 5B1 was a very minimalistic amplifier. It came with only one control, a volume control that went from 1 to 12 and served as an on/off switch, mounted on the amps rear along with the fuse and pilot light, along with two inputs. The knob on this potentiometer was known as the chicken-head variety.

The tube configuration featured a 5Y3 rectifier, a metal envelope 6V6 power tube, and a metal envelope 6SJ7 pre-amp tube. The electronics produced four watts of sound into a Jensen 6” Special Design speaker.

The cabinet came with a large leather luggage strap. The chassis was angled in the back and covered with a brown metal plate, that had white silk screened lettering.




It is interesting to note on the new version of the Champion 600, the rectifier is solid state, the power tube is a 6V6 and the preamp is a 12AX7. The tubes are glued to their bases to prevent rattling.

The original Champion 600 sold for $49.95 (today’s Chinese model goes for $149.95). In 1949 dollars, 50 USD was expensive.

The Champions cabinet underwent a design change in 1953 to go along with the larger amps in the Fender line-up. The cabinet now was the so-called wide panel tweed model or model 5C1. This may be the most collectible amp in the Champ line.

Except for the slightly larger cabinet, the speaker grill material, and the size of the grill, not much inside the amplifier was different. The same tube configuration existed, however they were glass tubes instead of metal envelope tubes, The speaker was still 6” and made by Jensen.

Up through 1955 the amp was labeled as the Champion 600. In 1955, the name underwent and update to The Champ Amp and the model became the 5D1.

In 1956, Fender changed the look of its amplifier line. They adopted the narrow panel tweed look. This held true for the Champ line. Fender designated this model as the 5E1 until 1956 when it listed as the 5F1 model. This style held its own up through 1964.

This amp underwent some changes from the prior models. The most striking was the control panel now mounted on top of the amp was chrome plated instead of painted brown.

The lettering was black. The controls were similar to the other models; just a single volume/on-off knob, a pilot light, a 2-amp fuse and two inputs. Depending on the model year, the carrying strap underwent some changes. Originally, it was the leather luggage style strap, this became a leather fold-down strap and finally in 1964 it was made of black plastic that folded down, typical of today’s Fender amps.

The speaker started as a 6” Jensen, but as the years went by, it became an 8” Jensen.

The tweed material covering the amp lasted through 1964 when it changed to the familiar black tolex. 1964 brought about a change in the grill covering. From 1955 until 1963, the covering was dark brown material. Fender changed this to white/silver/black woven material in 1964.

The tubes underwent an update. The rectifier remained the 5Y3. A 6V6GT became the power tube and a 12AX7 filled in as a preamp tube. This added an additional watt to the power rating, bumping it up to 5 watts.

By 1964, Fender amplifiers underwent a total redesign to what is known as Blackface models. The control panel and inputs moved to the front of the amplifier to allow easy access for the player.


The chassis was angled in the control section and a black plate with white screened lettering covered the control section. The cabinet was slightly larger and covered in black Tolex.



It housed an 8” Oxford 3.5-ohm speaker. The grill covering remained white/silver/black sparkle material and topped with a large silver metalic badge that announced this was a Fender amp, with Fender in slanted script. Instead of one potentiometer, there were now three, volume, treble, and bass. Two input jacks graced the front, as did a slider switch for off and on and a red pilot lamp.

The controls were numbered 1 – 10 (instead of 1 – 12). The tube configuration included a 5Y3 rectifier, a 6V6GT power tube, and a 12AX7 preamp tube that pumped out 6 watts. The fuse was underneath the chassis. The speaker cable hooked into a jack on the chassis’ underside.

Black skirted knobs that had a chrome center replaced the chicken-head knobs. The strap was made of plastic. This style was manufactured from 1964 through 1967.



The Fender Vibro Champ had all the same features as the Champ Amp, with the addition of a second 12AX7 tube for the vibrato. Two additional knobs labeled Speed and Intensity graced the control panel.

By 1968, CBS was running the factory and the amplifiers were revamped with a new look. The black front plate was replaced with a silver front plate. Hence the name Silverface models.

The lettering was in a blue Arial font block letters, instead of the classic script. The badge on the grills front remained in large silver lettering.

The style of the badge changed as the years went by, from having a “tail” off the final letter “R” that underlined Fender, to not having a tail. The grill changed slightly as well. On early models, the grill covered the speaker baffle. In later years, Fender used a detachable frame covered with grill cloth, which attached to the baffle by means of Velcro.

This was designated model AA764. The tube configuration changed slightly. The 5Y3 rectifier and the 6V6GT power tube remained, but a 7025 now was the preamp tube. The cabinet covering once again was black Tolex. This model was in production for the longest period of any of the Champ line. It was available from 1968 to 1982.

The Fender Vibro Champ was also changed during these years to a silver-face model with the same features as the Black-face amplifier. The Silver-face Vibro Champ utilized the same 12AX7 as the Black-face model.

In 1982 the Fender Champ underwent a radical change. Fender acknowledged the work Randall Smith had done in modifying Fender Princetons and Champs with larger transformers, speakers and added power. Paul Rivera was now on the Fender designed team. For two years, 1982 and 83, the Fender Champ II became part of the line-up.

This little beast produced a respectable 18 watts. The control panel, once again, was black with white lettering. Instead of three knobs, a fourth was added for master volume. The Treble knob also pulled out to allow for a mid-range boost. The knob design remained the skirted version with chrome centers. The amp included a hum control on the rear of the chassis.

The Fender Blue-Frame speaker enlarged to 10 inches. It was boosted to 8 ohms, instead of the previous 3.5 ohms. The amplifier utilized a solid-state rectifier (as did most Fenders) and a pair of 6V6GT power tubes and a pair of 7025 preamp tubes. The amp was now Class AB.

During this same era, another Rivera creation was the Fender Super Champ. This amp lasted from 1982 through 1985. It was somewhat similar the Fender Champ II with the addition of reverb.



Like on other Fender reverb amps, the rear of the chassis had two jacks labeled reverb out, reverb in for the chords coming from the Hammond reverb unit on the cabinets’ floor.

The controls had changed. They were labeled, Volume (pull for lead), Treble (pull for mid), Bass, Reverb, Lead Level, and Master. The amp had only one input, but came with a separate headphone output. The pilot light was red. Like the Champ II, the amp came with a 10” Blue Frame Fender speaker, although Fender utilized Eminence and EV as well. The grill covering was the white/silver/black sparkle material on this amp and the Champ II model. The covering material once again, was black Tolex.

In 1983, Fender issued a limited Pro model of this amplifier, known as the Fender Super Champ Deluxe. Only 100 of these amps were manufactured. The cabinets were not covered in Tolex, but made of polished oak. The chassis panel on this model was brown, instead of black. This is a highly desirable collector’s amplifier, due to its limited run.

It was not until 1987 that Fender changed the Champ design. This now was the Fender Champ 12. This amp produced 10 watts into a 12” Fender Blue Label speaker. The tube configuration, included  one 6L6 power tubes and twin 7025 preamp tubes.



According to one alert reader, the tube diagram within the amp stated 12AX7 preamp tubes. Either tube would work. The rectifier was solid state. Because there was only one power tube, this amp runs in class A mode.


The cabinet was available with quite a few different coverings. These were Black, Red, White, Grey, or Tweed Tolex. Fender even offered snakeskin Tolex. The front panel was a black covering with white letters that housed twin input jacks and red knobs. The controls were Treble (pull for mid boost), Bass, Volume, Gain and Volume (labeled overdrive and Reverb. There were two input jacks for Tape in and a one volt line out jack. Additionally the amp had a stereo headphone jack.

The grill cloth material for this model came in a grey cloth. The amps production lasted through 1992.

The Fender Champ SE was manufactured from 1992 through 1994. This was the loudest of all the Champ Amps producing 25 watts of power into a 12” – 8-ohm Fender speaker.




The rectifier was solid state. The preamp section was also solid state. The amp utilized twin 6L6GC power tubes and one 12AX7 that acted as a phase inverter. This was similar to the Music Man amps that Leo Fender made after leaving Fender. The cabinet changed to a box design without a slanted control panel.

The amp controls were divided into two sections, one for clean tones and one for overdrive. These knobs were Volume, Treble, Bass, Mid and a push-push switch for Mid boost. The overdrive section knobs were Drive, Volume, Gain, Treble, Bass, and Contour. Another section was labeled Master Volume and Reverb. The amp had two input jacks on its right side and Effect Out, Effect In and Line Out on the left side. The amp included an on/off power switch as well as a standby switch.

I’ve already mentioned the modern Chinese made reproduction of the Fender Champion 600. The electronics in this amp are updated versions the original. The rectifier on this model is solid state. This uses a 6V6 power tube and a 12AX7 for its preamp tube. The gain is set higher than on the original Champion 600.  Players seem to love this amplifier. The simplicity allows for a variety of sounds. The speaker is a 6" model, like on the original.

Fender also presented the Vibro Champ XD and the Super Champ XD.

The Vibro Champ XD utilizes a single 6V6GT tube for its power section and a single 12AX7 preamp tube. The speaker is 4 ohms, which is quite similar to the original. It produces 5 watts of power.

The amp is a Class A hybrid, meaning that it is both a tube amp and a solid-state amp. The amp comes with a voice control that yields a multitude of differing and useful amplifier models. The clean section is the tube amp. The overdriven and distorted tones come from the solid-state portion of the amp. The amp also features a unique effects section. It is an interesting concept.


The Super Champ XD is somewhat similar to the smaller Vibro Champ model, however this amplifier is a Class AB hybrid.

The amp utilizes twin 6V6GT power tubes, a solid-state rectifier, and one 12AX7 that does double duty. This tube is a dual triode tube. One half of the tube is used as a phase inverter for the power tubes and the other half is used as a preamp tube. Both channels of the amplifier pass through the preamp tube section.

The amp has two distinct channels. The clean section is 100% a tube amp and has only a Volume control. Pushing a channel switching control button on the front activates the Gain section, which includes controls for Gain, Volume 2 and Voice. This section is solid-state.

The voice control offers the same 16 different amp selections as the Vibro-champ. The Treble, Bass, FX Level and FX control works on both channels. This is an interesting and well thought out amplifier.



Last year Fender introduced the Super Champ X2 It is available has a combo or as a head and separate speaker cabinet.

The amp is similar to the Super Champ XD, but it works with Fender's FUSE downloadable voicing.



Despite the size any of the Champs are great amps for recording or when miked, great for gigs.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fender Esquire

I caught the guitar bug when I was 13 years old. These were the years of the British Invasion. I owned an old Stratocaster (which I wish I still had), so I was very keen on Fender instruments.

At the time practically all Fender guitars came with a bridge cover. Many players thought this was a cool feature and kept it on the instrument. The bridge cover in fact served a purpose. It helped in shielding the pickup from electrical interference, as well as providing a palm rest for the player.

In my naivete, I thought the Telecaster only had one pickup, since the metal bridge cover was in place. I was totally amazed when I saw the album cover of a long forgotten British group, in which the guitarist was holding a Telecaster-shaped instrument with no visible pickups!


It was not long after this one of my friends purchased a Telecaster and I discovered the hidden neck pickup. Shortly after that I received a 1965 Fender catalogue with pictures of the Fender Esquire.

The Esquire has the distinction of being the first guitar sold by Fender. It was introduced in 1950.

Remember, at the time, Fender’s market was steel guitars. So the Esquire utilized a similar set up to that of a steel instrument, which had only one pickup placed near the bridge and a tone and volume control.


Leo Fender transposed this to the electric Spanish guitar (which differentiated it from a guitar played with a steel bar.)

We have all seen pictures of Leo’s prototype guitar, which he created in 1949. The bodies shape was similar to the slab style of the Esquire/Telecaster, with its single cutaway, which allowed the player access to the upper frets.

The neck was dissimilar in that it had a 3 on a side headstock. Like the models to come, it was attached to the body by four wood screws.

The maple neck on the prototype and on 1950 Esquires did not have a truss rod. Nor did it have a fretboard. The frets were attached directly to the top side of the maple neck. The neck was wider on the prototype than on the production model. The bridge had the same 3 saddles that are still featured on vintage models.

The single pickup was slanted to enhance the bass and treble strings. The pickup was not covered and featured six pole pieces. The prototype lacked a selector switch and the wiring pattern of the Esquire. It was mounted at an angle. The pick guard only covered the bottom portion of the guitars. The prototypes body was made of pine.

Leo Fender redesigned the guitar to include the trademark six-on-a-side headstock. He reshaped the neck so it was narrower at the nut. He also ran the strings through the body to rivets on the back that served as string stops. This gave the guitar more resonance.

Country bands usually consisted of an acoustic player and a steel player, a drummer, a fiddler, an electric guitar player, maybe a banjo player and possibly a string bass player. Leo’s concern was about the electric player. How could he add some versatility to the guitars sound? What if there was no bass player? Could the electric player cover the bass lines?

To solve this, he added a unique three position tone circuit. The third position was the pickup wired directly to the 250k volume potentiometer, but not the tone control. This gave the guitar an added boost and a bright sound. Eddie Van Halen did the same thing to give his home-made guitar a hotter sound.

The middle position was the pickup wired to the volume and 250 tone potentiometer with a .05uF capacitor running between the tone and volume pots to ground.

The first position included a .05uF capacitor wired to a 3.3k resistor which was wired to yet another .05uF capacitor that is wired to ground. This position yielded a fixed bass tone. Fender thought this would allow the guitarist to cover bass lines.

The original Esquire was slightly shallower than the prototype and had a solid ash body. The body had a butterscotch colour and the scratch plate was solid black. The control plate was mounted parallel to the bridge plate.

The next logical step was a two pickup Esquire, which Fender called a Broadcaster. Unfortunately, the Gretsch Company manufactured a drum set called The Broadcaster and requested that Fender not use the name.

"Telecaster" guitars from this period did not have a model name on the headstock. These have come to be known as Nocasters.


Fender briefly discontinued promoting The Esquire during this period. However it was reintroduced in 1951 and this time it came with a truss rod. The Esquire and The Telecaster now utilized the same bodies. Both were routed out for two pickups.

The Esquire with its one pickup sold for a slightly lower price. A guitarist could easily convert an Esquire to a Telecaster with the purchase of an additional pickup and a Telecaster scratch plate. Many guitars modified their Esquires.

The Esquire remained in the Fender line up until 1969, when it was discontinued due to lack of sales.

During the transition years of the mid 1980’s, when Fender guitars were all produced in Japan, a Japanese Fender Esquire model was produced based on the 1954 specs.

Several years ago, Fender offered a Squier Avril Lavigne model, with only one bridge pickup. I suppose this could be construed as an Esquire.

The Esquire is once again being offered in Fenders current line up. I played the new model last week and guarantee it is a beaut!





Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Original Crate Amplifier

Gene Kornblum
In the late 1970’s, Gene Kornblum was shopping at a Crate and Barrel store and was impressed with how the products were displayed in wooden crates. Kornblum just happened to be the CEO of St. Louis Music.

For those unfamiliar with the company, St. Louis Music started out in the 1920’s as a music store and a publisher of sheet music. Over time, the business grew and they started selling their own line of imported instruments.

These included Alvarez, Yari and Electra guitars as well as violins, violas cellos, Remo drum heads and many other music supplies.

Bernard Kornblum started the company. After Bernard retired, he handed the reigns over to his son, Gene.

Gene Kornblum, impressed with the display crates, wondered if a crate could be used to house a guitar amplifier. That is how Crate Amplifiers came into being.

The original Crate CR-1, introduced in 1978, was housed in a bare wooden crate. It just made common sense to call this, “The Crate Amplifier.” The amp was marketed as a practice amplifier. It was only 10 solid-state watts, but came with a 12” speaker that gave it a rich full sound. As a plus, it was manufactured in the USA.

By the 1980’s St. Louis Music had sold enough Crate Amplifiers to warrant enlarging their existing business and manufacturing capabilities. Within a few years, the wooden crate housing look was left behind in favor of traditional tolex covering. A whole range of Crate solid-state amplifiers was being offered.

As tube powered amplification gained popularity, Crate launched a line of tube-based models that became popular. St. Louis music eventually took on some other amplifier lines other than Crate, which included Vox and Ampeg.

However, the one unique amplifier that stands out in my mind is the original wooden Crate model.

The original 10-watt solid-state amp featured Gain, Treble, Bass, Master Volume controls with 2 inputs all going into a 4 ohm, 12-inch speaker. The rear of the amp featured a lineout jack. Everything was housed in a simple pine cabinet.

In 2005, Kornblum and his family sold the St. Louis Music business to a company called Loud Technologies. Along with the sale, the new owners acquired all of the company’s brands including Crate, Ampeg, Blackheart, and Alvarez.

As you can see below, Loud has kept the St. Louis Music brand name.