I use a mixture of amps at JFRocks.com for the Van Halen-style guitar
lesson tracks. I use a classic Marshall JCM 800 for many
track, but on most tracks, I also use the
now very famous for its Brown Sound online, Crate GFX 212.
Now before you start laughing at the thought of that, let me state for the
record that NOBODY and I mean NOBODY is more surprised than I am at the
Brown-Sound this Crate amp kicks out. I mean seriously, when I was a
kid Crate amps were the amp you got when your parents screwed-up and
bought you the wrong amp. But mark my words, this amp cranks out an
easy to dial in, serious Brown-Sound. (as heard in many of the
example tracks on this page). Let me also say that it's been
said that I'm partly responsible for inflated prices on these now out of
production amps. And for that I'm both humbled and apologetic
The whole point is it's an inexpensive amp with a mind-blowing sound.
I only originally bought mine because I was in a pinch for a gig and
needed to pick up an amp quickly. Needless to say I kept it because
of its surprisingly awesome tone, for more things than just VH by the way.
But we'll stay on topic, this is a Brown Sound page after all.
As for usage and settings, please keep in mind the Crate 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. Where as a tube amp like the Marshall
JCM 800 performs typically much better when cranked to 10. Yes
there are things you can buy to lower the voltage and thus make the
Marshall and other tube amps perform better at lower volumes, but they
will still have the Tube amp problem of getting tired and hot after long
hours of recording. Where as something like the Crate is a god-send
as you can record for 40 hours straight if you want to, and it'll still
have the same sound it had when you started, and on top of that, it'll
still be cool enough to store your drink on.
Regardless of what type of amp you use, or the brand etc.
the basic EQ settings given below should help to at least give you a good EQ foundation for your Van Halen Brown Sound. Note that for
the later Sammy era sound with Chorusing 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 and designed to be paired with the MXR Phase 90
and/or MXR Flanger.
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.
IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT AMPS: I DO NOT like using
amps that haven't got a good built in reverb. I don't like using
separate reverb pedals or processors if I don't have to. Those units
work best when enhancing an amp's already decent reverb. Both my JCM
and CRATE (especially) have excellent built in reverbs, and the reverb you
hear on my VH style tracks is NOT ENHANCED. It's straight from the
amp into the mic. My policy is I don't care who's name is on it, or
who's endorsing it, if the amp doesn't have a reverb built in, or has a
crappy one built in, I don't buy it. A lot of players don't realize
that reverb and the quality there of, plays a very important roll in any
sound. If you already have an amp and it has no reverb, you'll need
to alter the settings given above quite a lot to compensate for what the
reverb processor or pedal unit you're using is doing to alter the signal.
Try also not to clutter things up too much with 10-band EQ's and stuff
like that for the Brown Sound. This is actually a very simple guitar
sound that's quite ironically often over-thought by people, and
over-processed by even more people. Too many EQ options does nothing
but convolute the whole dialing in process. It's very pure, and what
I call a down and dirty sound. Early Brown Sound aside, even if you
want the later Sammy era guitar tones, there's really no need to go all
Mr. Spock on it and dig out some 10 or 20-band EQ. If you insist on
going that route, (maybe you're the type who just needs knobs to turn and
levers to move), then I strongly suggest you hit Costco for the 2500 count
family sized bottle of Advil. You're going to need it. lol
- (The most
So many people
overlook the guitar thinking this guitar sound is all about the amp.
Whether you want to believe me or not, the guitar is the most important
aspect of this sound. The wood its made out of, the strings you use,
the pick-ups you have in it. All very important. Even though
most of you are using solid body guitars, they still have a tone to them.
Each guitar sounds a certain way based on how it was made and how it's set
up. That said get to know your guitar. Play it unplugged for a
while. Listen to it. Is it warm like a Les Paul sounds
unplugged??, or is a little punchier like a Strat typically sounds
unplugged?? (depending on Strat wood type i.e. Ash, Alder etc.).
The characteristics of your guitar will enable you to figure out not only
amp adjustments, but also effect setting adjustments as well.
I actually record a lot of the tracks (about 66%) that you hear in
my Van Halen-style set on SoundCloud with my Les Paul Studio.
No whammy bar on it, yet due to under-bend and slide-in techniques people
comment about "the great whammy bar usage" all the time, which
always cracks me up on some level. Songs like "Full
Shitter", and "Big
Brown" were all recorded in full on my Gibson Les Paul for
example and not the infamous White Kramer that's used as the main example
guitar on this page.
I only mention this as a factoid because the two guitars actually sound
very similar unplugged, and are set up with the same kind of guitar
strings. Both guitars have a warm Brown Sound without even plugging
them into anything. So based on experience gained from decades of
tinkering with equipment, I know what settings will work for each
guitar and what if any minor adjustments need to be made. Such as
for the Les Paul, there needs to be less REGEN on the Flanger (if used),
and a pinch more Presence is needed on the amp (if using the Marshall).
You need to figure this kind of stuff out for your specific guitar.
So please unplug the darn thing and listen to it. It'll help you
figure out any sound setting you want because you'll know what you're
walking in with as a base-line, i.e. warm guitar, punchy guitar, a guitar
that hates low end, a guitar that needs more mids to cut through. etc.
All of the above being said, below are some guitar set up specifics to
help you dial in that EVH Brown Sound you're looking for. All tips
are suggestions, and based on what I do, not necessarily
what Eddie did. All that matters in this world, be it guitar sounds,
cars, dogs, spouses, etc. is "what works for YOU". Take suggestions
from other people, but ultimately success comes from finding what works
for yourself in your given situation. Even if you had Eddie's exact
setup, guitar, amp, effects, and settings teleported to your home from
1978, I promise you if you plugged into it, you would not have a good
Brown Sound right off the cuff. It would sound nothing like your Van
Halen albums. Some tweaks would need to be made. Especially
for example if you live in a humid state like Florida. Ed's stuff
would be coming from Los Angeles. It's not as humid here, so we use
different settings because our air isn't as heavy in the south-west.
This is just one example, but others are room size, room shape, and room
I use 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. Plus, you can do a lot of other stuff with it.
It can go from Brown Halen to Metallica and over to warm Jazz and do it
all well. As a session guitarist all around things are great for
me. But honestly I'm not being lazy, I kid you not, the JB is
nothing short of awesome for all ranges of the VH guitar sound, from
early Brown to later era more chorused tones. I've tried other
pickups on the market, including some touted as being designed for the
VH Brown sound. However, they just didn't impress me, nor where
many of the others I've tried anywhere near as versatile in tone as the
JB is. Like I've said, this page is all about me telling you what
I use. People dig my VH'ey tones and write in and ask. As
always all of this is subjective, so as always try things for yourself,
and draw your own conclusions.
Nickel Strings (Don't
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.
Rose (To float or not
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
(Please don't misquote me)
Now this is a myth
that some claim I said many years ago in the
Forum that screwing the pickups directly into the body of the
guitar must be done for a good Brown sound. I was reading
someone's forum or blog I got a Google alert about some years ago, and
someone decided to misquote me, either because they didn't
understand what I said, or they can't read. In either case, 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
like I said about the pickups, 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.
Phase 90 VH tone examples
Examples 1 and 2, "I must be somebody" & the ever popular "Suffer
the Bitches" utilize the Phase 90 plugged in on the floor in front of
the amp, or as often stated, in front of the pre-amp. This is typically the way we plug in our effects pedals.
The 3rd example, "I Like Like You" utilizes the Phase 90 plugged into the amp's FX loop,
which is after the pre-amp. As you'll hear both
methods of hook-up have their merits. In a nutshell plugging into
the FX loop gets rid of the mushiness many of you write in and ask me to
help you get rid of. It gives you at home something closer to the
studio Van Halen sound. Not that there's anything wrong with the
mushier tone of example's 1 and 2, they're actually two of my most
licensed and popular songs. But most us want that studio sound at
home. That said, the 4th example, "Out-Foxed" is a
straight-up early VH era warm Brown-sound, with a "script-logo" Phase-90
in the amp's FX loop as. The 5th example
"Man Halen" is also a script-logo
Phase-90, plugged into the FX-loop of my Crate GFX 212, with the speed
knob at about 9o'clock.