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.