Guitarists have used ‘the brown sound’ as shorthand for guitar tone ever since the phrase emerged back in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s. The early history of the term is linked to one of the biggest guitar heroes of all time, however, in the years since, the word “brown” in reference to guitar tone has become a part of the everyday lexicon of guitar players. It now embodies, in a single word, the perfect electric guitar tone. But what exactly does the brown sound mean and how does a guitar tone refer to sounding like a colour? Let’s take a look at the origins of the brown sound and how it has become a universally accepted measure of great guitar sound.
It all starts with EVH
When Van Halen released their eponymous album in 1978, it was immediately clear that Rock music had changed forever. The opening chords of the first track unleashed a massive guitar sound that was previously unheard by an unsuspecting public.
Van Halen’s guitar tone had distortion. A lot of distortion. Distorted guitar tones were of course par for the course in the 1970’s, but this was something else entirely. The sheer amount of overdrive gain was immense. Also, rather than the sometimes “raggedy” or “harsh” tone that often comes out of heavily overdriven tube amps, this sound was somehow liquid, organic and warm.
Eddie became an instant guitar hero and in the onslaught of magazine interviews that followed, came a barrage of questions about his unique guitar sound.
At some point, Ed said:
“I want my guitar to sound like Al’s snare…..Warm, big and majestic.”
He went on to describe his brother’s snare drum as having a sound that is “brown”. In Eddie’s mind, this was the perfect word to describe Alex Van Halen’s warm snare tone – (“I’ve always thought Alex’s snare drum sounds like he’s beating on a log” said Eddie).
However, the word “brown” seemed to resonate with thousands of guitar players, who read the article as the perfect way to describe Eddie’s early guitar tone: Warm, organic and powerful.
Henceforth, “The Brown Sound” was forever known as a very-high gain guitar sound that exudes liquid sustain, warmth and organic response.
CREATING THE BROWN SOUND
Due to EVH’s massive popularity in the late 1970’s, almost every guitar player under the sun was attempting to recreate this enveloping, tactile guitar tone. Although, they soon found out that this was no easy task.
On the surface, the “Brown Sound” seems like it should be easy to achieve. Simply take a humbucker loaded guitar, plug into a British El-34-based Plexi amp and go.
What isn’t immediately obvious, is that there are a few subtleties, innovations and additional factors that went into creating the original “Brown Sound”.
Amp selection and speaker selection is critically important to achieving a warm sound. Even amps that look the same and have the same model number can have wildly varying components inside. Many amps have a tendency to sound overly harsh when pushed into overdrive.
EVH’s famed “Holy Grail” amp seemed to have just the right mix of component values (and perhaps even some subtle modifications) to create a desirable initial tone.
EVH also had a number of effects devices in front of his amp. Some of them helped to push the front end of the amp with a “boosted” signal, driving it to distort more than it would otherwise be able to with a raw guitar signal. These effects devices were undoubtedly significant factors in achieving the “Brown Sound”.
One factor that couldn’t be ignored was that EVH ran his amps LOUD. His 100w amp needed to be run with “everything on 10” to develop its famed tone. Although, it’s overall level reduced slightly thanks to EVH’s use of a Variac to lower the wall voltage going into the amp.
Despite this, the amp was still inordinately loud. Loud enough for the large club owners of the time to complain at the famous guitarist and certainly far too loud for the average guitar player.
Eddie’s “Brown Sound” proved to be notoriously difficult to replicate and was far too loud to be practical. As such, the white-coats of the guitar world turned their attention towards creating a “Brown Sound” that was more accessible to the masses. So began the high-gain guitar revolution that continues to this day.
WAZA AMP – RE-ENGINEERING THE BROWN SOUND
Today in 2016, guitar players, (regardless of their musical preference) often unite in a love for a “Brown” guitar sound. In the 30+ years since the term’s coinage, guitar amp makers have perpetually refined their designs to deliver warm, organic, high-gain guitar sounds in a variety of real-world playing situations.
The majority of these amp-makers have focussed their attention on modifying and re-designing classic tube amp circuits in order to reach this goal – an approach that has indeed led to the creation of many “modern classic” amp designs.
When BOSS decided to take aim at creating a “Brown” guitar sound in a modern context, they chose to forge a completely new path. With a goal to deliver the “ultimate rock guitar tone” combined with the reliability and flexibility that can only be delivered using cutting edge tech, BOSS began development of their own modern classic. This all new design become the WAZA AMP.
Knowing that sculpting the guitar amp of the future required a deep understanding and respect for the past, the BOSS engineers spent time playing, dissecting, measuring and coming to completely understand some of the most revered tube amps of all time.
By understanding every minute current flow and circuit interaction within these classic amps, BOSS developed techniques that allowed them to replicate the behaviours of tube circuitry within a much more modern architecture.
The end result is the WAZA Amp – an amplifier that uses bleeding edge digital technology in its preamp in order to replicate every minute response of classic amps. WAZA’s power amp employs a new, high impedance, solid-state power amp design that drives the speaker in similar fashion to a classic tube amp.
It’s voicing is pure ROCK – designed to evoke the spirit of the original BROWN guitar sound and then develop it further, for the next generation of guitar players to find their voice.
KATANA – BROWN SOUND FOR EVERY PLAYER
WAZA AMP redefined the future of organic, high gain guitar tones. As such a major engineering project though, the R&D cost of the WAZA AMP project was substantial; a factor reflected in the premium purchase price of a WAZA AMP.
The no-compromise design and jaw-dropping build quality of WAZA AMP certainly can command this premium price tag, however the dream was always to build an amplifier that can deliver world-class Rock guitar tone that ALL guitar players can aspire to own.
BOSS’s new KATANA amps have inherited much of the WAZA AMP technology, including the recipe for the ultimate “Brown Sound”. The fact that BROWN is the first of KATANA’s five preamp voicings should point towards the fact that KATANA is, at its heart, a rock tone machine!
KATANA’s high gain sounds are simultaneously powerful and edgy, whilst being fluid and dynamic. All the pleasant characteristics of a boutique-priced, modded tube amp live within the KATANA’s “Brown” voicing. When combined with the on-board BOSS effects – the player commands a new, unique and accessible twist on the time-honoured “Brown Sound”.
It’s surely a sign of our times when such tactile and high-quality tone emits from an amplifier priced for all guitar players to enjoy. KATANA’s cutting edge technology and accessibility guarantee that the modern development of the “Brown Sound” that lit Rock guitar on fire so many years ago will continue well into the future development of Rock guitar music.