View Full Version : Fender Excelsior - Good Choice for Ukulele

07-02-2012, 08:25 AM
I spotted a Fender Excelsior, the new 13-watt, 15" speaker tube amp from Fender, at the local Guitar Center yesterday. Played a Tele through it and thought "this would be cool for my Kamaka." I went to go get the Kamaka from home and when I got back twenty minutes later the Excelsior was sold! I knew that other guy playing the Tele through it after me was goint to buy it!

I asked the salesguy if they had any more and he said no - but the other sales person actually took time to look it up and found one in the box for me. Right in the store.

I tried it out and decided to take it home.

The amp has very little in terms of bells and whistles. It is about as spartan as it gets. Amp is two 6V6 tubes with two 12Xs in the pre-amp section. One volume (no gain), one tremolo circuit (cool for guitar, useless for us) and three inputs, one optimized for guitar, one for mic, and one for accordian (yes, accordian). No tone switch, just a dark/bright switch (leave it on dark for ukulele). No reverb (they have pedals for that, or I can get a good reverb-like sound with my TC Flashback digital delay). One "on" switch, a fuse, and an extension speaker output on the back panel, and that is it.

They are being sold under the "pawn shop" series of retro amps by Fender, which, oddly enough, does not print its name on the amp. The link here to Sweetwater has some cool details, reviews and videos:
http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/Excelsior. And, no, I do not work for Sweetwater or Fender.

Anyway, I let the thing warm-up for about an hour before plugging in my Kamaka HF-3, which has a LR Baggs Five.0 system. Now, I would think ukulele would do better with an 8 or 10-inch speaker, but the 15 does not seem to detract from the sound at all. I like my highs rolled off, and to my ear it sounds best in the mic input, as opposed to the guitar or accordian. I think the mic in is optimized for midrange instruments, which is perfect for ukulele.

Sounds very nice when played at lower volume - the more you crank it, the more it gets a little less "real" or, better to say, sounds a little too forced. Best way to use this amp may be to mic it through a bigger PA; it would be a great recording amp if you want to mellow out the piezo sound.

If you do turn it up to around the 9 o'clock level, which is quite low, it fills the room with sound, so this could also be used as a ukulele amp at a small gig or coffee house open mic. With that 15" speaker in there, it works well with my bass (played at reasonable volumes, of course) and guitar absolutely sings through this thing!

Best thing about this amp is the unbelieveable price of $299. I got it for $255 with my 15% GC coupon, so even better. But check it out -- the store had two of these in stock and between me and the other guy, they sold both within the space of two hours! It looks great, is put together real well (at least it appears that way) and its retro vibe, in both looks and tone, complements the ukulele perfectly!

When it warms up, it sounds great. Like I said, at low volumes it is hard to tell what sound is coming from the speaker and what is coming from you, which to me is the mark of a good amp. It's not that it's transparent, as it does impart its darker, mellower, rounder, more fluid valve tone, but it just sounds really good and "right." Coupled with the fact that it is even better with guitar, this is like an all-purpose amp for everyone. I'm hooked.

Anyone else seen or tried one of these? I'm going to do a quick video on it and if I get real motivated I may even blog about it. Trust me, though, this is going to be--if it is not already--the hot amp to get!