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Joined: 26 Feb 2009
United States
Lessons: 2
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Eddie Van Halen's Brown Sound

by case211

2 Jul 2009
Views: 64614

The Brown Sound



If you haven't listened to Van Halen, please do so. I would recommend iTunes or even Youtube to look up some of the earlier Roth era music they put out. The guitar sound on the first album, "Van Halen" is hands down my favorite guitar tone of all time. The "Brown sound" is an extremely sought after tone by guitarists of the last few decades. Eddie Van Halen had said that the "Brown sound" was originally used to explain his brother's (drummer, Alex Van Halen) snare drum sound. Pretty soon Edward's guitar sound had become a new topic by itself between guitarists.

Disclaimer



Okay, now that you know a little bit about the "Brown Sound", I want you to know that you don't need to have all of the expensive 100 Watt amp heads and Half stacks to acheive his tone. But, while we're talking about tone; TONE COMES FROM THE FINGERS. Recite that like it's a mantra, Curt Mitchell I think said it the best, "if you want to sound like Eddie Van Halen, you gotta play like Eddie Van Halen...He could pick up your guitar, your amp and it would still sound like Eddie Van Halen".
With that being said, don't get hung up on getting your tone exact. That's basically the definition of impossible, everybody's fingers hit the strings with a different feel and that does add some sonic characteristics to your guitar's overall tone.
So, don't set out on gettting his exact tone, it's going to be close but not quite exact!

His gear and equipment



Alrighty then, hopefully you actually read that long disclaimer above. Now onto what he had on the first album, and some of his set up.

Eddie had bought a 1960s SLP Plexi 100 Watt amp head from the Pasadena Rose Palace when he was about 15(or around there, I'm not too sure of his age). This was an integral part of the early "Brown sound". You should also know that he built his guitar that he used on the first album(or the songs that he needed a tremolo system on). He bought a Charvel Strat style body and bare maple neck from a shop in California close to where he lived, and his guitar's body was made of ash, this does present some tonal properties of its own. Eddie had did the fret work all on his own as well, he made the frets come to a peak, which in turn made more attack and some added sustain and clarity to the notes. Eddie had basically built his own guitar pickup too; he took a Gibson PAF and rewound it to his standards, which was really the most simple working unit he could manage to get a sound that he liked. He would also pot his pickups; potting is when you dip a pick up in melted Sex wax, or the wax that is used on surf boards. Potting a pickup reduces hum and the pickups becoming microphonic. Since he had a typical strat style body, he had to chisel out the rear pickup cavity to better fit his humbucker.

His signal chain looked like this:

Home-made awesome guitar->
->Flanger->
->Phaser->
->*EQ pedal w/ mid range boost->
->Echoplex->
->Marshall head->
->Combo cabinet]

Note: The * means that the EQ was only put into the effect chain at certain times or for certain songs.
This link will help explain his equipment and rig in more detail if you want to look at it http://wwwc.dcns.ne.jp/~epi/english.html
Another good site to look into would be http://mr5150.vhvault.com/

How to get close with YOUR equipment



Now that you have an idea for what his rig looked like, I want to talk about some settings to try out with your gear, compared to his settings.

Okay, so, let's say that you have something similar to my setup; a 15 Watt practice amp, a multi-effect pedal, and a couple of distortion pedals. Not much there, pretty bare, but manageable for many different sounds.
With my setup in my room I run:
Guitar->
->multi-effect pedal->
->distortion pedal A->
->guitar amp->
->guitar speaker]

Okay, I typically run just EQ'ing and delay on my multi-effect pedal, some light, if any distortion from my distortion pedal, because I usually just use it as a kind of signal boost and a sort of presence control for the amp with the tone control. Most of my distortion comes from my amp's overdrive channel, and the sound and tone come from the EQ'ing that I do.

Now if you are wondering what Eddie's settings were on his amp, all I can do is speculate, but some people say that he basically put everything on 10, including his amp's tone stack.

Now, you would have some good luck with getting his tone close if you had the same amp and were running a variac to it to lower the voltage and keep from blowing the tubes. But, lets just assume that you don't have it. You wouldn't want to have a lot of distortion. Yes you did read that right, don't over do it on the distortion.

My amp's settings to get the first album's tone:
*Keep in mind that this is with a single coil pick up going through the pickup simulator on my multi effect pedal to give it a more humbucker like EQ curve, so it is actually going to be less output than that of a humbucker, thus you might want to have a little bit less distortion than I have written here.

Guitar w/ single coil->
->multi-effect pedal->
-settings:
-Pickup simulator humbucker
-*EQ(if being used)
-Bass:neutral
-Mid:+12Db.
-Treb.:+3 to +6
-Delay: tape delay set at slapback at 10-90 milliseconds depending on song
-output all the way up
->Distortion pedal A->
-Settings:
-Volume:max
-Tone:used as prescence control 2-3 O'Clock
-Drive:Off(7)-8 O'Clock
->Lead channel on guitar amp->
-Settings:
-Gain:5 Channel Volume:10
->guitar amp's tone stack->
-Settings:
-Bass/Low:9-10
-Mid:2
-Treb./High:5
->Guitar master volume->
-However loud you want ;)
->guitar speaker]

Guitar w/ somewhat powerful humbucker

->multi-effect pedal->
-settings:
-*EQ(if being used)
-Bass:-12
-Mid:+12
-Treb.:+9 to +12
-Delay: tape delay set at slapback at 10-90 milliseconds depending on song
-output all the way up
->Distortion pedal A->
-Settings:
-Volume:max
-Tone:used as prescence control 2-3 O'Clock
-Drive:Off(7)-8 O'Clock
->Lead channel on guitar amp->
-Settings:
-Gain:5 Channel Volume:10
->guitar amp's tone stack->
-Settings:
-Bass/Low:9-10
-Mid:3-5
-Treb./High:6
->Guitar master volume->
-However loud you want ;)
->guitar speaker]

Alright, that was a lot of information to take in, but that is how I can get close with a Stratocaster and single coil pickup.
Remember that if you have a humbucker pickup in the bridge, you may want to turn the gain knob down just a hair to keep some of the clarity that he gets, due to the more powerful output of the pickup compared to my settings using a single coil's output level. This all depends on the pickup's properties though, through a vintage Ibanez RG in the bridge pos. which has the 'bucker, I have found that it has a little bit more low end response than the single coil. The EQ should be fairly the same to what I have written here due to the pickup simulator, but feel free to change whatever you want to. If you feel that the tone I present here isn't quite close to what you like, I'm not going to tell you that you shouldn't change it. Sometimes I like to have a little more bite on the top end than what I have written here!

My other setting:


Since I'm redoing this lesson and adding a part a couple of months after I posted it, here's my more like able Van Halen-ish tone.
I'm running a single coil Strat guitar into my Big Muff Pi Deluxe(not used) into my RP90 and into my amp.
Some settings:

Bridge pup->
BMPD(not used)->
RP90-settings-Single coil to humbucker pickup changer->amp model Plexi at lightest dist. possible->Delay@100ms and slapback->
amp-settings-lead ch.-Gain 2*->Channel Volume 10->EQ-bass 10 mid 10 treb 10-> reverb 2-3-> master volume->10!

*denotes that gain should be cut in half for headphone out use on amp to retain more Van Halen like distortion qualities.

here's a perfect sample of the tone:



also, Eddie is not in this track, I took the left channel out and mono'd the right channel and then put it back into the software, perfect backing track.


Fin



Whew! This was a long one, but I felt that I should help out with some of the people who would like to have a tone that is fairly close to Eddie's on the first album. I have been researching, reading, and playing around with my own Van Halen sound for almost 2 years as I write this, and this is the best one that I like to use. Please if you have any questions about rig and tone, PM me on here, I usually get on everyday.

Now go play some Van Halen! :)





Comments:

01
07.03.2009
  keithmark13

You gotta like Eddie to write all that out man :b

02
07.04.2009
  Ozzfan486

Could you post a vid of what it sounds like?

03
07.05.2009
  case211

@keithmark13
yeah, I grew up listening to Van Halen since I actually first started to listen to music that I liked, which has been almost 10 years now.

@ozz
no, not yet, I'm still out of state and don't have my amp

04
10.06.2009
  case211

@ozz
there's an mp3 of what I like to use for recording and playing purposes now.

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