1957 Champ, 1958 Champ, Custom Shop Reissue
The three Fender Champs: 1957 (left), 1958 (center), and Reissue (right)

Some weeks ago we put a couple of Fender Champs -a 1957 original and a Custom Shop '57 Champ- side to side and compared all the aesthetic aspects from both eras, but we left the sound test for later. Luckily, we've managed to get our hands on a 1958 Champ as well, so we tried to put all three together and see if we could point out the main sound differences. Despite the differences in clarity, harmonic richness, compression and resonance, they're all three great amps.

For starters, we will say that the Reissue is a dark amp, especially when compared to the other ones. We've read a bunch of reviews calling it a "one-trick" pony... and it's true: it's a great, fun overdrive tool, but that's about it. Cleans tones are so dark that the amp will seem pointless for those seeking that 50's crazy twang. You can either boost your high notes with a pedal, or improve the amp with a very simple mod.

You may also notice the natural fuzz, more pronounced than the original Champs'. This is probably due to the Weber Speaker. The vintage ones have Oxfords on them (not a great speaker to begin with)... I wonder why neither the original ones nor the RI have Jensens on them!

As for the differences between the original 57 and 58, you might notice right away that one is much brighter and fuller than the other (yup, the '58). Why is this? Both amps are in great condition, so it's hard to know. A tech inspected both amps throughout all its phases, and even thought both are working nicely, the '57 is in even better working shape than the better-sounding '58. The preamp phase is almost three times more effective! So what's going on? Yes, you guessed it: the speaker. Both speaker's coils are working perfectly, it's the 57's cone what's cutting down some signal. But it looks new, so how is this even possible?

1957 Champ, 1958 Champ, Custom Shop Reissue
The 1957 (left) and 1958 (right) Champs)

We can't say that there have been many cases where a 50+ year-old Fender speaker has hardly ever been played. They usually have. So we have a unique situation here. Speaker cones are very similar to muscles, in a way. If enought decades go by without it getting played, it will somehow stunt when it comes to performance. That's what it is: a speaker that has become slightly ineffective throughout the years due to a lack of use. We tried another speaker on it and confirmed our theory.

However, they all sound nice, but the '58 is the best example of all three. We only discovered what the others were lacking when we plugged a really good one (the '58) next to the others.