Looking for a practice amp that has a little more oomph? Want to be able to practice with effects without needing a multi-effects unit or a board of compact pedals? In this Fender Champion 20 review we’ll see what Fender’s 20 watt practice amp has to offer. We’ll take a look at it’s features, it’s capabilities and of course we’ll talk about how practical the amps is to use. There’s quite a lot included with this little amp so let’s get started.
Background to Fender and Champion Series
Fender started to produce amps in the 1940’s. In the 1950’s Fender’s reputation for producing quality amps took off with the introduction of the Tweed series. As well as their tonal quality, Fender amps were very well styled. As well as the Tweed style Fender introduced a number of other styles, such as the brownface, blackface and silverface.
A number of these classic styles were reissued for the 21st century. In 2014 Fender released the Champion series, utilizing modelling technology to replicate the tones of their classic amps. The Champion is available in three models, the 20, the 40 and the 100.
Overview of Fender Champion 20
The Champion 20 is very much a practice amp, albeit with a lot more features that you’d usually get in a practice amp. It might handle a gig in a very small venue, but I doubt it’ll keep up with a drum kit. There’s 20 watts of power, but that’ll start to break down as you get to higher volumes. Unfortunately that’s an inevitability once most amps are cranked up.
The amp is still pretty compact, enabling you to easily transport it. It won’t take up much space and weighs just 5.4kg.
The amp is sturdily built and features an open back cabinet. The output is handled by an 8 inch Fender Special speaker. The amp has a single channel, which can be a bit of a pain as you can’t quickly switch between a clean and more distorted tone. The amp is styled in the traditional blackface style. It’s got that vintage feel and definitely isn’t a bad looking amp.
Although there’s just the one channel, it gives you access to a number of “voices”. These are digitally modeled to replicate the sound of some of Fender’s classic amps.
There are 12 to choose from in total from classic to high-gain metal:
- Tweed Bassman
- Tweed Deluxe
- Tweed Champ
- 65 Twin Amp
- 65 Deluxe
- 65 Princeton
- 60’s British
- 70’s British
- 80’s British
- 90’s Metal
- 2000 Metal
They broadly fall into four families, which is indicated on the voice control panel. Each of the 12 voices above falls into one of these four families. The LED indicator next to the voice control knob will change color dependent on which voice you have selected.
Unfortunately the Champion 20 doesn’t have a 3 band EQ, missing the mid range control. I don’t understand why producers omit the mid range control from their amps. It’s where the guitar sits among the band so having mid range control feels kind of essential. At least you can control the bass and treble!
Something unusual for a practice amp is on-board effects. The Champion 20 has 12 of them, which can be controlled via the FX select knob. You have some basic control over the amount of effect thanks to the FX level knob. Whilst you won’t be able to fine tune your effect, it’s a good introduction to effects for beginners.
The default position for the FX select knob is “off”, so you can plug in an external effects unit or pedal board if you’d prefer. The 12 built-in effects are:
- Reverb & Chorus
- Reverb Hall
- Reverb Spring
- Chorus – Fast Sweep
- Chorus – Deep Sweep
- Delay Slapback
- Delay Long
- Delay & Reverb
- Touch Wah
I said the same of the Champion 40, it would have been nice to have a phase effect too. Although you can’t control things like depth you can set a tempo for the modulation effects. The “Tap” button, located next to the FX select knob, allows you to set a rhythm by tapping the button.
The LED next to the tap button will then repeat the rhythm by flashing. You can set the maximum time delay by holding the tap button for a few seconds. Fender have done a good job of including this functionality without making it too complex.
Now, 20 watts from an 8 inch speaker is more than enough to attract a whole host of noise complaints. It’ a good job you can practice using headphones. Use the 1/8 inch jack to plug in your headphones for “silent” practice. The speaker will automatically mute when phones are plugged in allowing you to practice any time of the day. The phones jack also enables you to output to a recording device too.
There’s an AUX jack that’ll enable you to connect an audio player or your phone. Connect to the 1/8 inch jack to play songs through the speaker, enabling you to jam along with your favorite tracks. You’ll need to adjust the playback volume on your device as there’s no AUX volume controls built into the amp.
Here’s a short video introducing you to the tones the Champion series can produce.
Pros of Fender Champion 20
The Champion 20 certainly looks good and it’s capable of producing more than enough noise for practicing. Here are some of the best bits:
- Good & Full Sound
- Simple to Operate – Good for Beginners
- Well Built
Cons of Fender Champion 20
There are a few drawbacks however. It’s not that there are inherent problems with the Champion 20 itself, it’s just that it’s competitors appear to have the edge:
- Doesn’t Support a Foot-switch
- Doesn’t Have Memory Banks
- Can’t Connect to a Computer
The Champion 20 is powerful, well-built and simple to use. It’s compact, portable and stylish. The variety of voices and the on-board effects give a reasonably dynamic range of tones that’ll be more than enough for a beginner.
It won’t cope well playing live with a band, unless your drummer is in first gear and the venue is very small. But it’s a practice amp at heart and it’s not designed for gigging. I like that it has a tap tempo feature to give a degree of control over the modulation effects, but it falls behind some of the other 20 watt amps currently out there.
Even Fender’s Mustang I V.2 includes memory bank to save your sculpted tones. The Line 6 Spider V also will enable you to download patches directly to the amp via a computer for the same price as the Champion 20. Although admittedly both of these amps don’t have the luxurious styling of the Champion 20.
The Champion 20 has a lot of features which are simple to operate, so great for beginners. If you’re willing to forgo the attractive styling of the Champion 20, you might be better opting for the Line 6 Spider V. If you want something a little more powerful but still want a modelling amp, I’d recommend reading about the Boss Katana 50 here.
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