Choosing a quality practice or starting amp can be daunting, so when legendary amp maker Fender releases two distinct amp series with similar price points it is worthwhile to understand how they compare. Both the Fender Champion Series and Fender Mustang Series feature 20, 40, and 100 watt offerings with a negligible difference in cost between comparable models, so what sets them apart from each other? Aside from both producing incredible tones, pretty much everything.
Fender took their Mustang and Champion series down very different paths to achieve the goal of superior tone and flexibility in a small package. The Champion Series is designed around traditional analog amp controls with supporting DSP effects, whereas the Mustang Series utilizes Fender’s software modelling to digitally craft unique amplifier models and effects. While players should focus on tone over technology, understanding the inherent benefits of the two will help to ensure they are getting the amp that best fits their needs.
While the littlest sibling in the Champion Series has a traditional, single preamp voicing, the Champion 40 and 100 feature two channels; one voiced for a traditional, clean Blackface tone and a second featuring five unique amp voicings (Blackface, Tweed, British, Jazz, and Metal). These voicings dramatically change the gain structure and fundamental EQ of the amp, effectively giving players access to five different amps before even dialing in the rest of the controls. The clean tones are classic Fender, and the Champions produce gratifyingly tube-like grit and crunch as the Gain control is dialed up. The amp tones are warm, responsive, incredibly varied and all of a quality that wouldn’t be out of place on a recording or live performance.
The onboard effects can be used one at a time, are warm renditions of traditional modulation, filter, delay, and reverb effects and are as easy to use as selecting the desired effect, dialing in the effect mix, and setting tempo with the tap-tempo switch.
The Fender Mustang Series amplifiers share the same onboard controls: Gain, Volume, Treble, Bass, and Master, with the III and IV versions adding Middle and Reverb controls. The Mustang I and II feature eight amp models including Fender classics like the ’57 Deluxe, ’59 Bassman, ’65 Twin Reverb, two faithful recreations of the revered British tone, and three modern, gain-centric amps, making almost every iconic tone in history available with the twist of a knob. The Mustang III and IV up the ante with three additional Fender amp models and a different flavor of British amplifier available onboard (all effects and amps are accessible in all Mustang models through FUSE). There is nothing processed about any of the models, they sound organic and are as responsive as the tube amplifiers they were modelled after.
The Mustang I and II are equipped with twelve modulation effects ( chorus, vibrato, tremolo, and pitch effects) and a dozen delay and reverb effects, all of which can be adjusted for blend and delay time/modulation speed. The Mustang III and Mustang IV include additional modulation, reverb, and delay effects and add seven classic gain effects. Unlike their littler brothers, the Mustang III and IV offer deeper levels of onboard editing and give players access to a much greater level of tweaking the effects to their liking. While not explicitly modelled after specific effects units, experienced players will find a lot to grin about as they discover models of iconic pedal effects.
Presets for the Mustang I and II are stored in three banks of eight, giving players access to eight factory and sixteen user presets. Because the Mustang utilizes software-based modelling, presets save every control and effect setting, eliminating the need for any knob tweaking between presets. The Mustang III and IV up the ante with 100 presets.
Another benefit to software-based modelling is immediately apparent in Fender’s FUSE software and community. While dialing in the perfect tone is easy and intuitive using the physical controls of the Mustang, connecting the amp to a computer gives access to deeper, cleaner editing over than amp and effects models. As a bonus, players in search of inspiration can sample and download presets from FUSE community members… a quick way to spark the creative process.
While both amp lines sound amazing within 90% of the volume range, most live applications will require a microphone with the smaller amps to keep up with the rest of the band.
The choice comes down to preference between wanting a traditional amp experience with multiple amp sounds or wanting more options and deeper control over them… both will get players where they need to go in style. Understanding the differences, it is important to note these amps share the most important qualities one looks for in a guitar amp- they sound amazing, they are well-built and reliable and they cost less than a night in the city.
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.