Interview: John Frondelli on Hot-Rodding the Fender Champion 600
In this brief interview John Frondelli talks about the mods that he cooked up for the Fender Champion 600. This amp is exactly the same as the Gretsch 5222 amp. He also talks about his “version 2” mod that is being field tested right now and will be available soon. If any Champion 600 owners are having trouble with excessive noise this issue will be addressed as well.
300guitars: Hi John. Tell us what made you do the modifications to the new Champion 600 amp?
John Frondelli: I had heard too many players complain that the amps were just too anemic. The average player is expecting more of the Billy Gibbons vibe from these amps, but Billy’s Champ was an old 5F1 chassis. The Champion 600 on paper more closely resembles the AA764 chassis, except that the tone stack is fixed and it has a solid-state rectifier. So, I set out to breathe some fire into it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not BAD as is. Some players do NOT want higher gain, but MOST do.
300guitars: About how long do these mods take?
John Frondelli: For someone who has minimal experience, the mods should take around 1.5-2hrs. Your mileage may vary.
300guitars: Is there any “hoodoo voodoo” here or is it all just basic component swaps?
John Frondelli: Mostly basic component swaps, but I have just created a slightly different “Version 2” mod which replaces the remaining two tone stack caps with new values to tighten up the bass and low mids, and utilizes Carbon Composition resistors in the first preamp stage. Carbon Comps are DEFINITELY part “hoodoo voodoo”. It’s a subtle difference vs. the more common Carbon Film resistors, but it definitely makes the feel a bit livelier. I just sent the first Version 2 modded amp to my brother Michael who is a recording engineer and producer in Hollywood and is known for his rock guitar sounds on many hit records. Once the Version 2 mod passes his microscopic examination under studio mics, I will commence shipping it, but not until then.
300guitars: Are you still offering parts kits?
John Frondelli: Absolutely!!! You know, the instructions for the mod are posted on-line and it’s OK with me that people source their own parts, but I cannot predict EXACTLY what results they might get using different cap types or a different speaker. That’s why we here at dBm Pro Audio offer it all for a very reasonable price. Also, they are all quality components by Panasonic, Xicon, Jensen and Sovtek.
300guitars: Can DIY’ers get support here on the 300guitars forum?
John Frondelli: Absolutely! Through my e-mail as well.
300guitars: What are the positive and negative points about the Champion 600?
John Frondelli: POSITIVE: Cool vibe, nice bang-for-the buck tube amp, great size and volume level for recording. NEGATIVE: Crappy OEM speaker, Chinese tubes, anemic tone. The Champ 600 Mod Kit solves these issues.
300guitars: Is the Gretsch G5222 amp EXACTLY the same amp electronically speaking?
John Frondelli: Yes, the schematic is exactly the same, as are the component location numbers, etc. Internally, it’s a perfect match. Hence, the same mod kits can be used.
300guitars: If you use “Audiophile” grade components for the mod will they improve the overall performance?
John Frondelli: I am going to try using all Carbon Comp resistors and SoZo caps, just for the hell of it. The component count is so low that it be almost a sin NOT to try it! For my own head, I’d just like to see if this works. The existing Far East components in there haven’t really proven to be an issue in terms of reliability, except for the tubes, so it really is sonic experimentation.
300guitars: How about changing the transformers?
John Frondelli: I haven’t done this yet, but I am going to try different output transformers to see the results. I know that Mercury Magnetics offers a Transformer Upgrade Kit, but of course, it’s somewhat pricey. To be fair, they make great transformers, but there are only a handful of players who would drop more cash on a mod than the whole amp’s cost.
300guitars: What do you recommend for replacement speakers?
John Frondelli: I like to use the Jensen Mod because it is readily-available and sounds good, but I’ve heard of players having good luck with the Weber speakers too. Weber VST makes a fine product, and I am sure that there would be no issues with their speakers. The amp is only 5 watts, so you could retrofit ANY 6″ 8-ohm speaker in there. Someone might find that an old speaker that they rescued from an old TV might work! You know, in the end, it’s all about tone, not who makes the speaker.
300guitars: Some Champion 600 owners have been complaining about this little amp having and inherent hum. Is there a fix for that?
John Frondelli: The hum issue is primarily lead dress. The heater wires pass directly over some high-impedance areas of the circuit, where they can cause hum issues. Dressing the heater wires away from these areas is the fix. Occasionally, they may be so short and tight that they need to be extended first.
300guitars: Are there any new mods for this amp or any other amp in the works?
John Frondelli: Well, I’ve already cooked up the “Version 2” mod described earlier. As far as other DIY mods, no. I don’t want to start having people drill the front panels, cut circuit traces, etc. There are LOTS of mods that I will perform FOR people if the want them, but they require some surgery. The simplest mod is a switch that bypasses the fixed tone stack entirely and essentially turns the amp into a closer version of the 5F1 chassis. I could also convert the tone stack from fixed to variable, or just a variable treble control. I could even change the power transformer and punch the chassis for a rectifier tube, but that’s a MAJOR mod. Because the amp is a one-knobber, there’s a lot of room for mods. I COULD get carried away, but my original intention was really just a cool little mod to improve the amp’s performance, not wholesale redesigning.
300guitars: Thanks John for all the great info on modding this little screaming amp!!
John Frondelli: And thanks to you Billy, for making me “almost famous”! In addition, I’d like to thank all of the players who have purchased and used the Champion 600 Mod Kit. Enjoy!