Features: Let's face it; there are times when you don't feel like spending fifteen minutes tweaking your EQ settings. There are times when you can't be bothered with midrange this and treble that. Its times like these where you just want to plug in, turn on, and play.
Enter the Fender '57 Champ, the ultimate in simplicity and great tone. And when I say simplicity, I mean simplicity. This tube amp is as simple as they come: five watts, hand-wired 5F1 circuitry, a power Switch, a volume knob, two inputs, and one 8 Weber Special Design 4 ohm speaker is all you get with this amp. While this does make the '57 Champ a true Vintage reissue, it results in many features that come standard with modern amps being left out, chiefly the ability to Switch channels and a reverb unit. // 6
Sound: The good news is that what the '57 Champ lacks in features, it more than makes up for in tone. Playing through a Gibson Dark Fire, I was very impressed with the range of sounds you can get from this little amp. Turn the volume to low levels and you'll be rewarded with some great bright cleans, great for country or blues. Crank the volume and the sound goes from well-behaved cleans to punchy overdrive, perfect for playing classic rock, or if you want to take the blues to the next level. The best part of this is that the amp responds so well to playing dynamics: with the volume at around 7, I was able to play softly and coax some jangly cleans from my guitar before really digging in with the pick, causing the overdrive to kick in. For such a simple amp, it is very touch sensitive, and the range of sounds you can get out of it has to be heard to be believed. // 9
Reliability & Durability: While I would primarily use the '57 Champ for a practice/studio amp, if it was taken on the road it would hold up very well. The construction is very solid, so it can certainly take some abuse. Additionally, it only has three tubes in the amp so replacing them is a fairly quick process when compared to other amps. So not only is this amp easy to use but it is also easy to maintain. // 9
Overall Impression: As far as amps go, the '57 Champ is one that is full of surprises. While small in both size and wattage, it has an overabundance of great tone that puts many bigger more powerful amps to shame. However, its low wattage makes it a bit tricky to gig with: make sure you have it miked correctly to a good PA system; otherwise you won't be heard over your drummer.
Besides its lack of features, my biggest complaint would be the retail price. Selling at around $1000 makes this amp cost more than many guitarists are willing to pay. However, if money is less important than tone, then this will make a perfect amp for both practice and for the studio.
Overall, if you are looking for a great and simple amp for recording country, rock, or blues then you owe it to yourself to give the '57 Champ a try. You'll be glad you did. // 7