Once again treading those frightening and uncharted waters of sounding good without the luxury of being able to tell yourself that even if you don’t sound good, people will think you do because you just spent $1200 on a brand new original circuit boutique overdrive (i.e. tubescreamer clone). Last time it was the Keith Brawley stratocaster (link to that post here) for around $400. For the next most important piece in the tonal hierarchy, the amp, we’re gonna go with the Frenzel FM-5E1SS Champ Super Sportster. Ya, okay, basically a Fender Champ. But here’s the thing…it’s a handwired, point-to-point, all tube, tube-rectified Champ. To get a Champ like that, you have to go on a serious (and seriously fun) pilgrimage to find like, a 1959 one that’s still in at least working condition, and you’ll be spending right around $1200. This Frenzel here is under $600 right now, brand new. And…it doubles the wattage of the original Champ’s from 5 to 10, has a direct out with line level, has Jim Frenzel’s own mods and upgrades on the Champ circuit, and is self-biasing. Meaning, you can throw in 6L6, 6V6, 6550, EL34, KT88, etc…all without re-biasing. Just plug and play.
So, a good friend of mine and guitarist who posts here every once in a while, Mark Holstein, told me about these amps. And when I saw all the features, but yet with that incredibly low price point…I realized that something has to give somewhere; so they must sound pretty bad. Well, they don’t. They sound, really, really good. And I can’t figure out how the guy is building these for so low a price. And he’s got higher powered ones too, and Vox style ones; lots of different models. Ya, sorry that this is reading like an infomercial for these amps…but seriously…it’ll probably clean your carpets, too. Anyway, on to the demo.
Frenzel FM-5E1SS Champ Super Sportster with KT88 tube (Hiwatt, D13 RSA23 sound)–>
–>RAWoods solid pine 1×12 cab with Weber 12A150b (Weber’s take on a Jensen with a bit of Brit thrown in)
–Prairiewood Les Paul with Wolfetone Dr. Vintage pickups (you can actually hear the switch going out a little bit in the guitar…why can’t things just last forever…now my weekend is going to be spent soldering…lol)
–Keith Brawley strat
Most of the demo is just guitar plugged straight in to amp. However, I also wanted to show how the amp takes effects. So, as various points, all of the following are used:
–Diamond Memory Lane
–Damage Control Timeline
–Hartman Germanium Fuzz
–Paul Cochrane Tim (12 volts)
I also test it against a Matchless later in the video. Now, price-wise, that’s not very fair; but I was attempting to show that though it does not sound as good as the Matchless, that it’s definitely close enough to cause you to take a second took at it for under $600.
–>65 Amps birch cab with a Celestion Blue & G12H30
And the video. I talked an exorbitant amount in this thing, so you can see where I edited out my own asphyxiation with hearing my own voice:
When I first plugged this in, I was incredibly surprised by how good it sounded. I honestly did not expect that. Obviously, not quite as present as the Matchless, but still really pretty good!
–Self-biasing 6L6 style. That’s rare, and a huge plus. So without having to worry, you can just swap tubes to your heart’s content, hearing all the little nuances. Personally, I love KT88’s. And they make this thing sound not too far off from my old Divided by 13.This amp sounds really, really warm and full…without the usual mud from cheaper amps.
–Presence knob. Yes.
–The two channels, with the ability to jump them.
–The ability to run a direct out if you need it.
–Great master volume control. No sudden jumps or cuts.
–Just an all around great sounding amp for not a ton of money.
–The front panel really should be recessed. Those knobs are just out there waiting to be broken off. If I end up keeping this, I may get a custom headcase made.
–They used a red jewel light instead of a blue one.
So now we’ve got a guitar and an amp, with really good tone and build quality, and both can probably be had together for under $1,000. Add to that the RAWoods cab and Weber speaker, which together were under $400. Not bad for a better quality and better tone than almost anything you’ll find at Guitar Center. On a side note, you can unfortunately hear the difference between the Prairiewood and the Brawley, and the Matchless and the Frenzel. Not a world of difference, but definitely there. So, as usual, the truth is far less fantastic than we would like it to be. Almost always, we want to say that cheaper stuff is just as superior as expensive stuff and there’s no difference whatsoever, or that expensive stuff is always superior and you shouldn’t even waste your time with cheap stuff. Whereas in reality, the truth of tone is somewhere in between. Yes, you do get what you pay for most of the time, and there is something to be said for expensive gear. Not for all of it, but for the stuff that’s expensive for good reason. But at the same time, can you save money and sound great with a $400 guitar and $600 amp? Yes. With a little research into what exactly it is that makes things sound good, you can definitely sound really good without a ton of money.
Click here for tone you might actually not have to put on your credit card: