Fender 57 custom champ. Thoughts? Stew Mac kit?

Volcanicash01

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Do yourself a favor, checkout any of the Roland Micro Cube solid state amps. IMO, they can yield sounds and tone beyond anything the Champs or the kits offer, plus no tubes. And save yourself a bit of money plus avoid the inevitable for the tube market.
Well said Dude! These little monsters have it all! If you haven’t got one, where have you been?
 

Volcanicash01

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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.


Nice tones and playing, but a Roland Micro Cube can do all this with knobs on!
 

skypilot

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Jan 29, 2011
Posts
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Location
new jersey
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.
Had one. Sold it. Boxy. Buzzing I didn’t hear when I bought it. Late at night I could. Solder joint was incorrect. Fixed. Never really liked but I tried. Even after about a year of playing it still sounded boxy and not good enuf to keep.pretty high $$ for that amp too. YMMV.
 

rschiller

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Posts
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Location
Oakland, CA
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.
As others have commented, I would strongly recommend building the 5F2A Princeton. The 5F1 and 5F2A are essentially the same circuits except the 5F2 has the single high-pass tone filter added which will detract very little from the gain of the amplifier and give you much more control. And equally important is the 10" speaker in the 5F2. Unless you go with an amp that can handle minimally (2) 8" speakers, you're much better off with a single 10"

Of course if you want to go a step up, the 5E3 is arguably one of the greatest guitar amplifier circuits every created. Much thanks to Leo.

My two cents worth.
 

dang

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Feb 9, 2011
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nj
I had an original 1966 Vibro Champ. It was great, but eventually its limitations made me sell it.

Just get the new Custom Vibro Champ. Much more versatile. When you want Tweed tone, turn bass and treble knobs totally off. For BF tones adjust to taste.
 

Jockobadger

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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.
Absolutely right on the 5f2a. Ampmaker does ship to the states according to Barry. Very nice man. Finally, I have a Champ and it’s great! I also have the VHT spec 6 (Ultra) and it’s awesome thru 2 10 Webers. Per the above, once you have the cab, build heads! Cheers
 

qcridgerunner

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I too think that you should try the new Vibro Champ Reverb. I‘ve been using mine for a year and really like it. I also gig with it (miked) and my Blues Jr now resides in a closet. My back does not complain. Think of it as a small Princeton.
 

guitfiddles

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Jul 12, 2017
Posts
134
Location
Florida
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.

That’s the one I wanted but never had the money while they were readily available. I got the 57 champ last June (11 months ago) and I really do enjoy the little thing. Still, I would have loved to have that tremolo on it like the EC model has.
 

guitfiddles

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Posts
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Florida
I have a Fender 57 Custom Champ that I bought last June. I’ve had it for 11 months now. Without any pedals it’s a very plain Jane sound. My favorite sound is the tele plugged into input 2 with the volume on about 3 to 3 1/2. It’s really very quiet and rich sounding and I can play in the living and not bother anyone in the house. It’s a very dry and plain sound sound though. It takes some getting used to so if you like reverb and effects you’ll have to get some pedals. I bought a reverb pedal for mine and didn’t like the pedal so I sold it and got a Line 6 HX Effects. I used that several times and came to the conclusion that I like the 57 Champ best just plugged straight in. If I want to hear reverb and effects I’ve got a Boss Katana Head and and 2x12 cabinet. I have come to really love my Champ but it hasn’t become my one and only as I hoped it would be. It does it’s thing and is nice when I want that sound but I also really enjoy playing on the katana. Two entirely different amps I know. I’m not comparing them. I’m just saying that I enjoy them both and it’s nice to have more than one tonal option. I only enjoy the Champ when I want to play quiet though. I don’t enjoy cranking it up. Cranked it sounds harsh, the overdrive doesn’t sound good to me, and even at 5 watts it hurts my ears. For me the magic sound is input 2 at low volume at 3 or 4 max. They’re getting so expensive! I paid close to $1000 and in less than a year they’ve gone up another couple of hundred. That’s insane for what you get. I mean, it’s as basic as basic can get.
 

Minivan Megafun

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I've owned both an EC Champ and a 1973 Champ. They're nice little practice amps. However the Fender production models are grossly overpriced for what they are. I even traded off my EC Champ in early 2020 and I'm stunned to see what they're going for on the used market right now. NOT worth it IMO. Not that they're bad, they're just not worth that kind of coin.

If I went down the Champ road again, I would absolutely buy a kit. Even the Weber Sig8 speaker is the identical speaker that Fender uses (with a Fender sticker on it of course). If you've got reasonable soldering skills and can follow a plan they're widely regarded as the "beginner" amp to build and there's a wealth of step by step guides and videos on the subject to help you. Probably wouldn't be difficult to complete over a weekend if you take your time.
 

kmckenna45

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May 15, 2021
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60
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New York
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.
Go to Monoprice and check out their two “Backstage” models. The smaller one is like the champ. I have the larger one - and it’s better than most amps I’ve played under $700.
 

68goldtop

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Joined
Jan 11, 2007
Posts
96
Location
germany
Hi!
If I went down the Champ road again, I would absolutely buy a kit...

I don´t have the skills to build one (or time to get into it) but I had 4 Tweed Champs (5F1) so far.
A "clone" made by a reasonably well-known builder, an original ´61 (which I stupidly let go in need of some money...), an earlier ´57 Champ RI - and a current ´57 Champ RI.
The ´61 was - clearly - the best, the current reissue is my #2.
It sounds great - within the limitations of this amp-design.

The "clone" was a far cry from the other (Ch)amps, I'm afraid ;)
It hummed like crazy and didn´t sound especially good ...

The early reissue didn't sound as good/nice/sweet. It had a "raspy" quality to it, and I mainly blame it on the speaker - although it might have to do with the choice of (better quality?) parts in the newer reissues, too.
The Weber in the first reissue sounds nothing like the Weber in the current reissue. I have one of both to compare - and the early one is way too "raspy".
Not sure what that's accounting for...
My feeling is, that the speaker makes a HUGE difference in these!

I think a Tweed Champ has its own "charm" (nice cleans and great overdrive when pushed...), but - taking the time + money - a Tweed Deluxe or a Princeton Reverb are more pleasing, more versatile amps.
Just like Leo Fender would have thought ;)


cheers - 68.
 

Minivan Megafun

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Manitoba
Hi!


I don´t have the skills to build one (or time to get into it) but I had 4 Tweed Champs (5F1) so far.
A "clone" made by a reasonably well-known builder, an original ´61 (which I stupidly let go in need of some money...), an earlier ´57 Champ RI - and a current ´57 Champ RI.
The ´61 was - clearly - the best, the current reissue is my #2.
It sounds great - within the limitations of this amp-design.

The "clone" was a far cry from the other (Ch)amps, I'm afraid ;)
It hummed like crazy and didn´t sound especially good ...

The early reissue didn't sound as good/nice/sweet. It had a "raspy" quality to it, and I mainly blame it on the speaker - although it might have to do with the choice of (better quality?) parts in the newer reissues, too.
The Weber in the first reissue sounds nothing like the Weber in the current reissue. I have one of both to compare - and the early one is way too "raspy".
Not sure what that's accounting for...
My feeling is, that the speaker makes a HUGE difference in these!

I think a Tweed Champ has its own "charm" (nice cleans and great overdrive when pushed...), but - taking the time + money - a Tweed Deluxe or a Princeton Reverb are more pleasing, more versatile amps.
Just like Leo Fender would have thought ;)


cheers - 68.

It sounds like you got a poorly made build.
 

sloppychops

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Nov 16, 2010
Posts
1,660
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wisconsin
I have a Fender 57 Custom Champ that I bought last June. I’ve had it for 11 months now. Without any pedals it’s a very plain Jane sound. My favorite sound is the tele plugged into input 2 with the volume on about 3 to 3 1/2. It’s really very quiet and rich sounding and I can play in the living and not bother anyone in the house. It’s a very dry and plain sound sound though. It takes some getting used to so if you like reverb and effects you’ll have to get some pedals. I bought a reverb pedal for mine and didn’t like the pedal so I sold it and got a Line 6 HX Effects. I used that several times and came to the conclusion that I like the 57 Champ best just plugged straight in. If I want to hear reverb and effects I’ve got a Boss Katana Head and and 2x12 cabinet. I have come to really love my Champ but it hasn’t become my one and only as I hoped it would be. It does it’s thing and is nice when I want that sound but I also really enjoy playing on the katana. Two entirely different amps I know. I’m not comparing them. I’m just saying that I enjoy them both and it’s nice to have more than one tonal option. I only enjoy the Champ when I want to play quiet though. I don’t enjoy cranking it up. Cranked it sounds harsh, the overdrive doesn’t sound good to me, and even at 5 watts it hurts my ears. For me the magic sound is input 2 at low volume at 3 or 4 max. They’re getting so expensive! I paid close to $1000 and in less than a year they’ve gone up another couple of hundred. That’s insane for what you get. I mean, it’s as basic as basic can get.
Interesting take on the Champ. It really is plain Jane without pedals. I use a reverb pedal, compressor, and overdrive with mine (because I can't turn it up loud where I live...I don't even know what it sounds like cranked!). It sounds best elevated about 2 to 3 feet off the ground. I sit right in front of it.

First week I had it I felt like buying it was a mistake, but once the speaker started breaking in it sounded less harsh...much better. I guess they've really gone up in price (doh! what hasn't?) I thought I paid too much at $825 out the door!
 

guitfiddles

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Joined
Jul 12, 2017
Posts
134
Location
Florida
Interesting take on the Champ. It really is plain Jane without pedals. I use a reverb pedal, compressor, and overdrive with mine (because I can't turn it up loud where I live...I don't even know what it sounds like cranked!). It sounds best elevated about 2 to 3 feet off the ground. I sit right in front of it.

First week I had it I felt like buying it was a mistake, but once the speaker started breaking in it sounded less harsh...much better. I guess they've really gone up in price (doh! what hasn't?) I thought I paid too much at $825 out the door!
I do the same thing in that I have it sitting up on a little nightstand and I sit right in front of it. By the way, I just played mine for about an hour.
 

Maguchi

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Jun 16, 2019
Posts
2,323
Location
Lalaland
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.
I bought a Fender '57 Custom Champ and love the sounds both clean and dirty. Getting clean or dirt is done using a combination of amp volume and guitar volume. Leo designed them for awesome clean sounds, and they got that. The dirt was a happy accident, but it is a great sound with lots of variety from edge of dirt to even order harmonic distortion. For such a small amp it's got 2 inputs, so you can plug in backing tracks as well as your guitar. They've gone up in price. They listed for a grand a year ago when I got mine. But MF will give you a 15% discount if you call on the phone and ask.
 

JDRNoPro

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Aug 13, 2007
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ME
Agree with Maguchi about both great clean and dirty sounds available from the 57 Custom Champ. This is an amazingly responsive amp and the range of tones one can get is quite broad.......as broad as your range of picking attack and technique.......or not broad at all if your right hand dynamics are limited. I like to play mostly clean/edge of breakup with instant growl by digging in a bit harder. I usually run my amp vol at around 5.5 to 6. Occasionally use a reverb pedal but nothing else.

I've been playing for decades and still have quite a few amps. The 57 Custom Champ has become one of my 2 favorites - my other favorite is a vintage Super Reverb. Very different, but these are the ones that make me smile and inspire me to play. I honestly don't think my 57 Champ sounds small or boxy at all. In fact, I was kinda shocked by how full it sounded, how much bass the little thing puts out, and the amount of volume it is capable of. BTW, it is important IMO to get any small amp off the floor for it to sound best. By comparison, my fully serviced vintage SFVC sounds much smaller and thinner.

I also have a 5F1 Champ Clone that was built by a highly respected builder. Top notch components, great build quality, NOS tubes, Weber alnico sig speaker, etc. - but it never really excited me very much. In fact, I wondered about the Fender 57 Champ Reissue for years and how it compared. A couple of years ago I finally bought my 57 Custom to find out. Ordered from one of the large retailers and got 15% off, so mine cost $850. Despite having same NOS tube compliment, similar pine cabinet construction, and identical Weber speakers, the difference in sound between my 57 Custom and my 5F1 clone is considerable. Unfortunately, the clone is the amp that sounds small, boxy, harsh, etc. as Champs are often described. In comparison, my 57 Custom sounds rich, full, and articulate. This is not at all what I expected - in fact, I really thought I would probably sell the Fender after I got it and had satisfied my curiousity. Not happening! I play it every day.

I'm sure some will think I'm just some Fender fanboy justifying his "expensive" little Fender amp. Not the case at all.......as stated earlier, I've been playing for quite a while now. I just am extremely pleased and surprised by my 57 Custom Champ. Mine is a well built quality product that sounds terrific, and to me, well worth what I paid for it. The value is not in what it has for features, but what it does and the enjoyment I get out of it. The OP asked for experiences, comparisons, etc. and the above are mine. Champs can be incredibly fun or disappointing, depending on one's expectations. They are sometimes labled as one trick ponys, but I think they offer a wonderful range of tones if you explore a little, with amazing touch sensitivity and response. YMMV etc.
 
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Digger73

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May 10, 2020
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70
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Michigan
The 57 Custom Champ has been a great amp for my use. I purchased it new from Musician's Friend a couple-three years ago and placed it in a practice room my wife fixed up for me. Just cuz I can’t leave it be, I replaced the tubes with GT 6V6S and “Select” AY7. I have a 57 Custom Deluxe in which I placed the (Fender Vintage Amp Repair) Fat Jimmy A1260 Alnico speaker in with phenomenal success. Love that setup…I have other FJ speakers as well in cabs. So, I ordered up the FJ C825 for the Champ. I have played the Champ out in gigs and had it miked for the venues, fit in well. It was everything that the Fat Jimmy website says…completes the amp. I have Jupiter speakers in a Vibrolux and in a Deluxe Reverb. Both of these brands are manufactured by WGS for Jupiter Condenser and Fender Vintage Amp Repair to specifications established by the owners respectively Chris Young and Mike Pascal. Both gentlemen have been great to deal with. BTW, I believe Mike sells kits too if you are inclined…and of course his well known Fat Jimmy amps. I am still waiting to play an assembled 18W Marshall clone. I now know why I buy em done!
 




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