The Fender Champ is one of the most popular amps of all time. Offering great tone at low volumes, it’s ideal for both practice and recording. Many of today’s top builders offer accurate-sounding replicas.
One of them, Dave Gries, came up with the Gries 5. Starting with the AA764 blackface circuit from the early ’60s, Dave added controls for Treble, Midrange, and Bass, and supplemented the single Volume knob found on most Champs with Gain and Master Volume. The Gain knob has a pull-out for additional bright tones. There’s also an included footswitch for gain boost.
All internal components are wired point-to-point on a G10 turret board; the pots, switches, and jacks are mounted directly to the chassis for durability. The music flows to an Eminence Patriot Screamin Eagle 12″ speaker, and everything is dropped into a black Tolex-covered solid pine cabinet with ½” Baltic birch plywood baffles. All components are top-shelf, including a Mercury Magnetics output transformer. In the world of boutique amps, the workmanship in the Gries 5 is superlative.
With the Gain knob above 4, the passive tone controls are lifted out of the musical path and the Gries 5 becomes a great-sounding Champ, but with added volume, bass, and presence, thanks to the 12″ speaker and larger cabinet. Virtually any level of distortion, from a mild grind to a creamy midrange-drenched sustain, can be achieved by combining the Gain and Volume controls. A distortion pedal easily drives the Gries into the metal realm. The Master Volume knob minds its own business, just raising or lowering the volume on the distortion already set with the Gain and Volume knobs.
With gain set below 4, it’s definitely still a Champ tone, but the passive EQ controls are fully engaged. The ability to dial off some Treble brings a Strat’s bridge pickup into play more frequently, offering chime without edge on rhythm chords and midrange warmth on clean leads. Reducing bass increases the “cluck” factor; turning the Midrange knob down with the middle pickup brings out its glassiness.
The tone controls on the Gries 5 can change almost any Strat neck pickup into the pickup of your choice. The same tonal palette is available with humbuckers – the grind just comes in sooner, is louder, and stays longer. With the gain at 4 or less, it’s a snap to dial out the muddiness of some newer humbucker-equipped guitars.
Priced hundreds of dollars less than many straight-ahead Champ clones with a single knob and 8″ speaker, the Gries 5, with its components, workmanship and greater tonal control, presence, and volume is an exceptional bargain.
This article originally appeared in VG March 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.