In this KillerGuitarRigs review, we’ll be taking a deep dive into one of the most popular combo practice amps for beginners, the Fender Champion 20. Fender has made some of the world’s most historically significant amplifiers, and as such they are a go-to brand for newer players looking to get a good amp on a budget – but is this reputation warranted when it comes to their small solid-state amps?
Fender Champion 20: Who Is This For?
The Fender Champion 20 is a great amplifier for beginners. Despite the low price, it has the appearance of a classic Fender Blackface, which is definitely appealing to players who want to look the part. It also makes for a great upgrade for the cheaper amps that come as part of a kit or bundle if you’re looking for something a bit louder than your 10 or 15 watt combo.
Fender Champion 20: Appearance / Features / Controls
Initial impressions of the Champion 20 were great. As we pointed out briefly, it looks like a miniature Fender Champ, a classic Fender model, and this definitely adds to the appeal. It has the black control face, black vinyl, and silver grille mesh.
The construction is absolutely solid; there’s no mistaking it for a high-end, premium amp (like say a ’65 Princeton Reverb), but make no mistakes, it’s as well made as you’d expect from a Fender product. The cabinet is open backed and is made from 7 ply MDF, which isn’t the most resonant wood, but it’s definitely built to last.
The handle is pretty standard for a small combo amp. It’s not built for extensive use, but it’s comfortable enough for moving the amp short distances.
It’s equipped with a single 8” Fender Special Design speaker, and has 20 watts of power. It only has 1 input channel, but we did love the amp modeling, which let us switch between some classic Fender and some more modern amp voicings (Tweed, Blackface, British, and Metal), and having a range of on board FX was also a great feature.
For silent practice, it features a headphone out jack, and an aux in jack to run backing tracks through the amp.
Fender Champion 20: Performance/Sound
Our first observation on this amplifier after getting set up was that it was loud for a 20 watt solid state model, and quite ear pleasing. This was likely down to the open back design rather than the speaker quality, but to get a nice, room filling sound from a basic practice combo was a pleasant surprise. Because of the relatively low power output, it sounds great at bedroom levels, which is a definite bonus in a practice amp.
With headphones you definitely lose some of the timbre, but just having the function is definitely enough to keep most beginners satisfied.
The amp voicings aren’t exactly great matches for the amps they’re modeled after (tweed and blackface), but they do noticeably change the overall sound, and despite the lack of accuracy, they still capture the spirit of the classic Fender sounds.
With the “British” setting engaged, we did notice a significant increase on the mid and upper frequencies, and a very clear, Vox-like tone. The “Metal” voicing is clearly supposed to emulate a Mesa Boogie tone – it’s a high gain setting with surprisingly well balanced, yet grainy distortion – you won’t mistake it for a Dual Rectifier, but it’s not bad at all.
Another feature that really makes this an ideal amp for beginners is the range of built in FX. While we weren’t able to build complex signal chains as is possible on a true modeling amp, we did enjoy playing around with the preset effects. The reverb, delay, and chorus were by far the best of the settings. There were also flanger, tremolo, wah, and vibratome settings, but they were little more than novelties.
Other Amps to Consider
If you’re seriously looking at small practice amps, you really are spoiled for choice. Not only are there a lot of amps to choose from, but there are some really good amps in this category. If the Fender Champion 20 isn’t appealing to you, check out these alternatives:
This is probably one of the coolest looking combo practice amps out there. Of course, it’s finished in signature Orange Tolex with the classic tweed grille cloth, and it really looks the part. It nails the Orange tone, with a slightly darker take on the typical British sound – somewhere between a Mesa and a Marshall, if you will.
This amp is ready to take you to the next level. It’s footswitch ready, enabling you to quickly change between clean and dirty channels, the spring reverb effect is one of the best built in reverbs you’ll find on any practice amp, too. As a final added bonus – It has a built in tuner.
For under $200, Monoprice offers an honest to goodness, all tube amplifier, complete with an 8” Celestion Super 8 speaker. It’s loaded with a 12AX7 preamp tube, and and a 6v6GT power tube, giving you Fender Champ tones on a Fender Champion budget.
For a small amp, this thing moves a lot of air. Thankfully it has a power reduction setting, allowing you to switch between 1 watt and 5 watts, which helps to keep the tones creamy at lower volumes for practice. It’s a very well made amp, and really stands out with the cream vinyl cover and chrome control plate.
If you like the idea of a modeling amp, but don’t find enough value in the modeling options on the Fender, why not take a look at this Line 6 Spider V 20 MKII? It offers a similar build quality to the Fender, along with similar size and weight, and yet, it features over 200 preset amp and cab voicings.
Not only does it have a huge range of models to choose from, it also allows for the creation of basic FX signal chains, giving you combinations of tones, rather than only allowing for one at a time (without additional pedals).
Final Thoughts on the Fender Champion 20
The Fender Champion 20 is a reliable practice amplifier with some nice features at a great price. We thought that it sounded above average for a budget amp, and managed to get some really useable tones. The overall size and weight made it extremely portable, and while we probably wouldn’t want to gig with it, you could probably make it work for very small venues with smaller crowds.
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