Pawn Shop Special Excelsior Review

manufacturer: Fender date: 01/12/2015 category: Guitar Amplifiers
Fender: Pawn Shop Special Excelsior
A Honky Tonk amp that is just like a Gin-Soaked bar room queen in Memphis.
 Sound: 8.7
 Overall Impression: 8
 Reliability & Durability: 7
 Features: 8
 Overall rating:
 Reviewer rating:
 Users rating:
reviews (3) pictures (2) 20 comments vote for this gear:
overall: 8.3
Pawn Shop Special Excelsior Reviewed by: UG Team, on march 14, 2012
2 of 2 people found this review helpful

Price paid: $ 299

Features: For $299 you get yourself a ton of features considering this is a basic, throwback type of guitar amp. This fits right in with the Pawn Shop series and is completely off the wall, weird with much different looks, and carries a huge amount of swagger. - 13-Watts - Single 15" Special Design speaker - Bottom-loaded primary chassis and top-loaded control chassis for operating convenience and low noise - Powered by two 6V6 output tubes and two 12AX7 preamp tubes - Instrument, Microphone and Accordion inputs each with individually optimized circuitry - Tremolo circuit with speed control - Bright/dark tone switch (for treble or bass emphasis) - Volume control - 1/4" Internal speaker disconnect lets amp Drive an external speaker enclosure It's a tube amp at the end of the day. The really exciting and quirky part of this amp that sets it apart from almost all other amps that are currently being produced is the fact that it has a 15" speaker and three inputs: instrument, microphone, and accordion (each with different tonal capabilities). // 9

Sound: The best two words to describe the sound of this amp are Lo-Fi and awesome. It is incredibly easy to achieve a funky, gritty, weird, lo-fi, 60's era sound out of this amp. All you need to do is have a guitar and a cable and it helps to have an opposable thumb (or two) to turn the volume and tremolo control. That's it, don't worry about bass, middle, treble, and gain controls. Just use the volume and the inputs to enter the tonal regions you want. The 15" speaker gives a whole different sound then a 12 speaker would to this amp. The Bright/Dark tone switch definitely adds some more tone shaping but it isn't the most dynamic way to dial in your bass and treble. This was one of the amps on display in the massive Fender and Gretsch room during NAMM 2012. It was being demonstrated by one of the Fender guitarists who was, to say the least, quite excellent at guitar. He channeled everything while giving me a great rundown of the amp, everything from CCR with heavy tremolo to a raucous sound propelled by The Black Keys and The White Stripes. It sounded just like what you would expect from a really cheap amp made 50 years ago with questionable parts, suspicious circuitry, and a speaker you would be scared to push as it could completely explode and set the amp on fire. It was great! I can personally see this being used for many studio recordings to get a funky sound without having to locate something from the past. Not to say this amp is so single purpose, you can definitely get a clean tube amp guitar sound by utilizing the volume on your guitar. It will not be as clean as a Fender Blackface but this is not intended to sound like every amp Fender has ever made. This is a whole new sound that will fit right in to the Pawn Shop series. // 9

Reliability & Durability: This amp seemed to be built pretty well. I am a little weary of the complete open back on the amp but I believe this will hold up to mild gigging fairly well. I do not envision this as a major touring amp for most but more of a home recording and studio type of an amp. You have a lot of different tonal options such as the three inputs and a 15" speaker. With that being said I think the reliability and durability will be fine for what the desired use is. These will become available at the very end of April so until we get some true feedback this category will remain at a 7. // 7

Overall Impression: I am extremely impressed by this amp for a variety of reasons. I believe Fender did a great job with the design of this amp, mimicking 50-60's era funky looking amps that were commonly sold at the major department stores of the day. The fact that for $299 you get a 13 watt all tube amp with a 15" speaker and three different inputs to reach some unique tones is exceptional for this price point. I personally love the looks of this amp because it is so much different then what you get in this price range. The design of the combo almost has a look of "65amps" which isn't a bad thing. I think these will be a HOT ticket and definitely know that I will be picking one of these up most likely off of the used market one day for around $200usd. Even if I were to buy new at $299 that is a completely reasonable price for all the features that you get. You can achieve the sounds you would be getting out of a 1964 Silvertone amp but with the reliability of an amp made in the modern era. Enjoy your tone and happy pickin'. Feel free to contact me! // 8

Jesse Kleinow aka thejester

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overall: 8.8
Pawn Shop Special Excelsior Reviewed by: Ashkadash, on march 20, 2013
1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Price paid: € 190

Purchased from: Used from online seller

Features: I had been butchering peoples ears with an old Peavey Centurion Mark III for a very long time when playing live. So I decided to buy an all-tube amp that would be able to give me unique and raunchy sounds without selling my soul. Enter the Fender Excelsior! A 13w amp, 1x15" Special Design speaker, along with a volume knob, a tremolo knob, three (!) inputs (Guitar, Microphone and Accordion) and a Bright/Dark switch. The great thing is though that it has a speaker output jack, giving you even more power (and along that different tone). It actually does what it sets out to do, and for the price I paid there isn't anything to complain about in terms of features. Though there has been some (understandable) criticism regarding the bright/dark switch - though it doesn't really bother me - and it would've been nice if there was a footswtich input for the tremolo. I still have to repeat that I'm not in a position to criticize especially regarding the price. Specifications: - Speakers - Two 6V6 output tubes - Two 12AX7 preamp tubes - GTR, Microphone, and Accordion inputs - Volume control - Tremolo with speed control - Treble/Bass tone switch - 1/4 speaker plug may be disconnected to use with an ext. cab. - Weight: 33lbs/15kg // 9

Sound: Along with the Excelsior I'm using the Italia Mondial Classic, Telecaster Classic Player Baja and a Partscaster with van Wilde Keystones so I had a chance to try them all out. The Excelsior (or at least mine) does make a little noise, even on low volumes, though this isn't just the Excelsiors' fault because the level of noise differs between guitars (the telecaster buzzes like crazy). Which is a shame because the tone is beautiful. Though it does make you work for it. Finding the tonal G-spot is a hard task with the Bright/Dark switch, because it gives you two completely different and opposite tones: 1. Very aggressive and treble heavy - starts to break up early 2. Low and almost hollow sounding - more headroom So finding something tonally incredible (which this amp is very capable of doing) is a very rewarding process, as it relies on bright/dark, pick attack, guitar and amp volume and the guitar (tone) like any normal tube amp, yet this sounds VERY different from a normal Fender amp. I myself play a combination of most sub-genres of blues to garage rock: examples are The White Stripes, Band Of Skulls, Robert Johnson, The Black Keys, Hanni El Khatib, DeWolff and Triggerfinger. And this thing just fits like a glove! I do support it with a bunch of pedals giving me more tonal options and really just creating my own individual sound using a Big Muff Pi w/ Tone Wicker, Micro POG, Dallas Rangemaster Clone, Boss RRV-10 supported with a true bypass looper, GLX CS100 and a Cry Baby. I'm also very delighted that this amp can get very loud and still remain tonally great, if not better. I played on it with full volume last week and it's the first time in 5 years that I have heard a complaint about my amp being to loud (coming from the neighbors from across the street). So for me it's perfect, for other genres I'm not really sure, but I would figure that it would also be a great option for (just giving some examples): folk, alternative, country, probably even jazz but don't expect the Excelsior in the backline of Meshuggah anytime soon. // 9

Reliability & Durability: I haven't used it live for a gig though it has had a few miles behind it driving it up and down to recording sessions and this thing doesn't show a single scratch. I am planning on using it for a gig soon, the only dilemma I'm really facing is trying to buy an extension cabinet or a mic for the 15" speaker, because it is a medium sized venue. I also haven't had any problems with it, though it is over a year old. I'm pretty sure that it will stand it's ground during a gig so until then this is just guess work. // 8

Overall Impression: So to sum it all up: this amp blows me away everytime I turn it on. Even the noise I get is acceptable and it almost feels like it's supposed to make it. I feel that I'm falling in love with this amp and I'm going to have a great time figuring out more about her everytime I use her. In my seven years of playing I have seldomly been more pleased with my own tone than the day I turned the Excelsior on, and the hour that followed. I'm also a fan of the exterior of the amp, reminding me of the old delta blues players like Son House, Leadbelly and Robert Johnson, which is a good thing. So to recap: great little amp with a very surprising amount of power behind it, makes you work for your tone but totally worth it, great amount of headroom and all that for a stunningly low price. I strongly recommend to try it out! // 9

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overall: 6.8
Pawn Shop Special Excelsior Reviewed by: TTLWes, on january 12, 2015
1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Price paid: $ 199

Features: I bought this amp in like new condition from a local Pawn Shop (ha!). I was looking for a low wattage (<15) tube amp for recording with at least a 10 inch speaker and preferably EL34s or 84s for under $300. The excelsior was outside of my specs in most areas but inside my price range so I gave it a try and ended up buying it. 

- 13 Watt 
- 2x6V6/2x12AX7
- Tube-bias tremolo 
- The 15" speaker is immediately noticeable if you peek around the back or just play it (or pick it up). 
- 3 Inputs: Gtr, Mic, Accordion (from what I've read these have different resistances and therefore a slightly different eq response.)
- Controls: Tremelo speed knob is also on/off switch, tone switch (bright/dark), and volume.
- There is one power switch in the back.
- I removed the tone switch, replaced it with standard 500 tone knob. Much better now.
- Because of the tone switch and one power switch, lower points here. // 6

Sound: Although it was a little weird for sure, I bought it for the sound. I think I just played some off-brand strat through it when I tried it out. Even with that crazy tone switch that went from shrill to muffled, I could hear potential with the switch set to bright and the guitar tone rolled down. I mostly do alternative psychedelic rock/pop stuff (Flaming Lips, Portugal The Man, Queens Of The Stone Age) and this amp is perfect for those crazy lo-fi cranked tones.

I'm used to 40-50w 6L6 12" combos so I don't know if it was the 15 inch speaker, or the 6V6 tubes (which have a more refined mid-range) but it sounded obviously different to me in a good way. The tone knob immediately turns this beast into something more use-able and if you have drill with 3/8 bit and soldering iron you can do it for about $20. Single best and most cost-effective upgrade for this amp. The switch does seem like a strange choice even with the rest of the "pawn shop" marketing going on.

Here are the things I love about this amp:

- It has this big bloomy, rubbery, earthy clean tone to it especially pushed harder with flat-wound strings or semi-hollow/hollow body guitars. 

- I don't know if this is due to the nature of the components or circuitry (or even if it is really supposed to do this at all), but when you crank this amp (especially in a live band) it gets this great slightly fuzzy, almost modulated auto-phaser sounding crunch. When you add gain from other pedals their sound kinda takes over, so you can change that part more or less if you don't like it.

- I use an analog blues overdrive, analog bass overdrive, and digital reverb with the excelsior and they all sound great run straight into the input. I've seen some DIY effect loop kits. This may be something to look into if you're planning on recording a lot of pedals with an amp like this. The bass overdrive has a 'blend' knob so it's kinda like a sparkle drive. The overdrive is basically just boost, and the reverb is usually a basic warm, longer room. It would probably take to other pedals as well. 

Here's what I don't like:

- It does seem noisy, but the wiring where I live is older.

- The tremelo circuit when switched on adds a bit of noise, but that could also be because of the first point. Some of it could be from the type of volume modulation this and other cheaper amps employ too. I don't use tremolo and it stays off so I don't worry about that. There are mods to make it foot-switchable. 

- The stock speaker definitely has a noticeable character of its own, but the amp sounds fine with the tone knob added. I've been reading that an Eminence Legend 1518 is usually the best choice but Jensen reportedly sounds good too. 

- I have removed the lower chassis from the amp entirely while recording to eliminate what was a very nasty tube rattle (what I'm 90% sure was tube ringing/rattle) at certain frequencies. It's gone now, but still not really that cool to deal with. No doubt from the 15" speaker. Better tubes would probably help too.

The only reason I don't give a 9 or 10 here is it almost sounds terrible with the stock tone switch and the rattling. // 8

Reliability & Durability: It doesn't seem exactly rock solid at the moment what with the bottom chassis hanging out but I've found work-arounds especially with it being a stationary studio amp. I would not feel comfortable gigging with it, but others might be ok. Too low wattage for our show anyways. I'm not so trusting of the stock tubes either. I'm sure they're Chinese and fine but at least some good Russian tubes would even be a step-up. It has held up for what I bought it for and more, however.

The cabinet actually seems pretty solid despite the buzzing. // 6

Overall Impression: Overall the excelsior is great at responding to playing dynamics. It gets a great clean sound and slight breakup at bedroom volumes and an even better sound at studio levels. Even at 13 watts it was still louder than I expected but it greatly benefits from a few cheap upgrades. I haven't even tried any other tubes yet, although I would bet that a better and more efficient speaker would really open this baby up more than tubes would. Still couldn't hurt once that was done or just to change the breakup response. Seems to like pedals ok even when pushed. Looks cool and is pretty easy to carry around considering.

I do wish it had a standby switch which I'm sure saves the hell out of the tubes compared to not having one.

This amp gets lower marks than it could have because of the marketing playing into the features of this amp so much. It doesn't need a tone switch, it needs a knob like every other normal amp. It doesn't need two other inputs, even if you we're running a mic or accordion through it. And it especially doesn't need the electrician-grade wiring in the back. It greatly needs a standby switch. // 7

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