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|All clips were recorded with a Bogner 2x12 20th Anniversary cabinet with Celestion G12H30s, an SM57 into a Digidesign Elevenrack with Pro Tools 8.0.3. Guitar was a 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom with Tom Anderson pickups.
The Naked head has a storied history. Friedman produced the original line more than 10 years ago in very small quantities (around a dozen were made, and most went to Japan). The first Naked was designed with the input of A Perfect Circle guitarist Billy Howerdel. Friedman had previously modded Howerdel’s 1978 Marshall JMP 100-watt head. The preamp in this circuit was key to Howerdel’s tone, and it was influenced by a certain boutique amplifier that Howerdel was a fan of. Howerdel loved the amp so much that he commissioned Friedman to build several amps based on his beloved JMP. Thus, Howerdel’s request for a high-gain, clear-sounding amp with supreme touch sensitivity was the inspiration for the Naked 100-watt head.
I can clearly recall the first time I heard A Perfect Circle’s self-titled album—I was amazed by how unique the guitar tones were. The mushy sound of typical radio-rock grind was replaced with a crisp, robust wall of sound that had dimension and texture. When I asked Friedman why he waited a decade to release this amp as a production model, he said “Today, it’s easier to promote amps like the Naked because of the Internet. Ten years ago, the market was different, and it was a lot harder to get the word out about something like this. But now, the rules have changed. So, why not?”
The new Naked is based on the circuitry of the first Naked amps, and it offers many of the same functions. You can switch between two channels, clean and overdrive, using a single-button footswitch that plugs into one of the front jacks. Both channels share a simple 3-band EQ with a highly sensitive Presence control. The Naked’s minimal features are rounded out with an effects loop that’s wired in series.
Aesthetically, the amplifier is an homage to the Marshall Super Lead models of the late ’70s, with large rocker switches for Power and Standby, and white piping instead of gold. Howerdel’s Friedman-modded ’78 Marshall JMP was not only the tonal basis for the Naked, but obviously had a major impact on its visual accoutrements, as well.
After I had a chance to set up the amp and
take a test run with my trusty Les Paul, I felt
really comfortable gazing at the familiar front
panel. I’ve played a lot of Marshalls, so I felt
like I’d ridden this bike before and there was
no fear of falling off. The era-correct metal
panel sports four inputs, with the upper-left
one taken up by the Clean channel’s preamp
I was intrigued to see how Friedman paid
tribute to the original, modded late-’70s
Marshall by the way he wired the Naked’s
input jacks. The bottom-left input is wired
for the previously mentioned footswitch,
and the upper right input is for the guitar.
Friedman could have easily installed a jack
on the rear panel for the footswitch and
used a faceplate with only a single input
drilled into it, but he chose to have the
amp’s aesthetics reflect all the modding he
has done over the years. It’s familiar and
functional, and keeps a visual continuity with
his custom work. Unlike the Brown Eye, the
Naked is stripped bare of extra frills other
than the effects loop. There are no additional
mods or enhancements—what you hear is
what you get.
Despite their similar looks and British highgain
influences, the Brown Eye and the
Naked have very different tonal qualities.
With its rear-panel voicing switches, the
Brown Eye obviously has the upper hand in
terms of versatility. But this doesn’t mean
the Naked isn’t capable of producing malleable,
robust sounds. What it really comes
down to is what kind of player is using
Earlier, I mentioned that the Brown Eye
should appeal to players who like a more
immediate attack and extraordinary detail in
the upper mids. Those frequencies really start
to show themselves in a stronger light when
the guitar is in standard tuning or perhaps
a half-step below. With the Naked, though,
it’s all about dropped tunings. This was of
special interest to me, as I like to keep one
of my guitars tuned down to C#. I can’t tell
you how many Marshall (and Marshall-esque)
amps I’ve gone through over the years that
just can’t keep the signal tight and focused
when I’m tuned down that low.
With the Naked and its custom-voiced circuit,
that frustrating issue was nowhere to
be found. The jumbled, fuzzy mess of distorted,
down-tuned riffs was substituted with
quite possibly the tightest, meanest British
overdrive I’ve ever experienced. Every lowstring
palm mute coming out of my 20th
Anniversary Bogner 2x12 cabinet was crisp
and clear, with that perfect sag in the mids
that Marshall lovers obsess over. I’ve played
(and owned) some fantastic British-voiced
amps throughout the years, but nothing was
ever quite this good in terms of high gain.
My 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom, which has
a Bare Knuckle Warpig in the bridge position,
sang up and down the fretboard, delivering
biting, detailed tones and some of the
best note definition I’ve ever come across.
It was almost as if there were two voicings
in the frequency spectrum—one being a
darker, more aggressive tone in the low end,
and the other being sweet, bright, and soft
in the upper registers.
And, just like the Brown Eye, the Presence
control has a massive overall effect on the
sound. The control really starts to kick in
between the 1 o’clock and 5 o’clock positions,
considerably boosting both the gain
and upper-end frequencies in the higher
settings. It’s almost a voicing control at this
point, because slight changes pull it from
hard rock to raging Slayer territory. It’s flatout
amazing just how well the Presence control
changes the tone, and it was definitely
the secret weapon in my amp testing. During
these tests, I found no need to change
the EQ from where I had originally set it,
because there was a myriad of spectacular,
completely usable tones to sweep through,
thanks to that single knob.
Even after experiencing the Naked’s extraordinary
overdrive tones, I could not ignore its great clean channel. The dark-toned nature
of the Naked really shows itself here, and it
hearkens back to the clean sounds of late-
’70s Marshalls. Generally, most Super Leads
from the early ’70s and late ’60s are considered
to have a brighter sound than those
released much later. The smooth, clean tone
on the Naked was more in line with its late-
’70s Marshall forebears, and it offers more of
a traditional response than the Brown Eye.
The Naked has a huge amount of available
headroom, and, used in tandem with the
master volume, the two preamp controls
let you sculpt the top end. Higher preamp
settings rolled off those upper frequencies
but caused slight distortion when I struck
the strings harder. The Naked’s touch sensitivity
came into play very nicely here, and
footswitching between the two channels put
even more timbral options at my fingertips.
The Final Mojo
As any gear fanatic will tell you, the more
you explore a particular sonic area, the better
you’re able to scrutinize and pick apart
aspects and traits of your equipment. In this
case, my personal love of great Marshall
tone was almost a hindrance. The Naked
was specifically designed for a taste that’s
very similar to my own, which makes it hard
to find areas to critique. If I got a harsh,
unpleasant tone, it was easy to dial it out
with either a slight turn of the Presence
control or by simply backing off the gain.
The Naked is designed to perform exactly
this way, and it succeeds admirably. If you
love British high-gain sound, you’ll be right
at home with the Naked. And if you’re looking
for an amp that can deliver tight and
focused tones with lowered tunings, you
must experience Friedman’s Naked amp.
you want the smooth, dark overdrive
of a late-’70s Marshall with enhanced
gain for modern rock riffing.
lower gain, Fenderish
tones are more your taste.