Brown’s Guitar factory is perhaps most well-known for their 30-plus years of master level luthiery and their innovation of the Fretted/less bass. The Fretted/less bass has arguably existed in a class of its own, with custom models reaching build prices of $6500 and no reports of unhappy customers experiencing buyer’s remorse. Being so impressed by his craftsmanship, a couple of years ago I asked John when he was going to start building guitars. He politely replied, “It’s in the works, man.” That day has finally arrived, as Brown’s Guitar Factory introduced the BGF Chambered Guitar at this year’s Winter NAMM show – and yes, we have our hands on the very first one.
I spent several days staring at both the guitar and my computer screen, trying to come up with the proper metaphor for this guitar. The best I can do is “fine art.” Not the Baroque period, which screams overt extravagance, but more like the High Renaissance, as this instrument has been crafted with the knowledge and passion of a great master – pick your favorite artist, you get the idea. Most impressive is this guitar’s duality – at times it displays an American influence, but it also feels distinctly European. Ultimately, it exudes its own charm – elegant, graceful and understated, but completely badass.
John is the ultimate tweaker, and after 30 years in the repair business, he’s gotten a pretty good handle on the best solutions available, in terms of both design and functionality. The parts lineup is an all-star cast, featuring some well-known performers: Seymour Duncan ‘59 humbuckers, Sperzel locking tuners, Buzz Feiten tuning system, Neutrik locking input, Tone Pros locking bridge and tailpiece, Graph Tech’s String Saver saddles with piezo pickup underneath and a GHOST Acousti-Phonic preamp.
The chambered body features a one-piece walnut core with signature f-holes and an AAA bookmatched koa top. The koa is AAA by admission, but I must say it’s one of the nicest pieces I’ve seen in some time. The f-holes echo the serpentine curvature of the body’s contours and add emphasis to an already stunning visual statement. This is all topped off with a matching koa faceplate on the headstock and a cherrywood medallion insignia.
We all know that looks are subjective, but the boys at Brown’s did a nice job giving us something unique that doesn’t look silly or too extreme. The body’s asymmetrical design (which will be somewhat familiar to fans of the Fretted/less bass) will appeal to some, while some just won’t get it. I personally found the shape to be fresh and sleek enough to work in a variety of situations – you can see the lines of a Fender Mustang pulsing underneath the BGF’s European mod exterior. The guitar is well balanced, and coming in just shy of eight pounds plays very comfortably whether you’re standing or sitting.
The BGF Chambered is a prime example of blending influences. The 25.5” scale neck is made of quartersawn Hard Rock maple, with a quartersawn Madagascar ebony fretboard, and it’s all coupled with a Tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece. This combination of a longer scale length with a stop tailpiece makes it sort of a hybrid – although the neck tilts back at a slight angle, if you’re looking for a Les Paul, this ain’t your thing.
The frets are of the medium jumbo variety, and as has been my experience with Brown’s Guitar Factory, the fretwork here is hard to beat. The 22nd fret is easily accessible and the 16” radius delivers fast and furious speed on demand. The heel contour of the neck joint is softly transitioned, so it’s a little slicker than a standard Strat or Tele, although I’d like to see John push this contour even further in the future. The Sperzel tuners, Buzz Feiten tuning system and superb fretwork all contribute to stellar intonation out of the box.
“The chambered body features a one-piece walnut core with signature f-holes and an AAA bookmatched koa top. The koa is AAA by admission, but I must say it’s one of the nicest pieces I’ve seen in some time. The f-holes echo the serpentine curvature of the body’s contours and add emphasis to an already stunning visual statement. This is all topped off with a matching koa faceplate on the headstock and a cherrywood medallion insignia.”
When played acoustically, this guitar produces loud and punchy mids. This inherent midrange helps project the frequencies we hear, and in theory means this guitar will sit right where it should in a mix. Plugging in, the Chambered BGF is loaded with a Seymour Duncan ‘59 in the bridge, which is Duncan’s version of a PAF, delivering lower (but not wimpy) output with a sweet, high-end clarity. The neck pickup is, again, a Duncan ‘59 “bridge” model pickup – a very cool solution and one of my favorite tricks. By placing a ‘59 bridge pickup in the neck position, you gain a little output and more bite for single note passages.
The control layout initially looks fairly benign, but make no mistake – if James Bond decided to plug in an electric guitar he would definitely reach for this one. The neck volume is a push-pull pot to switch from series to parallel in the neck position, giving you the option of full humbucking mode or a pseudo-single coil sound which leaves the hum canceling intact. The bridge volume does just what it implies, along with a master tone. One nifty, little mini-switch allows you to blend in the piezo pickup saddles and the GHOST Acousti-Phonic preamp for a completely new range of tones. Flick the switch to the third position and you eliminate the humbuckers for convincing acoustic timbres. Want a mid-boost? Simply push and release the last knob on the guitar – assigned to the piezo pickup saddles – and boost away. The guitar also helps prevent embarrassing moments, featuring a locking Neutrik input jack so you don’t accidentally unplug yourself (even if the neighbors want you to).
The Final Mojo
Brown’s BGF Chambered Guitar provides a great range of tones to pull the player through the most demanding of musical situations, and the craftsmanship is topnotch. If you’ve got some cash to throw down on a new instrument, and you’re looking for something with a style of its own, you won’t need to look any further. Catch this guitar while the serial number is low!
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you’re looking for a lightweight, high-quality instrument with vast tonal options
you want set neck construction with a more traditional body style