Review: Fender Vibro Champ XD

It’s rare that a little practice amp gets almost universal praise from reviewers as delivering great value for money and great sound, but the Fender Vibro Champ XD really does justify the praise. Modeling classic Tweed and Blackface sounds is its strength, but it also delivers some metal tones – if you’re into that kind of thing 😉

Item: Fender Vibro Champ XD

Inspiration: Pretty simple inspiration for this one as I just wanted to get a versatile practice amp. The funny thing is that when I really think about it I generally play guitar through the computer with headphones on, but hey, any excuse for another bit of gear… I can also justify on the front that it has been used a couple of times when friends have come over for a lounge room jam.

Image: It’s the classic blackface look that screams pure Fender – and I like that! I also like the fact that there aren’t a bunch of LED screens to drive home the fact it is a digital amp.

Investment: For less than $400, this is a hell of a buy… While I do appreciate that there are a lot of good cheap practice amps around, when you consider the performance and sound quality of this little guy it’s still a big winner.

Intrinsic Qualities: The key to this 5-watt class A amp is the 16-way rotary dial that allows you to select preset preamp tones. While these cover a lot of territory, you can still tweak further with the gain (be careful here), EQ and DSP effects (mainly reverbs and chorus but sadly no phaser or flanger). Of course there’s also the fact that there’s a single 6V6 tube in there to at least make you feel that there’s some tube goodness lying within. As far as the presets go, my only real frustration is the number of metal tones and the fact that they can be a bit harsh. Now obviously if you are a metal player this isn’t an issue, but for me it probably reduces the number of useable settings for me down to seven or eight. Another small disappointment is the fact that you can’t bypass the presets, but that said the presets should get you where you want to go. For me the three Tweed, three Blackface, Jazz and Acoustic settings are where it’s at.

You can hook it up to an external speaker and from what I understand it does take it from practice to small gig mode pretty effectively. In fact some reviews claim this is where it really comes into its own.

About the only things that you would change would be to put a 10” rather than an 8” speaker in it, and be able to bypass the modeling, but that’s being picky and would no doubt add to the price – which would dilute it’s value-for-money status.

Intangibles: A big part of the appeal here is that this is a great plug-and-play amp. It’s very simple to dial in a sound that you are looking for without endless tweaking.

If not this then…: Given the kind of tones I’m looking for cover the clean to bluesy range – and no need for metal stuff, I would probably look at the Fender Champ 600. Much more of a one trick pony but good at what it does and costs about the same.

The format for doing a brief reviews of the various bits of gear that I use is called the “I” Test: 7 categories that are a bit different from the standard review that reads like it’s lifted from a guitar magazine. My “I Test” takes into account not just the performance characteristics (as normal reviews do) but also addresses the real reason we buy stuff: the 7 “I”s – what’s the Item, Inspiration (why did I get it), Image (what’s it look like), Investment (bargain or just lust), Intrinsic qualities (what does it do), Intangibles (sometimes the reason you got it doesn’t fall into any other category!), and If not this then… (did I look at alternatives).

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