A confession first. I’m not really one for solid state amps, though I do have a little bit of an exception for my old Stage160 Fender solid state, which has held a special place in my heart since I was young. So when this 2019 Fender Champion 50XL amplifier (rrp $499) turned up in my office I was pretty eager to try it out – and see how it held up for comparison. Smaller obviously – and lighter. My 160 weighs 19kg, while this one is just 8.6kg.
The initial task is trying to work out exactly what it is that separates the Champion XL series amps from Fender’s regular old Champion series? The most obvious difference is the black on black look (which, let’s face it, is a lot cooler). With a little further research, I discovered that Champion XLs also use a superior 12” Celestion ‘Midnight 60’ speaker in them, giving loads of low-end warmth and mid-range punch. (Or in Fender promo-speak, ‘…that adds tonal fullness, increased output, and expressiveness to this versatile amplifier’.)
In similarity to its basic-bitch cousin, the Champion 40 (and some other one-speaker solid state combos), when you push the gain quite high, the 50 watts through a single speaker doesn’t really break up in a way that sounds all that nice. But just add the dirt of a couple of pedals or – even better – simply switch the in-built voicings menu to ‘Crunch’ channel, and it becomes a thoroughly useable 50W of solid state power.
Four ‘stompbox’ effects (Compressor, Overdrive, Distortion and Octaver) bolster the flexibility of the dozen amp tones that range from pristine clean to full-on metal distortion. Voicings available include Clean, Clean with compression, Metal (which sounds like a heavily compressed and distorted version of Crunch), and Metal + Octaver. I found Crunch and Metal + Octaver to be the most interesting, with the addition of an octaver effect it’s keeping up with the times. All the options are quite useable really, bar the Compressor one which I couldn’t see myself using very often – and obviously any pedal user would just set the amp to Clean anyway.
It’s also worth mentioning that the on-board effects section comes with a great selection of 12 digital DSP-based effects; including Reverb, Delay/Echo, Chorus, Tremolo and Vibratone, and my personal favourite, the Auto-wah. The chorus is quite lush and nice too. The in-built reverb sounds like a warm short plate reverb, which is not really my thing for guitar amps, but others might like it.
This versatile Champion 50XL seems perfect for a ‘lounge’ amp, by which I mean a practice amp especially ideal for home. I would be hesitant to gig with it as I feel it’s not quite loud enough (for my purposes), so for gigging use I would instead look at the two-speaker version, the Champion 100XL.
I would say that, hands down, this amplifier has the most features out of anything that’s out there in the $500 price bracket. (The only comparable amps I could find were cheaper, but offering significantly fewer features.) Fender is a name that probably sells itself, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend their Champion 50XL as a first amp for a focused beginner, or as a great-sounding and versatile practice amp for someone more advanced.