Sound Introduction notes
The Van Halen Brown Sound is
one of the most sought after sounds in Rock guitar..
Many have the opinion that we at
have nailed the tone, and we prove that on the countless Van Halen-style
based guitar lesson example tracks that we produce for our Van Halen-style
guitar lessons, in particular our popular "Vh'izing
Cover Songs" & "Vh'izing
Original Songs" online guitar lesson series'.
All that said,
the Van Halen Brown Sound is a key element and obvious first step in
sounding like Eddie Van Halen. Let me first say that you don't need to go out and buy a bunch of expensive equipment or even
have exactly what Eddie uses to get a really good VH Brown sound.
Just some basic equipment and some common sense analysis of what the
Brown Sound actually is should be all you need. Through some song examples
(see right side of this page) and some basic EQ formulas
I'm going to share some tips with you here on this page for dialing in a
good Brown Sound. I'm going to keep this page very simple and to the
point, you can elaborate on your own.
Now as a disclaimer let me just say that the best I can do is offer you
how I get the sound and ask you to keep in mind that there are many
variables that affect one's guitar tone such as, the climate you live in,
the strings you're using, the room you play in, yada yada the list goes on
and on. Any settings I give are simply suggestions and should be
used as a "GUIDELINE" only. Some tweaking of these
settings will more than likely be required on your part. With that,
let's begin. Also for those of you not
familiar with my work at
JFRocks.com over the past decade or my work in the entertainment
industry over the past 2 decades there are a few song (mp3) links from
JFRocks.com Van Halen-style guitar lesson content
as proof of concept examples in the Vh-style song tracks section on the
right hand side of this page.
Be sure to check out the
based guitar lessons on my main website. In those lessons I
teach you the style so that you can actually play like Eddie Van Halen,
and hopefully incorporate some of his style into your own music and
innovate off of it ideally. It's not about actual Van Halen songs
and you just playing VH covers, it's about the style. As we've been
proving for more than a decade at JFRocks.com, the Van Halen guitar style
a great learning tool, it stands on its own and can be used to make your
whammy bar attack, riffs, and solos even more expressive.
Guitarist Jeff Fiorentino -
For the past decade
JFRocks.com has been the internet's #1
Van Halen guitar instructional resource, attracting Van Halen guitar
freaks by the 10's of Thousands each year who want to learn more than just
how to play Van Halen songs, but rather gain a deep understanding of how
Eddie plays so they can create and improvise using the style. Beyond
that is our never ending hope that students
will innovate on Eddie's style with the knowledge they've gained.
Our fingers are crossed for the future of guitar.
I use a mixture of amps at JFRocks.com for the Van Halen-style guitar
lesson tracks. I use a classic Marshall JCM 800, and I also use the
now very famous for its Brown Sound online a Crate GFX 212. The GFX
is a solid state amp which makes it better for the lower volumes used in
recording, but not as great live as once you crank it much past 3 or 4 it
loses a bit of its warmth. Regardless of what type of amp you use
the basic EQ settings given below should help you at least give you a good
EQ foundation for your Van Halen Brown Sound. Note that for
the later Sammy era sound with Chorusing on it it's a good idea to raise
up the mids a little bit beyond what's laid out below, which is more for
the DLR era early VH tone, designed to be paired with the MXR Phase 90.
Bass EQ: 4
to 5 out of 10 ;
9 or 10 out of 10 ;
3.5 to 6 (depends on amp & guitar. 4
is a good start) ;
Presence: 4 to 6 out of
Varies from 6 to 10 on most amps, the solos usually have more.
I used Duncan JB at the
bridge and Duncan Jazz at the Neck. I've been using them since the
80's and I believe that if it ain't
broke don't fix it. Really the Duncan JB rules for the Brown Sound
in my book.
The strings you
choose to use are so freakin' important. It never ceases to amaze
me the strings people slap on their guitars just to save a buck, or
because they like the pretty colors the packaging has. It's a bit
like putting econo-gas in a Ferrari and expecting to the get the full
performance of the car. I use Fender 150XL .009 1st
string .040 6th string. There are two sizes of 6th string, stay
away from the .042 size for Van Halen applications.
Whatever brand you want to use is fine. If you don't like Fender
then buy another brand, it's really about player
preference, but as far as strings go and the Van Halen Brown Sound, I
highly suggest that you use PURE NICKEL, NOT NICKEL PLATED..
This is very important for getting the warmth you need for this sound...
For my money the inexpensive Fender 150XL strings that I use nail the
tone perfectly on any guitar I put them on. They are as far as I
know the strings that Van Halen himself used to use back in the early
days of the band. That said, that's what I use and have been using
as my main guitar string of choice for any and all types of music I play
from Blues, to Jazz, to even Country stuff. As a session player I
have to do a wide variety of things and they're a damn good string and a
very useful tip for anchoring your Van Halen Brown Sound.
Or some sort of double locking whammy
bar system. I prefer Floyds, and I prefer them to float, however
it's not necessary for Van Halen.
In fact on his old Red and White Franken-strat the bridge actually
doesn't float. Note that I said, "I" prefer a floating bridge.
Never a bad idea to throw
some Vai tricks in with your Van Halen.
the Tone Knob (Fact or
Just a tip but I've found I
get a fatter sound when I take away the load caused by the tone knob.
If you disagree or are not
electronically inclined please DO NOT DO THIS!! It's not a big
deal or requirement of any kind.
Pickups screwed into body
(Do not misquote me)
Now this is a myth
that some claim I say screwing the pickups directly into the body of the
guitar must be done for a good Brown sound. I was reading
some forum or blog I got a Google alert about some years ago, and
someone as usual decided to misquote me either because they didn't
understand what I said, or they can't read. Either or, here's the
deal. The reality
is I do screw the pickups directly into the wood of the infamous
JFRocks.com White Custom Kramer. I DO NOT do this because Eddie
did it, or because I think it fattens the sound. I do it because I don't have the mounting plates for my White Kramer
and never have.
When I first got the guitar it was just a body
with no hardware, the routed out pickup slots in the body were fairly
shallow so it was just an easy process to grab a couple screws and drill
them into the body. I suppose I could buy the mounting plates if I wanted to, but again if
it ain't broke why fix it, plus I think the routing for the pickups
is too shallow and was only begun, which means I would have to route the
slots out deeper, and I'm a car guy, I'm not much for woodworking, nor
am I very good at it. Bottom line is the guitar sounds great, in
fact I've had offers upwards of 10 Grand for it from JFRocks.com site
fans, so other people obviously think it does too. In the end my
philosophy is always if
it sounds good why screw with it. The fact is screwing the pickups
directly into the wood of your guitar body adds very little to the sound and isn't necessary, however it does
tend to increase sustain a bit since the wood vibrations run through the
pickup. But as for fattening the sound, NO, not that I can tell..
I think the thicker than thick car paint and auto primer under layer that my White Kramer is painted with does more to
fatten the sound than me having the pickups screwed into the body.
That thick paint adds a lot of warmth. And this I know for a fact
because I've played it with no paint, and a thin layer of paint, and in
both of those instances it was nowhere near as warm as it is with its
current car paint and primer setup.
of the JFRocks White Kramer I use for VH-style materials
Basic Bare-Bones Effects setup
- (Just what's
necessary for a great Brown Sound)
First off let's begin this section with a little MXR
Phase 90 101 for those wondering what to buy. In my opinion the best MXR Phase 90 to
use for the VH Brown sound is the "Script Logo" model from the
The Script model as it's known will give you the best VH sweep. The
re-issue model sweeps a little too high for a true
Sound tone. If you can't track one of these classics down
on EBay or where ever, I suggest going with the
EVH model and selecting
the script mode using the button at the top of the pedal.
That said, the photo I have of the Phase 90 on this page
is of the re-issue
model as I cannot show any VH stripes without permission because they're
trademarked. The "Script" model will have the MXR logo
and phase 90 written in
script handwriting text, and it's usually a more
burnt Orange color than the re-issue.
Script model photo
Probably the most important
effect for the early VH Brown Sound, a typical setting for the "Speed Knob" is either
a 9 or 10 o'clock setting. I typically will wire the Phase 90 into the FX
loop of my amp so that it's after the pre-amp. This is counter to
conventionally done. However, what this does is put the Phase 90
deeper in the mix of sound to give you the more authentic
Van Halen Phase 90, as opposed to putting it on the floor in front of the
amp which gives more of a mushy sound which VH
Granted wiring the Phase 90 into the FX loop probably isn't how VH
wired his up in the studio. However, it's
best to always keep in mind that at home you're trying to get the sound of a
finished produced Van Halen studio recording.. That said,
secret to the VH sound I get on recent
JFRocks.com Van Halen style
songs/guitar lessons is
this little FX loop hookup suggestion.
As far as usage goes. The Phase 90 in the early days of Van Halen
was used as part of the sound for both rhythm and lead parts.
However typically it was brought higher into the mix for the solos (leads)
with additional reverb added to enhance the sound and effect.
When using the Phase 90 for VH rhythms be sure you don't turn the knob
much if any past 25% of the way up, and also if possible for
less mushy results for the home based guitarist who doesn't have a sound
engineer standing by I highly recommend you try my earlier
tip of running the Phase 90 through your amp's FX (effects) loop. In
my experience and as is proven on countless JFRocks.com VH-style
guitar lesson example tracks it really does clean up the mushiness of
sound often associated with those using the Phase 90 for VH application.
Either way you hook it up and which ever way works best with your setup,
the Phase 90 is a MUST HAVE for a good early VH Brown Sound.
The second most important effect for the VH Brown Sound.
Unlike the Phase 90 I DO NOT typically suggest
Plugging the Flanger into your amp's FX Loop. Based on my experience
the Flanger seems to work much better plugged in
on the floor in front of the amp as you would most other effects pedals...
The two main settings are the "Unchained" setting
and the more standard setting used on tracks like "Amsterdam" and "Hear
about it Later"... see settings below. It should
be noted that the Flanger is generally used for specific riffs or tricks and sometimes solos in the VH guitar style.. While it is used
on some main rhythm parts of some songs, its primary use is to create a
large fat flanging effect on specific riffs or song parts.
Early VH tab books show the Flanger on all the time. What happened
was the transcriber got it mixed up with the Phase 90.
The Flanger and Phase 90 can be used at the same time. In fact for "Ain't
talkin' bout love" the main intro muted arpeggio part
has Phase 90 on it, and
then the single note tie in riff uses Flanger.
For the best sound on that as far as sounding like the record
I always leave the Phase 90 on and just kick the
Flanger on for that
little transition riff.. Aside from the stereo sweep which
was added in mix-down on Van Halen 1, it'll sound dead on perfect.
Now if you have an EVH model Flanger, it will have an EVH switch. That switch is simply a quick pre-set for
setting #1 the "Unchained" setting.
My settings below will match that
pre-set nicely if you don't have an EVH model. Setting #2 the
"Standard Setting" is my choice for "Amsterdam"
it later" type applications.
Setting 1: The "Unchained" setting
Manual = 51%
Width = 48%
Speed = 52%
Regen = 60 to 75% ( I
usually just eyeball the knob, and it ends up being about 70%"ish" )
Setting 2: Standard Rhythm playing setting
Manual = 51%
Width = 48%
Speed = 52%
Regen = 25 to 40% max.
I suggest down the middle of that range at 33% )
Though not really a Van Halen
effect as far as one that everyone who's into Van Halen has, I've found
through my own tinkering that the MXR Stereo Chorus is phenomenal for
dialing in an amazing VH tone. It's a great substitute even for the
expensive harmonizer as well. This is the ideal Chorus effect for the Van Hagar
era sound and it doesn't break the bank. As I said it also makes a great substitute for VH-style use of a
Harmonizer. I've found the MXR Stereo Chorus to be fantastic for
getting those big later era Balance and even Human's Being-like VH tones.
For this type of sound omit the MXR Phase 90.
Like the Phase 90 though I also recommend running the stereo Chorus in the
FX Loop of your amp.
But again to each his own, what works for me and my specific guitar and
amp setup may not be ideal
for your setup, so try both ways and figure
out what works best for you.
Either way the settings below
are a great guideline Chorus setting for the Van Halen tone provided your amp EQ
is set properly and your guitar is setup properly.
Bass = 40%
Treb = 60%
Intensity = 40
to 60% - depends on the specific song sound
Width = 25
to 60% - depends on the specific song sound
Rate = 10 to 25% max.
** Obviously there are other effects that can be added such
as some light overdrive if your amp's isn't great, or some compression, or
even delay but I'm keeping it simple here. What's laid out above is
really the bare bones easy to configure recipe for a GREAT VH Sound, from
early Brown, to Hagar Red.
JFRocks.com & Guitarist Jeff
Fiorentino Van Halen style Music & Lesson Links