Tuesday, October 25, 2005

My Ultra Cool Tweed Champ Build

5F1 Champ

Last year, I started playing the harmonica again. I had two little practice amps. A little solid state Yamaha amplifier that sounds kind of funky. That isn't funky in a good way. The second one is really old. The are two labels. One says Tower Corp. The other is an address label that reads:

Tower Corp
400 S. Peoria Street
Chicago, IL

That's an address that is about a mile straight north of the original Chicago's Maxwell Street Market. It is a really cool little amplifier with some potentially cool Blues history. When coupled to the right microphone, it's got a very cool sound to it. Due to it's age, it doesn't exactly scream reliable. Plus, it has a pair of 6V6 tubes. I haven't pulled the chassis to see how it is wired up, but I suspect it should be a lot louder than it is. I would guess that it should be 10 watt amp. It's still pretty loud for the house.

A few months back, Don Yonder loaned me his Pro Junior. It's a nice little amp, but it was really loud. Paint peeling loud. Too loud for the house. He then loaned me a nifty little 15 watt Vox solid state amp. That one had a very cool boxy sound to it. It was nice, but it was still really loud. When I returned the amp, there were a bunch of guitar players milling around. I asked about a small low powered amp. The consensus was that I should look for a Fender Champ. I played through a silverface one twenty years ago and I didn't like it very much, but I was told the tweed ones were really cool. I started looking at tweed Champs on ebay and just about had a stroke when I saw the prices. I started looking at Champ clones. While the prices were lower, they were still astronomical. After bidding and losing on a couple of Victoria 518's, I decided to stick with what I had.

I was talking to Steve Freund about amplifiers and he told me that I really wanted to stick with an amp that was wired point to point. He suggested that I build one. I started looking at Allen Amps. They had some incredibly cool stuff, but the prices were more than I wanted to pay and their amp kits looked really complicated. Considering that this was my first electronics project since I was 11, I decided that it was too complex.

After some googling, I came across some tweed Champ kits. I researched the these things to death and eventually decided to buy one. I eventually decided to buy a 5F1 Champ kit from Mike Marsh at Marsh Amps. The reason why I decided to go with the Marsh kit was pretty simple. Mike Marsh has gotten nothing, but glowing reviews from his customers and his kit provided a brief set of build instructions. Plus, when I contacted him about the order, he gave me some feedback on speaker selection.

The build went smoothly. I took my time and it worked the first time that I powered it up. It sounded fantastic. It had a nasty hum that I couldn't diagnose, so I shipped it off to Mike. He found the problem pretty quickly. I had an errant glob of solder in the wiring of the 6V6 which wasn't easily visible. While he had it, he added the virtual center tap. When the repaired chassis arrived, I installed it in a laquered cabinet along with a Weber AlNiCo Signature 8. It looks and sounds fantastic. The tone is simply amazing. It's incredible how big the sound is from such a small box.

I took it out on it's maiden voyage at RJ Mischo's World Famous Blues Jam at the Mojo Lounge. Unfortunately, RJ was test driving a nice little Kalamazoo Model 2, so the true test didn't happen for another week. The following week, Birdlegg was hosting the jam, so I brought the amp down there to test it out.

I brought an old low impedence Green Bullet. Due to the lower output of this particular microphone, I was able to crank the volume up to 11 before reaching the feedback threshold. It was loud enough to be heard in the back of the room without being run through the PA. It ran non-stop for a couple of hours without a problem. It had a really fantastic sound to it.

Needless to say, it was a really fun project and I am very happy with the results.

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