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The start of a new decade

The dawn of the 1960’s brought changes to the entire line of Fender’s guitar amplifiers.  Leo Fender made it a habit of listening to musicians, and they told him they wanted amplifiers that sparkled more and that were less midrangey.  The changes first came with the “brownface” series of 1960-1963 and became more pronounced with the “blackface” series starting in 1964.

A 1966 Fender Vibro Champ

Additionally, with the rise of new musical styles, guitarists were demanding more effects from their amps.  The days of the single tone knob long gone, the amplifiers of the period started sporting on-board reverb chambers as well as the new vibrato circuit (sometimes since described as the “poor man’s chorus effect”).

Then as now, Fender sold many more units of its lower-end and student model equipment.  The Champ dominated the low-end.  In 1964 it lost its tweed appointments in favor of black tolex and a black faceplate.  It also sported a slightly larger cabinet as well as improved tone shaping capabilities: bass and treble controls were added to further scoop out the midrange frequencies.

The new “blackface” Vibro Champ, 1964-1967

By 1964 the vibrato had become de rigeur for the Fender line.  With the introduction of the “blackface” series, a new deluxe version of the venerable Champ was also released with the effect built into the amp.  This new model was dubbed the Vibro Champ.  Throughout its 19-year history, starting in 1964 and culminating in 1982, the Vibro Champ and its simpler sibling held down the low-end of the line and introduced many a beginning guitarist to the Fender line.

The new Vibro Champ joined the rest of Fender’s new “blackface” line, so called because the amps had black faceplates, black knobs, black handles and black tolex covering.  Fender added a silver grill cloth to give this line a new, high contrast look.  But what really distinguished the blackfaces was their new sparkley sound.  Guitarists also found they could turn up the volume and get a decent crunch tone.  Fender’s new amps were popular and production numbers at its Fullerton CA factory increased every year.

The CBS “silverface” years, 1967-1981

This success was noticed by other companies, notably CBS.  On January 1965 CBS acquired Fender Electronic Instruments Inc., thus netting Leo Fender a tidy profit.  For several years afterwards Fender’s new owners kept amp designs and production unchanged.  In the middle of 1967, however, the line received a cosmetic revamp.  The black faceplate was updated to a silver one and the script was changed to a more modern-looking sans serif font.  The new silverface era had begun.

The Vibro Champ also received the new styling.  Unlike other amp models this one luckily had no major circuit modifications so it kept its tone fairly consistent throughout the silverface era.  Note that Fender increased the internal voltages in the 1970’s so in general silverface amps do not distort as much as their blackface predecessors.  The silverface era was to last from 1967 all the way to 1981.

A note about Bronco amps: The Vibro Champ proved so popular that it spawned its own sister line. Between 1967 and 1975 the Bronco guitar and amp combo was produced. The Bronco amp was just a rebranded Vibro Champ but with red lettering instead of blue.

The second “blackface” era, 1981-1982

By the early 1980’s CBS sensed that the silverface line was starting to show its age. Fender hired Paul Rivera to give its entire line an overhaul.  Fender reverted back to the older blackface styling during this period, however, the results were purely cosmetic.  Behind the new Vibro Champ’s faceplate the circuitry was still all silverface.  The second blackface era was very short-lived and lasted only until the following year, 1982.  That year the last Fullerton-made Vibro Champ rolled off the assembly line.

Epilogue

When introduced the Vibro Champ was considered modest. However, by today’s standards it contains many features found only in higher-priced “boutique” amps:  solid pine cabinetry with finger-joints, 100% hand-wired circuitry, all tube single-ended design, cloth-covered wire, carbon-comp resistors, and components all made in USA.  Weighing in at just 5 watts the amp delivers great crunch tones at only room volume.

If you are lucky to own a Vibro Champ this site is especially for you!  Please visit our database registry page and register your amp with us.  Let the world know what you play!

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