Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fender Excelsior Pawn Shop Amp

A few years ago I got lucky enough to score a pass to the NAMM tradeshow. If you aren't familiar, it's the musical instrument show at which buyers from all over the country come to see the latest gear from Fender and Gibson and PRS and all the other companies that manufacture guitars and amps and drums and keyboards and marching band instruments and harps and sheet music and metronomes and whatever else you can think of at the local music store. Whew. These passes are not easy to get, but I designed a series of custom guitars for Taylor and they were kind enough to hook me up with a pass. Yes, I just bragged on myself there about the Taylor thing. Sorry.

One of the things that caught my attention was this amp over in the corner of the vast Fender tradeshow sales room. It didn't even have a Fender logo on it. It said Excelsior. And it looked like something you used to see in pawn shops, back when you could find cool, obscure stuff in pawn shops. Or, to put it another way, before the internet. This amp is, in fact, called The Pawn Shop Series and it's a Fender, but just made to look weird...or...awesome...depending on who you are. I loved it. It had one giant 15" speaker, just like Stevie Ray used to use, one knob for on/off and volume, and one knob for tremolo. I LOVE TREMOLO! They made this amp just for me it seems. It also had a bright switch and three inputs. Yep, THREE inputs. That's more inputs than knobs. I love this amp! One input for guitar, one for mic and one for accordion. How cool is that?

I didn't get to hear it at the tradeshow, but I knew I was going to love it. And I was right. I went home after the NAMM show was over and Fender had posted some videos on their website of this new Pawn Shop Series. They were well-produced videos, made to look like some slick blues dude was running a pawn shop and tricking customers into thinking this amp was an oldie that perfectly fit their needs for guitar, harmonica, accordion and whatever else. The videos were a little cheesy, but they sounded great and I had to have one of these pawn shop amps. But where could I get one? Aaaahh. They weren't going to be out for awhile. Shit. I asked anyone I knew who might know something when they would be out. Heck, I even asked a guy at Guitar Center, and they never know anything about this stuff. "Soon!" they would say. Soon.

A few months went by and my nephew was in town. I live in San Diego and he wanted to go up to L.A. for the weekend to check it all out. We drove the 4-hour, 97 mile drive up to Hollywood and I started showing him around. At some point we drove past the giant Hollywood Guitar Center, where there's actually a chance you might see a semi-famous musician in-store. Plus they do have a downstairs vintage room that is astounding. It's worth the trip if you are a guitar geek. We parked the car and headed in. Nephew was busy checking out the latest electronic beats software and musical laptop gear, so I wandered over to see some actual instruments. Guitars. Amps. And holy moly, there it Excelsior Pawn Shop amp. I asked if I could play through it and the salesman smiled knowingly as he plugged a Telecaster in without even asking what kind of guitar I preferred. I was right...I was going to need this amp. I wasn't even remotely planning to spend any significant money that day, but there I was, handing over my debit card and calculating how much gas we'd need to get back to San Diego. The salesman told me that this was only the second Excelsior to hit the shelves in all of California and that they'd just gotten it in earlier that day. Of course that made me want it even more. I loaded it in the back seat and we headed on down the road.

I have owned a 1963 Fender Tremolux amp, and it's well documented here on this website that I am in love with Swamp Thang tremolo pedals. Those are my standard bearers for tremolo. I got this home and plugged my own guitar in and...boom, awesome sound. They aren't super're not going to hold your own against a Marshall stack with this amp, but it had plenty of power for my modest needs. Great tremolo sound which I just kept on most of the time I owned this amp. I loved the big ol' 15" speaker and I loved the retro looks. Kind of a secret weapon. Some people would never be happy with an amp with very few controls, but this is right up my alley. Turn it on, set it and forget it. I love it.

"But why don't you still own it?" you might ask. And you'd be right to ask after such a glowing report. Well, I had to go to NYC for a trip that was short notice and to be honest, I just needed a little extra cash in my pocket for the trip. NYC is not a cheap place. So I sold it reluctantly. Some time has passed and now I see them show up on Craigslist every so often. And Jeez...they are cheap. I saw one for $175 the other day and it took every ounce of restraint not the contact the guy and go pick it up. If you are contemplating one of these amps, and you love that cool Fender vibe and some sweet tremolo, don't even think twice. Pick one up. Not loud enough...get two. That's still cheaper than most everything else out there these days. I see that Fender has a new Pawn Shop amp or two out this year. But they just don't have that same appeal to me as this Excelsior did from the moment I spied it. I'm gonna need another one at some point.


Spare Parts and Pics said...

Sounds like a cool amp. Thanks for the review!

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