A look at four signature guitar combo amplifiers and how they helped write the history of electrified blues and rock.
Ever since the dawn of the electric blues in the 1940s, guitarists have sought that perfect interplay between their guitars and amps. Finding a big lead tone is essential to any blues player who wants to do more than play rhythm guitar.
That’s exactly what urban blues masters such as Muddy Waters, the late B.B. King, Hubert Sumlin, and Buddy Guy did. Each created a signature sound that was immediately identifiable. If there was a sonic common denominator it was in their amps: with their all-tube power sections they helped produce warm, saturated tones—a hallmark of the genre—while also delivering the kind of crisp treble output and punchy, harmonically-complex mids ideal for lead work.
The sounds of those early Chicago electrified blues pioneers helped shape rock ‘n’ roll in the ‘50s and blues-rock in the ‘60s. The amps profiled below were critical elements in that evolution. Used by some of popular music’s most influential guitarists, they’ve helped define the sound of modern blues, hard rock and their musical offshoots.
Go Get ‘Em Champ!
The Fender Champ in various forms has been around on and off since 1948 when Leo Fender introduced the original with its 8” speaker and 5W single-tube power stage. The Champ continues to be a go-to combo in the studio where its close-miked sound produces a range of tones to die for from stinging clean to gently rounded, overdriven grind.
Because you can easily overdrive its modest output, the Champ is ideal for getting musical distortion sounds in the studio. You’ve probably heard this little guy roaring on some of blues-rock’s biggest albums including Derek and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.
While original Champs are hard to come by and expensive, thankfully, beginning in 2006, Fender began reissuing the Champ in various vintage configurations. While cosmetics and other features have varied, the original single-ended class A circuit that made the champ an icon is at the core of modern Champ reincarnations.
Two currently available combo versions maintain the minimalist feel and sound of the original Champ, while adding some distinctive touches of their own.
The Fender Eric Clapton EC Vibro-Champ is hand-wired to Slow Hand’s specs and is built using boutique-quality components such as custom-built Schumacher transformers. A Groove Tubes 6V6GT output tube, two 12AX7 preamp tubes, and 5Y3GT rectifier tube drive the Weber Signature speaker, which has a switchable power attenuator—handy in the studio. A Clapton-requested mod is the footswitchable tremolo circuit with speed control.
This Fender EC Series Vibro-Champ shares the same DNA as the little combo heard on Layla and includes a couple of Eric’s favorite mods.
Listen to the huge range of sounds the EC Vibro-Champ churns out.
The Fender Super-Champ X2 Combo ups the ante over the original with 15W all-tube output, a 10” speaker, plus some decidedly modern touches. A voicing knob calls up 16 distinct amp types, and there’ s a useful selection of digital effects plus simple computer connectivity.
The Super-Champ X2 delivers classic Champ sounds in a bigger format that’s packed with modern updates.
Check out the Super-Champ X2 in action.
The Twin Effect
Another game-changer from Fender, the Fender Twin Reverb is a tube-powered wrecking ball of auditory awesomeness. These babies can blast the roof off a house with their extremely loud, clean sound. This is another Fender amp that you’ve probably heard a lot of—from the likes of Jerry Garcia, Eric Johnson and Jimi Hendrix (and of course Clapton, because what hasn’t the man played by this point?).
One reason this beast is so loud is the pair of twelve-inch Jensen speakers housed within. They coupled with the class A, all-tube operation of classic Twins gives them the power to cut through dense mixes on the bandstand. Add that to probably the best built-in spring reverb you’re likely to find on the market, and this guy is one incredible amp that almost anyone can enjoy. Be forewarned though,there’s a price to pay for the Twin’s sonic goodness: At 64 lb, the current version of the ‘65 reissue detailed below is no lightweight to transport.
Introduced in 1952, the Twin Reverb, like its little brother, the Champ, has undergone many changes over the years. While different combos have shared the Fender Twin moniker over the decades, what hasn’t changed is the fundamentally clean spank that has made the Fender Twin an evergreen favorite with guitarists who hail from rock, country, blues and surf. Driven really hard, the Twin will deliver a little crunch, but that’s not really what it’s about for most players.
Rather, the Twin delivers the “Blackface” sound revered by Fender aficionados, with its scooped-out mids that give the Twin its trademark sound. Artists including Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer and Jimi Hendrix all used the Twin to shape their signature sounds.
Fender puts a lot of attention into getting the details right in building its Vintage Reissue ‘65 Twin Reverb. Its 85 class A watts pumped out via an all-tube power stage get seriously loud. With dual footswitchable channels, that great spring reverb and a tube vibrato circuit, this reissue is an affordable alternative to finding an original, mint Twin.
The Fender Twin Reverb conjures up that classic Blackface sound featured on countless recordings.
The Vox Popular
The AC30 was quickly adopted by rock and pop bands on both sides of the Atlantic who loved its clean, jangly sound. The original dual 12-inch Celestion Blue speakers together with class A/B amp operation and a quartet of cathode-biased EL-84 output tubes and trio of 12AX7s in the front end all contributed to the AC30’s singular sound. Legendary guitarists like Jonny Greenwood, The Edge, Ritchie Blackmore, Brian May and Rory Gallagher have all made the AC30 a part of their own sounds.
A current version in the lineage is the Vox AC30C2 with its collection of updates. A pair of Celestion 12” Greenbacks sound terrific, especially pumping out the sounds of the Top Boost channel with its very dialable tone controls. The Master Volume works in conjunction with the tone settings on each channel to produce everything from classic chime to hairier, overdriven sounds. A real spring reverb adds drama to your performance. At 73 lb., the AC30C2 is a candidate for your hand truck during loads ins. The payback: glorious tube-driven sound that evokes the British Invasion and everything that followed.
This Vox AC30C2X gives you plenty of external speaker cab options while delivering classic UK tube tones.
Take a sonic tour of the AC lineup with Freddy DeMarco.
These amps in their various guises have all left their marks on blues-rock history, and are waiting for you to forge your own legacy. At Musician’s Friend we’ll back your purchase with 45-day lowest price and total satisfaction guarantees.
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