Goodbye Fender Excelsior… You have served me well. <sniffle>
I’m the original owner of this Fender Excelsior tube amp from 2012 that was issued as part of the ‘Pawn-Shop’ series which designed to look old and not like they were made by Fender. For $300 new, with a split chassis with lots of extra space for new electronics, the model was basically designed almost specifically to be hacked and modded.
I’ve hot-rodded & modified this amp to work better for my needs, but I’ve been taking it out less and less, so by now I’m going to sell it since it hasn’t seen much use lately and the apartment already has enough guitar gear packed in.
The retail price is kept down by having almost no controls – One knob for volume, One knob for a built in analog tremolo effect, and one ‘tone’ switch that was either on or off. There are three guitar-jack inputs with different impedances/tones for “Mic” “Guitar” and “Accordion” – (I actually like my guitar in the Mic input.) You /can/ plug two guitars in at once kinda sorta, but it’s not really built for that. The amp definitely gives off the vibe of a super-simple-amp-from-way-back-in-the-day and how the ‘original’ guitar amplifiers were made which one would expect to have minimal controls. Ditto for the ability to plug in multiple instruments.
This amp is kind of like a bastard child of a Fender Bassman and a Blues jr. and does a really great variety of blues tones. I find the Excelsior to be a great practice amp, a first step towards having a real tube setup, or pushing out a bluesy sound that ranges from spanky to a broken bluesy tone to a fuzzy sort of light big-muff sound. Throw a boost pedal in front of it and it gets a great valve-distortion.
The amp came too bright for my tastes and that single on/off tone switch it came with basically flipped between “twangy” and “way too twangy”. Good for a sort of broken up blues thing, but not a lot of range. Also, the amp was, for lack of a better term, kind of saggy and it ‘felt’ kind of slow and muffled or restricted.
1. First mod I did was to replace the Brite/Dark tone switch with a knob with the same resistance. It didn’t help all since I didn’t really like the sound at either extreme, and by using the pot-instead-of–the-switch I only gained the ability to roll between gradations of the two sounds I didn’t like.
The ‘fix’ came from ordering a DIY kit for this amp – The Tone-Mod version#2 by BillmAudio. It changes that switch to a push-pull tone-knob that lets you go back to the original stock sound by pulling the new tone knob up. However, by using it and its stacked rc-components, the variety of tones available is GREATLY(!) improved.
See the circuits’ YouTube demo.
2. With the Tone-Mod I had better control of the sound, but still wasn’t quite “feeling” the amp in that ephemeral response to my playing. So, I took it apart again and took recommendations from this list and applied them to mine.
From the Tone Control mods: Change R9 and R29 to 10k (or add parallel 22k to get 11k effectively) – increases tone pot control range – only mod after adding tone pot. + Change C2 to 720pF (add parallel 360pF) – changes tone control contour – independent mod
From Dynamics & Clarity mods: Add extra 47uF/450V elco cap parallel to C28 in order to tighten bass response
Some other easy upgrades would be to replace the speaker since that is the single post popular mod, but I was happy enough with the way mine worked out. It would definitely raise the volume headroom. Other quick thoughts would be to change the V1 preamp tube from a 12aX7 to a 12aY7 which would reduces gain and extend the clean range. Of course, the 12AX7s and 6V6s could all be changed around, because I never changed the stock ones it came with.
Other Sources for information:
– This review by youtube channel intheblues actually calls it his favorite tube amp.
– GearMannDude has a whole series of demos using it with different setups – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bV_eeups4zk, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6kfOSG1bKk, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9i7ALy3ga98, and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbBcn_LMkNs
– Rob Chapman review and demo
– Demo by Hardline Music
Remember: After a delicious meal, no one asks the Chef about the pans used to make the food