Fender 57 custom champ. Thoughts? Stew Mac kit?

thegaijin

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Happy weekend to you all. I’ve been thinking about buying a 5 watt amp, most likely a Fender 57 custom champ, and wanted to ask those who own one a bit more about them. Most of the reviews out there are positive, as reviews tend to be, and listening to the tones Julian Lage gets out of his is certainly a factor (yeah yeah I know it's all in his fingers). This will be my first tube amp. I'll be playing at home and don't see myself gigging with it, so I'm looking for something small, but with "nice" clean tones at volumes that don't get me evicted from my apartment or divorced by my wife. I play mostly ambient and jazzy stuff these days. Some youtube clips I listen to sound very thin, tinny and trebly, but when I listen to others they sound pretty full with decent mids and bottom end. It's hard to tell what's real and what's not on Youtube, hence my question here.

Then... I saw Stew Mac sells a kit. This is appealing as it's half the price, and building things myself is something I like to do. So.. does anyone have experience of both, and if so is there a noticeable difference from having different components, speaker, etc? (I would pay up for the Fender amp if it sounds better, but part of me is hoping the answer to this last question is "no, they sound alike").

Anyway, looking forward to hearing thoughts on the above and what people think of these small amps in general.

Thank you.
 

VintageSG

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Building amps is a fun and rewarding hobby. Build head units rather than combos though, they take up less space, which equals more builds. Win!
Champs and their ilk are good amps to start with. ( opinion ) Everyone needs a simple, one knob amp to noodle with. You are in total control via your picking, picking position, guitar volume control, guitar tone control. It's you, and there's no hiding.
Only one minor issue with the original Champ, and that's the chassis size. It's a bit of a tight squeeze in there. The 5F2a is a Champ with a tone control. Bigger chassis = easier build.
Stock 8" speakers are fine when mic'd or used at close quarters, but personally, I prefer 10" for the room sound. I get round this by building head units and having some very good 10" cabs :)
I don't know about Stewmac kits. Here in the UK we have the Ampmaker WF-55 as our BritKit of choice, and it is a superb sounding amp. Do you have any domestic kit companies? I don't know if Barry would ship to Japan, or if the transformer would be suitable ( It's 120/240 ). Crazy good amp when built though. The secret sauce is the transformers.
I see kits for sale on Aliexpress that may be viable for you, there's also a plethora of Champ-a-likes at low cost. These tend to have a 6Z4 rectifier in place of the usual 5** Octal rectifier. They're marketed by sticking a badge to the front by many companies, and seem to be none the worse for it. That 6Z4 isn't the most reliable rectifier out there. There is a Soviet Kenotron equivalent which will give years of trouble free service, but maybe best wait until things clam down before that route is explored. Juketone in the UK is one company that rebadges the SinoChamp to great effect.
As to my opinion of small amps, well, I have too many. To many for current shelf space that is...
I love 'em. I enjoy building them, and I enjoy the sweet, sweet sounds. The sounds are all the sweeter because there's that personal connection of making the electrical arteries connect to bring life, and sound from heat, which is also kinda neat.
It's a hobby.

As an aside, if you chance across a VHT Special 6 head, buy it and a good 10" or 12" cab. They're crazy good little amps too.
 

sloppychops

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I've had one for about a year and a half now and like it enough to keep it, but it's not without limitations.

- Because it's so small, it tends to sound "boxy" and has what many describe as a "nasal" tone.

- There are no tone controls on the amp, so an EQ pedal really helps.

- There's no reverb on the amp, so if you want to add some space to your sound you need a reverb pedal. (You probably already have one, right?)

- The speaker really needs time to "break in." I was not happy with the way mine sounded for the first week or so. Harsh and boxy. It's gotten much better.

- If you're thinking a 5 watt Champ will allow you to crank it up for that tweedy crunch at apartment living volume levels, you'll be disappointed. It gets too loud for that. I haven't been able to turn mine past 6.

- If you're only going to have one amp, this wouldn't be my first choice. It's a distinct "flavor", and the small speaker and lack of reverb and tone controls are pretty limiting.

- For about the same price as the Champ, you can get the new Custom Vibro Champ. Much more versatile.

Two opposing opinion threads on the Champ:
https://www.tdpri.com/threads/fender-champ-reissue-review-i-hate-it.1060033/

https://www.tdpri.com/threads/nad-fender-57-custom-champ.957926/
 

red57strat

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I built the Mojotone tweed Champ (same kit, I believe) several years ago and it's a fun little amp. It can sound very small and boxy, but if you set it up at ear level, or close mic it, or run it simultaneuosly with another amp like a Princeton Reverb (I built the Mojotone kit of that as well), it sounds great!
I mostly use it as a super portable little amp at very small (drumless) jams and singalong type things. Volume set at about 4 with an OD pedal if there are other electrics or with my ES-225TD if it's mostly acoustic guitars.
 

tshoe71

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So I’ve had a ‘57 Champ for a few months now. Got it to complete my “tweed fleet”. I’d heard the pros and cons of it. Was more of a “I’ll give it a shot and can always return it if I don’t like it”. Well it’s a keeper.

Pros are…I don’t find it boxy, I can take it anywhere easily, as night comes on I can shift from the Bassman or Deluxe and still have a great sounding amp at a quieter volume, only having a volume makes it dead simple to use…turn on, set volume to taste, play, it has plenty of volume..PLENTY…, get to 6 on the dial and with a pedal or humbucker you can get some great grind.

Cons…the tone you get is the tone you get…no adjusting treble/bass, if you compare the bass response to the Deluxe you will know the limitations of the 8 inch speaker, the highs are not as sparkly as the Deluxe or Bassman.

It’s a great amp for home use, easily portable and I’ve like every guitar I’ve plugged into it. It has its limitations compared to others but it serves its purpose awesomely. Highly recommended.
 

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Tele Slacker

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I have built some for sale, and absolutely love them (limitations and all). I too would suggest the 5f2a build as well, simply because of real estate, and getting the wall power on a dedicated switch, instead of AC power on the volume knob/switch.

I would strongly encourage you to build one, if you like DIY, have decent soldering skill, and appreciate/respect high voltage.

and a great example of a reason to own one (whatever the source) is this clip that ‘the algorithm’ fed me this week:



reverb is due to the room, obviously. NOT the amp.
 

thegaijin

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I found one of the 5f2a amps on Aliexpress for literally 1/4 the price of the 57 custom champ….

Found this youtube video of a Norwegian chap with the same amp who swapped out speakers and tubes.

As much as I’d like to own a Fender amp or build my own, this may make more sense.

 

thegaijin

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I have built some for sale, and absolutely love them (limitations and all). I too would suggest the 5f2a build as well, simply because of real estate, and getting the wall power on a dedicated switch, instead of AC power on the volume knob/switch.

I would strongly encourage you to build one, if you like DIY, have decent soldering skill, and appreciate/respect high voltage.

and a great example of a reason to own one (whatever the source) is this clip that ‘the algorithm’ fed me this week:



reverb is due to the room, obviously. NOT the amp.

OH MY GOODNESS!!! That sounds phenomenal.
 

kuch

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Happy weekend to you all. I’ve been thinking about buying a 5 watt amp, most likely a Fender 57 custom champ, and wanted to ask those who own one a bit more about them. Most of the reviews out there are positive, as reviews tend to be, and listening to the tones Julian Lage gets out of his is certainly a factor (yeah yeah I know it's all in his fingers). This will be my first tube amp. I'll be playing at home and don't see myself gigging with it, so I'm looking for something small, but with "nice" clean tones at volumes that don't get me evicted from my apartment or divorced by my wife. I play mostly ambient and jazzy stuff these days. Some youtube clips I listen to sound very thin, tinny and trebly, but when I listen to others they sound pretty full with decent mids and bottom end. It's hard to tell what's real and what's not on Youtube, hence my question here.

Then... I saw Stew Mac sells a kit. This is appealing as it's half the price, and building things myself is something I like to do. So.. does anyone have experience of both, and if so is there a noticeable difference from having different components, speaker, etc? (I would pay up for the Fender amp if it sounds better, but part of me is hoping the answer to this last question is "no, they sound alike").

Anyway, looking forward to hearing thoughts on the above and what people think of these small amps in general.

Thank you.
Hey G,

Have you played the 57?
I don't know if it's the same but a few years ago I was obsessed with getting a EC Vibro champ. I finally found one used at a reasonable price in mint condition with the original packaging. I tried really hard to like it but really didn't bond with the "tweed" sound. Even with the built in attenuator, it was ok but not to my liking. I eventually sold it and moved on.
All that time, I had a mid 70's SF vibro champ on the floor next to it. Now along with my 65PRRI it's a keeper. I get really nice clean sounds when I want it and really "crunchy" tones when I want. I get amazing what I call "jazz" sounds when I play through the neck pickup on my Gibby 330. Of course it also sounds great with my Teles and strat.
I set both the speed and intensity on the tremolo at around 2-3 and get this almost 3D effect. I finally figured out that I could use a reverb/delay pedal with it to "enhance" the sound if I wanted.
Although I haven't tried it, I think the "new" 68 VC with the 10" speaker would be too loud for me.
If you have a chance to try a SFVC, I would definitely recommend one.

Have fun in your search....
Catalinbread Topanga.jpg
 

thegaijin

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Hey G,

Have you played the 57?
I don't know if it's the same but a few years ago I was obsessed with getting a EC Vibro champ. I finally found one used at a reasonable price in mint condition with the original packaging. I tried really hard to like it but really didn't bond with the "tweed" sound. Even with the built in attenuator, it was ok but not to my liking. I eventually sold it and moved on.
All that time, I had a mid 70's SF vibro champ on the floor next to it. Now along with my 65PRRI it's a keeper. I get really nice clean sounds when I want it and really "crunchy" tones when I want. I get amazing what I call "jazz" sounds when I play through the neck pickup on my Gibby 330. Of course it also sounds great with my Teles and strat.
I set both the speed and intensity on the tremolo at around 2-3 and get this almost 3D effect. I finally figured out that I could use a reverb/delay pedal with it to "enhance" the sound if I wanted.
Although I haven't tried it, I think the "new" 68 VC with the 10" speaker would be too loud for me.
If you have a chance to try a SFVC, I would definitely recommend one.

Have fun in your search.... View attachment 978608
I have never tried a vibro champ. Will check one out yhough. Thank you.

Then there’s this:


This is quite the rabbit hole :)
 

kuch

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I have never tried a vibro champ. Will check one out yhough. Thank you.

Then there’s this:


This is quite the rabbit hole :)

Huge rabbit hole.

I kinda like the sound of the Swarts and they're hand wired.

Don't forget to look at the Princeton Reverb. The PRRI has plenty headroom and gets really loud. It fills my needs as the next step from the VC.

It's a fun journey....
 

Tele Slacker

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Would you all recommend an 8” or 10” speaker. The one I’m looking at has the option for both.

Conventional wisdom is bigger speaker = bigger sound. to contrast, smaller speaker records and might sound ‘better’ mic’d thru a PA. If I were building one for me, I’d probably go with 8” Warehouse ceramic… you can always unplug the internal speaker, and - instead - plug into and external cabinet 1x10 or 1x12. or 4x12 😄
 

King Fan

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Lots of great info in this thread. Thumbs up on the 5F2a just for ease of build if nothing else -- the 5F1 chassis is the size of a toddler shoebox. Also FWIW the more traditional choice on 5F2a clones with their bigger cab is a 10" speaker, which if nothing else is more versatile and less boxy.

Be aware that StewMac just re-sells Mojo kits but with S/M instructions (and long list of many suggested tools and toys they will sell you to 'help.') Though Mojo's instructions and drawings aren't quite perfect, they've tended to be better -- and more often updated -- than StewMac's.

Mojo does sell a decent 5F2a kit, and if you need a cab, theirs have been decent also. But... I'm not sure their kit has instructions, and tho you could mostly use their 5F1 instructions, there are just enough differences between the two that new builders may get confused.

Final thought: DIY vs. buy is about way more than cost *or* sound. On a good day a DIY will sound as good as Fender's version. OTOH, you may be surprised how much it costs to get all the proper tools (even if you don't buy the whole StewMac catalog). Do you have a decent solder station, DMM, etc.?

Advantages of paying Fender to do all the work: 1) you can play the amp the same day you get it 2) risks of hurting yourself or harming the amp via builder error are minuscule 3) if you don't love it, you can sell it on at only a small loss -- most of us find even nicely built DIY amps are hard to sell for anything like we put into them.

Advantages of DIY: Fun to learn, fun to plan, fun to build, fun to feel you did it yourself. Either way, enjoy!
 

Texicaster

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It Varies.....
I have one and like it for what it does but it's very limiting.

Oddly mine has a natural reverb where my blueSky pedal does not improve it! Perhaps a defect in mine.... but it's pretty cool!

For me it simply doesn't play with pedals very well. I can get lateral changes but no vertical...I mean I make it different but not "better".

I read guys put a Jensen C8R instead and like it better. I'm betting Julian Lage's is modded as well.

I just went out and bought a Swart STR Tremolo which is 5w with a 12" speaker. Oh man! Quantum difference! Sounds stunning at low levels! I'd strongly suggest searching out one of those! I just paid $1500 out the door for a brand new one and I see the Champ is up to $1100+ tax/shipping now. I paid $800 for mine several years ago.

There is a new Vibro Champ and I saw one at Tucson GC for $600 but I don't think these are made with the same idea as the Custom Champ. More like a recent RI amps with circuit boards. Made in Mexico. $600 had me tempted though! The Tweed Custom is all tube hand soldered which is cool!
 

thegaijin

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Thanks so much for all these insightful comments. I have decided that I’ll likely go with the Stew Mac kit. Building it myself was largely what attracted me to all this in the first place and the SM kit seems the most “complete” out of all the other kits I’ve checked out. The Monotone kit is also in the running but by the time you add on the cabinet, it costs more.

Anyway, I know how this all will go already. You guys get it I know. I’ll buy the Stew Mac kit. Build it. Then mod the crap out of it until it’s barely recognizable.
 
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tweedman2001

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Not sure about the shipping to Tokyo but check out Dave's offerings at Boothill Amps. Excellent kits and he will customize for your needs. I built one and it compared very favorably to my original 1960 5F1. One trick is to get a proper speaker. Weber or a vintage off ebay work well. There is plenty support available on this forum. Post your build progress and get great tips and advice from knowledgeable folks.

Just a couple of possible sources. There are MANY more.

 

jays0n

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I have the EC and really like the sound of it just as is. Most of the reviews I had seen of it or the 57 were of the amp cranked. I finally found this one:

This is not of how I have mine set when playing and I find these sounds in this video pretty accurate.
 

thegaijin

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I have the EC and really like the sound of it just as is. Most of the reviews I had seen of it or the 57 were of the amp cranked. I finally found this one:

This is not of how I have mine set when playing and I find these sounds in this video pretty accurate.

I saw a review of this. Has vibrato right. Looks great.
 




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