Monday, January 3, 2011

Fender Vibro Champ XD Guitar Amplifier


We are looking at the guitar amplifier that I am currently using – the Fender Vibro Champ XD. I got it a while back when I was ampless, and wanted to pick up something cheap to practice with. Well, it has stuck around longer than I thought it would because it is a pretty good amplifier.

From the name, you have probably figured out that this is another version of the legendary Fender Champ and Vibro Champ amplifiers. It carries over the same basic concepts of the original, as it is a small and lightweight, low-powered all tube amplifier. Amplifiers like this became popular because they could get a crunchy overdriven tone at lower volume levels, making them great for practicing around the house without chapping off the neighbors.

It is a 5-watt (at 4 ohms) Class A amplifier with a 12AX7 pre-amp tube and a 6V6 Power tube. The cabinet is a handy size, measuring about 14x18x9 inches, and coming in around 25 pounds. It packs a single mediocre 8-inch 4-ohm Fender speaker.

Inputs and outputs are sparse. There is one input on the front, and on the back there is one speaker out and a ¼-inch line out jack.

The basic controls are easy to figure out: Gain, Volume, Treble and Bass. After that we get to where the Vibro Champ XD diverges from the originals: through the addition of the Voice and F/X controls.

The Voice control is a 16-position knob that uses digital technology to simulate different tones, some of which are supposed to mimic other Fender and Marshall amplifiers. More on this later.

The F/X control knob provides some basic guitar effects, including Tremolo, Vibratone, Delay, Chorus and Reverb. A few of these can be combined together, i.e. Reverb + Delay or Chorus + Delay + Reverb. There is a separate knob to control the F/X level. This is also accomplished via magic computer circuits.

And it all comes together well in this package. It puts out good volume for its size (but you would lose a volume battle with a drummer pretty quickly), and it sounds pretty good. The response and tone of the speaker is a weak link on the Vibro Champ XD. The marketing materials call it a Fender Special Design speaker, and “Special” must be a euphemism for “cheap” in Fender language. It would not be difficult to put something more special in it.

I do not mess with the Voice control very much. I mostly run it in Voice position 1, which is supposed to sound like a Fender Champ, which it does very well. I have used position 16 with acoustic guitars, and it gives them a natural and warm tone. The rest of the positions do an ok job of mimicking various blackface, tweed, Marshall and Vox amps, but I am not really interested in twiddling the knobs and changing all of my guitar settings to try to get somebody else’s tone. I know what I am looking for.

The F/X does not get much of a workout with me either. I either like a clean tone or an overdriven tone, and I can get as much of this as I want with the Gain knob. BTW, the Vibro Champ XD amp has a better clean tone than the Orange Tiny Terror I tried out last year.

I have not had any problems with mine, and do not anticipate any. Having the tubes plugged in to the printed circuit board makes me a little nervous, but If something were to go wrong, the amplifier came with a 5-year factory warranty, which is sweet.

The Vibro Champ XD is made sweeter by its low price. The list price is $279.99 with a street price of $199.99. I did a quick check of eBay and found that they sell for about $125 to $150 in used condition.

I think you will not find a better all-tube guitar amplifier for the price.


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