Fender: Champion 600

BUILT BETWEEN 1949 AND 1953, THE SWEETlooking Champion 600 was Fender’s entry-level amp of the era. And while the new version looks darn close to the original with its two-tone “saddle shoe” vinyl covering, leather strap handle, and suede grille cloth, Fender says it is a tribute rather than a reissue. The control panel recalls the original 600’s elegant simplicity— High and Low inputs, Volume knob, power switch, fuse holder, and pilot lamp—but instead of a 6SJ7 preamp tube, Fender went with a 12AX7, and redesigned the preamp section to be more like the 5F1 Champ, which results in a little more gain.

Tested with a Fender Strat, a Danelectro, an AMG S Body, and a P-90-loaded Stromberg Monterey semi-hollow, I was amazed by how much clean headroom this 5-watt amp produced. Single-coil pickups could barely coax any breakup—even at maximum amp volume— and the harder driving P-90s and humbuckers moved it merely into crunch mode. Also impressive was the depth and richness of its clean sound, which I’d compare to amps costing four times more.

Cranking the volume revealed the limitations of the 6" ceramic speaker, however, which succumbed to a papery rasp much like any pintsized combo. Fortunately, Fender refrained from hardwiring the speaker so that you can easily plug the Champion 600 into an external cabinet (do it after the tubes have cooled, though, as the jack is right next to the power tube). Plugged into a custom cabinet equipped with a 12" Eminence Texas Heat speaker—and pushed by P-90s—the rasp turned into a fullthroated roar that had me doing my best Bluesbreakers licks at a volume that could get me evicted. Add an overdrive pedal to get a happening solo tone (particularly with single-coils), and you could conceivably do a small club gig with this amp. For a street price of just under $200, the Champion 600 is a no-brainer to add to your collection. With its off-the-hook vibe and stellar sound, this little amp is a champion indeed.