Danny Kustow's 1989 Fender Champ 12
A legendary amp owned by legendary guitarist with the Tom Robinson Band, Danny Kustow. Owned in his last few years before retirement, a reminder of the glory days when Danny's guitar sound could electrify every bone in your body. Power in the darkness.
1978. Punk is self-imploding. Racism and homophobia are rife. The Winter of Discontent is about to bring the UK to a halt. It's a pretty dark time. And yet, across the UK, images of a clenched fist start to appear sprayed onto any available surface, more often than not with the acronym "TRB" circling the emblem. That stencil was a freebie from the album Power In The Darkness, together with the message: "This stencil is not meant for spraying on public property!!!" If ever an invitation for disaffected youth was needed . . .
Power In The Darkness by the Tom Robinson Band was a beacon of light. It was just as if the burn-out of punk had launched a new order of savage guitar-led bands, ones that had that little bit more time to learn more than the three chords. Formed by childhood friends, Tom Robinson and Danny Kustow, TRB ushered in a new voice - angry, determined, demanding change, pushing gay liberation and rock against racism as topics for the mainstream. With intelligent song-writing, big anthems, and, for me, a guitar sound from Danny Kustow that set the bar. Aggressive, strident, lyrical, every note with feel, just a Les Paul and a Marshall stack, perfectly matched to each song.
It's 2-4-6-8 Motorway that gets the streams and drivetime plays nowadays. It's not even on the original album. But take the time to listen to Power In The Darkness and you'll immerse yourself in a work of intense genius. I went to see Tom Robinson (without Danny) perform Power In The Darkness in 2018, and I remembered every word to every song (well, nearly), and definitely every riff from all that time ago. It's an absolute diamond. Danny may have left us in 2019, but you can't take away his legacy.
OK, 1978 pre-dates this amp, and Danny's use of it, but it's one he owned and played in his final years before retiring from professional music in the early-90s. After that, Tom Robinson took it on, giving it to the daughter of his PA, as she formed her own band in her teens. It may have had only one outing with that band, at a church hall in Kensington, but that's all it takes for a heritage to continue. As it does now, on hire from God's Own Guitars.
And, finally, Danny was rarely seen without a Les Paul in hand, so it's a perfect combination with our same year 1989 Gibson Les Paul Standard, owned by that other guitar god, Robert "Throb" Young.
See & Hear It In Action
Qprater Puts The Fender Champ 12 Through Its Paces: Nice run-through of Clean and Overdrive channels with a Strat in hand.
Tom Robinson Documentary (1978): Music aside, an open window into the social and political environment of the late 70s. Part 1 of 4 videos available on YouTube, with plenty of scope for the biggest songs from Power In The Darkness, and searing live solos from Danny on his Les Paul.
Be the first to hire this classic amp - the last of the valve Champs!
Produced from 1986 to 1992, it's not the earliest Fender Champ, the one Fender first introduced in 1948 (with a massive 4 Watt output), the one that achieved glory and reverence through the 50s and 60s. But it is the last of the Champs to stand alone with valves. So you can expect all that warmth and power in overdrive.
Characterised by its Marmite love-em or hate-em red control knobs, this amp packs a punch for its diminutive size. That's probably helped by what the eagle-eyed will have spotted already: the replacement of the original Fender Special Design Eminence 12W speaker with a 21st Century Eminence 75W speaker. When I first bought this amp, the speaker magnet had fallen out of the cone. Try as I might to reposition it, it was never going to get back to its original clean tones, hence the installation of a sympathetic Eminence Legend.
Which has probably helped the sound. Modern reviews of the original Fender Champ 12 aren't all equally complementary. But add in a modern-day high-capacity speaker and you've got something special. An acceptable mod in anyone's book.
It's a perfect practice amp - for one or two players. But it's also great for small room gigging - on its own, mic'd up, or via a second external speaker connection.
It sounds great. Beautiful clean channel, that luscious Fender reverb, and the sound of cooking valves in overdrive. And, of course, it's been touched by the greatness of Danny Kustow. Missed, but never forgotten.
Sources & Links
The History Behind The Fender Champion: Fender pay tribute to that little amp that started out as a diminutive 4W sidekick on its way to becoming a legend.
The Fender Champion Range Today: Check the URL and you'll see the words "contemporary-digital" in the chain. Nothing wrong with that. I've got one of the Fender Champion 40s, with its built-in amp voicings and effects. A bit fiddly on stage, but great for home noodling and recording. But you've got to love the straightforward simplicity of these pre-digital amps.
Planet Botch Review: A nice balanced review by Bob Leggitt at Planet Botch. Like almost all of us nowadays, he prefers pedals to get the optimum overdrive, rather than using the in-built overdrive. And while he hears a "boxiness" in the original combo, the new speaker we've added gives this one a far wider tonal responsiveness for today's more discerning ears.