November 5, 2009 | Paul Zoskey of www.GuitarFixation.com
Mercury Magnetics Champ "600" Build

Mr. Duncan Haberly who just happens to sit on the board of one of my favorite websites: www.instructables.com, was kind enough to take on the Mercury Magnetics modification of the Fender Champion 600.

Lucky for us, Duncan documented nearly every step of the build process with pictures so we could have a look at the transformation of the amp. You can see his pictures in all there glory at the left hand side of the page, no doubt these would be useful if you are going to do this modification yourself. I asked Duncan if he wouldn't mind summing up his experience with the Champion modification and here is what he had to say:

"The Mercury Magnetics Upgrade Kit is very well constructed and comes with detailed instructions in a PDF on the included CD. Overall, the documentation is quite good.

"The preceding said, this is not a build that I would recommend for a hobbyist who does not have a basic understanding of circuitry, strong soldering skills, a digital soldering iron, a circuit-board holder, a
Dremel, and a well-lit workspace. As you can tell in the photos, I used a Weller WESD51 digital soldering iron and a Panavise board holder, both of which worked particularly well and allowed me to stay focused on the build at all times. I just can't stress enough the value of a high-quality iron and board holder for a project like this -- particularly if you are an amateur project-builder who hates to suck up a blown solder joint.

"I started by laying out the assorted parts and then separated the smaller electronics parts into a clear tackle box, giving each part-type its own slot in the box and labeling them by writing on Scotch tape on the top of the box. The Mercury Magnetics PDF part list was clear, and I didn’t have any difficulties identifying parts.

"After getting everything inventoried, I cracked the amp case and just followed the PDF instructions on a laptop set up next to my work surface. While the screen resolution wasn't as high as a printed-out version, I found it useful to be able to scale the photos. Once into the build, there were a couple of points where the instructions weren't completely obvious to me, but in each case, I was able to study the photos, think about the circuit, and push through. And, I have every confidence that other builders might not even find those points challenging. The build does require you to replace the original
transformers with two new
Mercury Magnetics transformers and a Mini-Choke, drilling new mounting holes. Mercury Magnetics provides a printable template, which was very helpful in measuring and drilling the required new mounting holes. The builder must also remove, replace, and augment significant amounts of the original circuit, including breaking traces and drilling new contact points along a couple of paths. This was a little stressful, frankly, but accomplished with a Dremel. Otherwise, replacing the speaker and reassembling the case was as easy as you might imagine. I also sourced vintage tubes from local amp builder and switched them in during the build.

"I should note that the
Mercury Magnetics instructions give an option at one point of wiring the new circuit for volume or tone. I chose to wire for tone, but was stunned at the improvement in volume that resulted anyway. I will leave it to the Guitar Fixation editors to give their much more qualified opinion on the result.

"Finally, I am guessing a professional amp-builder could knock this kit out in 2 hours; it took me about 5 hours, start to finish. I had a great time and encourage any experienced electronics hobbyist to take a crack at the
Mercury Magnetics Champ "600" Upgrade Kit -- it is incredibly gratifying to play guitar through a circuit that you soldered yourself!"

The Upgrade in pictures -- click on each of the following to see a full-sized version.

Be sure to check out Duncan's handy work in our Champion "600" Shootout below!


Mercury Magnetics Champ "600" Shootout from GitFix on Vimeo.

November 6, 2009 | Paul Zoskey of www.GuitarFixation.com
Mercury Magnetics Amp shootout: Fender Champion "600"

The Fender Champion "600" is a 5-watt combo amplifier with a 6-inch speaker that features a 12AX7 preamp tube and a 6L6 power tube. The Fender Champion retails for a scant $150 and is really a bargain when you get right down to it. You can use it at home without any fear of upsetting the neighbors, but the tone and sound of the amp is what you would expect for a combo that retails for only $150.

The Mercury Magnetics Upgrade Kit for the Champion "600" will run you $250 and includes a new power and output transformer, a Mini-Choke, and a custom designed Webber 6" speaker. So does it seem crazy for you to spend $250 on an upgrade for an amp that you only paid $150 for? On the outset -- maybe, but have a look at our shootout video and I think you will see that the Upgrade will make that little champ into something else entirely.

We decided to start the shootout with the volume on both amps set to 12 o'clock, or half the total volume. We didn't see much value in showing the amps at a lower volume as all you would hear is that the stock amp is very quiet and we would have had to boost the signal quite a bit to reach a real recording level. The Mercury Magnetics modified amplifier started to break up when using the PRS McCarty around 9 o'clock (or 3 on the volume dial). You can always roll back on your guitar's volume to clean up the signal.

So at the 12 o'clock setting you can hear that the stock amplifier is very dull sounding, but if you dig into the guitar you can get a little bit of break up from it. If you were to set the Mercury modified amplifier to roughly 7 o'clock (or 2 on the dial) you would get a clean tone, but with a full and rich top end. When Mike switches over to the modified Champ, you can hear the difference right away. There is now substantially more gain found in this little amp and it is a different tone all together. The touch sensitivity of the amplifier goes from zilch on the stock amp to amazing on the Mercury modified amplifier. You can hear it on the amp when Mike alternates between really digging in to just playing a note, his fingers and pick really dictate what comes out of the amp.

With both of the amplifiers at full you can hear that these two amplifiers are worlds apart. The stock Champion certainly sounds good for its $150 price tag and you do hear the warm of the tubes in its tone. I find that the tone lacks any real definition to it, though, and that the notes just seem to blend together into a sort of haze. The low-end sound very loose and muddy, which you can clearly hear when Mike starts playing power chords around the 4:50 mark in the video. When he switches over to the Mercury "600" the looseness disappears along with a huge increase in gain. The gain is not overpowering or unusable, but is a smooth overdrive that is great for blues and rock. If it is too much you can simply roll the volume back to clean it up.

To really illustrate how much of a difference the Upgrade makes I wanted to share an anecdote with you. We purchased a stock Champ "600" and brought it right to Duncan's workshop to be modified. The unit was unboxed and the teardown began right away, we didn't even plug it in. After the Upgrade was complete all of us had the chance to play it and were obviously very impressed. Well, the Champ was at my flat for a while and I played it nearly everyday until we were able to schedule the video shoot for the shootout. On the day of the shoot I went to my local Guitar Center to pick up a new stock "600" and then drove over to the studio.

Special note: We set everything up and unboxed the Champ to let it warm up. When Mike Sopko arrived, he began testing the amps and that’s when we ran into an issue -- the stock Champ was broken! When you plugged into it the sound was so low and generally weak all around that we figured the Champ had an issue, possibly with the 6L6. So I packed it up and went back to the Guitar Center and swapped it out for a new one and headed back to the studio. We unboxed the new one and guess what? It turns out that the first amp was not broken at all, that is just the way the stock amp sounds -- thin, quiet, and weak. The Mercury Upgrade Kit not only Upgrades the tone and sound of the Champion "600", it makes it into a completely different amplifier. Amazing.


Mercury Magnetics Amp Shootout: Champ "600" vs. Valve Jr.
from GitFix on Vimeo.

November 6, 2009 | Paul Zoskey of www.GuitarFixation.com
The final shootout! Mercury Upgraded Champ "600" vs. Valve Jr.!

For our final Mercury shootout it seemed fitting to pit the Champ "600" square off against the Valve Jr. Both amps clearly benefited from the Mercury Upgrade, but does one stand above the other?

For more information, assistance, quotes or inquiries:

9167 Independence Ave. • Chatsworth, CA 91311 • FAX (818) 998-7835
Info@MercuryMagnetics.comwww.MercuryMagnetics.com

(818) 998-7791
Also paul.patronete or patrick.selfridge